Participants in standing meetings reported that their team members were less protective of their ideas. This reduced territoriality, led to more information sharing and higher quality videos.  (Credit: "office chair" via Shutterstock)

Are meetings more creative without chairs?

Standing meetings can get employees excited about creative group processes and can reduce their tendencies to get territorial, new research shows.

“Organizations should design office spaces that facilitate non-sedentary work,” says Andrew Knight, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Olin Business School of the Washington University in St. Louis.

Knight teamed with Markus Baer, associate professor of organizational behavior, on a new paper published online in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Removing chairs could be a low-cost way to redesign an office space while also tackling the health effects of sitting in one place for too long, Knight says, citing mounting evidence that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for people’s health.

“Our study shows that even a small tweak to a physical space can alter how people work with one another,” he says.

“Markus and I were particularly interested in the role of a sedentary workspace because standing desks were a new option that was available to faculty members for outfitting their offices,” he says. “We wondered how this type of arrangement would play out for people working together in a group to achieve a collective goal.”

Exciting work

Knight and Baer designed a study that asked participants to work together in teams for 30 minutes to develop and record a university recruitment video. The teams worked in rooms that either had chairs arranged around a table or with no chairs at all.

After making the videos, research assistants rated how the team worked together and the quality of the videos, while the participants rated how territorial their team members were in the group process.

The participants wore small sensors around their wrists to measure “physiological arousal”—the way people’s bodies react when they get excited. When a person’s arousal system becomes activated, sweat glands around the feet and hands release bursts of moisture. The sensors pass a small current of electricity through the skin to measure these moisture bursts.

Knight and Baer found that the teams who stood had greater physiological arousal and were less territorial about ideas than those in the seated arrangement.

Members of the standing groups reported that their team members were less protective of their ideas. This reduced territoriality, led to more information sharing and higher quality videos.

“Seeing that the physical space in which a group works can alter how people think about their work and how they relate with one another was very exciting,” Knight says.

The new study contributes to the relatively new study of organizational behavior and office design as it includes wearable sensors. “Wearable technology like FitBit and Google Glass is becoming more popular for consumers but is still relatively rare in this kind of research,” Knight says.

“We think that the future holds great promise for integrating wearable technology into research; our study is one example of how doing so can enrich a study.”

Ditch chairs, add whiteboards?

Knight encourages organizations to experiment with their office spaces. Removing chairs and adding whiteboards are low-cost options that encourage brainstorming and collaboration. In his own office, Knight uses an adjustable-height desk so he can sit or stand and tries to minimize time spent seated in meetings. He is now experimenting with walking meetings too.

“We’ve really just scratched the surface on linking group dynamics research with the physical space,” Knight says.

He and colleagues hope to help organizations experiment with different room designs out of the lab and in the real world. “Working in the field, with real organizations, will help us to examine the longer-term effects of physical space manipulations.”

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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3 Comments

  1. Jill Strong

    What about older colleagues with brains and wisdom, but no longer the ability to stand for long? What about those who are sick or physically impaired? Will a stigma gradually (or quickly) develop about those who do not stand? I wonder it will become an equivalent of not standing for the national anthem.

  2. Kalilou

    Interesting idea. I do notice that when we have traditional meetings where we sit, I tend to doodle on my notepad as I listen to whoever is leading the meeting. I don’t know what else to do when not participating, but to look around at people’s faces as they look away or also doodle on their notepads. I find the sit down meetings awkward and passive. The meetings tend to be long and boring too. (ok, so not everything needs to be super exciting, but meetings tend to be boring because they become predictable and some participants tend to dominate the discussions, excluding others.)
    On the other hand, there are people who love meetings because it’s their only chance to voice their opinions or ideas. To other people, it’s also their break, because they may not participate and this is where they get to zone out and look at their iphone ect or daydream.
    I think it would be a good experiment to try a standing meeting at my office and see the results.

  3. Valentino Martinez

    I fully agree with Jill — any meeting that overlooks the possibility of having to accommodate wheelchair users is already DOA, in my view. The very fact that this type of meeting can become a fashion of sorts is indicative of the insensitivity to the growing percentage of people who are wheelchair bound or have a problem standing for even short periods of time.

    If the thought never occurred to you — well, there you are. I would think folks working on constructive ideas, with the future in mind, would have an immediate reaction to this post — at least from the broader perspective of anticipating the attendance to such meetings.

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