Mayo Clinic creates 'Office of the Future'

05/25/05

Lose weight while you work

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Most visitors think they've walked into a gym.

The creator of the "Office of the Future" is quick to correct them.

"This is a fully functioning office. My entire staff works here," explains James Levine, M.D., as he walks on a moving treadmill that serves as both desk and computer platform. "The idea is to introduce an environment that will encourage activity in the workplace. Just as it's hard to be a couch potato without a couch, it's hard to sit all day at work without a chair or a conventional desk or cubicle.

"We have meeting rooms, but for small groups we prefer the track," says Dr. Levine. He's referring to a two-lane walking track that circles most of the 5,000-square-foot floor. "So when my colleagues and I 'take a meeting' we also take a walk."

This scientifically designed office environment is the practical realization of a decade of research at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Levine, an endocrinologist, has spent his career studying how humans expend energy. His recent research findings (Science, Jan. 27, 2005) show that genomic and biological differences impact how many calories a person burns during everyday tasks. It proved the long-discussed concept of a "slow metabolism" as a factor in obesity. It also showed that people can increase their caloric "burn rates" by integrating more movement into their daily regime. Dr. Levine calls this process "non-exercise activity thermogenesis" (NEAT).

In the Mayo tradition of quickly translating medical discoveries into patient care, Dr. Levine created his NEAT-oriented office floor within six months of his scientific publication.

"We became more excited as we heard more about his idea," says David Eide, the Mayo Clinic construction manager who oversaw the extreme makeover of the office floor, along with the help of Mayo interior designer Cheryl Lavin-Meyer. "We met, kicked around some ideas, and then had two weeks to make over the space."

The room makeover cost about $5 per square foot. The standing desks cost about $1,000 each, but the room requires no other office furnishings, and no cubicles. The result: a traditional office floor is transformed into a clean, sunny, open space with 10 Plexiglas standing computer desks, complete with variable-speed treadmills. There are no desk phones or wall phones. All employees wear mobile phones on their belts along with a Mayo-designed standometer that measures their vertical time and recognizes when they sit down. It also tells them how much more activity they need in order to meet their individual activity goals for the day. (They might need to take one more meeting.)

* Walls near the track are essentially magnetic white boards (instead of fabric) for posting ideas and scribbling notes during the moving meetings. * Animated art projections are seen on at least three walls to reinforce the concept of activity. * Employees can strap on plastic carpet skates, and slide from meeting to meeting for a change of pace. * All keyboarding, phoning and thinking are done during some form of motion. * Coffee and healthy snacks are available nearby, but staff must walk to get them.

The Desk, Revisited

Dr. Levine and his colleagues have re-examined and completely redesigned the desk. Their version stands vertical and can be used with a treadmill, exercise bike, standing or regular chair. It is modular and mobile, so persons can work where and how they wish. It costs half the price of a cubicle, is more flexible and can easily be personalized. It can also be used at home or in school. The see-through panels let in the light and allow a person to stay visually connected with the rest of the room.

How many calories will the walking desk burn? Using the desk at 1 mph will burn about 100 calories per hour. So, walk-working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. burns 800 extra calories per day. If food intake stays the same, this could be a loss of more than fifty pounds a year. However, Dr. Levine recommends starting slowly, walking 15 minutes every hour and during all phone calls. For the rest of the time use the desk while seated and increase the walking portion gradually.

Scoring Points with the Boss

Clearly a believer in making work fun, Dr. Levine's NEAT desk stands near an elongated space. When his assistants want to discuss an idea with him, they both grab hockey sticks and fire rubber balls at a wall target as they talk.

Dr. Levine says his NEAT office can be modified to any work need and easily constructed in a short time. He says the cost of the changeover will be paid many times over by the benefits of a healthier staff.

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Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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