If taking the stairs catches on, buildings with elevators could automatically get greener. The people working in them also stand a good chance of getting healthier. However, designers and builders working for owners who want to reap these advantages, will need to learn a few new tricks when it comes to how stairs get placed and promoted. They also get a chance to unleash creativity in how they are finished.

By Rob Finch

You could be wasting as much as 15 minutes every day waiting for elevators. It may sound crazy, but research has shown that this may just be the case. IBM estimates that each year US workers spend a combined total of 33 years impatiently gazing at their reflections in shiny elevator doors, waiting for their vertical ride.

Tricksters Lurk

It’s a little known fact that journeys of seven floors or fewer are actually quicker by stairs than in the elevator. Instead, people will do pretty much anything (apart from taking the stairs) to reduce their lift waiting times – including “tricking” smart lift call systems. These tricks include pressing the call button repeatedly, and blocking the call button for others but suggesting that you’ve pressed the button for their floor.

Now new research from the UK, by digital health start-up StepJockey and lift consultants SVM Associates, has found that the growing wait has been caused by changes to the way we work. Each lift car is making more journeys, stopping at more floors thanks to the move to flexible working, smoking bans, and the rise of internal meetings.

Energy Vampires

The research suggests that these factors have led to lifts burning a third more energy than official estimates. This means that a typical 7-storey building could be burning an extra 33,000 kw/h of electricity a year.

But it’s not all bad news. Using StepJockey’s data, researchers found that a system of signs and digital gamification could shift people from taking the elevator to taking the stairs in enough numbers to solve the problem. It says that enough people can be shifted from the lift to the stairs to counteract changing working practice and save money on top.

While StepJockey is in the business of selling corporate wellness to businesses, it also offers tips on getting people to take the active way to work.

  • Make taking the stairs obvious

In most buildings, stairs are tucked away – often behind a security desk or a locked door – and signposted only for use in an emergency. By pointing out the stairs to people coming into the building and removing unnecessary disincentives such as locks and signage, more people will naturally gravitate towards the stairs as a more obvious option.

  • Make taking the stairs beautiful

Most stairways are dull and functional, with drab greyish walls and beige carpets, each floor indistinguishable from the next. It doesn’t take a lot to make your stairways a bit more inviting – even having some air freshener can make a difference. Some companies, such as Coca Cola go as far as having mural artists “brand” their stairways to embed a sense of a fun corporate culture.

  • Make taking the stairs the default option

As well as making the stairs obvious, businesses should work hard to get people to avoid the lift. This can be as simple as a cultural change – having the boss only ever take the stairs, no matter the height of her office. It can also done less subtly – by steering people away from the lifts with signage or having timings tweaked – even a short delay in lift journeys can encourage people to shift.

  • Make a game of taking the stairs

StepJockey says that “gamifying” the stairs can get as many as 800% more people using the stairs. It offers free signs that display health messages and the “calorie burn” value of each set of stairs on them. These can then be used to track the amount of stairs climbed and the amount of calories burned which can be used against such imaginative challenges as climbing Mount Everest.

About the Author

Rob Finch is director of StepJockey, a firm focused on transforming workplace health.

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