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Standing > Sitting

I read a post called “All Hail the Stand-Up Meeting” by Stephen J. Dubner on the “Freakonomics: The Hidden Side of Everything” blog website.  I really thought the post was interesting and unique, but at the same time extremely relevant and profound.  It offers an alternative to mainstream business practices by advocating for stand-up meetings.

Before reading this post, I had never really considered the idea of stand-up meetings seriously. I guess it just didn’t seem practical to me. Why stand when you can sit? But, then I got to thinking and I thought about the summer when I worked as a waitress. Our pre-shift meetings always required us to stand.  And these meetings were very efficient. The managers briefly talked about things that we, as a team, were doing successfully, and they also brought up things that we needed to do better. They gave us updates and reminders. Then, we were allowed to discuss any issues that we felt needed to be addressed. All in all, the meetings were short and to the point. A lot was accomplished and it was done so in a quick manner, usually about 5-7 minutes. There is no time for sitting around in the restaurant industry, unless of course, you are the guest.

I think that stand-up meetings are definitely beneficial to an organization.  The central idea is efficiency, resulting from short, to the point meetings.  First of all, standing at a meeting allows for a nice break from sitting at your desk all morning.  You can stretch your legs for a few minutes and increase blood flow to the area.  Second, at the meeting, standing keeps the attendees listening and engaged.  Also, the group is more focused on the meeting and the discussion as they are not comfortable seated in a position that encourages the mind to wander off topic. Finally, stand-up meetings require less resources, for example chairs and tables are unnecessary.  A number of companies have adopted stand-up meetings over the years and for good reason, as they are getting more done.

I looked for more information online with respect to stand-up meetings, and I found an article by Rachel Silverman called “No More Angling for the Best Seat; More Meetings Are Stand-Up Jobs” in the Wall Street Journal.  She writes that stand-up meetings are part of a fast-moving tech culture because apparently sitting has become synonymous with laziness and inactivity.  The object is to eliminate long-winded conversations where participants lecture, use their smartphones or zone out completely.

Furthermore, a study in 1998 by Allen Bluedorn, a business professor at the University of Missouri, found that standing meetings were about a third shorter than sitting meetings and the decision-making was just as effective.  Additionally, not surprisingly, Tyler Cowen’s “Discover Your Inner Economist”, which offers radical ideas for improving meetings, advocates the strategy of making everyone stand up for the duration of the meeting.  He says this cuts down on chatter and side conversations, which ultimately makes the meeting more productive.

If you are interested in learning more, here is a short video, which details the premise of stand-up meetings and the different strategies associated with them .  I suspect that this is only the beginning of the stand-up meeting trend, and that we are likely to see its popularity grow in the future.



13 thoughts on “Standing > Sitting

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you Lauren. I think standing is an excellent way of having meetings, and more specifically classes. If you recall, Jordi had us all stand in that somewhat of an oval shape and play that awesome game. All kidding aside, I think it really engaged the majority of the class and set a relaxed and open mood for the remainder of the class. In the classroom setting, it always seems to be the teacher standing and preaching to the students. What if class discussions were to be opened to the realm of standing? I think teachers and students alike would see great success in this. What are your thoughts Lauren?

    Posted by Patrick | February 7, 2012, 1:25 pm
  2. Lauren, this blog you chose to comment on is fascinating. I’ve read through myself and found it extremely relevant to the world we live in. Everything is much more fast paced and the structure of these meetings – standing up – seems to give a sense of urgency on its own. I also worked as a server in a previous job where we also had brief meetings standing up, typically in the kitchen, right before meal time. I never thought about the process. The idea of getting away from one’s desk and being able to stretch your legs seems like a good idea in itself. To your point of stand-up meetings needing fewer resources, I found this very relatable. In my 6 month internship I attended many, many meetings (at one point my days all seemed to be meeting after meeting). There were always encounters where there weren’t enough chairs provided, the room was cramped having added chairs, even booking rooms was a stressor on its own. To also comment on the Silverman article you sited, I have to chuckle. The mention of people zoning out or on their smartphones also rings a bell to my co-op experience. Because people were so booked with work to somehow complete amidst all the day-to-day obligations, i.e. meetings, there were certain people that were CONSTANTLY on their laptops or smartphones, completely disconnected from the task at hand. The strategy to move towards stand-up meetings seems very beneficial in circumstances where concise and to-the-point conversation is necessary. I would imagine these meetings to be much more productive than some I’ve sat in (no pun intended, OK… maybe a little bit) in the past. 😉

    Posted by Danielle Marquette | February 7, 2012, 2:26 pm
  3. I also agree that standing in meetings is a very interesting idea. While I do not fully agree that people should stand for the entire time, I do think that it is an unique way to force more people to get involved. Although it is shown to improve efficiency, I think that managers also have to be cautious about people rushing through meetings solely so that they can go sit down. That being said, I know I would appreciate a standing meeting as it would force me to move around the office and get blood flowing.

    Posted by Catherine Gibbons | February 7, 2012, 4:23 pm
  4. I really have never thought about how meetings could be conducted while standing up. Looking at the Freakonomics article along with the other sources you mentioned, I feel like stand up meetings must be very efficient and could be used effectively to combat boring meeting topics or things of this nature. This article is especially interesting to me, though, because for the first time in my life I was present at some meetings as an intern in a small company. I saw how real meetings were conducted, and noted some inefficiencies as well as some interesting etiquette that is involved in the corporate world. Reflecting on that experience, I’m very curious as to how those same meetings would have gone if we were all standing up.

