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Employee Experience: Standing is the New Sitting

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Image: Andrey Popov -
In May, my firm is coming up on celebrating our second anniversary in our new offices. While working on the design, I made sure to include discussions regarding standing desks. While I’m not a healthcare professional, it’s well-known that standing only briefly for bio and food breaks can create serious health issues for desk workers over long periods.
As reinforced during the pandemic, protecting employee wellbeing should be as paramount as ensuring their ability to collaborate effectively and carry out productive work. Return-to-office planning is the perfect opportunity to embrace the idea of the standing desk. After using a standing desk for two years, I have seven insights to share.

1. Raising a Platform vs. a Whole Desk: You’ll have several devices to choose from to place on your existing desk, and will only need to lift your keyboard, mouse, monitor, and possibly your actual central processing unit (CPU), if there’s room. These platforms range in price from about $250 up to $700 and are widely available online, with the sturdy commercial models costing about $600. Most are manual, so you would lift the platform as you stand, with the weight on the upper portion of the platform, plus the weight of your monitors and (possibly) CPU. Also, consider that you’ll need to lean over slightly to lift from the center of the sides of that platform. For someone like me, who is both a little on the short side (5’4”) with only half of a disc in my lower spine, this was completely impossible. Although the higher-cost ones have an easier motion, I have personally tested them and still am unable to lift them, as the weight with even a single monitor is too much for me, given the angle of the lift.

An alternative to the rising platform is to buy an electric standing desk. I purchased each of these for my commercial office, two years ago, but recently a different residential-grade model for home. The size I believe works best is 3’ deep by 4’ wide, with a separate fixed desk of your choice placed in the traditional L-shape, which I use to spread out documents and sit comfortably for meetings. The fully electric residential models start at about $199. I recently bought one for $249, which is of excellent quality, but the manual ones cost less than $100 if you think you’re mostly going to stand or are able to do the lifting. The commercial-grade ones I chose two years ago were also fully electric with height memory buttons, and those come in around $1,000 installed, with lifetime warranties.

Looking back, spending $400 more per desk at the office, over the commercial manual appliances, to have fully electric, large, standing desks was the best money I ever spent.

2. Keyboard Height: Mouse and keyboard height, in relationship to the angle of your elbow, is critically important. The research I performed explained that a slightly larger than 90-degree angle was best, especially if your elbows aren’t supported on armrests. For example, that means the keyboard needs to be almost in your lap. Most standing desks, and some of the appliances, for a small extra cost, have keyboard and mouse pull-out tray accessories that mount underneath. If the standing desk you choose doesn’t offer this accessory, you can purchase a generic, after-market tray, and carefully install it on the underside of your desk.

3. Lowest and Highest Heights: One mistake I made before purchasing the residential version was that I didn’t check to see how low the desk would go. Again, as a petite person, I need a desk that at the bottom of its range is only 24 in. from the floor to get my elbows in the right position, without the accessory tray added. The one I bought only reaches down to about 30 in. I will be buying a tray.

Height was an important aspect to consider for the office design, as some of my staff are over 6 ft. tall.

4. Monitor Height: Once you get your elbows in the right position, you need to consider the height of the center of your monitor. You’ll want your eyes to naturally fall near the center, erroring slightly to the south to keep your chin up. For many, if you get that keyboard in the right spot, the monitor’s center will be too low, and you’ll find yourself with neck problems from looking down all day. The solution is to purchase small monitor stands with telescoping feet. I like the Hemudu-brand devices as they have sturdy glass rectangles for the platform with steel telescoping rod columns. They come in packs of two, so I stack them, giving me instant see-through shelves below my monitor. Depending on each staff person’s measurements, you may only need one per person.

5. Footrest: If you’ve never used a standing desk, you’ll quickly find the need to put one foot up on some sort of platform. When you have both feet on the ground, your lower back is arched. As soon as you lift one foot, your pelvis tucks under, and the arch is drastically reduced, allowing you to stand for much longer periods. The 3M company makes a good, fixed-height footrest if are short, but if you have tall staff, you’ll want to consider the Monoprice Height Adjustable footrest or similar models.

6. Standing Pad: When it comes to protecting your spine, the footrest described above coupled with a standing pressure mat will do the trick. If you’re standing on tile or carpet that’s installed directly onto concrete floors, you’ll want to consider a minimum of three-quarters of one inch in height. The mats come in squares and rectangles with lots of choices.

7. Remembering to Stand Up: Believe it or not, this was the biggest hurdle! I had my staff enter a five-minute appointment or a reminder in their smartphones for Monday through Friday, work hours, on the hour, every hour. The requirement was they had to stand for at least five minutes. If they felt the need to sit down after that, they could. As you can imagine, this became a competition of who could stand the longest. Interestingly, I found myself standing longer and longer each day, and now I am up to about six to seven hours. If you don’t feel you can impose the hourly reminder, try mid-morning, after lunch, and mid-afternoon. The last two are especially important due to the fatigue that sets in while you’re digesting your food and well on your way toward an afternoon nap.

As you can see, I have very strong feelings about standing desks. Visitors to my office and home remark at the adaptability, how impressed they are by the general idea— so much so, that they are going to purchase one. Whether the latter will happen, I don’t know. But I feel that I have become an ambassador to the world of standing.

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.


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