Don’t have a seat

There are some people who cannot sit down all day at work, and there are some who choose not to. Blair Medical Associates CEO Dave Duncan is one of those people.

In the middle of his Station Medical Center office stands a large, square, black bookcase, with a small two-file cabinet by a window and dozens of his own photographs hang on one wall.

On the opposite wall stands a brown desk on top of which glows a laptop screen.

But there is one thing conspicuously missing. There are no chairs.

“The first reaction is: ‘Is this really your office?'” he said. “[I say] ‘That’s right, I have no chair. Is it OK if we just stand?’ Most say yes.”

At the end of a meeting, many say they are interested in replicating it for their own offices, he said. But rarely, if at all, does anyone follow up on that.

He first thought of going chairless 15 years ago, when the up-and-down of moving from meeting to meeting was wearing on his back and causing pain.

“I just decided to eliminate that pain – don’t sit anymore,” he said, and medical literature picked up on the idea some 10 years later.

‘I do this for work’

“You might say I’m an early adopter” of the new fit office trend, Duncan said. But there was an adjustment period: His ankles swelled for the first few days, his legs ached, and he wanted to sit.

“It all depends on what part of your body you want to spread out: Your feet, or your rear end,” he said, noting that, after 15 years, he now buys shoes in a wider size.

But taking the first step and getting rid of one’s chair is difficult, and not just for the person who misses being able to sit.

Duncan said when people first come into his office, they experience almost a psychological shock, because business professionals are used to certain office rules: The handshake, settling into a chair and then talking shop.

So, now his meetings are shorter, and people tend to take the meeting more seriously because they can’t relax. It’s an intentional effect, but it’s not meant to be intimidating, he said – just productive.

“I don’t do this for exercise,” he said. “I do this for work.”

But there are health benefits.

Duncan said he tries to keep moving to keep his mind active, and “fighting gravity” means his body is always working when he is. But it’s gotten used to his routine, too.

“I can stand here for two or three days” at a time, he said.

Fit furniture

Randy Green, a manager at McCartney’s furniture, said Duncan may be on the extreme end with his office space, but companies have been working for years to develop furniture that will make their workers feel healthier, happier and, therefore, more productive.

The concept took off about three years ago, Green said, because “people began seeing the value in it.”

“It’s not something that’s been around forever.”

One of the biggest advances in office furniture was the adjustable-height desk, he said, which allows people the option of a standing desk, or a lower desk so they can sit.

Green said he personally tries to stand for 40 percent of his day.

And meetings go a lot quicker if we meet standing,” Green said. “We can talk about it and go.”

John Baker, McCartney’s president and CEO, said he naturally likes to pace, and some other office inventions have kept him from even attempting to get comfortable in an office chair.

The buoy chair is one such invention, named because it wobbles from side to side, forcing the sitter to keep his or her balance, rather than allowing them to become comfortable and sedentary.

“You can’t roll these [chairs] around the office,” Baker said.

Other inventions include walk stations, sometimes referred to as treadmill desks, which requires its user to keep moving while talking or typing, or slowly roll away from the work space.

Green said the desks are meant to be shared among workers in a medium-sized office and not used for an entire day.

“We’re not trying to get the heart rate up,” Green said. “It’s not exercise. It’s activity.”

Ergonomic chairs are also popular, he said, because of the pressure typing puts on workers’ wrists. It was one of the first areas of the office to be focused on when the healthy office movement started, he said.

The newest invention is a chair – for those who, unlike Duncan, can’t or won’t go without one – that will adjust to the nine postures of sitting, including adjustments when moving from typing on a keyboard, to texting, to using a laptop or iPad.

“The device that the person is using for eight hours a day has changed. Your chair is not designed for texting,” he said. “Chairs have to keep you comfortable and supported in all those postures.”

Joining the movement

Like many of Duncan’s friends, Tom O’Brien said when he first went to Duncan’s office, he thought it was a conference room.

“Then I realized, no, that’s kind of how he works,” he said.

O’Brien, a regional director for Young Life, a nondenominational Christian ministry group designed for youth outreach, said he spends upward of 10 hours in front of a computer most days.

“I think that it’s a really smart tool for him [Duncan] because he doesn’t have somebody plop down in his office. … I’ve actually joked about whether I could do it, with all the computer work I do. Who knows, there could come a day when I try it out. … I don’t know if I want to stand in front of a computer for that long. I don’t know if it would make my work flow faster.”

Duncan said while he’s fully invested in his chairless office, he will never give in to the idea of a walk station or treadmill desk.

“I think the treadmill desk is a gimmick,” he said, not only because it’s not practical but because it’s not financially feasible for most.

Green said it’s true that many fitness-inspired office supplies are not cheap, with a basic adjustable-height desk, sans storage capabilities, running around $400.

“It would cost more than a standard desk,” he said.

But with companies looking into scientific productivity studies, some have decided that the investment is worth it.

One study found that a scientifically designed, 98-percent recyclable chair increased productivity by 17 percent, he said.

Another chair design takes pressure off the sitter’s waist and backside, transferring 40 percent of his or her weight to the arm and back supports.

And, he added, there’s no risk of carpal tunnel because the wrists are never having pressure put on them by the user moving around or leaning.

“I think the aches and pains of the workplace are driving a lot” of these developments, Green said.