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Why you should stand when you collaborate

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Why you should stand when you collaborate

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It’s pretty well known that meetings are often an inefficient means of reaching any kind of decision.  As John Kenneth Galbraith famously said, “meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

One of the more interesting insights into how we can make meetings more effective involve standing rather than sitting.  A study published recently from Washington University underlines the positive impact upon meetings when participants stand up during them.  The study suggests that standing up during meetings can both boost creativity whilst also reducing the tendency of participants to become territorial.

“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.

In an environment whereby organizations are investing substantial sums in making their facilities more collaborative and effective, the study suggests that removing chairs may be the most efficient means of achieving this.

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

The study saw participants working in teams for 30 minutes to try and shoot a recruitment video.  The teams were largely identical, with the primary difference being the presence (or not) of chairs in the meeting room.

Each collaborative process was observed by the researchers, who rated the success of each team based upon how they worked together and the output produced.  Participants also rated how effectively they believed their teams worked.

At the same time, each participant wore sensors on their wrist to measure their physiological arousal.  This is a good measure of determining when someone becomes excited, ie during a particularly creative and engaged moment.

It emerged that there was significantly more physiological arousal when teams were in a standing environment.  What’s more, participants in such an environment were also much more collaborative and less territorial about their own ideas.  Participants in the standing groups also reported that their teams worked more effectively than their seated colleagues.  All of this combined to result in higher quality videos at the end of the process.

“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,” the paper says.

There is an increasing amount of science behind how our workplaces are designed, with various companies offering employee analytic services, so that employers can determine popular seating arrangements, employee alertness data and so on.  The researchers believe we are at the early stages of wearable technology, with the trend only likely to continue.

“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.” they say.

Suffice to say, this research only covers physical collaborations.  It would be interesting to test whether online collaboration is similarly impacted by our physical status whilst we collaborate.  In the meantime, maybe it’s time for our offices to lose the chairs in our meeting spaces.

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