Switching to a Standing Desk

Date: 20 May 2013

System administrators have a fairly sedentary job. With the exception of occasionally racking or unracking servers, we’re pretty much desk bound. I’m certainly no exception.

Several months ago, I noticed that sitting all day was starting to cause me pain in the backs of my thighs. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of pain, especially while I’m working. The pain would, eventually, drive me from my chair. Standing relieved the pain almost immediately but I could work standing up because my monitors were still sitting on my desk, too low to see.

I had heard of standing desks before and started to look around to see how I could cobble one together on the cheap. There was an old workbench/desk that we were pulling out of the server room that I could use to raise my work surface up so that I could stand. I talked to my boss and he suggested that I look online for something that would do the job without having a seven foot workbench sticking up over the five foot cubicle walls.

In my searching, I discovered the Ergotron WorkFit-S. At almost $400, it’s a little spendy but my boss agreed to get it for me. You can see what it looked like set up on my desk when I first got it.

Standing desk

It was a little strange working standing up, at first, but after a while, I got used to it. It was easy to do since I wasn’t dealing with the pain of sitting down all the time. The best thing about using the WorkFit-S is that it’s a dual sit-stand system which means that if I get tired of standing, I can simply slide it down sit for a while.

Not long after I took the above picture, I rearranged my desk so that I had work surfaces at both standing and sitting height. Generally, all I need while I’m standing is a place to put a notepad to jot things down on while I’m working. (There is a work surface add-on for the WorkFit-S but I didn’t get it.)

On average, I stand about half of my day. Some days a little more some days a little less. It’s all about listening to your body. When my feet start to hurt from standing, I’ll sit down. If my legs start to hurt from too much sitting, it’s back up and I’m standing.

One of the nicest things about standing is that it’s a great way to deal with “that 2:30 pm feeling”. I’ll tell ya, it’s a lot harder to doze off when you’re standing up. I’ve found that if I’m having trouble focusing or am feeling a little tired, standing helps me stay focused.

One thing I began to notice a month or so back is that the WorkFit-S is a bit short for me while I’m standing. I’m six feet tall and, lifted all the way up, the monitors were about 3-4 inches below what was comfortable. The good news is that Ergotron makes a Tall-User kit which can add something like eight inches to the height of the monitors as well as adding a bit of tilt. Set at its lowest level, the Tall-User kit added the extra height I needed. (Actually, it added a bit too much when slid all the way up so I, simply, don’t slide it all the way up.)

There was an extra benefit that I hadn’t counted on. When I’m working with someone on a problem in my cubicle, I can raise my WorkFit-S to the standing position which makes it much easier for both of us to see. Plus, it’s right at eye level if I’m up drawing things out on the whiteboard. I wouldn’t buy it just for that reason but it’s a nice plus.

Now, why did I write this on a blog that’s mostly full of tech notes and documentation? Simple. The notes on this blog are about things I’ve learned which make my job as a sysadmin easier or more enjoyable. Moving to a standing desk certainly qualifies.

Now, here a few of things that you should be aware of if you decide to go with a standing desk.

  • Be sure that you wear comfortable shoes. I’d also recommend a pad like you’ll see cashiers using in the store. You’ll last a lot longer standing up. Also, don’t be afraid to move. I tend to pace a little when I’m standing. Moving around will help your feet as well as helping your circulation.
  • If you go with a standing desk that allows you to sit down, don’t be afraid to do it. It’s all about listening to your body.
  • The first week or two using a standing desk are going to be a bit painful if you aren’t used to standing that much. I tried to go in three hour chunks when I first started. (Three hours standings and then one hour sitting.) That helped me get used to standing but I’ve cut back a bit. As I said, I’m standing about half the time now. Usually, I’ll stand for a couple of hours then sit for a couple of hours but it varies, especially if I have meetings or am working in the server room.
  • If you’re working in a cube farm rather than a private office, be aware that your monitor may be above the cube walls when you’re standing. If possible, position your monitors so that your monitors aren’t as visible. (As sysadmins, we occasionally work with sensitive date. You don’t want to show it off to the entire office.)
  • Don’t be afraid to try it out with a few bricks and boards before spending big bucks on something.

That’s about it. I highly recommend using a standing desk. I feel a lot better, physically, if I can stand for a part of the day than I ever did after spending the whole day glued to my chair. In the end, it’s all about being comfortable and not letting your work environment have a negative impact on your health.

Have you considered using a standing desk or are you using one now? Post your experience in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.