25 April 2017

“Sitting is the smoking of our generation” writes Kevin Chapman, Lendlease Head of Leasing. 'Making your workplace fit for purpose' published in City AM Office Politics discusses how Lendlease is combating the UK's sedentary workplace culture at its new commercial development, International Quarter London.

“Sitting is the smoking of our generation.” It’s a phrase that has been widely used amongst health experts and has been prominently covered in the press. So why is it that in London offices many of us are still sitting and remain inactive for hours at a time? 

A new report commissioned by Lendlease and LCR, joint developers of International Quarter London, has revealed that over three quarters of all workers regularly sit in one place for more than an hour at a time, with more than half doing so every day of the week. Compounding the issue the research has found that more than a third of workers eat lunch at their desk four or more times a week and more than a quarter never use the stairs at work. 

It appears that sedentary working spans meetings and meal times, and, as the report identifies, this behaviour is hard wired into our office routines and culture. 

We know however, that there is appetite for change. 

More than half of Londoners surveyed said they would change their working habits if they were informed that just two minutes of activity every hour is enough to undo the long-term health damage of prolonged sitting at work. 

To create long-term change, we need to address the mindset that standing during long meetings is considered odd, eating at our desks is a sign of commitment and walking meetings should be left to actors in the West Wing. 

The report reveals a few truths that can help us make our workplaces more active. But to make it work, the whole office needs to be involved – most importantly management, but also employees and even the furniture and surroundings have an important role to play too.

Culture is undeniably and unequivocally key

When it comes to increasing our movement at work, the majority of us are remaining seated solely because we believe our seniors, colleagues or clients would find more active behaviour strange. Imaginary or not, a change in this perception must be led from the top.

Our study found that more than half of Londoners think initiatives implemented by senior management would be the most effective way of bringing about change. Outdoor space, rooftop terraces and stand up desks ‘promote’ activity at work, but if they are not part of an officially reinforced and supported culture, most of us will continue to remain seated.

But change is not just dependent on our senior leaders. We care what our colleagues think too. So initiatives that get the masses moving may work best. Trying a weekly competition using activity trackers has been identified as a winner. Within our own business we’ve seen that wearable tech such as Fitbits are great at reminding us to get moving.

The workspace should be used as a tool for change

The physical workplace provides an enormous opportunity for organisational change. From our study, we found that a quarter of Londoners say that their workplaces do not include space to accommodate movement. So there is definitely an opportunity for businesses to support more active behaviour with a few simple furniture changes. But while replacing sitting time with standing is a step in the right direction, it’s introducing movement within the work day that will drive real health benefits.

Taking a wider view than just office fit-out, we know there are ways our workplaces can be built from the ground up to address the issue. Centrally located, inviting staircases and visual connections facilitated by open floor plates, actually encourage people to move more. Whether it’s by choosing to speak to someone rather than email because you can physically see them or by simply feeling you’re able to move around rather than being contained to a cubicle.  

This is where the concept of Activity Based Working – creating flexible workspaces designed to facilitate individual tasks at work – can also help. A focus on activity specific working can encourage staff to move to locations within the office that best suit the task at hand, rather than rely on a single desk all day long. This in turn leads to a dramatic increase in day-to-day movement, has been shown to improve performance and allows businesses to use their office space more efficiently.

The issue of sedentary working is a solvable one. But to drive real change we must ensure our workplaces are fit for purpose, from culture through to design.

The new report Fit for purpose: steps to tackling Britain’s sedentary working culture can be downloaded for free at internationalquarter.london/downloads. 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from research commissioned by Lendlease and LCR and conducted by YouGov Plc.

Kevin Chapman is UK Head of Offices at Lendlease, joint developers with LCR of the 4 million sq ft of new workspace being delivered at International Quarter London.