Height adjustable desks (or sit stand desks) allow workers to shift easily from seated to standing positions. They promise healthier, more comfortable and productive workspace settings for those who use them. They have generated a lot of hype over the last few years and have quickly gone from office novelty to a permanent fixture in many modern workplaces.
But what are the pros and cons of height adjustable desks?
First, let's look at how the trend is growing.
The rise of height adjustable desks
Some of the earliest adopters of height adjustable desks include Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens, who were all known to be fans of writing at standing desks. But in the office design world, they are a relatively new trend.
There is a growing awareness that sitting at a desk for seven or eight hours a day, five days a week, can leave workers prone to aching shoulders, back problems and chronic joint pain - even when sitting in a healthy ergonomic posture.
Beyond aches and pains, sitting all day can impact workers’ overall health. When Dr James Levine said, “sitting is the new smoking”, it seemed like a dramatic statement. But many medical experts now believe it to be accurate. Multiple studies report that sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
As the “sitting is the new smoking” saying continues to be bandied about, it’s no wonder the popularity of height adjustable desks is rising exponentially.
Another key factor contributing to this trend is that organisations are increasingly embracing workplace wellbeing. As this continues to take centre stage, increased movement and less sedentary work practices are being actively encouraged.
While height adjustable desks are on the rise in the UK, the trend has soared ahead in other parts of the world. In Scandinavia, sit stand desks have become ubiquitous - over 90% of workers using computers in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark work at sit stand desks. In fact, in Denmark, it is now a legal requirement for companies to offer employees the opportunity to use one. It seems this may be yet another reason why Scandinavian countries regularly top the lists of the happiest places on the planet.
But furnishing your workplace is a costly project. Are height adjustable desks really worth the investment?
Let's take a look at the pros and cons.
1. Improves overall health
The health benefits of height adjustable desks have been well documented. One study that stands apart is the year-long study “Stand Up to Work”, which is the first longitudinal study into the impact of using sit stand desks.
Here are some of the key findings:
- 47% of people with height adjustable desks reported a significant reduction in upper back, shoulder or neck discomfort.
- 65% of people said height adjustable workstations positively impacted their health outside of the workplace.
In another study, users of height-adjustable desks were said to have experienced less stress and fatigue compared to those who worked seated every day. 87% said they felt more energetic overall.
“Focusing on physical wellbeing is one critical part of designing workplaces that help people move, think and feel better. Research such as “Stand Up to Work” continues to demonstrate that height adjustable desks can be an important part of a strategy to design for the holistic wellbeing of people.” Steelcase
2. Improves productivity
Beyond the health benefits, height adjustable desks are also believed to increase workers’ productivity.
According to the Stand Up to Work study:
- 65% of people with height adjustable desks reported increased productivity after one year and also reported better concentration ability.
- In addition, they said they were more active, refreshed, awake, limber and energetic.
Staying fixed in one position can cause brain function to slow down, which makes us less productive over time. But alternating between sitting and standing gets your body’s largest muscle groups working, which increases blood flow to the brain. Workers often report having more energy and less fatigue from using sit stand desks, which enables them to be more productive.
3. The perfect height
Workplace design is increasingly focusing on creating spaces that provide staff with choice and flexibility over how and where they want to work. Office furniture trends have followed suit. We already have complete control over office seating; we can adjust the chair height, arm height and lumbar support. So why should desks be any different?
Height adjustable desks give workers complete freedom to adjust their workspace throughout the day to suit their needs and preferences.
4. Supports a dynamic, agile workplace
Height adjustable desks support the rise of agile working, by helping to create a dynamic and more collaborative environment. Increased standing and more movement can lead to more interaction and engagement throughout the workplace.
5. People actually use them
The Stand Up to Work study found that height adjustable desks reduced the amount of time people spent sitting down in the office:
“People who received height adjustable desks reported a 17 percent reduction in sitting three months into the study, a trend that remained at the one year mark.”
Some desks come with tech integrations that make them even more effective and efficient for those who use them. The Steelcase Rise app syncs with height adjustable desks and reminds workers to sit, stand and move throughout the day with gentle desk movements set at an interval of the users choice.
1. Giving them to people without any direction
Dr April Chambers at The University of Pittsburg warns of the dangers of giving height adjustable desks to workers without any guidance or instruction on how to use them to their advantage:
“There are basic ergonomic concepts that seem to be overlooked. Many workers receive sit-stand desks and start using them without direction. I think proper usage will differ from person to person, and as we gather more research, we will be better able to suggest dosage for a variety of workers.”
Fortunately, most sit stand desks are incredibly easy to use. 88% of people who took part in the Stand Up to Work research found they were easy and convenient to use.
2. Is it really a priority?
Furnishing the workplace can be an expensive project. If your current workstations are working well for your employees and the business, sourcing sit stand desks for your office simply isn’t going to be a priority.
You could get sit stand desks for just some of your employees, but this could lead to tensions within the workforce. If you’re considering trying out height adjustable desks, why not purchase two or three for the office and create a hub where people can come and try them out? If people love them, then you can consider buying more.
Height adjustable desks are a key part of the wider trend to improve the wellbeing and overall health of employees. But the benefits of height adjustable desks aren’t limited to better health and productivity. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that they give workers complete control over their workspace so that they can thrive.