Researchers find surprising means of increasing business productivity

Managers across the country are always looking for ways to increase the productivity of their employees. One set of researchers have found one way of doing so – but the means required may send employers for a loop.

A study that was recently conducted at the University of Minnesota, and first reported on by The Star Tribune, found that walking-while-working both increases health and productivity for employees. The researchers, having followed employees at a firm that allowed for walking-while-working, found that treadmill-optimized desks, for example, increased productivity by up to 10 percent. 

"That's a substantial increase [in productivity,]" Avner Ben-Ner, a professor of work and organizations at the Carlson School of Management, told the news outlet. "The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain."

Employees at Salo – a finance, accounting and human resources staffing firm that allows employees to pace on treadmills or sit on exercise balls while working – also reported that they're able to produce at a better level thanks to their unusual desks. The company began using treadmills and other related equipment that allows for movement, such as wireless headsets, some time ago. The firm has been so pleased with the results that it has retained the desks and features for six years now. The team at Salo has even created a conference room with four treadmills so that it's employees can walk in the middle of meetings, according to the Star-Tribune report. 

"This for us is not abnormal," explained Amy Langer, a co-founder of Salo, while speaking to the news source. 

The report concluded by noting that a number of major corporations – such as Best Buy, for example – are currently working to implement treadmill desks and other comparable strategies into their business plan. The research conducted suggests that the increased physical activity increases attentiveness and creativity, leading to a higher level of productivity. 

"You sit long, you start dozing off because you don't do anything other than thinking," Ben-Ner explained, while speaking to the Star-Tribune. "There is a very simple cost-benefit analysis here. We're not talking big fitness gains. We are talking a person who is sedentary who just gets up."

Productivity in the U.S. is trending downward
More offices across the country may want to install treadmill desks for the sake of individuals working in challenging positions, like operations jobs and wealth management jobs. That's because business productivity seems to be trending downward nationwide. A recent report from Reuters detailed how the U.S. government "sharply revised down" statistics regarding nonfarm productivity during the fourth quarter of 2013

Economists polled by the news outlet had expected fourth-quarter productivity to be revised down to a 2.5 percent annual rate. In reality, production rose at a 1.8 percent annual rate, according to the Labor Department, down significantly from both the analyst projections and the originally reported 3.2 percent rate. 

Productivity levels were already on the downswing, unfortunately. Reuters reported that productivity increased by merely 0.5 percent, citing the Labor Department's information. That represents the smallest recorded gain in roughly 20 years. For comparison, nonfarm productivity increased by 1.5 percent during 2012. This all combines to have an effect on gross domestic product growth: that statistic is at an annual pace of 2.4 percent, downgraded from the previous prediction of 3.2 percent. 

Offices that are noticing decreases in their own productivity may want to consider whether one of these innovative solutions – such as the use of treadmills at desks – could possibly help to boost their efficiency levels to those seen in more successful years.