No longer just the tools of the seriously hip workplaces, sit/stand desks or height-adjustable tables are now increasingly part of the mainstream working environment. Jaime Sinclair explains why and how they are best utilised.
Desks have remained relatively unchanged for decades, yet the workflow and tools that we use have changed considerably.
As a result, today’s office workers now face problems with the design of most desks. Considering the various risks of sedentary behaviour, there is more need than ever for a simple yet sophisticated ergonomic solution. Height-adjustable tables and desks can alleviate much of the stress placed on the worker’s body and encourage healthy posture throughout the day.
Beyond health benefits, studies show that intermittent standing can increase productivity levels through a reduction in work break time. In fact, in one study, non-standers took an average of 47 percent more work breaks than standers and the duration of work breaks was 56 percent longer for non-standers than that of standers.
Fundamental challenges of fixed desks
One fundamental challenge faced by the contemporary office worker is the standard work surface height. Most work surfaces are simply too high for the average employee. The population of office workers’ height range is from under 1520 millimetres (five feet) to taller than 1980 millimetres (six feet, six inches). Regardless of a worker’s height, they almost all work at the same standard 720-millimetre desk height, which correlates to the seated elbow height of a 1930-millimetre (six feet four inches) individual. It is clear
that this standard desk height does not accommodate most office workers.
In addition to desk height, the work style of contemporary office workers poses another challenge. Office workers have become increasingly sedentary due to the nature of their work, as most spend each day working at a computer. They spend many hours of uninterrupted sitting at their desk, and sit during their commute to and from work. There are several studies that show sitting can be detrimental to one’s health. Compounding this issue, studies have also implied that, while exercise may be beneficial for overall well- being, it will not offset the effects of sedentary behaviour while working.
One of the best antidotes to this behaviour is the evolution of the sit/stand desk.
Recently, however, a few articles have appeared in the media discussing the dangers of using sit/stand desks. The articles were based
on contemporary research looking at the effects on people who stand for more than two hours at a stretch. This highlights the need for both consumers to be both aware of the sensationalised nature of such click-bait articles, but also to note that this is far too long to be standing when using such fixtures and fittings. Sit/stand desks are designed to aid movement, not to encourage one position. The key educational message is that for optimum benefit, users should remember the 20:8:2 equation – sitting for 20 minutes, standing for no more than eight every half an hour and moving for the other two.
The key is always movement, making sure that the user never spends too long in any static posture, whether that be sitting or standing.
The reason for this is that varying posture between sitting and standing allows different body segments to rest in intervals while eliminating the impact of prolonged static postures. Height-adjustable tables and desks encourage workers to change their postures throughout the day, and have been linked to a variety of health benefits.
Height-adjustable tables should be carefully selected based on the following criteria.
What to look for in a height-adjustable table or desk
Height-adjustable tables and desks come in many forms. What has plagued many height- adjustable tables and desks in the past has been a requirement to use an electric motor that uses costly energy, a lack of height adjustability and weight accommodation, an absence of a safety mechanism and cumbersome mechanisms that make the table difficult for users to adjust.
Ease of use is key – even employees who are provided with a height-adjustable, sit/stand desk are potentially unlikely to take the time to raise and lower it throughout the dayifitisdifficultinanywaytodoso.A simple mechanism that people of any stature can use to adjust their table will ensure that they feel comfortable modifying the desk to suit their needs.
Knee clearance is another valuable trait in a sit/stand desk. Crossbeams prevent users from extending their legs beneath the desk; therefore, a key element of a height-adjustable table is one that does not have obstructions. Centre poles to make the table stand upright also prevent users from freely moving. Height-adjustable desks with counterbalance mechanisms can fluidly be raised and lowered without the need for an obstructive crossbeam to balance the weight of the table or help from electricity or a hand crank. Opting for a table that easily glides up and down with a counterbalance mechanism is ideal for accommodating users’ ergonomic needs in an easy, sustainable way.
To maximise a height-adjustable desk’s ergonomic potential, a wide range of height adjustability is extremely important. Specifically, a 500-milliimetre height range will accommodate more than 90 percent of the population in both sitting and standing postures.
In addition to height adjustability, the table must have ample weight accommodation. The table should easily accommodate the weight that is common to the individual’s workflow.
Safety is something that should also be considered. A table that is incorrectly adjusted and/or that does not have a proper mechanism to ensure safe usage can be hazardous. To help prevent injury, a height-adjustable desk should also have a safety mechanism that inhibits users from adjusting the table when the contents of the table are not properly balanced.
Height-adjustable tables or sit/stand desks have proven to be highly beneficial, in terms of health, as well as increased productivity. When choosing a height-adjustable table, make sure you consider all of the main factors that will affect how employees will find comfort both sitting and standing at their new dynamic workstation.
Jaime Sinclair is ACT manager – Humanscale.
This article also appears in the April/May issue of Facility Management magazine.