Management Concept: No Chairs

I have concocted a business management concept worthy of Scott Adams. The more I think about this, the more I believe it could really catch on: more than open-plan offices (no walls), more than Six Sigma, more than flattening out the org chart, perhaps even more than synergy.

This concept is so simple, it beggars the imagination: eliminate all chairs (and stools and benches and anything else designed to be sat on) from the entire enterprise.

Yet that simplicity is deceptive, because the concept has a lot of implications. Here are just a few of the things it has going for it...

The sales pitch to upper management is so obvious I scarcely even need to explain it. The productivity benefits of not letting workers sit down while working are so straightforward that the English language has embodied them in an idiom, "sit down on the job", which means, roughly, "not work when one is supposed to be working". I could write pages and pages about how to pitch to management the concept that standing improves productivity, but I don't need to write it all out, because if you stop and think about it for a little while you already know exactly what kinds of things I would say.

Convincing employees to buck up and take it (as opposed to rioting in the hallways) would be a little harder, but there are a number of obvious lines of reasoning that can be used. For starters, any HR manager worth his benefits package ought to be able to stand there with a straight face and say that it'll actually be better for the employees (once they get warmed up to it) because sitting all the time contributes to the sedentary lifestyle that is responsible for most of the major health conditions that plague the developed world. Employees may think they *want* to sit all day, but it's not actually *good* for them, the HR guy says, and if he's any good at all it's almost impossible to be sure he doesn't actually believe this line of reasoning. You can also argue that throughout virtually the entire blue-collar world (err, but you don't say it that way, you say "many industries" or somesuch) workers take standing on the job for granted and don't even think to complain about it because it's Just How Things Are Done. (This has the virtue of being undeniably true, and even employees who are fairly sure it's completely irrelevant will generally have a difficult time articulating clearly WHY it's irrelevant.) If they can do it, you argue, so can we, and with that stroke you put anyone with self-esteem issues instantly on the defensive. Finally, you can appeal to the worker's ego by arguing that such a policy will build a better working environment by helping to encourage the laziest 5% of employees (which almost nobody will admit to being, even to themselves) to seek opportunities elsewhere. But the real clincher for employee compliance is, there's really no good way for them to play the Ghandi card (i.e., just peacefully cooperate as incompletely as possible). When there are no chairs, there are no chairs, and even if an employee brings in a canvas folding chair from home, it won't be the right height for the new furniture.

That brings us to the next point: the "no chairs" school of management does not allow for dipping your toes in the water. It's both feet or nothing. You can subject most of your corporate practices to Six Sigma and yet leave a few well-established procedures unmolested, but you can't do most of your work with no chairs in the building and then go back to using the chairs when it suits. Not only are the chairs themselves gone, but all the furniture (desks, meeting tables, everything) has been replaced with standing-height equivalents. Sitting down would put your head under the table. When you go to a no-chairs office, you're automatically fully committed to making it work.


Andy said...

This is actually not a new idea. Standing desks are quite popular, and chairs have been replaced in many locations with big rubber balls. The management at work very purposefully has some meetings while standing, to shorten the meeting time to the necessary minimum.