How can Chinese companies improve workstation utilisation?

The Chinese workplace is renowned for hard work but a new analysis of desk use reveals inefficiencies and a need to create a healthier working environment

The Chinese workplace thrives on hard work but is inefficient in its use of desks and would benefit from the introduction of real-time occupancy data to act upon as well as ergonomic improvements to create a healthier work environment.

Those are the key findings of a major study of workstation use by Chinese employees conducted by workplace digitisation company 9am Inc. According to 9am, the research ‘aimed to provide a perspective on improving the collective impact of a good work environment, as well as informing future healthy workplace protocols’.

The study was carried out between June 2019 and May 2020 in 74 companies with offices in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hangzhou. Daily data feeds from 9am’s detection sensors installed inside the companies formed the basis for analysis.

The organisations surveyed included 23 internet companies, 17 finance companies and 19 manufacturing firms; 22 of the firms were in the Fortune 500; seven manufacturers were also Fortune 500 firms. The 74 organisations included foreign, China domestic companies and joint-ventures. The study ruled out confidential data from the report and restricted analysis to sector-based information.

Sectors show differences

In comparing results sector by sector, internet companies lived up to their reputation for having a long-hours culture by topping the table in terms of both workstation utilisation rates and length of time at the desk – employees are regularly at their desks for 6.3 hours long. Finance companies have a higher usage rate, but the length of time at the workstation is the second lowest of the four sectors surveyed. This might be because many employees spend considerable time away from their desks looking for business opportunities.

500 Fortune companies scored in the middle ground for both workstation utilisation and duration, a reflection of the degree of cross-divisional collaboration and off-desk meetings within these organisations. Manufacturing has the lowest use rate and duration – workstations are more of temporary spot for work in these companies as the majority of employee time is in the workshop.

The study also looked at workstation use across different roles and divisions. Product development roles that require extensive computer use mean employees spend the most time at the desk; marketing and sales roles, on the other hand, involve less than half the average time that product development people usually spend at their workstations. Sales people are out and about chasing business leads.

Addressing pain points

The study identified several issues that may arise from misuse or neglect of workstations. Most of companies studied in the research have inefficient utilisation rates. Real-time data transmitted from 9am occupancy sensors showed that even the peak utilisation rate on average in the top-performing internet sector is still less than 75 per cent.

The survey results revealed that companies don’t need a 1:1 seating ratio. If facility managers are able to monitor the real-time usage of each workstation, they can adjust that ratio accordingly and give up desks to save space. That space can either be repurposed for other functions or relinquished entirely to save on real estate costs.

For employees who only need a temporary spot to get work done, some companies have also designated a certain floor or hot-desk zone. If someone is not keen to sit at an anonymous desk, facility managers could also try implementing desk hoteling, so that employees can reserve a specific desk for a set amount of time on an as-needed basis.

A healthier workplace

People working for internet and finance sectors are likely to sit at desks for extended periods of time. However, sedentary behaviour has been emerging as a potential health risk – various studies have linked too much of it to depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancer. For companies, ignoring ergonomic concerns can be costly and spending money creating a healthy workplace is a smart investment.

According to the 9am report, scientific findings have shown that use of sit-stand workstations  over a longer duration may have important ramifications for the prevention and reduction of cardio-metabolic and spinal risk in a large proportion of the working population. Some countries have introduced new employment laws that require employers to provide ergonomic workstations. Many progressive companies have already taken the step of using standing desks to increase employees’ well-being and experience at work. Sit-to-stand desks make it easier to change posture throughout the working day and notifications remind employees to shift posture after a reasonable period of sitting down.


9AM provides spatial data analysis services and the overall solution of digitalised height-adjustable workstations for enterprises, which will lead to data-driven workplace strategies and efficient and healthy new working methods.

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