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Should Nonprofit Employees Sit or Stand While Working?

A teacup next to a laptop.

“Oh, I’ve been burning more calories- I just stand at my desk at work now.”

“I try to get a 20-minute run in during lunch, but work is so crazy I can’t always make it out.”

How do you stay healthy at work in an office? The argument against sitting all day has become commonplace- it increases risk of heart failure and shortens life expectancy. As the “standing” solution becomes more and more prevalent, however, a counter-argument emerges: standing all day comes with its own problems. What’s a health-conscious Idealist to do?

Another option that has been making the rounds is the “sit-stand desk,” which allows office workers to transition back and forth between sitting and standing. We talked to Farah Killidar, CEO of the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston about their mission, work, and recent switch to sit-stand desks, as well as the benefits they are already seeing as a result of the change.

Tell us a little bit about your organization- what does the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston do?

In service to Greater Houston as a Global City, the mission of the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston is to promote understanding of the world – its people, politics, economies, and cultures – to enable the Houston community to participate more effectively in a global environment.

How do you fulfill that mission?

Our International Programs Department offers balanced, informative, and thought-provoking programs, bringing renowned international leaders and experts to the city of Houston. The Council organizes over 100 general events each year for over 7,000 members. These events include lectures, panel discussions, luncheons, trivia nights, and networking events.

Our International Education Department connects students to the global leaders of our time and provides them the opportunity and avenue to become culturally sensitive, globally competent, citizens. In addition, we offer teachers personal and professional development opportunities, including workshops and international travel.

Founded on the tradition of intellectual exploration at our mission’s core, our International Travel Department offers international travel that is memorable, educational, and highly affordable. We specialize in small group travel of 10-20 travelers, exploring locations chosen for their geopolitical interest and providing a unique travel experience that exceeds the opportunities available to most tourists.

Wow, sounds like quite a bit of exciting work! How many staff members work at the organization?

The World Affairs Council of Greater Houston has 16 employees. We also have a varying number of interns in the fall and summer.

What prompted the decision to equip the office with standing desks?

I had talked to friends who used standing desks in their workplaces and felt it greatly improved their personal health and productivity. I had also read various articles and seen news reports discussing the benefits of using standing desks.

One of our staff members began using a standing desk, and her feedback was very enthusiastic, so as we began to think about reorganizing our office space, I asked all of our employees whether they would be interested in using standing desks. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so when we were notified that VARIDESK was donating 20 desks to our organization, we were thrilled.

What were you looking for in a standing desk?

We wanted the following qualities:

  • Made to sit on top of our existing office furniture (some standing desk options are free-standing)
  • Easily moveable from standing to sitting height and back again
  • Wide range of adjustment to accommodate different individuals’ heights and sizes
  • Attractive look and design that would fit well into our office scheme

During the research process, we received positive reviews of the VARIDESK from friends. Also, one of our staff members was already using one and loved it.

Overall, we were drawn to its functionality. It is easy to adjust -- the desk pops up and down easily using two levers attached to the top platform. Many other available desks simply aren’t as easy to use or are locked to the office furniture, making the desk difficult to move.

As a Texas-proud nonprofit organization, we were also thrilled that VARIDESK’s United States headquarters is located in Texas!

Are all staff members’ work stations outfitted with a standing desk?

We received 20 standing desks, so all staff members will have the opportunity to use the VARIDESK. There will also be stations available for interns.

What improvements or benefits have staff members experienced so far?

We received our desks in June and have been reorganizing our office setup at the same time. The change to the office is inspiring our employees and helping to increase their energy. Even though they have just started to use them, they are experiencing the positive effects. They are already reporting increased energy, better mood and better posture, and say that it is inspiring them to be more active, keeping them moving more throughout the office day and in general. We expect that we will see additional health benefits in our staff over time.

One of our staff members is working to lose weight and is using the VARIDESK as a part of her plan to increase her fitness. She volunteered to track her progress and we are looking forward to seeing the results!

We greatly appreciate VARIDESK’s investment in the nonprofit community through this generous donation to the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston.

I believe that using the VARIDESKS also contributes to an increased atmosphere of problem-solving at work.

How else do you expect this change to your office improve work performance?

I believe that it will encourage collaboration among our team. Our current open office structure, which utilizes the desks so that staff can alternate between sitting and standing, results in staff having a more inviting posture, so that communication and greater creativity is encouraged. I believe that using the VARIDESKS also contributes to an increased atmosphere of problem-solving at work.

So I know your organization uses to post job opportunities (and find more candidates to work at those standing desks). What has been your experience using our site?

The World Affairs Council of Greater Houston uses to post opportunities for jobs, internships, and volunteer activities. We have been very pleased with the connections has helped us to make in the community, and we continue to expand on the ways in which we use the site.

As our world has become increasingly interconnected, it’s wonderful to have a resource like Idealist that helps us to access all of the knowledge and energy that’s out there and to connect with individuals and organizations who want to be involved with our mission.

Tell us a little bit about one of your many upcoming events!

The Council hosts a variety of programs each month. We encourage those who are interested in international affairs to review our program schedule and to consider attending one of our many exciting events! The schedule is updated frequently and is available on our website.

We are very excited about the Council’s annual Jones Award Gala, which will be held on September 13th. The Council will be honoring Dr. Robert C. Robbins, President and CEO of the Texas Medical Center (TMC), the largest medical center in the world. The TMC is a nonprofit corporation with 59 member institutions, including M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Methodist Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, CHI St. Luke’s Health, and many others.

Each year, through the Jones Award, the Council honors an individual who – in the spirit of renowned Houston philanthropists Jesse and Mary Gibbs Jones – has made significant contributions to our global city. Through his vision, commitment and innovations at the TMC, Dr. Robbins is making life-changing discoveries possible. We are delighted to be recognizing him as honoree of this year’s Jones Award.

By Victoria Crispo

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