A Moderately Helpful Guide to Standing at Work, or Anywhere, Some or All of the Time

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Last month, I documented my experience of switching from sitting at work all day to standing.

The transition was easier than I expected. The benefits were greater and more immediate than I anticipated. And the perils of my old ways? Even more terrible than I had let myself admit while sitting.

It was only a couple of weeks into my experiment, but I’d already swore off sitting for good. Now a full month into it and I’m standing by my word completely (pun intended).

 

 

 

Since making the switch, I’ve had a lot of people come to me with several questions about the process. This post, I hope, will answer them all.

Commercial vs. Homemade

The first decision you need to make is whether you want to purchase a standing desk or make one. There are pros and cons to both. Here are the basics.

Commercial pros:

  • sturdy, purpose-built construction means it (hopefully) won’t fall apart.
  • adjustable so to be ergonomic regardless of your height.
  • looks professional.

Commercial cons:

  • usually quite expensive compared to regular desks ($700 to $900 is standard).
  • typically very large, therefore not ideal for home or small offices.

Homemade pros:

  • as affordable as you need it to be.
  • more easily removed if standing isn’t for you.
  • ultimately more customizable.

Homemade cons:

  • probably going to be kind of ugly.
  • higher risk of collapsing or other such failure.

My recommendation? Keep it DIY in the beginning to make sure you are comfortable standing for all or most of your working day. You don’t want to spend $600-plus on a desk you end up only sitting at—because you probably already have one of those, and if you don’t, they can be had for a third of that price. Then, should standing suit you (and I truly hope it does!), you can either advance to a commercial product or build a better homemade version.

 

 

In the Office vs. at Home

Ideally, you have the option of standing no matter where you work on any given day.

Are you in the office all week? Ask your boss if they’ll consider investing in standing desks. The case you make to your boss is a simple one: sitting is slowly killing their employees! If not, well that sucks. Where the heck are you working, anyway? Time to build a makeshift standing desk in the office. Expect confused stares and probably some complaints. But fight the good fight. This is your health we’re talking about here. It should come first—not your job.

Are you at home all week? Easy! You can do whatever the heck you want, barring a particularly picky spouse. Again, push for their support by touting the incredible health benefits of standing versus sitting. If they still think it’s a bad idea, something fishy is going on. Consult a private investigator.

Are you at a café or shared work space all week? Really, you are? All week? Weird. Either your office really sucks or your home office really sucks or both, in which case, damn. Ask the folks running the space if they plan to invest in standing desks. Any forward-thinking space should already have them—you can always point that out. As for coffee shops, many have bar-height tables that are great for standing at. If you live in a city there’s surely one within walking distance that has a standing-height table. Note: confused stares may occur. Just remember—you’re a trendsetter. Within a couple years, the people sitting will be the freaks.

Most likely, your working situation involves a combination or two or all of the above areas: a day at home, a day at Starbucks, a few days in the office. In this case, lobby for standing options everywhere, but focus on whichever setting you spend the most time working in. Standing three, two, or even one day a week is still better than zero. It’s a start.

Building Your Test Desk

Once you accept that your test desk will be unsightly, it’s a fairly simple process.

1. Identify the perfect height for your arms. You want your elbows to bend at roughly 90 degrees while typing, or just wider. Avoid anything less than 90 degrees. And note that this is with neutral wrists (they shouldn’t have to bend up or down to type). If you’re, say 5’11”, an ideal height is probably going to be around 40 to 42 inches. The more specific, the better—ergonomics is a game of centimetres. Find your height by testing an actual surface, preferably: someone else’s standing desk, a high table, a hearth, etc. Something firm. Measure it. Remember it.

2. Identify the perfect height for your eyes. Laptops, bless their convenience, are not at all ergonomic. If your hands are in a good position, your neck probably isn’t, as you strain downward to look at the screen. (If you have a desktop, you’re fine—just create two different levels on your desk, one for the keyboard and one for the screen.) I highly recommend buying a wireless keyboard and using that with your laptop, too. This way you can place your laptop on a higher surface. Standing desk converters usually offer this, but standing desks don’t—which is not cool! Fortunately, your test desk is totally custom. Basically, you want to be looking straight forward, or even slightly upward, so that your neck is not strained. This, combined with neutral elbows and wrists, keeps your spine and shoulders and everything else happy.

From here, you build. It’s a test desk, so let it be ugly. Embrace “function over form.” Some things you can use:

1. Boxes. Firm ones, preferably. If not, fill them with something. For example, to gain two inches, I briefly used a small Freshslice pizza box. Inside the box, in the centre, was a roll of packing tape so it didn’t collapse in the middle. Worked great. Looked awful.

You can find a box of any height, width, and depth, which makes them completely customizable. They’re also cheap. And when you’re done with them? Recycle! Fantastic.

2. Tiny tables. Like the ones from Ikea and such. The “Lack” model is only $15 and offers a good height for a screen. Just stick ’em on top of your exisiting desk and voila!

3. Books. Not the sturdiest option if you straight up stack 10 books on top of each other, but one or two books on top of something else helps you get your heights right to the half-inch. If they’re old books you’ll never read again, considering taping them to each other or their box to keep them steady.

