One of the items on my post-PhD to-do list was to transition to standing while working. Everyone has seen the “sitting is the new smoking” articles (e.g. here, here, or here), and while I’m no medical expert, it’s no stretch for me to accept that our bodies aren’t designed to sit 8-10 hours per day.1 I felt like this was a straightforward step in a healthier and more active lifestyle.
I work for an engineering firm, and my workspace is a cubicle. I wasn’t sure how well the standing desk option would go over, but when I noticed several coworkers augmenting their desks in various ways to stand while working, I saw my open door. I decided to take the low-cost, DIY route to test the waters. In this post, I will show you how to convert your cube to a standing desk.
I closely followed the design of the Standesk 2200, a standing desk conversion kit pieced together from random IKEA parts. Instead of building an entirely new desk, it’s an add-on that sits right on top of your regular desk. The name “2200” comes from the price: $22.00. I made a few modifications that pushed the cost up (Standesk 5000?), but I think these were well worth it. A shopping list is below. I’m pleased with the final result:
As you can see, it’s nothing more than a black coffee table with a shelf mounted on the front. One of the reasons I went with this coffee table instead of the recommended side tables is that the coffee table’s lower shelf provides an inconspicuous spot for my laptop docking station and 3D mouse (when not in use). The keyboard shelf is approximately twelve inches wider than the coffee table. This provides a helpful work platform to the left of my keyboard where I can place papers or books.
One concern I had was that the final product wouldn’t feel solid enough, but I was wrong: it feels very sturdy and the monitors exhibit minimal wobble. I was also concerned whether it would look professional enough, but based on the comments I have received from colleagues, it passes the test. Finally, this design doesn’t have a great option for working while sitting if needed — the best I can do is undock my laptop and sit at a different area of my desk.
The transition to standing has been surprisingly easy — much smoother than expected. I’m fairly healthy/fit, but I’m not a big exerciser. I haven’t had much trouble standing all day. I don’t feel noticeably more fatigued at night than I did before. I do stretch frequently during the day and try to walk around periodically. I sit to eat lunch. Otherwise, I don’t know why it’s been such a smooth transition. You might be surprised and find out you can stand all day as well. Five weeks in, I hardly notice it or think about it anymore.
This is entirely subjective, but I feel like my alertness and capacity for sustained concentration throughout the day have improved. This could all be in my head, but it makes reasonable sense that standing would keep you more mentally engaged. Friends have reported similar productivity gains.
When it comes to assembling your desk, you need to take some careful measurements to get the keyboard and monitor heights correct. I used the ergonomics graphic in this post as a guide. I did the best I could ahead of time, but this required some trial and error. Even after measuring, when I brought the assembly to my office, I found that the working surfaces were several inches too low. I’m 6’1”, so several furniture risers brought the set-up mostly into compliance, but I still experienced an RSI flare-up in my mouse hand. Nobody tell Edward Tufte, but my copy of Beautiful Evidence was just the right height to solve the RSI problem. It’s been fine ever since.
I found that the floor in my office was too rigid (carpet on concrete slab). I needed an anti-fatigue mat. I didn’t want foot or knee problems to negate the health benefits of standing. After reading a multitude of reviews online, I learned that anti-fatigue mats are a get-what-you-pay-for commodity. Furthermore, a lot of them are marketed as kitchen accessories and are styled accordingly (patterns, etc.). I needed something that wouldn’t draw attention. This led me to the only expensive component in my set-up: the Imprint Cumulus Pro anti-fatigue mat. It is black, plain, has tapered edges which reduce its tripping hazard, and it is awesome. Once I’ve worked here longer, I might add a wobble board to mix things up a bit.
Good shoes are important. I expected the transition to standing to trigger a shoe upgrade, but my feet have been fine. I repeat: my feet do not hurt at all after nine hours of standing. Several years ago when I began teaching, I splurged on a pair of Ecco Berlins. These shoes are incredible. I now travel internationally with only these shoes, and have put them through everything from multi-mile traipsing on cobblestone streets to climbing through castle ruins. I may upgrade to a “barefoot”-style business shoe in the future, but the Ecco’s are more than sufficient for now.
- Lack Coffee Table (35”-long version) — $192
- Ekby Valter Brackets — 2 @ $4
- Ekby Hemnes Shelf (47x11”) — $19
- ¼ x 3-in bolt/nut/washer sets from Home Depot
- Imprint Cumulus Pro Anti-Fatigue Mat (24x36”) — $100 (optional)
- Black Bed Risers — $17
If you are intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, I highly recommend you give it a try. My set-up is proof that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to test the waters.
I’ve now spent five weeks with this set-up. I have really enjoyed it so far and am feeling great. I plan to write a more comprehensive review after several months or a year passes, so we’ll see how this ongoing experiment pans out. For now, though, I’m excited.