    Posted by Ben K. | February 7, 2012, 4:47 pm
  5. I have been in my fair share of meetings that both require standing and sitting. The only time that I enjoy sitting meetings are those that require a lot of paperwork since the table makes a nice work space. I have to agree with you that the standing meetings that I have participated in are a lot quicker and more efficient. Even quick meetings after class with group members before a group assignment is due is done quickly while standing. I also prefer standing meetings over sitting ones due to personal health reasons. I have a hip impingement and when I sit in a 90 degree angle for more than a half hour, my hips experience a lot of pain and it becomes hard to concentrate. Hopefully, the sitting culture of the workforce we are about to enter will change into the more productive standing culture.

    Posted by Amanda Skonezney | February 7, 2012, 5:31 pm
  6. Lauren, your post got me thinking about the numerous weekly staff meetings that I have attended during my summer jobs and internships. One word comes to mind when I look back on these meetings across a few organizations: inefficiency. People come in, sit back in big leather chairs around a conference table, hide their Blackberries under the table, and sip their morning coffee. Even my boss who printed a meeting agenda for everyone in attendance couldn’t seem to lead a weekly staff meeting that addressed everything on his agenda in an efficient manner. All these facts beg the question of whether having meetings while standing would make a difference. There’s more transparency when everyone is standing in close proximity to one another. Distractions are not as easy to get away with. And most importantly, no one wants to be standing for a prolonged period of time so there is motivation to discuss everything that needs to be discussed. I have never thought about this idea before – so thanks for sharing the idea!

    Posted by Beth O'Brien | February 7, 2012, 5:33 pm
  7. When I think about having a stand-up meeting versus a sit-down meeting, I would prefer to stand up. One of the reasons I would prefer standing is that I think everyone would be more productive. This may be because they want to get the meeting over with so that they can sit down. But is that so bad to want? That way, everyone will express their ideas and be more involved in the conversation, even if the sole purpose is to finish the meeting quicker. I personally hate sitting around and being unproductive, so I would love to try out this idea when I start working.

    Posted by alyssakinell | February 7, 2012, 8:50 pm
  8. Lauren, I have also spent several years working as a waitress. After having that kind of job, one which requires you to constantly be on your feet, you begin to appreciate the minutes you get to sit down. So in that case, I would definitely NOT like a stand up meeting. However, most jobs do not require you to be on your feet all of the time like waitressing does, so in that case I kind of like the idea of a stand up meeting. I can see how it would make people focus on the tasks at hand, rather than goof off or secretly text on their phones. As long as I don’t need to stand for too long of a time or take notes or anything, then I think stand up meetings are a great alternative and interesting way to change up the style of business meetings.

    Posted by Jenna | February 7, 2012, 9:12 pm
  9. Lauren, this is a very interesting post that has great relevance to organizations. I read a book called Brain Rules that explains the importance of physical activity in our problem solving and analytical abilities. Essentially, the premise of the chapter dealing with this concept talks about how humans evolved as physical beings, thus our mental capacity is at its best when we are engaged in physical activity. The author of this book recommends installing a desk that is large enough so you can stand up and work, or even putting a treadmill under this desk so that you a mildly staying active while at work. These ideas seem plausible in accordance with your description on how meetings conducted while standing up are more efficient and effective.

    Posted by Derek | February 7, 2012, 10:10 pm
  10. What an interesting idea! The idea of a typical office meeting is sitting in a conference room, doodling on your notepad, while your boss drones on (re: every scene from The Office). I’ve been on a huge health kick lately, and I keep reading about all of these studies on how unhealthy sitting down is. Slows blood flow, bad for your muscles, your metabolism, your blood pressure, you name it… sitting will negatively affect it. It seems like now there are health benefits and business benefits to standing instead of sitting at works. Thanks so much for the post!

    An NY Times post detailing the health effects of sitting: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/stand-up-while-you-read-this/

    Posted by Caitlin H. | February 7, 2012, 11:53 pm
  11. Fascinating! I would love to propose this to my colleagues. But, I can just imagine the push back, incredibly strong, even from a sitting position. Still, the impact of small changes in practices can be profound. Everyone just assumes sitting is preferable so it is hard to push back on common sense.

    At the same time, I can imagine that standing versus sitting reflects deep beliefs about status in the workplace. See, assembly line workers would often stand in factories. Management sat. Professionals sat, The peasants kneeled before the king, but did not have seats. As more and more work became white collar in the US, the sitting privilege continued regardless of any evidence it is better.

    Posted by Jordi | February 8, 2012, 8:07 pm
  12. I now work at a stand up desk and thus often have impromptu stand up meetings in my office when people stop in. I love it. Working at a stand up is good for the back. some logistics – you need to have the ability to change the elevation of the desk – different activities demand different postures – if you find yourself slouching it defeats the purpose. Also, good to have something to put a foot up on, a ball or stool. Ok, enough about that – it does create a very different dynamic when students walk in – per your ‘status’ discussion. i often stand next to an advisee (looking at your APR, for example) or a student (editing a paper perhaps) both of us looking at the computer together…i will pay more attention to this in the coming weeks, and see what i notice. in general i am a huge proponent of changing physical structure to encourage behavioral change – so i love the idea of a stand up meeting – perhaps just held in a spot where there are both seats – for those who wish need, or are more comfortable, and higher tables for those who stand… so is the point to make people comfortable by allowing them to interact in the posture they choose.. or is it to push them into a posture where they are slightly uncomfortable? benefits and drawbacks to both…(standing as i type this)…

    Posted by eric martin | February 8, 2012, 9:47 pm

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