Move It: 5 Ways To Help Transform Sedentary Work Environments 

The world seems to be in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The technologies associated with this revolution, like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics, are changing the ways in which we perceive, create, and exchange value. Technology is transforming societies and lifestyles. The changes are giving rise to new types of challenges. Work is becoming increasingly sedentary due to automation. And numerous studies in recent years have revolved around the effects of work-related sedentary time.

Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” These words of Doctor James Levine, although sombre, serve as a reminder about the reality of sedentary lifestyles.

Health Risks of Sedentary Work

The dangers of sedentary work are mostly caused by prolonged, uninterrupted sitting. According to a study[1] , these are some of the health risks associated with sedentary work:

  • Poor blood circulation
  • Fewer calories burned, leading to weight gain and possibly obesity
  • Weaker muscles and bones, lesser strength, lower endurance
  • Weaker immune system
  • Increased risk of chronic diseases
  • Mental health issues
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Increased all-cause mortality

Many people are living sedentary lives not out of choice but out of compulsion. The sedentary nature of their work and long working hours make it difficult for them to frequent physical fitness centres, hire trainers, or take up any activities that focus on fitness. A study published in Occupational Medicine journal found that more than half of people’s daily sitting time is on account of work.

The Impact of Sedentary Work Environment on the Business

Sedentary work is not only dangerous for the health of individual employees, but it can also have consequences [2] for the business in the long run. A sedentary work environment may have long-term effects like these on the business:

  • Loss of talented and skilled employees because of the negative health effects of sedentary work
  • Increased absenteeism due to compromised immune systems
  • Decreased focus, increased distractions, and lower productivity
  • Decreased job satisfaction and increased subjective fatigue among employees, which may affect the work environment
  • Greater employee turnover (losing employees to companies that prioritise fitness and provide facilities that boost fitness)
  • Competitive disadvantage
  • Reduced profitability

Ways to Transform Sedentary Work Environments

For greater resilience, businesses, workplaces, and methods of working need to evolve. The transformation needs to be in line with global changes for a business to survive and thrive. Here are a few ways to transform sedentary work environments (including home offices) to reduce or eliminate the negative effects:


To transform the workplace, changes only in the physical environment won’t be sufficient. Change starts internally. With initiatives like informative seminars and counselling sessions, the company can raise awareness about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Webinars or online courses might prove beneficial for changing the mindset of remote employees and teaching them how to avoid getting stuck in a sedentary lifestyle rut (sitting for work and then sitting to relax). These initiatives will make the employees more receptive to other changes intended to reduce sedentary behaviour. Not only employees but also the leaders of teams should be educated on this topic so that they can support and motivate their teams. Companies can also offer in-house fitness classes, or pay remote employees for taking such classes in their location. Several companies also choose to reimburse their employees for gym membership fees. Sports clubs might also be a good idea. Companies can also encourage employees to participate in activities that are not necessarily fitness-focused but still encourage movement such as gardening, organising and volunteering for causes.

Bupa (British United Provident Association Limited) is a company that is making revolutionary changes for the health of its employees, and one would expect nothing less from this multinational health insurance and healthcare giant. The company offers a confidential well-being program called ‘Bupa Lifeworks’ for its employees, and conducts heart checks as well as health-related workshops and events. Bupa also launched an app called ‘Bupa Boost’ that nudges employees to practise healthy behaviours.


Employees spend most of their time at their workstations. It might be a good idea to replace conventional desks with sit-stand desks or adjustable desks. Even a remote employee can purchase an adjustable desk or an active-sitting chair and the company can bear the expense.  Such changes will enable the employees to work while alternating between sitting and standing. Quite a few large companies such as Apple, Google, and Honda (Canada) implemented this tactic and found it effective. Adjustable desks have the potential to reduce the amount of time employees spend sitting, which is the main goal. Leaders should encourage employees to switch between sitting and standing every half hour. 


