Editors note: This blog post was first published in January 2020 but has been updated for relevancy.
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. In recent years, they have gone from office novelty to a permanent fixture in many modern workplaces.
But what are the pros and cons of height adjustable desks? Are they worth investing in for your office? And what are the best products out there?
First, let's look at how the trend started.
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.
We know 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.
So it’s no wonder height adjustable desks have become a popular office furniture solution.
The charity Get Britain Standing has long been campaigning for employers to offer sit stand workstations to employees. Their mission to stop workers from prolonged sitting has been supported by Public Health England.
In Scandinavia, sit stand desks have become ubiquitous. Pre-pandemic, over 90% of workers using computers in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark were working at sit stand desks. In fact, in Denmark, it is a legal requirement for companies to offer employees the opportunity to use one. Could this be yet another reason Scandinavian countries regularly top lists of the happiest places on the planet?
The WELL certification, a building standard that focuses on enhancing people’s health and wellbeing through the built environment, also advocates for height adjustable desks. One criteria states that for at least 25% of workstations, employees should have the ability to alternate between sitting or standing, either through height adjustable desks or desktop height adjustment stands.
As more organisations’ embrace more ways to support employee wellbeing post-Covid, we’re likely to see more height adjustable desks in the workplaces across the UK and the globe.
But furnishing your workplace with a whole set of new workstations is a big investment. Are height adjustable desks really worth it?
What are the benefits of height adjustable desks?
Height adjustable desks improve workers' health and wellbeing and increase productivity. They also give workers' more control over their environment and help to support a dynamic, agile workforce. And research shows that workers do use them.
1. Improved employee health and wellbeing
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
What’s more, the pandemic has made people more aware of their need for comfort, and expect their employers to address this in the workplace. Introducing height adjustable desks is one way to do just that.
An example is Steelcase's Migration SE height adjustable desk, which is designed to offer a true ergonomic solution to maximise user wellbeing. What's more, its modular build means it can be easily updated and reused.
2. Increased 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. Gives employees more control over their working environment
Now people have experienced the autonomy of working from home, they are demanding more control over their working environment. In fact, Steelcase research revealed this is one of five critical factors that when addressed, will improve how they feel about their company. Workers who have more control over their experience at work are more satisfied with their workplace and more engaged.
Height adjustable desks give workers complete freedom to adjust their workspace throughout the day to suit their needs and preferences. Some will even enable workers to save their favourite settings so as to avoid them having to spend time fiddling with it every time they move from seated to standing and vice versa. And in offices with a hot desking system in place, app-powered height adjustable desks means workers can arrive at a desk set to just the right height for them.
Steelcase’s Ology desk and Ology bench make it easy to change height of the work surface and posture with its convenient controls. ‘Active Touch’ motion sensors remind users to change posture throughout the day. It also allows them to create a profile with preset desk heights and preferred intervals of sitting and standing.
4. Supports a dynamic, agile workplace
Height adjustable desks support 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. This will encourage people to come back to the office as they increasingly look for more flexibility.
For example, Steelcase Flex height adjustable desks can be pushed together for collaborative work, or moved to a quiet area for focused work. And Frovi’s Relic Project Table can be electrically adjusted at the flick of a switch to create the ideal workstation for any task, including both collaboration and focused work.
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.
What are the drawbacks of height adjustable desks?
The risk is your workers don't end up making the most of their height adjustable desks. Because either they aren't given any direction on how to use them or because they don't meet workers' needs.
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 expensive. If your current workstations are working well for your employees and the business, sourcing sit stand desks for your office may not 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.
Prototyping and piloting new furniture solutions is becoming more commonplace as employers’ navigate the changing landscape post-Covid. Testing some out will ensure you don’t make costly mistakes.
Or, if you are wanting to reuse your existing workstations, you could look at purchasing stand up desk converters. These sit on top of the desk and can be moved up and down to find the most comfortable position.
So, are height adjustable desks worth it?
Height adjustable desks have clear health benefits, can improve productivity, and give employees a sense of control over their working environment. But it's important to educate your employees on how to use them and the benefits of using them if you want to make the most of your investment.
If you’re unsure whether to invest in height adjustable desks, talk to your workers. How do they feel about their current workstations? Would they like the choice of being able to move between sitting and standing? How might it help improve their comfort and ease of completing tasks?
It’s clear that height adjustable desks are the future of the workplace. Imagine smart offices with apps giving you control not just over the height of your desk, but the temperature and lighting. This is the world we’re heading towards.
Height adjustable desks are a key part of the wider trend to improve the wellbeing and overall health of employees. But perhaps the biggest benefit is that they give workers complete control over their workspace - one thing they are telling us they need.
If you would like to chat to one of our team about height adjustable desks and possible options, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.