Stand Up to Work
Stand Up to Work evaluates behavior changes in office workers who receive adjustable workstations (AWS) that allow them to shift between standing and sitting, compared to workers with traditional desks. Here are the key insights from the collective Stand Up to Work research team, taken from the Q&A section of the final report.
Forming the A-Team: Strength in Multidisciplinary Teams
The research ideation emerged from existing collaborative partnerships. Each organization and member of the research team brought unique and valuable experience to the formulation and development of the study:
- Center for Active Design: Convener – contributed expertise to the study design and development, and managed the project.
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: Research Lead – led the overall research, including developing and refining the methodology and data collection tools, and handling practical matters, such as IRB approval.
- Steelcase: Supplier + Coordinator – provided the AWS at a discount, developed the educational module, and coordinated with Perkins+Will to meet the office’s interior design needs and to ensure installation went smoothly.
- Perkins+Will: Site Facilitator – volunteered a site to conduct the research, provided on-the-ground support and communication with study participants, and conducted the micropolls.
Working with a multidisciplinary team enabled us to foresee and troubleshoot technical and logistical challenges early on and to navigate solutions. We found it incredibly helpful to hold weekly calls, particularly during the planning phase and data collection periods, to provide updates and address concerns. Importantly, meetings consisted of members from diverse academic and training backgrounds. These different perspectives are crucial at the various stages of development and analysis of a research project.
Designing the Methods: Randomization
A major strength of the research is our use of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) methodology, considered the gold standard of research frameworks. RCTs tend to yield comparison groups that are balanced on factors related to outcomes. We faced a challenge early on; we felt we could not randomize subjects at the individual level to receive or not receive the AWS. Since employees work in close proximity, there was the potential for a bleed-over effect. That is, we would risk those who did not receive an AWS being affected by sitting near an employee who received an AWS. Instead, we randomized at the floor level and selected a floor on which employees might receive an AWS. The remaining floors were then used to obtain control subjects. To get a representative sample, we invited those who had expressed interest in participating in the order determined by a randomly generated a list.
Learning during the Process: Lessons to Share
We learned some valuable lessons about conducting this type of research –
- Motivate (Participant Recruitment and Retention)
Participants were not told when enrolling in the study whether they would be in the group receiving an AWS or maintaining their current workstations, a necessary approach to optimize recruitment. Offering an incentive (gift card) may have been the main reason for our high recruitment and retention over the first six months. By the 12-month follow-up, our sample size was reduced due to changes in staffing—several participants relocated to other offices, had moved on, or had health-related issues. Retention is a particular challenge for long-term studies in workplace settings.
- Communicate Early and Incorporate Flexibility (AWS Installation)
We learned that it is important to communicate with a company’s management around installation logistics. Administration and facilities at the study site expressed concern that the new AWS would not match the current design aesthetics and create a haphazard look with some desks being higher than others. They also asked that installation take place outside of business hours so as not to disrupt employees’ workflow and productivity. Although the latter required an additional fee to the vendor installing the AWS, we were able to accommodate these wishes. The installation process was well-executed and hassle-free. As a result of careful planning, the AWS matched perfectly with the traditional desks, having the same color trim and edge profiles.
- Prototype and Strategize (Test)
Prior to the first data collection, we tested the micropolling and surveys with the research team and colleagues, including employees at Perkins+Will who were not enrolled in the study. This trial period gave us important feedback to revise the tools and identify any glitches or difficulties. For a streamlined process, we recommend testing tools and strategies before initiating an intervention.
We carefully considered the format of the data output. For example, we were sure to understand how a participant’s survey responses could link to their micropoll responses, since different identifiers were used for each. Preparing data in the most efficient format in the planning stage will facilitate coding and data analysis when handed off to statisticians.
The Stand Up to Work study is extremely timely, contributing to an emerging body of research on design strategies to combat sedentary work environments. Many professional sectors, as well as the public eye, have recently focused their attention on creating healthier office environments. Our model of a collaborative research team with diverse backgrounds sets a standard for research in real-world settings, and facilitates translation of research into practical, actionable interventions. Continuing research in office environments, such as the Stand Up to Work study, is vital to ensuring decision makers are equipped with the knowledge to provide buildings and policies that support health.
About the Author
Susan Chung, Ph.D., is the senior research associate at the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) where she connects design and research for improving human experiences in the interior environment. Valuing the needs of design practitioners, her work at ASID translates research on interior design issues and trends into applicable design implications, and directs projects that investigate positive impact on human experiences. She also devotes her summer time teaching students at Cornell University on how design is interconnected with our daily lives and how they can make a difference in this world through design. With a background in both interior design and organizational behavior research from her doctorate degree in Human Behavior and Design at Cornell University, she has a particular passion in how design attributes are related to creative performance in workplace environments.