Humans need to move. By not incorporating sufficient movement, people limit productivity. The workplace floor plan should not only facilitate movement but also promote it. It should necessitate moving around and walking for basic everyday tasks. The placement of supplies, printers, garbage cans, and other items should be such that the employees need to stand up and move around regularly. Remote workspaces and home offices can also be transformed similarly. The employees who work from home and live in small apartments, twisting, turning, and stretching in their spot at regular intervals might also be better than sitting for an extended period.

In the office campus, beautifully decorated staircases (maybe with the addition of plants) and enticing walkways might make employees move more. The employees might become more keen about taking the stairs on their way to meetings or going for a walk during their breaks. The design of the infrastructure facilities should promote and support fitness. It is possible to supplement the effect of these facilities with motivational and informative posters along the routes that employees take most often. The company can also acquire fitness equipment or create game rooms, which may attract employees. The Facebook campus has a fitness centre, and numerous bikes for employees. It also has vending machines that provide parts for repairing bikes instead of regular vending machines that dispense junk food.

Employers can also provide remote employees with suitable fitness equipment. They can advise employees to keep the fitness equipment easily accessible and visible, to increase the chances of utilisation of the equipment. Digital posters about fitness on the company work platform might also be a good idea. Wellness challenges with monetary incentives might motivate employees who are not very enthusiastic about fitness. The multinational company ‘Accenture’ have an initiative called ‘Total Rewards’. As part of the program, the employees get to choose the wellness goal they want to achieve; they get support while working toward the goal and a cash reward for accomplishing the goal.


Walking meetings are a better alternative, as compared to conventional meetings in which employees have to sit in a conference room the whole time. While it is not possible to conduct all meetings in this manner, many meetings can be held on the go. Walking meetings not only have physical benefits, but they are also good for mental health. Physical exercise also boosts brain function, and therefore, walking meetings might produce many transformative ideas. Apple founder Steve Jobs used to brainstorm new concepts while strolling with his chief designer.

During long work meetings with remote workers, leaders should allow breaks for moving about. Many meetings can be conducted without visuals. During such meetings, employers can allow employees to keep the video off and join in while standing, stretching or walking. This can be the case for situations when the employee isn’t necessarily directly involved in a discussion. If the leaders want to ensure that the employees are on task, they can consider getting consistent updates as the project or task progresses. Actively engaging others during the conversation (if applicable) not only helps to ensure that the topic is well-rounded but also knowing that employees who have cameras off are still involved.


If the work is task-based instead of time-oriented, employees may be able to move around more. Time tracking makes employees sit in one place longer. Employees should be free to move around or leave after the completion of their tasks.

In creative fields like writing, design, and advertising, employees need not be at their work desks all the time. Since their work is mostly done on their laptops, companies should allow them to work remotely. For instance, such employees might produce better results as digital nomads in a hammock in Bali than what they usually deliver from their desks. The employees will be rejuvenated, get the exercise they need, and deliver results that exceed company expectations. The multinational company Accenture provides employees with much flexibility regarding the place and schedule of work.

Allowing employees to take short flexible breaks dispersed throughout the work day but subject to a certain total time limitation might work as well. The employees can take these breaks according to their convenience and preferences. Such breaks might encourage the employees to get up, go for walks, and do some stretches as well as back exercises. Such movements can go a long way towards protecting the spine and general health as well.

Moving Toward a Better Future

As the work expectations from employees evolve, companies also need to make corresponding changes. Companies need to take a deeper look at the way employees work and how it affects their productivity. The better involved management is in the well being of employees, (encouraging physical activity, flexible work arrangements and promoting a healthy culture), the better results employees can produce. By prioritising the physical and mental well-being of the workforce, companies can create a better future that supports the holistic growth and success of individuals and organisations alike.

Author: Sean Lynam – Fitness Enthusiast, Personal Trainer, and Freelance Writer.

Photo credit: Cottonbro Studio

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