Does a standing desk change the way you work?
Are you sitting comfortably? Well, stop it and stand up. It’ll give you a better feel for the article ahead.
Our publisher Paul Hood recently decided to give up the sedentary chair-based lifestyle for one where he is literally on his feet the whole time. “I’m conscious that I can spend up to ten hours a day sitting down, and clearly that’s not healthy. Also, I recently got a fitness-tracking watch (the Fitbit Blaze), and there’s no way I can hit the recommended 10,000 steps per day if I’m sitting down all day long. I wanted to see what it’s like to try working from a standing position.”
A Varidesk standing desk was duly delivered, and he has been using it for six months now. In this time, he has never gone back, and massively outperformed me in a 10K race, so it seemed the time to give it a go myself. If nothing else, it gave me an office to myself for the first time in my life.
Apple CEO Tim Cook described sitting as “the new cancer,” and while that’s a touch hyperbolic, there’s no doubt that we should all be trying to be a bit more active in our sedentary lifestyles. For my own part, I spend the majority of the day sitting down either in my home, at bars and restaurants, on the Tube or at my desk. The wallpaper changes; the position doesn’t.
The scientific literature on the benefits of standing desks over sitting in a chair is frustratingly scant. A paper from earlier this year looked at 20 studies examining the benefits of standing desks, and concluded that: “The quality of evidence was very low to low for most interventions mainly because studies were very poorly designed and because they had very few participants. We conclude that at present there is very low-quality evidence that sit-stand desks can reduce sitting at work at the short term.”
Guess it’s down to myself and Paul to provide our thoughts, then…
How is the construction?
The Varidesk is basically a desk to put on top of your existing desk, in essence increasing the height to make it natural to stand at, and raise everything to eye level. It’s comprised of two parts, one for your keyboard and mouse and another for the monitor. You can clip it down at a moment’s notice, so you can easily revert to a sitting desk should your feet protest at the extra hours standing.
The construction is solid, and it comes fully assembled, ready to place straight onto your existing desk. In order to blend in with most office furniture, it’s made of a neutral black plastic – although a white version is available if you want something more flashy.
The top of the desk is reasonably spacious, but as it’s an augmentation to an existing desk, you lose easy access to any drawers and space underneath your existing desk.
Living with the Varidesk
Whether or not using a standing desk was beneficial to my health, what I found in the very short term was that it seemed beneficial to my productivity. There’s something about the mindset of sitting down that makes it feel analogous to relaxation, subconscious or not. That feeling is certainly not present with a standing desk, and – for me at least – it felt like I was getting an awful lot done. In part, this might be because you feel that the sooner you get your work done, the sooner you can give your legs a break and sit down. But I’m second-guessing myself here, obviously.
What is surprising is that the body can be taught to deal with a standing desk remarkably quickly. I found myself adapting after only a couple of days, finding it pretty easy to stand for hours on end by the end of the week. This is something Paul has found after six months as well: “I’m really pleased I made the switch to a standing desk. It only took a few days to get used to it, and now I can’t imagine going back to sitting all the time. There are still plenty of meetings I go to where I get a break from standing. Psychologically, I think standing while working has made more focused while I’m at my desk. I certainly feel like I get less distracted by the ever-present temptation to follow an interesting news snippet or tweet into an unintentional 30-minute diversion. And it’s a good feeling to know that I’m now not sitting inactive for hours at a time, too.”
Is it worth investing in a standing desk?
Currently, it seems that a standing desk may well be beneficial for your health, but there’s not enough literature to confirm how great a benefit it is. In part, that’s probably due to the fact that most of us – myself included now the experiment is over – sit down for the majority of our working days. Most offices just aren’t cut out to be standing environments. For my part, a permanent switch would see me standing in the middle of a bank of desks, and frankly I don’t like to stand out quite that much.
The beauty of the Varidesk is that it allows you to easily switch between sitting and standing, making the transition relatively smooth. It does, however, come at a cost: depending on the size and number of surfaces you require, prices range from £150 all the way up to £500.
Desks are one of those things that can be bought very cheaply or at great expense, so I can’t really advise on that front, but what I will say is that Paul has shown no signs of going back since starting, and I certainly felt more alert and functional when using it. Genuine health benefit or not, there’s certainly something to be said for the psychological returns on dismissing the chair and standing on your own two feet for a while.