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Friday Focus - Sit Stand Debate

The growing demand for sit-stand workstations is a sign of the growing sophistication of the workplace.

We like to think things happen for a reason and in predictable ways. When they don’t, that’s when we discover we often prefer to rationalise the outcomes that don’t fit the patterns rather than accept that sometimes there is no certainty, no sure things and we can’t always predict what comes next. This explains an awful lot about the world, including the way that we expect new ideas to work. We believe in the graceful sweep of the diffusion of innovation curve. We think when we invent our ‘better mouse trap’ to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, the world will beat a path to our door. We are even confident how it will do so and which people will be the first in line; first the innovators and then the early adopters and then the mainstream.

Often, however, this kind of thinking is deeply flawed and the triumphal arrival of what we are confident are great ideas are met with indifference or even ignored altogether. The better mouse trap won’t succeed until enough people have a problem with mice, or maybe even the right sort of problem.

We’re witnessing exactly this process in action in the UK office furniture market right now. After decades in which the sit-stand desk was seen, if anything, as a bit of a novelty or possible a one off option to deal with an orthopaedic need or some other specific  issue, the past couple of years have seen a great deal of talk about the benefits of sit stand workstations and the more widespread adoption of them as a standard workstation option.

We certainly could never claim that they are a new idea. The first time many people became aware of the idea in a mainstream context was with Geoff Hollington’s height adjustable desk as part of the Relay system for Herman Miller over a quarter of a century ago. Other products have been introduced to the market regularly without making much of a mark.

Until now, that is.

As was demonstrated with some power at the recent event we staged at Herman Miller's London showroom, a number of factors have come together at one time to catapult an idea that has been around for some time into the mainstream consciousness. The central factor is the knowledge that wellbeing at work is not about some idealised posture but is about movement and variety.

The sit-stand workstation is not a new idea and what appears to be happening is a fundamental change in local market conditions in the UK that is allowing the idea to take root at last. For a few years now, the debate about ergonomics in the UK has been shifting away from talk of correct posture and towards an acknowledgement that it should be about movement. This idea has already transformed seating design and the way we talk about ergonomics and is now shaping the way we talk about the design of workstations and the whole workplace. Buying decisions are also subject to far more influence from general managers and HR managers and they are less likely to be influenced by price. 

The result is what we now see. After decades in which the innovation curve flat-lined for this product, we now suddenly find ourselves upwardly mobile on its lower slopes.

To find out more on this Sit Stand Debate please visit the'Sit Stand Playlist' on our Youtube Channel here.
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