According to reports, sitting for 6 hours a day is comparable to a lifetime of heavy smoking, even if you exercise regularly outside of work hours.
To combat this worrying news, many companies have taken a stand through a vast array of potential fixes around the office, from stand-up meetings to apps that remind you to stretch your legs at regular intervals. Plenty of other workplace trends, like having dogs at the office, often center their health claims around getting you up and on your feet away from your desk.
One fix, however, proposes addressing the problem at its root — by raising up your desk so that sitting is no longer an option. As a result, standing desks have grown in popularity as they appear to present the best way to counteract these stationary workspace health woes.
Are standing desks the answer to these challenges, or have they just presented new ones? We take a look at some of the pros and cons of implementing standing desk workstations in the office.
The effect of standing desks on focus and productivity
Advocates of standing desks argue that there’s something about the physical act of standing that makes your work feel more urgent. They find that productivity increases while the subject is physically standing at their desk because they feel more motivated to get through their tasks for the day, though they note that almost no one remained standing for the whole day.
Meanwhile, counter-arguments made by both the advocates and detractors state that creative work, like writing or designing, is significantly more difficult while standing, particularly if your legs or back have begun to ache. In fact, some people have complained that the discomfort of standing for long periods of time makes them take breaks from their desk even when they feel motivated to continue working.
The pro argument for increased productivity suggests that it may be the desire to sit down and have a break that spurs the standing employee on to finish their more menial tasks — which arguably could affect the overall quality of the finished product, even if it is completed in record time.
The effect of standing desks on circulation and posture
Those in favour of standing desks argue that in order to get the full benefits, you want to make sure that your arms are at a 90-degree angle and that your back is straight. This means a lot of customization right off the bat—and essentially eliminates shared workstations, unless you want to group all employees by height and arm length.
Unfortunately, even when set up properly, there isn’t much research to support the idea that standing—even at the optimal angles—is any better for you than sitting. That is due to the fact that a straight back and 90-degree arms can also be achieved in a properly adjusted chair. On top of that, standing still for long periods of time can carry its own risks, including vein, back, joint, and neck strain.
Many people who’ve tried out standing desks have complained of stiff legs, aching backs, and sore necks after just the first day. Some argue that this eventually gets better, but only if they are allowed to take regular breaks from standing. Even then, there’s the worry that getting used to something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gotten better, it may just mean that you’ve become less aware of the effects over time.
The takeaway: office mobility is key
Ultimately, while standing desks seem like a great idea, standing for six or more hours per day can carry similar risks to sitting, among them being poor circulation, stiff joints, and bad posture. The real issue is an overall lack of motion, so the best case scenario would be to alternate between the two type of desks—one for sitting and one for standing.
Regardless of the desk type, what employees really need to do is to be able to get up and move at least once an hour, which includes walking breaks outside and quick trips to the office coffee machine. In the long run, regular office mobility will do even more wonders for your people’s health in addition to the benefits provided by standing desk workstations.