Lauren Friedrich, a 2016 graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), explored the changing relationship between architecture and healthy living in her master's thesis. For her project Friedrich took a multidisciplinary approach incorporating insights from experts across Harvard in neuroscience, biomechanics, physical therapy, choreography, and ergonomics, and ideas from people who patronize public spaces. Her thesis also cleverly reimagines GSD’s Gund Hall as a flexible fun house full of passageways that encourage circulation and “resting nets.” Read more about her thesis in the Harvard Gazette.
No matter who you are or what you do, how you move affects you. The unfortunate reality is that we spend the greater portion of our days sitting down – we sit to eat, we sit to watch TV, we sit in meetings, at computers, on the bus, in the car, and just about everywhere else there is to sit when we are not being forced to move. It’s in our programming to conserve energy and maximize the efficiency of our energy output by moving as little as we need to get by. However, unlike our hunting and gathering ancestors, who spent the greater portion of their day moving, all the energy we are saving has nowhere to go.
The body is trained to adapt, so every movement decision you make is going to have some influence on the shape of your muscles, bones, and tissues. The more variably you move, the broader the adaptation of your body. Movement also triggers areas of the brain responsible for thought, creativity, and attention, which explains why insight often happens when you’re taking a walk, or are away from your desk. As counter-productive as it may sound to disengage from your work, your employees will be MORE productive if they have the freedom to move throughout the day.
Steps you can take in your office:
- Ask your employees how they work most productively.
- In the design, allow for areas for your employees to get away from their desks. Sometimes even just finding a quiet nook in another room will trigger an idea that was muddled by staring too long at the computer screen. Giving your employees the freedom to choose where and how they work (where they want to read an article, where they want to have a meeting, where they want to write down an idea, and where they take a phone call) will give them the feeling that they are in control of their work day, and their body.
- If you have a desk and chair set up, bring in an ergonomist to make sure the employees having to work at a desk are properly set up.
- Standing desks are great, but more importantly, encourage your employees to shift positions while they work.
- Sitting with one knee up, or squatting on the floor, is a great position to read or to write/sketch ideas. If your chairs don't allow for this, consider having raised platforms (not overly cushioned!) that people can perch on, or, if the floor is covered with yoga mats, set aside an area to lounge on the floor with some pillows.
- If you do bring in some standing desks, make sure your employees are not standing all day. If just starting, they should stand for short periods of time, then sit. If already accustomed to standing, they can stand for longer, but should still take breaks to sit or walk around.
- Place necessities closer to the extremities of the space to encourage people to get up to move.
- Eat your lunch out in the grass, stand on the bus, stand in the waiting room for your next appointment, or take your client for a walking meeting. If you spend the majority of your day working at a desk, it's recommended to take every available opportunity to not sit in a chair.
- Take the stairs or a ramp instead of the elevator, and skip steps as you climb to engage your hips. Lastly, get creative with the way you move, the way you sit, and the way you stand. Expectations often hinder our behavior in public, but all it takes is one person to correct the notion that there is ever only one way to do anything.