5 ways to create an active workplace - and why it matters

Want to increase productivity at your company? Nudge your team to move more while they work. Yes, it’s really that simple.

Woman walking through a car park, carrying a handbag

Productive employees are the lifeblood of any successful business. But what makes employees productive?

Worker satisfaction is one way. In fact, according to a study reported in The Economist that looked at 1.9 million employees across 230 separate organisations in 73 countries, worker satisfaction is directly linked to higher productivity and profitability. "Staff really are a company’s most important asset. And that is why smart executives will realise that a contented workforce is a necessity for corporate success,” says one of the study’s authors.

But how does a company cultivate satisfied workers?

Helping employees take care of their health by making regular movement a normal part of every workday is a good place to start.

The human body is built for movement, but that’s not what we’re using it for. We’re working more hours than ever before in jobs that require us to be sedentary most of the time. And even if you are one of the dedicated few who exercise regularly outside of work, you’ll be disheartened by the news that if you sit for the rest of the day you’re likely lessening the effectiveness of your exercise, according to findings published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Add to this inactivity in non-work time, and we’re facing a public health crisis according to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. In his New York Times bestseller, Buettner writes about the five places in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. What’s their secret? They move – about every 20 minutes throughout their day.

If we spend the better portion of our days working, it only makes sense to devote a portion of this time to movement. There’s no better time, and for some of us, there’s no other time.

The good news is it doesn’t take much. Even gentle exercise like a 10-minute walk at lunchtime can have significant benefits, helping to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, obesity, cardiovascular and other lifestyle diseases. Exercise is medicine and every little bit helps, even when it doesn’t feel like exercise.

And regular movement doesn’t just have a positive impact on physical health, it boosts mental health too. The two are linked, so if you take care of one, you are taking care of the other.

But how do we make moving at work a normal part of the day?

1. Managers: nudge employees to move more by moving yourself

The first step is senior management buy-in, and part of this buy-in is modelled behavior. If an employee’s manager never moves, it’s unlikely that her or his employees will either. However, if CEOs, senior leaders, and high-level managers start moving at work, their employees will feel like they have permission to do the same.

2. Experiment with different desk and seating options

Our bodies weren’t designed to do the same thing all day long. Anything that breaks up your normal routine and gets you switching position is good. Sit-stand desks are a great way to get people standing and changing position more throughout their workday.

Different seating options is another good way to integrate more movement and change of position but be careful about spending too long with options such as a Pilates ball or leaning stool. These are fine to use but treat them the same way you would a standing desk: short bursts, e.g., 15 to 20 minutes at a time, interspersed with sitting in an ergonomic chair.

3. Take a break from your desk and screens every chance you get

Your lunch break is a key moment in your day. Use the opportunity to get up and move. Get outside if possible. Colliding with nature - even if it’s only the sky and a few trees – is great for physical and mental health, according to Richard Louv, naturalist and author of The Nature Principle.

You don’t have to stop working just because you’re moving. Walking meetings are a great opportunity to move, enjoy the outdoors and boost cardiovascular health, creativity and productivity while you do it, according to a pilot study for the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

During your walk, you may also learn something about a colleague that may help grow your understanding of them. Walking encourages free-flowing conversation, strengthening relationships which can also have a positive effect on productivity.

4. Create a dedicated moving/stretching space at your workplace

Often the reason people don’t move more at work is because regular, consistent movement hasn’t been normalised for the office yet. People can feel embarrassed or worried that they’ll be teased or shamed if they take the time to stand up and stretch or walk around for no reason other than to move.

By creating a dedicated movement space in your workplace, you can remove some of the embarrassment that comes from stretching or doing squats in front of colleagues. The area doesn’t have to be large; any small space will do away from all the desks.

This space can also be used by people who have pain issues and may need to perform prescribed physical therapy exercises during their workday. Employers: this type of space demonstrates that you take employee health seriously.

5. Move as a team

One way to normalise movement in your workplace is to get everyone doing it together. Raisoft Ltd., a Finland-based healthcare IT company, wanted to get its team moving more at work so they designed a software program that would encourage their employees to do two movement breaks each day. During the breaks, a video guides employees through three movements in three minutes. The specially designed software is called Smart Break and it’s helping keep their employees healthy and productive while removing some of the awkwardness that comes with moving on one’s own. As an added benefit, moving together boosts team cohesiveness which also has a positive effect on productivity.

Start moving more at work today

You’ll likely be hearing more and more about moving during the workday as the evidence mounts that this is an easy, effective way to protect employee health and increase productivity. Why wait to get things started at your workplace?

Raquel Baetz is a workplace wellness consultant who uses ergonomics, movement and body mindfulness to help companies nurture healthy, productive computer-based workers. Get in touch via Twitter @SafeHandsDSE or www.safehandsdse.com