I have been using a standing desk for just over 3 years now. It really all started when I moved into a small apartment and my old 8-foot corner desk I designed and built myself didn’t quite fit. While unpacking and rearranging the room for the third time, I leaned on a folding set of shelves and noticed that they were the perfect height for setting the laptop on and doing some work. I had two of these shelves…hmmm. An hour or so later my desk was a standing height and a functionless corner of the apartment became its home, taking up far less space than you would expect.
3 years later7 years later, and the benefits are stacking up. Below is a list of the benefits and drawbacks I have found while using a standing desk, daily.
Let me say right up front that a standing desk is not akin to standing in line for hours. Once set up—and your co-workers have stopped coming by every 10 minutes to ask how it is—you will get focused on your work, not the standing.
Lost 10 pounds the first month.
No, really, I lost 10 pounds just standing there. It’s pretty easy to see how this happened in that my legs and core muscles are engaged the whole time. When sitting, they sort of turn off and hibernate. Lost 5 pounds the next month, and I now maintain a lower weight than I did while sitting all day.
No chair to mess with
Some people use a standing stool, but since I have a small area to work, I decided it would only get in the way. I’m glad I did, because it made the transition total, and a lot faster (in the way that one cigarette a day doesn’t really help you quit smoking.) Plus, I found that a stool only got in the way (see ‘No chair lag’ below.)
There is nothing in this world that will cut down your time-wasters quite like a standing desk. Even after three years, I know I am standing. So, for most, standing there and scanning Reddit for an hour or writing your 40th snarky comment on Facebook this morning is a thing of the past. Unless that is your job.
A preview of our new office where every desk is electric-height adjustable. Desks shown are the Kimball Priority desk with Electric-Adjust Bases, as seen on page 17 & 18 of their brochure.
…and eventually more productive
‘Eventually’ in that the first week or so will be spent getting your desk situated and learning the correct way to stand*. Then a couple weeks of getting used to standing. In the beginning, you may need to take numerous breaks throughout the day, like walking to the kitchen/lounge/slide, or sitting for a few minutes. Keep the sitting to only a few minutes, and try and do it away from your desk so that it doesn’t become a crutch while working. The goal is total transition. In the end, you should find that you are getting more work done than while sitting. Since standing, I have doubled my productivity. Yes, doubled.
No chair lag
Not looking to coin a term here, but I can’t seem to find a better way of naming the collective time of getting in/out of your chair, plus the time you spend adjusting it periodically. If you were to add up the time it takes to get in and out of your chair, you will be astonished. Those ‘few seconds’ add up quickly over the months and can boost productivity. I estimate it takes 3-5 seconds to get in/out of a desk chair where it takes 1-2 seconds to get arrive at or leave a standing desk. How may times do you do this a day/month?
Fewer chiropractor visits
While I love getting adjusted, I also love the fact that I feel like I need it less now than when I was sitting. My lower back has never felt better. And since I have an awesome chiropractor that is into preventative medicine, he likes the idea too.
Better for visitors
A standing desk is better for presenting your work to your art director or other individuals. In my field, having the art director over at your desk is pretty common. It gets cumbersome to drag another chair over, or have them hunch over to see the screen. In a small way, this can lead to them viewing the work in an uncomfortable way, and may affect their judgement of the work (I’m reaching, I know, but think about it.) At a standing desk I can have 3-4 people in close quarters and all viewing the screen at a more natural angle, and not at some bird’s eye view over my shoulder where the colors get all distorted.
The cost of a standing desk varies, and depends on the setup required by the user, but can be less expensive for a few reasons: no chair, less chiropractic visits, and more employees in less space.
For those requiring a hydraulically adjustable desk (sit and stand option), the cost can be quite high. In most cases, you can do a trial run where you get a box or podium and set it on top of your desk to try it out. My wife uses a $5 file storage box on top of her desk that places the laptop at the perfect height. It’s lo-fi, inexpensive, and not permanent. See LifeHacker’s “Standing Desks on the Cheap: The IKEA Guide” for more options.
Keep in mind that if you go ‘total’ you don’t need a chair. There is $300 to $2000+ saved.
Lastly, you may not need any additional furniture at all. Some cubicles have desks that hook into the wall like those cheap bookshelves. Just unhook it and move it up.
Better use of space
Since many converts will eventually opt out of having a chair, the space taken up by the roll-in/roll-out area of a chair is no longer necessary. I’m not saying that you have users back to back, but the 4-6 feet typically required to facilitate getting in and out of a chair is now moot. My estimate is that you can fit 25% or more employees in a space by using standing desks. Though, it is likely you will only gain this by having a standing desk ‘bullpen’ and not simply convert a few cubicles to standing desks.
*I highly recommend you talk with a chiropractor or workspace ergonomics professional about how to stand at your new desk, and especially how to find the proper height of the work surface and keyboard. If you are in the San Francisco area, I recommend Rabbonni L. Tacusalme, DC at Axis Chiropractic.
If you are going to transition from a sitting desk to a standing one, I believe it will be much faster to do it without a transition chair (or crutch chair.) Yes, your feet will hurt, and people that wear high heels or uncomfortable and unsupportive shoes may suffer a bit. If you can kick them off and stand without shoes, all the better. You’ll get used to it – anyone that has held a retail job (or six) will get used to it faster.
Get a friend and a tape measure. Be sure you are wearing the shoes you wear while working. Stand up straight and natural, like you would every day. With your arms to your sides, bring your hands up in front of you—while leaving your elbows at your sides—until your hands and your elbows are at the same height from the floor (basically, an L-shape). Have someone measure from the bottom of your elbow to the floor. If you are planning on a flat desk, this is the height it needs to be. If you use a thick, ergonomic keyboard, minus 2 inches for it so your hands do not go above your elbows. Basically, your desk height + the height of your keyboard/laptop should be at or just below your elbow. And be sure to take your shoes into account. I prefer to stand on wood without shoes, but you may find a mat or walking shoes to be a better option. The thickness of your shoes’ soles will matter in the height of your desk.
Drawbacks / considerations:
Not all offices are set up to accept one or even a few people using standing desks. They tower over the lower cubicle walls. They feel like a standout. Or, the office is resistant to the idea. Some will say that they don’t want to retrofit the built-in cubicle desk. With products like the Kangaroo, you don’t have to do any modifications, and you can get the perfect height for most people. (There is even a dual monitor version.)
In some situations, the person across from you, or next to you, may not be excited about a person looming over them. Even at 4 feet away, it can feel odd to some. Maybe they get used to it; maybe not. But, you should consider those around you. A great way to ensure you stick to it is to get a few of you to do it together, and be near each other. Either way, ask those around you before you start to build or modify your desk.
If you are in an office where your boss is in a wheelchair or cannot stand for any length of time, building a standing desk can be awkward. Especially if your job has them over at your desk often to review work on your screen. Think about it first, talk with them and work something out. Just don’t use it to alienate people.
I am interested in hearing from you about what you find as a benefit / drawback to using a standing desk. Feel free to add them below or email me.