The standing-desk revolution has been making its way into homes and offices throughout the country for the last few years — and if you take a look around the Plano, Texas, location of Top 100 Firm Montgomery Coscia Greilich LLP, you’ll see several employees with those adjustable standing desks.
Co-managing partner Tom Montgomery first got a glimpse of a standing desk up close and personal when he went to visit one of the firm’s clients. He learned that the client developed and engineered its own standing desks. Montgomery coveted the same for his employees: “OK. That’s exactly what we want.”
Montgomery’s inspiration for bringing vertical workstations into the firm was to promote productivity. “I was super-excited about it, because when I looked back at my career, one of my mentors had a philosophy of not having chairs in the conference room,” he shared. “He didn’t want to have meetings where people got into the conference room where they felt really comfortable. I loved that, because I found that our meetings in the standing conference room were twice as productive and took half as much time.”
In the accounting profession — or practically any job that consists of sitting at a desk for eight or more hours — the actions of the workday can breed both monotony and complacency. “You get to the point where you go in and you sit down. You get comfortable, your metabolism doesn’t get going, you’re not on top of your game and then you just start going through the motions,” explained Montgomery. “You start working through work programs and checklists, and you end up doing the same thing you did the previous year. I’m constantly looking for ways to get our people to get dynamic, to get creative, to get their juices flowing, to be enthusiastic about showing up for our clients.”
One of the things Montgomery thought would encourage his staff to break out of the everyday routine was to incorporate the standing desk into their office space. “What’s driving me is that I want to create this dynamic atmosphere that you just don’t come in and sit at your desk,” he said.
There were already a couple of employees in the firm who had purchased some form of standing desk on their own, but after returning from the client meeting where he first tested the contraption, Montgomery spoke with the firm’s partners and told them that people wanted to take part in the standing-desk revolution. The partners agreed and the team came up with the idea to put a subsidy in place to help with the cost for those who wanted to purchase a standing desk. “We have a coordinator to order the desks, and right now we contribute $100 toward each desk. The balance is paid for by the employee,” Montgomery clarified.
At the time Montgomery spoke with Accounting Today, the firm had 308 employees, of whom between 25 and 30 percent had invested in a standing desk. As the new gear made its way into the office, the more people saw them the more other team members wanted them. “It is still fairly unique, not everybody in our office has them yet. More and more seem to get them, almost every other day,” Montgomery noted. “Several people really wanted a healthy lifestyle and the health benefits. Now I think it’s becoming more and more mainstream where everybody sees the benefits of it. The thing I really stress is that we work so hard to have a significant level of employee engagement. The percentage of our employees who are engaged seems to be higher than our competitors. This passion, this enthusiasm and dynamic atmosphere that we are trying to create, I think that the standing desk is a piece worth having and can be very beneficial.”
One of the main hurdles that firms will have to push through when considering standing desks is the overall cost. Does it make financial sense to purchase one for every employee or would it be wise just to wait until someone requests one?
In MCG’s case, the firm had relocated to a new space and purchased brand-new desks and cubicles. Shortly after settling in, the adjustable standing desks were gaining attention throughout the firm. “It was going to cost a lot to replace 300 desks,” said Montgomery. “From that perspective, there was a little hesitancy to thinking that this would be better and more productive. Throw out all of these desks? Is that the kind of expenditure that we wanted to do? That is why we took the approach of subsidizing them. If the employees really wanted it and they are willing to buy into it a little bit, we will help them get them.”
As the firm continues to expand, Montgomery said that the standing desks will become a part of what they offer and the subsidy may eventually phase out. “There is a natural tradeoff, as people get promoted and move,” he explained.
Some may see the standing-desk revolution as a trend that will quickly fizzle out, but Montgomery disagrees. “I think the standing desk is a net win-win, and I don’t see it as a fad,” he said. “It finally got to the level where you can adjust the height easily. [The standing desks] finally reached the level of functionality where it makes sense. I do think it will snowball within the next two to four years.”
The conversation around standing while working veers into the topic of health and wellness. Some hope that they will burn more calories, while others are focused on balancing their stance. “For mainstream office workers, all of us don’t do that every day and it’s not what drives it,” said Montgomery. “Instead of lowering my productivity, like a balance ball will do, standing actually increases productivity. Combine that with the fact that I feel better. I am more energetic, my metabolism stays at a higher level throughout the day. So I am drinking less coffee and less soft drinks, [which I usually drink] to keep me going. I can stand in my office, I’ve got great circulation, my blood is moving and I think that’s the drive for the mainstream office workers.”
The firm doesn’t have empirical data to show that standing while working contributes to productivity. However, Montgomery offers strong anecdotal evidence: “When I’m sitting at my desk, I found that after an hour or so, my metabolism has slowed down and I’ll get up and go walk around the office. I would do that at least six to eight times a day. There is actually value to that for me to go out and see and speak with people, but for a majority of the people, it’s just a waste of time for them. Tangibly I know that for some people, having the standing desk means they are more energized. They stop looking for little breaks where they go downstairs and walk around the block or do something to get some energy again. The standing desk aspect tangibly improves that.”
Montgomery is proud to say that people at MCG appreciate their standing desk for the health results they get from it. His assistant, who has back problems, used to sit in her chair for the majority of the workday, and by the end of the day her body was very stiff and sore. “When she stands, she doesn’t get that because she’s moving, she’s stretching, she’s keeping her back muscles moving so they don’t get tired and locked up,” he said.
This isn’t the first time MCG tried to improve its employees’ health through different office furniture. When the stability ball rolled into the office and replaced desk chairs, staff members were able to work on strengthening their core muscles as they tried to balance themselves, as well as their daily tasks. “There are huge health benefits to that, but at the same time it is very hard to do detailed work that we need to do on the computers and manually when you’re on a balance ball,” Montgomery said. “That level of concentration will wear on you at the end of the day.”
Montgomery expressed the same opinion about treadmill desks, suggesting that it is difficult to keep the same level of productivity while walking, jogging or running while working. “It doesn’t really work long-term. You can’t type on a computer; concentrate on numbers on large spreadsheets while walking on that level of movement. I think the treadmills were a little bit more faddish. People who took up on the treadmill were really into health and wellness, and I think there are real health benefits from that, but the productivity sort of wears on. At some point you can’t get all of your work done.”
For the staff at MCG, it appears that the firm took a step in the right direction to help balance health, wellness and productivity throughout the firm. And Montgomery’s idea of taking part in the standing-desk revolution appears to be just what the doctor ordered.
“You should be up and moving and animated, passionate and enthusiastic,” Montgomery noted. “That really helps us facilitate the type of culture we want.”
AT A GLANCE
Firm: Montgomery Coscia Greilich LLP
Headquarters: Plano, Texas
Co-managing partners: Thomas Montgomery and
No. of partners/staff: 23/308
Percentage of staff standing: Appx. 25-30 percent
Year founded: 2003
Services: Income tax, sales tax, assurance, and consulting
CAN YOU STAND IT?
Standing desks vary widely in price and features. You’ll want to check different suppliers like these to see which will fit your firm, office and staff best.
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