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Da Vinci Did It, But Should You? Pros and Cons of Standing Desks

Posted by Liz Taurasi on 24 Jul 2015

Da Vinci did it, but should you? Some standing desk pros and cons

If you haven’t heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” then you’ve been living under a rock … or a desk. 

This idea has helped popularize the role of standing desks in corporate environments. While you may think of this concept as trendy and new, standing desks have actually been around for centuries. 

UpDesk came onto the market in 2012, when there were only a handful of companies making standing desks. But that doesn’t mean 2012 is when it all began. 

“The idea has been around for centuries,” says UpDesk’s Director of Community Relations Kamron Kunce. “Both Winston Churchill and da Vinci were known to use standing desks. People refer to them as a fad, but they’ve really been around for years.” 

Today, you see standing desks touted as trendy work perks, popping up in employer branding videos and used as examples of "cool" company culture. Proponents say standing desks increase productivity, contribute to a healthier lifestyle and really change the way people work. But do they?

With more companies and individuals embracing the standing desk, let’s run through some of the pros and cons of standing desks. 

Pro: Increased Focus and Productivity
Standing desk supporters say productivity increases when you use a standing desk because people tend to be more eager to get things done when they are on their feet. Working while standing really hones in the focus on whatever the task is you are working on,” Kunce says. Sitting, on the other hand, can be associated with a lackadaisical environment just sitting in their chair.

Con: It’s a Big Investment
It can be a considerable expense for companies to invest in standing desks. But the good news is today there are a lot of companies in the market, which has helped drive prices down. Today you can get a standing desk for the cost of what you pay for a quality office chair, which is helpful for companies who need an economical solution.

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Pro: Health Benefits
Standing up burns more calories than sitting down – some estimates say it’s thousands of extra calories per week compared to sitting. Kunce had a customer write him that he lost 44 lbs after using a standing desk for a period of six months (along with incorporating a good diet and exercise). Standing also helps promote strength in your back and core, and improves blood flow and circulation. When companies equate healthier employees with lower healthcare costs, incorporating standing desks into a holistic wellness plan can be an appealing option.

Con: But Standing All Day Isn’t Good for You Either
Many standing desk adopters get too aggressive and dive in before getting to know how to use them. In fact, users should alternate between sitting and standing. “A lot of people think you have to stand all day long,” says Kunce. “That’s not correct we encourage our customers to stand a minimum of four hours a day, but don’t want them standing for eight hours either. Anything in excess is really harmful to the body.”

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Pro: Increased Energy Levels
Improved mental and physical health is a key advantage associated with standing desks. Many employees who use standing desks report feeling more alert and energized throughout the day – even after they’ve left work. Kunce says he hears from companies that a lot of standing desk users come home and feel like they need to be active there, thus translating into a healthier life at home.

Con: Sharing Your Workspace
Many companies aren’t ready to make the leap to providing standing, or convertible, desks for all of their employees. In these cases, a popular option is to provide a few areas with standing desks, where employees can book a desk as they would a conference room. The problem with this approach is that the hassle of booking desks or moving your workspace can offset the productivity standing desks are intended to enhance – or even discourage use altogether.

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Pro: Mood Enhancers 
A Canadian analysis of 23 active desk (standing and treadmill) studies concluded there is a “clear mood boost” among participants who used active desks, including less fatigue, tension and stress. And these physiological benefits don’t take into account the potential impact on employee engagement, morale and job satisfaction that introducing a work perk like standing desks can have.

Con: That Awkward Moment  
For some employees, it may be awkward to approach their boss and ask for a standing desk. Some companies even require employees to ask for a doctor’s note, which many don’t do and just end the request there. If you have a physical, talk to your doctor about the effects of prolonged sitting and ask if he or she can write you a preventative doctor’s note so you have it just in case.

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Pro: Active Desks are Getting More Versatile
With today’s standing desks you can integrate add on accessories like treadmills, stationary bikes and even balance boards. With those types of add-ons, employees are able to reap even greater health benefits without sacrificing much in terms of cognitive performance.

Con: Little Things Can Add Up
There are many little complaints that employees who’ve used standing and active desks have logged over the years. For some, typos become more common, and words typed per minute declines slightly. “Not being able to wear heels” and “difficulty talking on the phone” are a few drawbacks identified over at Levo League. When these little things add up, some users find the advantages of a standing desk aren’t worth it.


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