Standing Desk Mania: The Backlash Begins

Winston Churchill's standing desk, which originally belonged to Benjamin Disraeli/Public Domain

Standing desks have been all the rage on TreeHugger and much of the internet recently. David Zax describes the craze in Fast Company:

What the summer of 1975 did for sharks, what the fall of 2001 did for anthrax, the last few years have been doing for that seemingly innocuous object: the chair.

It is true, there is a pile-on. Australian researcher Karin Griffiths explains why:

The problem is nearly everything can be done at the desk now – communication, library research, file retrieval, even meetings. It doesn't matter how good the chair is, it is not going to address the health problem of what some researchers are calling 'chair disease'.

Zax writes in his very entertaining post that he lasted a week with his standing desk.

Because the first thing I noticed about my standing desk was that it wasn’t particularly comfortable. It was also the second thing I noticed, and the third thing I noticed. In fact, I spent so much time noticing how much I didn’t want to be standing that there was little RAM left in my brain for the work ostensibly at hand--writing.... So I returned to my chair, and I’m sitting there still. (Leaning back at the moment, in fact, with my feet up on my desk. Maybe this is what “ergonomic” means?) To those of you who haven’t tried sitting lately, I recommend it wholeheartedly. In fact, I find it to be a very natural position in which to work. If sitting is a wrong, I don’t want to be right; call me an unrepentant sitter.

Some would say that he didn't give it a fair shake, that a week isn't long enough. On Standinistas!, a new website devoted to standing desks, Chris recommends that you work your way into it:

First, if you’re used to sitting all day, it’s going to be hard to just completely switch to standing all day. It’s a good idea to start a little slower and build up your strength so you can get used to it.

Second, we recommend using a tall stool so you can perch occasionally to give your legs a rest. Don’t let yourself treat it like a chair and sit all day, but you’ll appreciate having it when you need it.

Lastly, consider implementing some sort of foot rest near the base of your desk. Think of the foot rails that run along the bottom of most bars. They are there so you don’t get tired of waiting for your drink! Being able to kick up one leg at a time will help keep you from locking your legs out or getting too tired. If you already have a desk that doesn’t have a rail, just trying it with something like a stack of books or a wooden box or whatever you have around the house. If you love it, consider making a more permanent solution.

© Herman Miller

Have a look at what George Nelson designed for Herman Miller fifty years ago: a standing desk with a rail for your foot. Robert Propst designed the Perch so that you can rest occasionally. These guys knew what they were doing.

ErgoErgo/Promo image

At the New York Observer, they go so far as to claim that The Standing Desk Is Dead! Long Live the ErgoErgo Chair!

Unlike regular, useless, unoptimized sitting, which is slowly killing you (yes, you) this very second via your butt, “dynamic sitting,” ErgoErgo promises, will “engage your core and back muscles to build strength and flexibility.”

Perhaps, but that hardly means that the standing desk is dead. As Dr. Gilson noted, you need a combination of furniture and business operating changes:

Discouraging internal emails on the same floor, holding meetings while standing or walking, and work systems that require frequent standing breaks, such as those with telephones on a standing bench, are some of the strategies that researchers have suggested. "Workers need environmental opportunities to frequently change posture from sitting to standing and moving in work tasks," Dr Gilson said.

What the standing desk does is make it really easy to move.

Tags: Designers | Work