Standing Desks, Sitting Desks And Everything In Between
Work + Life Balance

Standing Desks, Sitting Desks And Everything In Between

by Kathryn Drury Wagner
Photos Ashley Batz | November 12, 2014


Instead of driving, do you bike or walk for your commute? And maybe you feel a little superior as a result? Yes, that’s one of the side effects. I mean, you should feel good: You’re saving money, reducing pollution and you probably own some cool cycling accessories like a six-pack holder. Alas, in the modern workplace, if you want to take it up a notch, you’ll need to walk or your desk.

Office workers are slowly becoming immune to the sight of people working at their desks in ways that would have once seemed ridiculous—typing emails while walking on a treadmill, taking a conference call seated on a stationary bike—no wait, these all still seem ridiculous. There’s just something odd about professionals popping up and down all day like well-dressed prairie dogs. Proponents say that working while moving or standing, rather than being seated, can relieve back pain, sharpen mental acuity and burn calories. Who doesn’t want to burn an extra 100 calories an hour? Naysayers, though, report that their research shows moving doesn’t actually boost cognitive performance, and that standing all day causes varicose veins.

A couple of studies released this fall—both involving research on elementary students—shed more light on the question of traditional versus non-traditional desks, and the role they play in obesity, attentiveness and engagement.

researcher at Texas A&M found that students were more engaged in learning when they were in “activity permissive” environments, that is, where they could choose to use standing desks or be seated, and where fidgeting wasn’t a cause for punishment. Ward Elementary School has gotten national attention for its Read and Ride program, where kids go into a room filled with stationary bikes and read a book while they pedal. Students who spent more time on the bikes reached an average reading proficiency level of 83 percent, while kids who didn’t bike as often only averaged 41 percent. Based on these results, 30 more schools around the country have started their own Read and Ride rooms. The bottom line: we seem to be healthier and our brains work better when we’re moving around, instead of stuck in one position.


The fanciest standing desk I could find is the Stir Kinetic Desk. You move it up and down by tapping two fingers on a pad, and the desk somehow “learns” from your standing/sitting behaviors. It’s WiFi equipped, and if you dare to sit for too long, it will prompt you to move your lazy tush and stand up. For those of us who are reluctant to drop four grand on a software-operated desk, here are some other options:

GeekDesk has an electric motor for changing positions from high to low; a small desk starts at $929 and a large at $985.

Ergotron Workfit-S Sit-Stand Desk is about $500. It attaches to your desk with a clamp, and it’s quite heavy. On the plus side, you just adjust it using a counterbalance and it’s very smooth to operate.

Ikea has a new sit-stand version of its Bekant desk ($489), but Wired reports the company is having some production issues; the desks were unavailable at the time of this writing, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for them in the future.

Start-up RiseUp Table Top is a pop-up desk accessory that creates a raised workspace. $189.99 for pre-orders, but supposed to be released this month.

The Ninja Standing Desk is very minimalist. It hangs by straps from a door, wall or cubicle and has options for two or three shelves ($159 to $219).

An old-school drafting table will run you about $150.

Or here’s a how-to on a popular $22 hack that uses Ikea “ingredients.”

Even if your office doesn’t have alternative type work stations, you can still reap some of the same benefits. Here’s how:


SNEAK IN LITTLE EXCURSIONS DURING THE DAY: Go to the bathroom downstairs, instead of on the same floor, or walk over to accounting rather than picking up the phone.

STAND UP DURING MEETINGS: Use a white board if you’re leading the meeting, or lean against the wall if you are an attendee (and if it’s not too weird, obviously. Sheryl Sandberg did tell us to lean in.)

WALK TO GET YOUR LUNCH: Or if you bring your lunch, take the first 10 minutes as a walking break, before you eat at your desk.

SET A TIMER: Every hour take a five-minute loop around the office.

SWITCH UP YOUR SEAT: Bring in an exercise ball and use that instead of a chair.

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Some fitness gurus recommend things like “lead your team in a series of stretches before a meeting,” and “do squats while waiting by the printer,” but I’m not sure which planet they work on. It’s bad enough in our modern offices, what with all the people biking, and standing, and ziplining and playing croquet at their desks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a walk.