Holding a desk job used to be more or less synonymous with sitting all day long, often crouched over a computer or paperwork. That may not sound too bad to those working more physically demanding jobs—after all, what’s more relaxing than sitting down? But most office workers know it’s difficult to maintain the correct posture in an office chair for hours. And sitting in front of a computer all day can cause back pain, neck pain, and tight shoulders, among other possible issues.
It’s little wonder, then, that standing desks and desks that convert between sitting and standing (known as sit-and-stand desks) are growing in popularity. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management reported a 9 percent increase in companies offering standing desks to workers between 2017 and 2018.
The benefits of standing desks
That’s good news for employees. These options may help reduce the occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders (such as sciatica and carpal tunnel, which are aggravated by improper postures and positioning). They can also benefit companies: Musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 27 percent of workplace injuries in 2018, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, causing employees to miss an average of 12 days of work per year. That means standing desks could reduce absenteeism and enhance productivity.
Pain and musculoskeletal injuries aren’t the only concerns associated with sitting all day. Researchers have also linked sitting for long periods of time to other serious health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Even more worrisome? Sitting appears to be detrimental regardless of physical activity, meaning it’s not possible to exercise enough to undo the damage caused by excessive sitting.
While sitting all day can cause several negative repercussions, research suggests there are plenty of benefits to transitioning to a standing desk or a sit & stand desk.
In one randomized study, researchers assigned workers to sit at a typical seated desk or a sit-and-stand desk. Within a year, the workers with the sit-and-stand desks spent less time sitting. They also experienced several improvements in job performance and work engagement, alongside reductions in occupational fatigue, presenteeism (going to work sick or injured), and daily anxiety—all of which contributed to increased quality of life. Another study, which took place in a call center during a six-month period, found a strong correlation between increased sit & stand desk use and increased productivity compared to workers using a traditional seated desk.
Many more studies back up the benefits of using standing desks. For instance, a review of 53 studies suggested that workers who use standing desks sit less, tend to be more comfortable at work, and may even see a small decrease in blood pressure.
All of that would certainly improve your workday, right? Therefore, it stands to reason that employees with jobs requiring them to spend long hours at their desks may want to consider standing for part of each day. Let’s take a look at how you can get started with a standing desk.
What to know before taking a stand
Transitioning from a traditional seated desk to a workspace that allows you to stand is more involved than changing your latte order from skim milk to soy.
You have a number of options when it comes to standing desks. Since you’ll want to choose the best standing desk for your situation, you must take into account the space you’re working with, your budget, your personal preferences, and the pros and cons that standing desks and sit & stand desks offer.
On top of all that, you’ll need to take several steps to ensure you get all the benefits you can from your new workspace while avoiding the discomfort that a less strategic and thoughtful switch can cause. Keep reading for tips to choose the right desk and make your transition to standing positive.
How to choose the right desk
You know you want to implement more standing during your workday, but research suggests that a mix of standing and sitting—with proper posture in both states—is better than standing all day.
Still, you may want to consider a fixed-height standing desk, meaning it’s tall, designed for standing, and can’t be adjusted to a lower height for sitting. Since they don’t require mechanics, it’s possible to find attractive options for an affordable price. And because they don’t have moving parts, they’re usually sturdy.
However, there may be some potential issues with a fixed-height standing desk. If it’s not adjustable, it may not be an appropriate height for you. Plus, unless you have a second workspace where you can sit at regular intervals to break up the standing, you may struggle to maintain proper posture while standing all day. If you opt for a fixed-height standing desk, consider adding a stool that allows you to perch, which can help you change your position and allow for an open hip angle.
When it comes to sit-and-stand desks, you have a lot of options. You could choose a desk that easily adjusts to different heights for sitting and standing. You can also get a standing desk converter to sit on top of a standard seated desk, allowing you to move from the desk’s height (perhaps with an inch or two added) to an adjustable standing height. Both options have pros and cons—let’s take a closer look.
Considerations for sit-and-stand options
No matter the type of sit-and-stand desk you’re interested in, you should consider several factors before making a purchase.
Nobody wants to work on a shaky surface, but as you raise a desk (or converter) higher and higher, it can affect stability, especially if you’re an enthusiastic keyboarder. Look for models that boast excellent stability at all heights to avoid feeling like you’re working on a rickety setup. When it comes to converters, a heavily weighted base can make a big difference in creating a stable workspace.
Most models should have plenty of capacity for a typical workspace. If you know that your desk will need to hold something particularly heavy, make sure you select an option that can stand up to the task.
Spaces and places
If you only need a spot for your keyboard and monitor or laptop, any flat surface should do. But if you have a separate ergonomic keyboard, a mouse, a second monitor, or anything beyond the bare minimum, take a careful look at the model you’re considering to ensure everything will fit.
Also consider if you can create a setup that supports good back, neck, wrist, and arm posture. You may be able to add an adjustable keyboard tray, a monitor arm, or other items to your sit-and-stand desk to complete your space.
Manual or automatic
No, we’re not talking cars. Some desks and converters change heights using a crank, which is really best in cases where only minor changes in height are needed. For moving your surface from sitting to standing height, manual options with a spring-assisted lift make the process faster and far less labor-intensive. Electric options that move automatically from one set height to another are also easy to use.
How to make a smooth transition to standing
You’ve already learned that it’s best to incorporate a mix of standing and sitting into your workday. If you want to set yourself up for sit-and-stand desk success, keep the following guidelines in mind.
Start by standing for intervals of just 15 to 30 minutes, once or twice throughout the day. If that feels fine, add 10 minutes and/or additional intervals until you’re sitting and standing close to equal amounts (perhaps even up to a 3:1 ratio of standing to sitting if your body can tolerate it). The goal should not be to stand all day, as too much standing can cause varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, and other issues. If standing causes pain in your legs or back, reduce your standing time.
Think of it like training for a marathon—your body needs time to build up to hours of a new activity, so allow yourself plenty of time to get in standing shape. And remember, adding any amount of standing to your day is a step in the right direction.
Set a timer
A timer can help you remember to sit and stand, and it can also be a great reminder to move around on a regular basis. Set a timer to go off every half hour. Whether you’ve been sitting or standing, walk around for a few minutes.
Also, take some time to stretch your arms, legs, neck, hands, and fingers during the day to help you avoid discomfort and injury. Regular stretch breaks may help keep you from sliding into a slouchy posture due to fatigue.
Use a floor mat
One small study showed that anti-fatigue floor mats significantly reduce lower back pain for standing desk users. Let’s be real—anyone who’s had to stand in one spot for any significant period of time will attest to the fact that having a softer surface feels better on the body than standing on a rock-hard floor.
Perfect your posture
Take care to stand in an ergonomic standing posture using guidelines from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Consider consulting with a physical therapist or an ergonomics expert to make sure your desk is set up properly. Don’t forget that you’ll still need to have a setup that supports good sitting posture to help you avoid slouching, which puts stress on the lower back.
Wear proper shoes
Heels or slick loafers may look amazing with your outfit, but they aren’t a great choice for standing at your desk while working. Consider keeping a pair of shoes with solid arch support on standby so you can slip into them when you raise your desk up. They can still be cute. But they should be relatively flat so your body can remain properly aligned.
A standing desk can be a great addition to your office. It can truly improve your workday, every day, by helping you feel healthier and be more productive.
The best standing desk for you will depend on your circumstances. Ease the transition to standing work by gradually adding standing time and using helpful accessories, such as an anti-fatigue floor mat. These simple practices will make a big difference in ensuring your standing workspace improves your workday.