Business First | Are standing desks the future of office furniture?

Are standing desks the future of office furniture?

11 Oct 2018 –– Tips & Advice
Stand desk

A new study has revealed that standing desks can make office workers less tired and more productive - but is it really true?

Office workers spend 70 to 85% of their working day sitting down. Is that true for you and your colleagues? Well, stats like this caused the British Medical Journal to conduct a 12-month study on 146 NHS employees. Around half of the staff switched standard desks for standing desks, while the rest kept their sit-down desks.

According to the results, those who used a standing desk engaged better with their work and saw health benefits too. As part of the study, the amount of time participants spent sitting down during their working day was monitored at the start date. Then, it was recorded at three, six and 12-month intervals. At the start, participants were spending around 9.7 hours a day seated. By three months, this had lowered by 50.62 minutes. By six months, it had reduced by 64.4 minutes. A year on from the start of the research, participants had reduced sitting time by a total of 82.39 minutes over the course of the working day. This reduced sitting time was mostly spent standing up, rather than moving around. In fact, step counts were more or less the same across the board. Dr Charlotte Edwardson, a scientist involved in the study, said: "Occupational sedentary behaviour specifically has been associated with an increased risk of diabetes and mortality and musculoskeletal problems such as neck and shoulder pain." Earlier this year, Apple replaced traditional desks with standing ones for all staff at its California offices. Chief Executive Tim Cook even described sitting as "the new cancer". So should we all switch to standing desks right away? We decided to find out more.

What are standing desks?

A standing desk looks similar to a traditional sit-down desk. However, it's higher with no chair or a high stool instead of a standard office chair. Most standing desks in offices are adjustable to suit the height and requirements of the user. In fact, some can adjust electronically from sitting to standing at the push of a button. To get the most out of it, users should stand for around four hours a day. Taking things even further, treadmill desks are now being used in the offices of tech giants Google and Microsoft. A treadmill desk has a workstation fitted into the running machine, letting users work "on the go" from the comfort of their own office.

What are the health benefits of standing desks?

Some studies have suggested standing desks boast a range of health benefits to office workers. Apparently, standing desks can reduce your risk of weight gain. They could also lower obesity rates among the workforce. Some studies have even claimed standing desks help you to burn an extra 1000 calories a week. Other positive effects included better blood sugar levels, as they reduce blood sugar spikes that occur after eating. What's more, standing up to work can even make you more productive! So, your boss may soon find the investment pays for itself. Many office staff experience back pain - are you one of them? If so, some worry a standing desk would make this problem worse rather than better. However, research has shown standing desks can reduce back and neck pain by up to 54% in just a month. How many of us suffer from an afternoon slump while sitting at our desks in the office? Well, it has been claimed that a standing desk could boost your mood considerably, increasing energy levels and generally creating a feel-good factor around the office. Even on a Monday morning! The boldest claim we've found on the subject of standing desks is that they could help you live longer. How? By reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In fact, people who lead a sedentary life are 49% more likely to die early than those who stay active throughout the day.

What are the disadvantages of standing desks?

Well, contradictory research carried out by Ergonomics has claimed the health benefits linked to standing desks may not be all that they seem.

The study reported that standing up for longer periods increased discomfort in participants, as well as reducing their reaction times. Overall, their mental state was said to deteriorate during the course of the experiment.

What's more, the significantly enhanced calorie burn suggested by some studies has been challenged by others, who claim the difference is negligible.

How much do standing desks cost?

Standing desks can be expensive if you invest in an all-singing, all-dancing solution - some can cost in excess of £1,000. However, as more and more office providers embrace the standing desk, they are becoming increasingly available from different retailers, so can be picked up much cheaper.

Ikea has a range of standing desks available from as little as £50 for a standing laptop stand with storage, offering employers an affordable option to trial the benefits of standing desks on their workforce's health and productivity.

Are standing desks actually healthier?

Taking into account all of the existing studies, it seems the health benefits of adding standing desks to your office space are still a grey area. While some research extols their virtues, others claim any health benefits are marginal. However, what is clear is that the health risks associated with sitting down at your office desk all day are not to be underestimated. So whether you choose to switch your office unit furniture to a standing desk or not, you should definitely find ways to incorporate more activity and movement into your working day. Now, who's going to join us for a lunchtime stroll?