How standing desks caused a mini-revolution at my workplace
3 employees here at Mother Nature Network have switched to standing desks. Would they go back to sitting? How do they feel? Don't their feet hurt?
Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 04:24 PM
The author's standing desk, with Catie Leary's standing desk just behind it. Laura Moss, the third employee with a standing desk, is seen in the background, sitting on her stool. (Photo: Anna Norris)
I was leaving the office feeling stiff and grumpy, and it wasn't because of my work or my colleagues. I blamed my chair, my already not-that-great posture made worse by the chair and the fact that I was sitting from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon, only occasionally getting up.
While I was used to sitting for long stretches as a graduate student, I was at a university with an expansive urban campus, so I was also used to being on my feet much more often, either walking around campus or pacing while delivering a lecture. Couple that with posting the occasional article about how sitting down too much can slowly kill you, and I decided I needed to do something.
So when a professor I follow on Twitter tweeted a picture and instructions for a cheap-to-buy and easy-to-construct ad hoc standing desk he'd put in his office in December 2012, I did what any responsible adult in his late 20s would do: I retweeted it, favorited it, and then didn't actually do anything to buy the parts and build the desk until July 2013.
Why the delay? I had a couple of excuses: I used to live a little ways away from my office, so it would've involved a trip to the office on a weekend, and I'm not a huge fan of going to IKEA. So, in short, I was being kind of lazy despite still feeling lousy when I left work.
Luckily, Catie Leary, Mother Nature Network’s photo editor, was more pro-active when it came to improving her working situation, and she constructed the desk in January 2013 as part of a set of New Year's resolutions, making her the first person at our office to have a standing desk.
“I'd heard a lot about how sitting for long periods of time can degenerate the spine over a long period of time,” Catie said, “and since my line of work involves a lot of desk time, I knew I needed to be pro-active and try to pre-empt as much damage as possible.” Couple this with concern over her already-present chronic lower back pain, and she knew that she “had no excuse not to do it.”
Catie ended up being a self-volunteering guinea pig. I was waiting to see if she gave up on it, but she didn’t! Clearly it was working out for her, so after I moved closer to the office, I made a trip to IKEA, got the parts, and then headed to the office with my screwdriver and tape measure. I haven’t looked back since.
Catie Leary snapped this photo of me using my standing desk as I gave it a trial run. Her standing desk is pictured in the foreground. (Photo: Catie Leary/Instagram)
Laura Moss, an assistant editor here, was in the same fence-straddling mode I was. She was reading the same articles I was, and wanted to be sure that Catie and I wouldn’t end up caving into the chairs’ siren song. After Catie had been at it for a just under a year and me for close to six months, Laura constructed her own standing desk.
Of course, a standing desk comes with its own unique challenges. The first couple of weeks are easily the hardest as your body adjusts to its new position throughout the day. All of us experienced some feet and leg pain as we transitioned working styles in that time period, though that pain went away as we each got stools and anti-fatigue mats. Both items are important additions to your standing routine. I went without a mat for a few days and it caused my feet and shins to ache, but once I got the mat, the aches went away. Laura didn’t have a stool for a week, so she experienced the joys of standing all day with no breaks. Catie, in addition to the mat, either wears more supportive shoes or goes sock-footed, something Laura and I haven’t tried yet.
One downside to the standing desk that I hadn’t considered was feeling under the weather while standing all day, because the last thing you want to do when you're sick is stand all day. I’m a wallower when I’m sick, so I just wanted to sit and sip my tea. I forced myself to stand, and while I certainly didn’t feel better, I was more alert and productive than if I had been sitting all day. So even while sick, I felt better standing than I did while sitting.
Despite a few drawbacks, we all love our standing desks. Laura relishes feeling like a giant, looking over our colleagues who are still chair-bound. Catie likes how the standing desk complements her more active lifestyle of cycling and yoga. I appreciate being able to stretch my entire body and to leave work not half-dreading the next day before I’m even out the door. Now, I dread sitting in my chair when I get home or when I have to work from home. (Maybe I’ll get around to putting a standing desk in my apartment this year.)
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