Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, report
that groups working together on a project while standing are
measurably more engaged and less territorial than while seated.
“A workspace that encourages people to stand up is going to lead to
more collaborative and more creative outputs,” Andrew Knight told
Reuters Health in an email.
The research was initially motivated by new building construction
that resulted in meetings and conversations about new furniture
design and layout at the university said Knight, who along with his
coauthor Markus Baer, studies organizational behavior at the Olin
“I had read some of the research on non-sedentary work and standing
desks that was focused on individual physiological benefits, but we
were really intrigued and excited to see how the physical space
might alter literally how people are interacting with and relating
to one another over the course of the meeting,” Knight said.
The findings were published in Social Psychological and Personality
For the study, the researchers recruited 214 students, who were
asked to work together in small groups for 30 minutes to produce a
university recruitment video that was recorded by a research
A total of 54 groups of three to five students worked in a room that
had a white board, two easels and a rectangular table and either had
chairs arranged around the table or no chairs at all.
In a solitary session before the “meeting” and then during the group
activity, the participants wore small sensors around their wrists
designed to measure physiological arousal by detecting electrical
activity in the skin.
“A primary function of arousal is to signal the importance or
significance of environmental stimuli and prepare the body for
action,” Knight and Baer write. “In social situations, joint
experiences of arousal promote affiliation and collective
sensemaking, both of which are essential for motivating collective
Research assistants rated how the team members worked together and
the quality of the resulting videos, while the participants
themselves rated how territorial their team members had been during
The researchers found that working in the room without the chairs
increased group arousal, decreased territorial behavior and
increased sharing of information and ideas to statistically
“Typically when people are seated at a conference room, they own
their own space in the room, they probably have their own paper,
their own notebooks that they're working on and these things create
a very individually-oriented mindset,” Knight said.
In contrast, he noted, when study participants were standing they
tended to congregate more around a shared workspace and they would
co-create whatever the group was working on in that shared space.
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Knight’s advice for people who need to set up workspaces for
meetings: “The first and foremost is to get up and get out of their
He added that having a collaborative focal point – such as a
whiteboard - in the room would also get people to work together.
Dr. Sally Augustin told Reuters Health that many components of room
design could influence how people work together.
“Design decisions, such as colors used on walls and other surface,
patterns seen, ceiling heights, whether there are windows to the
outdoors, or whether or not passersby can see people working from
the hallway, have repercussions for the mood and energy level of the
people in a space and may have influenced the results found,” she
Augustin, who was not involved in the new study, is an environmental
psychologist who specializes in person-centered design at her
company Design with Science in Lagrange Park, Illinois.
“People are definitely energized by being around others, and they
perform best when their overall energy level is appropriate for the
task at hand,” she said. “The energy people get from the physical
world around themselves, from the colors and patterns they see
combines with the charge they get from standing near other people -
if the resulting energy level is moderate, the total that is just
right for creative thinking, people will tend to think more
Augustin noted that women who are pregnant and people with back
problems, among others, may not be able to stand for prolonged
periods of time, and some people with disabilities might not be able
to stand at all.
Augustin also pointed out a downside to standing. Height, which
affects whether people need to look up or down to make eye contact,
has predictable effects on social interaction, she said.
“When our heads are at different heights above the floor,
conversations with others aren’t as smooth and productive as they
are when all of us are speaking from roughly the same height, as we
are when we’re seated in matching chairs,” she said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1oWIppw Social Psychological and Personality
Science, online June 12, 2014.
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