ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self. This is a guest post by contributor Julia Gifford of the Draugiem Group.
Without a doubt, standing tables have become the mark of a hip office. Any self-respecting startup that claims to hold employees' well-being at the top of its priorities is hopping on this bandwagon. And large companies are jumping in too—including AOL, Google, Twitter and Facebook.
Google offers standing desks as part of its employee-wellness program. That means that any employee looking out for his or her health can choose to work at a standing desk. (Some companies, by contrast, only offer them if a doctor writes a note saying it's medically necessary for a specific condition.)
Facebook has more than 250 employees using standing desks, as employees have been asking for them after medical reports described the health concerns of sitting for extended periods. Facebook has said that standing tables keep the energy level high in the office. Facebook recruiter Greg Hoy told the Wall Street Journal, "I don't get the 3 o'clock slump anymore, I feel active all day long."
And as followers of the ReadWriteBody series know, ReadWrite editor-in-chief Owen Thomas has been using an extreme version of the standing desk—a LifeSpan Fitness treadmill desk, on which he's logged hundreds of miles.
See also: Life (And Work) On The Treadmill
However, there has been a visible backlash to standing desks. Some critics call the standing desk the latest Silicon Valley status symbol. Others argue that it's actually bad for productivity. According to them, it's no longer the obvious, unchallenged “better” way of working.
Putting Standing Desks To The Test
These polarized opinions about standing desks led us to ask the question: Is this simply a Silicon Valley fad (as some would have us believe), or does it actually help in your everyday work?
We, a team at the Draugiem Group, a startup incubator in Latvia, decided to put it to the test and measure with scientific accuracy the impact of standing chairs on our productivity, well-being, concentration, and ability to work.
We used a specific app called DeskTime—one that we developed ourselves—to track our time and productivity. We tracked the time we spent standing, and the time we spent sitting. It then gives you a percentage of productivity (your total time working divided by the amount of that time that we spent using applications that you set to be “productive”). We had seven people test the standing desk, for one week each.
Standing Desks Boost Productivity
The grand conclusion: Compared to a period of time when a person was not using the standing desk, we found that standing led to up to 10% more productivity.
We used electrically adjustable desks from Salons, a Latvian office-equipment maker, which made it easy for us to raise or lower our desk via a little button which activated a small motor and hydraulics. It was great for making sure that you've got it at the perfect height—the recommendation is to set it so your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle when standing—and it was also good to be able to sit down when we felt tired.
Added bonus: Since the desk is so customizable, even when you're sitting you can set it at a better height than where your desk usually is, leading to generally more straight-backed working.
The “Rise” Of The Standing Desk
Standing desks are nothing new. They've been around for centuries. Prominent individuals like Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill worked at standing desks every day of their lives.
But more recently the impact of standing desks on our health has been quantified, and several reports have come out pointing out the dangers of sitting too long. Some have even gone so far as to tell us that sitting at our workplaces is killing us, citing studies that conclude that those who sit for the majority of the workday are 54% more likely to die of a heart attack.
Other potential health issues include increased risk of fatal heart attacks, back pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more. That's enough for me to be convinced of the merits of standing for at least part of the day.
What It's Like To Stand Up At The Job
Some of our findings are both tangible and intangible. Besides the 10% increase in productivity we measured, there were other findings that weren't easily quantifiable. The desk did not cure anyone's diabetes, strip away cellulite, or help us lose weight. But we did find some interesting results from a week of using the standing desk.
There was one result that we all found to be true.
While standing, you feel a sense of urgency which causes you to be focused on the completion of tasks. This works ideally when you're working with tasks where you know what the outcome should be, and it's just a matter of completing it.
However, for tasks which require a creative approach—for example, thinking about a possible coding solution, or writing a great article—then the urgency provided by standing is more of a hindrance. We found that for creative tasks, sitting and not paying attention to your corporal self was helpful in letting your mind wander and explore creative options.
Other results we noted:
- Higher energy levels. By standing during the day, we're able to keep energy levels constant. You're not getting the 3 o'clock slump, and you avoid the dreaded food coma. As a result, your mind doesn't drift, your eyes don't droop, and you can get through your day without experiencing an energy roller coaster.
- Higher concentration on tasks. Several of our employees testing the desk noted the same psychological experience: You get to sit once you've completed a certain task. For example, I sat down after I finished writing this article. This lets you focus better, and also compartmentalize your tasks. As we know, multitasking is a productivity killer, and the standing desk effectively eliminates the urge to multitask and flip between websites, email, and other distractions. “I constantly had my to-do list opened and I'd try to get through them all ASAP. The only differences being that while sitting, I spent more time on Facebook and Spotify, which shows us that sitting lets our minds wander more," Davis Siksnans, project manager at the Draugiem Group, told me.
- Fewer headaches. Our programmer has been professionally sitting for more than eight hours a day for eight years! He found that he got headaches from sitting so long. The standing desk cured this issue: “Loved it. Usually I have headaches from sitting for long periods of time, so I figured if I could stand at work then that would minimise the headaches. My theory was right, I felt so productive!”
- Helped quit smoking. Our designer is trying to quit cigarettes, and found that the standing desk eased the process. The constant shifting of weight from one foot to the other helps manage the anxiety of not having a cigarette.
Getting Things Done While Standing
The conclusion of this experiment, something we all agreed on, was that standing helps you get things done—the things you simply have to plow through.
All in all, we say that standing desks do help. But not in ways you would expect. You'll notice a new drive to get things done, at least those little tasks. But sometimes, you just need to sit down and have a moment to think.
Lead photo by ramsey everydaypants
Julia Gifford works for the Draugiem Group.