Standing desks – fad or office furniture?

Lawrence Jones

Thursday 19 March 2015

History is littered with famous standing-desk users. Political, artistic and literary giants like Winston Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci and Charles Dickens are all rumoured to have preferred to work this way.

Standing desks may be a relatively new concept in the UK, but have been popular in Europe for years, particularly in Scandinavia. Advocates of the standing desk talk passionately about greater energy and increased productivity, but do the claims stand up to scrutiny?

Fitter, happier?

A sedentary lifestyle is partly responsible for the rise in health conditions, so it should come as no surprise that sitting down all day isn’t particularly healthy. A standing desk is certainly the healthier option, helping you burn calories – as many as 50 or more per hour – as you chew through your work. As well as strengthening leg muscles, scientific evidence has shown that by standing, you could be helping to protect yourself from a variety of life-threatening health issues, including heart disease and cancer.

In health terms, at least, standing desks have the edge – for both the employer and the employee.

More productive?

Standing desks attract a passionate following, with many claiming improved productivity as a result of using them. Sadly, the scientific evidence isn’t there just yet to substantiate this.

Recent research has shown that, while standing desks don’t impede performance, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that they improve it. So the science may not stack up, but – as ever – it’s perhaps more complicated than it first appears.

OK Computer

Tech organisations are often happy to invest thousands in new software, or technological solutions, while perhaps not investing as heavily in the welfare and working conditions of their staff.

In many firms, standing desks have been introduced as a result of listening to staff requests. Could it therefore be that this increased investment in staff is leading to bigger gains in productivity? Even a very small change in working conditions can result in a productivity bounce. If employers are listening to staff, it’s likely this will lead to a happier, and therefore more productive, workforce.

Making the change

Regardless of the strength of the evidence, if your staff is clamouring for standing room, it’s worth considering them.

There are options for all budgets, from the low hundreds to the high thousands. If you’re handy with an Allen key and a small spanner, Ikea offer relatively low-cost desks that are proving popular with European businesses.