The workday can be full of long, tedious stretches of sitting. Among the most awful are large meetings where you have to sit and listen to others. You’ve probably attended many of these meetings. Dozens of chairs lined up facing a podium and a large screen. Everyone files in to take their places in chairs and listen passively to the speakers. No matter the presentation skills of the person at the podium, it can be nearly impossible to keep remain alert – or even awake – as the meeting stretches on . . . and on . . .
I have taken to standing during these meetings whenever possible. As the head of a treadmill desk company, I know too much about the negative effects of sitting, with inevitably poor posture, for hours to do anything else! Depending on the set up of the room, my standing in the back of a sea of chairs varies dramatically in awkwardness. Sometimes it is not awkward at all. If there is a food table in the back or some regular activity of people coming and going, then I can blend in fairly well. In a smaller room where everyone is sitting, I can become the opposite of a wallflower.
No matter the situation, though, I almost inevitably get asked if I’d like to have a seat. Often the person asking me whether I want to take a load off also points out that there is an empty chair or offers me his own chair. I usually respond, “Thank you, but I’m happy standing.” This response draws a quizzical look. I realize now that standing among a room of seated people (especially when there are perfectly good chairs available) simply is not normal. People are rolling the image around in their brains and “does not compute” is coming out. One time a man asked me if I had a back problem. “No,” I said, “I’m trying to avoid one.”
Of course, I appreciate that people are being polite and waiting to make sure that I am comfortable. I just wish that we could shift the norm away from the need to sit in order to be comfortable, attend a meeting, listen to a speaker, or do all variety of things.
If you look around the room 40 minutes into a meeting, I bet you’ll notice that the people sitting in chairs are not looking so comfortable. They probably are hunched over, slouched down, stealthily (or not so stealthily) looking at their phones. There likely will be a number of yawners and a few head bobs.
When I stay standing, though, I usually am feeling pretty good. I feel alert and better able to focus on the presentation. I’m less likely to check my phone or be distracted. When the meeting is over, my energy is up and I’m ready to move on to the next part of the day. My muscles were engaged. My back was not compromised. And I might have even burned a few extra calories.
I write and speak to groups about these benefits to try to help shift the norms away from a chair culture. I want to be joined by more people in the back of the room wanting to take a break from their chair! What if instead of being asked, “would you like to sit down,” we were asked, “Would you like to stand up?” Perhaps the best of both worlds: “Would you rather stand or sit?” The assumption in the question is that either can be comfortable, acceptable, and normal. Next time you’re in a meeting, think about giving it a try and helping to create that new normal.
* This article was originally written by Rebel Desk Founder, Kathleen Hale on LinkedIn.