Taking away your employees' chairs could be the key to boosting their creativity.
When employees stand during meetings, it boosts the excitement around creative group processes and reduces people's tendency to defend their turf, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.
Andrew Knight, one of the study's co-authors and an assistant professor at the Olin Business School at Washington University, said removing chairs could be a low-cost way to redesign an office space while also tackling the health effects of sitting in one place for too long.
"Organizations should design office spaces that facilitate nonsedentary work," Knight said. "Our study shows that even a small tweak to a physical space can alter how people work with one another."
As part of the study, the researchers asked participants to work together in teams to develop and record a university recruitment video. The teams worked in rooms that had chairs either arranged around a table or no chairs at all.
After making the videos, research assistants rated how the team worked together and the quality of the videos, while the participants rated how territorial their team members were in the group process. In addition, the participants wore small sensors around their wrists to measure "physiological arousal," which is the way people's bodies react when they get excited.
The researchers said that when a person's arousal system becomes activated, sweat glands around the feet and hands release bursts of moisture. The sensors pass a small current of electricity through the skin to measure these moisture bursts.
Knight and study co-author Markus Bauer found that the teams who stood had greater physiological arousal and less idea territoriality than those in the seated arrangement. Additionally, members of the standing groups reported that their team members were less protective of their ideas, which led to more information sharing and higher-quality videos.
"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," Knight said.
Before conducting the research, Knight saw these types of effects when he worked for a software company that held weekly meetings where the participants were always standing. He said that, from an outsider's perspective, these meetings always seemed more collective and interdependent than sitting meetings.
"Usually, people were crowded around a whiteboard, working diligently to resolve a pressing problem," Knight said. "The meeting also seemed more efficient and purposeful."
Based on his research and past experiences, Knight advises organizations to experiment with their office spaces. He believes removing chairs and adding whiteboards are low-cost options that will help encourage brainstorming and collaboration.
The study was published recently in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Originally published on Business News Daily