“Employees need to get out of their cubes and move around” – VARIDESK CEO Jason McCann

It was 50 years ago that U.S. workers first moved into cubicle-filled office spaces. While cube farms have become the symbol of a stagnant office, they were originally designed to actually encourage worker flexibility and collaboration – two ideas that VARIDESK, a Coppell, Texas-based company that designs height-adjustable standing-desk solutions, wants businesses to focus on again.

Over the years, the cubicle-filled office has been used to get more employees into one room instead of as a way to stimulate idea sharing, says Jason McCann, VARIDESK founder and CEO. Bland desks and spaces that don’t support movement or flexibility end up hindering productivity and make people less excited about coming to work, he says.

McCann, though, says that’s changing. He’s a vocal proponent of the “active workplace,” the idea that a simple and flexible office space, and one that promotes movement, will result in more engaged employees. “It’s about being in a place where you’re free to move about, from individual workspaces to common areas to meeting rooms,” he says. “That encourages collaboration and communication between people in an organization.”

McCann didn’t set out to be a face of active-workplace living. He was simply trying to help a co-worker deal with back pain. That led to the creation of the original VARIDESK product in 2012, which encouraged more flexibly and movement. The product itself moves up and down so users can stand or sit while working, but people often stay standing when they need to talk. “When someone comes to talk to you, you’re already standing and thinking on your feet,” he says. “That’s better than sitting down and having the energy sucked out of you.”

VARIDESK is playing a big part in the active-office revolution. While many companies are using the original VARIDESK in their offices, more are now coming directly to the company for advice on how to design the ideal space. Its 75,000-square-foot showroom demonstrates how flexible and simple an active workplace can be to achieve. It also includes other products that align with active-office thinking, such as conference tables that let co-workers collaborate on projects from either a standing or a sitting position. Also, the company has just released the new ProDesk™ 60 Electric standing desk that assembles in less than five minutes, making it easy to set up in any office.

McCann also advises workplaces to put trash cans in centralized areas rather than at individual desks, so that people are encouraged to walk a few feet if they want to throw something out. Creating other types of areas, like lounges and coffee bars, not only gives people different spaces to work out of, but allows staff to walk around and talk to each other, too. He’s also a fan of pumping music into washrooms, cafeterias, and other non-work rooms. “You want to elevate the energy of a space,” he says. “These are subtle details, and not expensive, but they show, that you care about your employees.”

While many companies have implemented active elements, like standing desks, in their office spaces, it will still be a while before every workplace is an active one. After 50 years of cubicles, change won’t happen overnight, but executives are getting it, says McCann. Companies, though, should act fast or risk losing staff to competitors who already have more flexible offices. “The ones who care about employees recognize that change is part of a strategy,” he says.

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