Do Adjustable Height Desks Make More Sense Than Standing Desks?

Alpha Desking two desks
©. Feiz Design Studio

© Feiz Design Studio

Harry at Mocoloco points to the Alpha Desking system from Feiz Design Studio. It is an adjustable height desk that can work alone or in groups.

Alpha desking alone

© Feiz Design Studio

Adapting to today’s work requirements, the Alpha Desking Programme is a fully height adjustable table system, which provides a wide range of flexibility. As ergonomics research has proven time and time again, movement and change of posture during the day not only have significant health and well-being benefits, but also support key work scenarios.
Alpha Desking

© Feiz Design Studio

As a full-time standing desk user, I have not been a fan of adjustable desks. They are more expensive and complicated, but most importantly, users tend to drift down to sitting position. Over time, one study found that users with adjustable desks eventually were only standing 20% of the time. I wondered if giving people the option and flexibility was such a good idea if they ended up mostly sitting anyways.

However, as Feiz notes,

As our work tools become smaller, smarter and more flexible, so should our furniture. The Alpha Desking Programme is a reflection of our changing office landscape and working patterns. The days of sitting eight hours a day behind your computer are over, the new work paradigm is now based on communication, concentration, collaboration, mobility and flexibility.

It is all about change; nobody owns a particular space or desk.

The way we work is evolving... Technology, working patterns, space allocation, and mobility are all effecting us and our new behaviours towards work.

So even though there are issues with adjustable desks, Feiz makes an important point about flexibility- anyone can use any desk, no matter what their preferences. More at Feiz Design Studio

dupree standing desk

DJ Dupree of Herman Miller at standing desk, 1964

Or is the desk dead?

Khodi Feiz is not alone in thinking about being flexible. But is the right approach to make it adjustable? Two years ago, I visited the offices of Herman Miller and looked at the fixed standing desks they were selling over fifty years ago. I contacted Mark Schurman of Herman Miller to find out what their current thoughts were.

As a trend the sit/stand issue has obviously picked up momentum in recent years, but in some ways it’s ironic as the primary concern (sedentary work styles) has also been shifting, with the miniaturization and mobility of technology, coupled with flatter organizations and more emphasis on collaboration, increasingly leading knowledge workers to spend less time at a personal workstation. Our own data shows private offices are unused more than 70% of the time, and open-plan workstations’ typical occupancy at less than 50%. That trend seems likely to continue, or at least unlikely to revert to earlier norms. This doesn’t mean standing work/desks are inappropriate, but it does suggest that at least for many it is perhaps less of an issue than it might have been 5+ years ago when most people were tethered to individual workstations by their technology needs.

Essentially, with changes in technology, flexibility and adaptability become more important than whether it is standing or sitting, because the actual need for a fixed desk at all is going away. Schurman continues:

Organizations are using fewer, smaller assigned workstations, with more ‘free address’ spaces, and a larger mix of open collaborative areas, conference rooms of all sizes, etc. Those free address stations (and even conference / collaborative areas) still benefit from at least some standing options, which is what we do Herman Miller’s own interiors, and that too is a trend we see among customers. However more of those are simply fixed standing height, which is obviously less costly than height adjustable.

So where is the desk going? Khodi Feiz makes it flexible and adjustable; Mark Schurman of Herman Miller suggests that it is evolving into a "free address station". I have suggested that it is going to disappear completely and is in your pants. One thing is certain: It's changing, fast.