4. Your cat. Dont use your cat. She will probably eventually move, which will disrupt your workflow. If she never moves, she may be dead. Prod her for a rough gauge of vital signs.

Buying a Standing Desk

The most obvious option for standing at work is to buy a standing desk, of course. Aside from their steep price, standing desks offer an all-in-one solution that meets virtually every need.

Why you might lean toward buying a standing desk:

  • Money is not a primary concern.
  • Aesthetics are crucial.
  • Easily switching between standing and sitting at the same desk is important.

If one or more of these ring true, you should consider buying a standing desk. Expect to spend at least $600 for a decent electronic one, but know that many cost more than $1,000. Also note that the overwhelming majority are, for some reason, quite large—seemingly optimized for two workers on opposite sides or a multi-monitor setup. But, if space, like money, isn’t an issue, there’s nothing to worry about.

Some options:

Oristand

Ryan Holmes’ new Oristand desk offers a high quality cardboard variant for just $25.

IKEA

Yes, this year IKEA ventured into the world of standing desks. While we often expect something different from the Swedish furniture chain, their standing desks are, thus far, pretty standard fare. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: starting at $600, they’re priced reasonably and perform as one would expect. Look for the “Bekant” model.

More recently, IKEA launched a manual standing desk, the “Skarsta.” This model, which costs less than $300, is your best option on a budget. You turn a crank to modify the desk’s height.

Stand Desk

Good name here. No mistaking it. The Stand Desk ranges in height from 28 inches (sitting) to 45 inches (standing), accomodating pretty much any height. And it supports more than 200 pounds. But at 70 inches long, this sucker is big. However, it starts at a very reasonable $400—though the model you’ll likely end up with will probably cost at least $500.

Standing desks aren’t hard to find anymore. Use Google. Or Amazon. Just make sure they ship to your place for free, because desks are big and heavy! If you can, try a few in person. It’s a big enough investment to warrant a little self-education.

Buying a Converter

If you love your desk, or just don’t want to buy a new one, or need something for your office that is less of a commitment, then you should consider buying a converter. These go on top of existing sitting-height desks and make them standing height. A good one will include multiple levels for personalized ergonomics.

One option:

Varidesk

On the high-end of converters is the Varidesk, which ranges from $365 to more than $500—standing desk territory. They’re well-built, but there’s otherwise nothing particularly fancy about them to warrant the price tag.

Again, look around. These things are everywhere. 

Footwear

Your feet, if standing all day, will take a beating in the wrong kicks. Don’t let your feet take a beating in the wrong kicks from standing all day.

Men: wear supportive running shoes, if possible in your place of work (which should be pretty much everywhere that allows a standing desk). For extra support you can add gel or memory foam inserts. Just make sure your shoes, with or without the inserts, keep your arch correct. An unsupported arch may lead to posture-related pains.

Women: wear supportive running shoes, if possible in your place of work (which should be pretty much everywhere that allows a standing desk). Do not stand in heels! Just don’t. Not for that long. My goodness. At the very, very least, don semi-supportive flats with a gel or memory foam inserts. Choose function over form, please. No one is staring at your feet at work.

Mats

Standing at work is just like doing yoga in the sense that you need a mat and also that you can run around telling people how ridiculously healthy your lifestyle is.

“Do I need a mat?” you ask me, your standing-at-work yogi. “Let’s find out,” I reply.

Coffee shop: you probably don’t need a mat here because you’re likely only here for one or two, maaaybe three hours (if you’re there for more than that, you better be buying lots of muffins, you caffeinated table hogger!). Plus, it’s simply too hipster to walk into a café with a yoga mat and actually use it for something inside the store—”I call this the ‘Standing at Work’ pose.” Nah. We’re not here to upset the balance of the universe, bro.

Coworking space: you’ll be here for a while, I presume, and these folks shouldn’t mind, I presume, so roll up a yoga mat ($10 to $30) in your bag and stand on that thing.

At home: I’d suggest a proper “comfort” mat or other such practically named item. They’re more expensive than yoga mats, anywhere from $30 to $90, but they offer ultra comfy support. Many options on Amazon and elsewhere. Oh, and this should be obvious, but at home, go barefoot or in socks. With a mat. Always.

In the office: If your layout allows, or if the vibe is just, like, super chill, roll that yoga mat out, man. Or if you have your own desk you can bring in a comfort mat and leave it there—luckyyy! If neither of these is possible, and you refuse to make a lateral move in your career to a company that doesn’t totally kill your groove, then wear the best damn shoes you can, and consider sitting or leaning for a couple minutes every now and then to give those poor feet a rest.

Whoa, check it out. A TL;DR!

• Slap together a makeshift standing desk out of whatever the hell you can scrounge up to find your perfect height and to make sure you don’t completely hate standing.

• Try out standing desks and converters in person before committing to purchase one. It’s something you’ll be using every day—it matters.

• Tell your boss and the manager of your coworking space and the owner of your local café to get some standing desks and/or standing-height tables in, pronto!

• Wear supportive shoes and/or stand on a gel or foam mat.

• Stand for something. (Yourself!)

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