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New Glaxo Facility at Philly Navy Yard Emphasizes Standing's Benefits

New Glaxo Facility at Navy Yard Emphasizes Standing's Benefits [the Philadelphia Inquirer]

From Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) (February 3, 2013)

Feb. 03--His coffee consumption level hasn’t changed. Nor has his sleep schedule.

But Michael McTigue feels a lot more energetic at work these days, perhaps because he stands most of the time.

Sitting at a traditional office desk, "I ended up exhausted at the end of the day," said McTigue, director of digital media for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. "There was nothing stimulating me."

About a year ago, Glaxo set up a pilot program in which employees could work at adjustable-height desks, among a slew of other workplace design changes in preparation for the company’s move from its Center City offices to the Navy Yard on Monday.

Now, McTigue said, "I have a ton more energy."

The office changes -- more open space, sunlight, and incentives to move around -- have been in the works for more than two years and are designed to improve productivity by eliminating barriers to collaboration. They also show an approach to tackling what some scientists call a public health crisis: prolonged sitting.

Researchers have linked sedentary behavior to increased risk of several forms of cancer and blood clots, which can cause strokes and heart attacks, among other health problems. More than 1,000 studies have been published in the last year.

Companies across the country are experimenting with office designs similar to Glaxo’s to try to control health-care costs, said David Trippany, senior researcher and corporate ergonomist at Steelcase, a global manufacturer of office furniture.

But no one has found the solution to the sitting epidemic, said Marc Hamilton, of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., who founded the field of inactivity physiology.

"Whoever does discover something that works should get the Nobel Prize," he said. "It’s going to have more of a public health impact than anything I can think of." More than a dozen global companies have sought his consultation.

Hamilton’s studies have shown that prolonged inactivity can shut down genes that control cholesterol levels and prevent blood clots and inflammation. What makes those findings even more alarming is that regular exercise is not an antidote.

In one of Hamilton’s studies, he instructed physically fit, regular exercisers to sit for a day. The gene that prevents clots shut down within hours, even though the participants were trim and fit, he said.

Researchers have complemented Hamilton’s lab work with human behavior studies. In July, one of Hamilton’s colleagues at Pennington conducted a meta-analysis of underlying studies of nearly 167,000 people, which found that sitting for less than three hours a day could increase life expectancy by two years.

In 2011, researchers in Australia found that people who spent 10 years in sedentary work -- activities that require very limited energy expenditure -- were twice as likely to contract distal colon cancer and had a 44 percent increased risk of rectal cancer than those who had never held sedentary jobs.

Companies like Glaxo are taking note: It already has some of the new features in other branches, but the Philadelphia project is the only one built from the ground up in this way, said Ray Milora, the company’s project executive for its move to the Navy Yard.

The design of the 208,000-square-foot Navy Yard office is "180 degrees from where we are today," he said, describing the current setting as a "cubicle world" not optimal for morale, productivity, or health.

In the new office space, no one has a designated seat; desk drawers have been replaced with lockers; trash cans and printers are in centralized areas to encourage movement; phones are embedded in computers; and workers could be typing away while sitting on a yoga ball or on a chair. And there are treadmill desks, known as "walking stations."

The changes are not designed solely to address employee health. They are part of a broader plan to boost efficiency and collaboration.

Of the 1,300 employees in Glaxo’s Philadelphia offices, about 400 have completed a two-week pilot program in which they worked in an office setup similar to the one at the Navy Yard.

Dozens more like McTigue have been working for more than a year on the 16th floor of one of the company’s Franklin Plaza buildings outfitted with adjustable desks, yoga balls, and other equipment prominently featured at the new office.

Ron Joines, vice president and medical director in the company’s environmental health and safety group, said he gets to work early to snag one of the standing desks because they fill up faster than any others.

A physician, Joines cited studies that showed the perils of sitting and noted people can burn 150 to 200 calories a day by standing at work. His goal? Four hours a day.

Not all Glaxo employees appeared convinced; most were sitting.

Media reports about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle caught the attention of employees at Susquehanna International Group’s Bala Cynwyd headquarters. Last year, about 1,200 studies were published.

Shawn Hoffman, an operations manager at the investment firm, has worked there for 16 years and sat for 15 of them. Now he stands for six to seven hours a day.

About two dozen employees began using standing desks over the summer, he said, and 50 more want in. The reason? "All the research saying it’s healthy," Hoffman said.

The company has looked into buying more equipment but is waiting to see whether employees remain committed to standing before they invest a lot of money in expensive desks. Two recently returned to their chairs.

Glaxo’s manufacturer for the new equipment, Haworth, declined to say how much it costs.

"There’s definitely a lot of people who’ve gone from sitting to standing," said Cathy Grimes, Glaxo head of human resources. "Whether they stay that way, we don’t know."

That’s a key concern for Hamilton. "We have to be careful about saying, one, ‘Is it effective?’ And two, ‘Is it a human behavior that’s feasible?’ " he said. He noted practical concerns with standing: It can be uncomfortable for women who wear heels and can hurt people’s knees. As for the yoga balls: "You can slouch on those," Hamilton said.

McTigue said that when colleagues who were not familiar with the new setup first saw the 16th-floor space, "it was like being in a zoo."

Moreover, no scientific evidence has emerged suggesting any of the companies’ strategies will be successful.

They are great efforts, Hamilton said, "but let’s not pretend like we found this holy grail of good health we’re looking for until the science supports it."


Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846,, or follow @AndrewSeidman on Twitter.


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Posted: February 2013