Sit-Stand Desks: What are my choices? (Part 2 of 2)

(Part 1 of this blog can be found here).

Sit-stand or sit-sit, electronic, gas-lift or crank – what are the options?

Sit-Stand-Desk-FramesHeight adjustment for true sit-stand desks is usually electronic.

There are also a few models with gas-strut-supported adjustability rather than an electric motor. These models have the advantage of not requiring electricity so they can be ideal for touch-down areas or some hot-desking environments. However, the gas-lift mechanism will be weight-sensitive so it is important to ensure the proper configuration when specifying.

By contrast, the majority of electronic sit-stand desks will have a weight limit comfortably above normal requirements (as long as sitting on the desk whilst raising it is not considered a “normal requirement”!). Electronic adjustment is therefore the norm for sit-stand.

Manual adjustment by crank handle is another option to be aware of. Whilst some crank-adjustable desks may be marketed as sit-stand (and offer suitable height range), the length of time (and effort) required to make the manual adjustment will quickly deter users from actually doing so. Crank-adjustable models (typically around 650mm – 850mm height range) are normally regarded as “sit-sit” products for use in hot desk environments and areas where users of different heights need to share sitting workstations.

Sit-StandActuationThe EU standard height adjustability range to qualify as a sit-stand product is 650-1250mm. The (US) ANSI/BIFMA standard is 22 – 48 inches.

Whilst many employers will want to “go by the book” and only purchase products that meet the appropriate standard, these models require triple (or two stage) telescopic legs. Versions with only two element (single stage) legs are (inevitably) cheaper and will suit a high proportion of people. They are widely used in single installations for individuals with back problems, even though they do not meet a standard.

Adapting an existing sitting desk

Sit-Stand-AdaptorsA number of manufacturers have introduced products to convert a standard, sitting desk to something that can be used as a sit-stand workstation. These vary in complexity, usability and ugliness! Typically, they are either a device that sits on top of the desk or something that resembles a giant monitor arm. The choice of readily available models in the US is significantly wider than in Europe.

Where cost is the most compelling issue, many employers consider such adaptors instead of complete desks. However, our own experience is that some of these adaptors turn a perfectly-good sitting desk into a not-very-good sitting desk and a not-very-good standing desk! Some models provide good ergonomics in only one posture (sitting or standing) and a compromised setup in the other. Despite assessing many variants, the portfolio of such products that we actually sell is very small.

The monitor arm variant creates substantial leverage on the desk so a very sturdy work surface is essential. Another issue to consider is stability in the standing posture.  Finally, it is also important to remember that the US market uses keyboard trays extensively so users are better disposed to this type of arrangement than Europeans, who are used to operating their keyboard and mouse on the actual desk, rather than on an attachment.

One cost-effective solution without compromise is to use the top from an existing sitting desk and simply fit it to a height-adjustable frame. This not only saves money but also enables the replacement desk arrangement to blend better cosmetically with other furniture.

Treadmill & cycle desks

These are not actually sit-stand products but they have appeared in response to the health concerns already outlined in the first part of this blog. It is, therefore, probably appropriate to mention them in passing. However, I have already expressed my views on this topic so will not repeat myself.

What else should I be thinking about?

Saddle seats and perching stools

Sit-Stand-Stool-ExamplesA growing number of users are finding that saddle seats and perching stools can provide a good “half-way house” between traditional sitting and standing. However, this is a whole topic in itself and this blog series is probably already too long! If you wish to explore this concept, ensure you work with a supplier with a good understanding of sit-stand furniture and broad range of alternative seating products so that you can compare the different designs and features.

Product trials are essential since saddle seats, in particular, will elicit very different (and sometimes unpredictable) responses from your user population.

Beware of the doomsayers!

There is no doubt that we sit too much and we need to take action about it. Sit-stand desks are an excellent tool in our armoury of weapons to challenge bad behaviours. However, I have never believed in scaring people into making a purchase decision and, as I stated in Part 1 of this blog, a training and culture-change approach is as important as the equipment provided.

Rational debate, animated discussion and good ROI arguments are much better tactics. I have my doubts about whether this sort of infographic really helps the cause! Be careful also about sites that look like they represent a lobby group when you first see them but are in fact a marketing tool for a manufacturer. However valid and reliable the content, it is important to remember the context of the message.

Successful sit-stand workstation implementation & a healthier workplace

What does success look like?Finally, here is a selection of ideas for successful integration of your sit-stand desk implementation and a healthier workforce!

  • Train users to understand how to use the desk, when to make posture changes and what good posture feels like (sitting and standing)
  • Raise the desk up too high at the end of the day. It makes life easier for cleaners and forces you to reposition it in the morning.
  • Raise the desk when colleagues approach to talk to you and have your conversation standing up.
  • Stand for telephone conversations, especially those when you need to be assertive.
  • Stand to sort papers and files.
  • Install “poseur tables” for short standing meetings (gas-lift height-adjustable versions are available)
  • Have walking meetings.
  • Park as far away from the building as possible.
  • Wear a pedometer and track your steps. Compete with yourself to improve your average!
  • Use the stairs, not the lift (some organisations slow the lifts down to encourage stair use)
  • In established Hot Desking areas, install a pair of sit-stand desks at the end of each set of standard desks. This will work very well provided good policies and procedures are in place (and the Hot Desking facilities are properly implemented and managed).

4 Responses to Sit-Stand Desks: What are my choices? (Part 2 of 2)

  1. […] The result is a one page, ‘6 ideas’ list that is deliberately simple. For a longer, more detailed list, see one of my previous blogs. […]

  2. Hi,
    I have been using a walking desk in my home office for 18 months now.
    I have to say my experience is totally different from what you describe.

    First the comparison between driving and talking on the phone is wrong.
    One of the advantages of a walking desk, is that I don’t have to think about walking: I set the speed of the walking desk and my feet just follow te flow.
    It’s easier as walking in your living room around the table when I am on the phone.
    For me, doing that helps me to work longer and concentrate better.
    Regarding the spelling I might not be the right person to ask as I already make a lot of spelling mistakes without a walking desk. (I’m writing this on a train )
    Yet, I don’t see a big difference in number of mistakes. What is important, is finding the right speed.
    I noticed that a too slow speed (for me below 2.4 km/hour) does not work now.
    ( i started at 1 .8 km / hour)
    Although most of the time I walk much faster, I did most of my accountancy last weekend at 4km/hour and some even at 5/hour.
    I +30.000 steps on Sunday. While doing this…
    I do use a vertical mouse , I had already before, that might make it easier for precision work (not sure never tried a normal mouse)

    • Guy Osmond says:

      Thanks for your comprehensive comments, Yves. The treadmill desk is obviously working for you and I know there are others like you. However, my observation was concerning their use in the corporate workplace – perhaps I should have made that clearer. What obviously works for you in your home office probably tells us as much about you as it does about the equipment. You are clearly highly motivated and self-manage effectively. I get the same sort of effect from wearing a Fitbit Flex to monitor my footsteps and I prefer to do the walking (or cycling) as a separate activity (it gives me thinking time). In the workplace, it is hard to manage active workstations (treadmills and cycles) for the benefit of all personnel and, if available space is limited (usually the case in the UK), there are more effective ways to use the space. Add potential safety considerations into the mix, as well as research about their impact on productivity and, on balance, I think that desks should stay in the office and treadmills in the gym. But maybe I’m just Old School!

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