There has been a lot of discussion recently about the health effects of prolonged sitting. Research has indicated its associated with an increase in obesity and mortality (1). And these effects are not completely overcome by engaging in short intensive exercise outside working hours.
This has provoked an increased awareness in the option of working at a computer in standing rather than sitting. We also know that standing for prolonged periods, without the option of sitting, is also associated with health effects such as varicose veins and foot problems (2) so we are not looking to make people stand at the computer all day. Merely to have an option to change their posture
So, what are your options when it comes to choosing to work at a computer in a standing position
OPTION ONE Expensive electric height adjustable table costing £400-1200 that allows you to move between sitting and standing at the one desk.
OPTION TWO Smaller circular table that will take a laptop plus a few documents and can cost as little as £75 from ebay but up to £600 from an office supplier. See an example here
OPTION THREE Replacing standard height desks (7200mm height) with a bar height desk and using bar stools so that you can move between sitting and sitting at the one desk See what one North American firm did here
So which one should you choose
Obviously if cost is no barrier then there are plenty of high end adjustable desks on the market. How often an individual will use the adjustable table and whether it is worth the investment is difficult to determine.
At the cheaper end is using a bar style desk. Its can work but its not ideal for a number of reasons.
Firstly sitting on a stool type chair for long periods can become uncomfortable. Because you are perched on a stool your feet are usually fixed to a footring and this can make moving and shifting around in the chair more difficult. So although you can move into a standing position you do not have ability to change your posture while sitting position.
In the case shown above you can see the chairs do not have great back support and we know a higher back support is more comfortable, say up to the shoulder blades. The stools tend to force people into a bucket shape which means they tend to slump while sitting. An alternative is to perch on the edge of the seat but this is only possible for short periods of time because of the pressure on the underside of the thighs.
The second disadvantage is the height of the computer screens. A computer screen height that is too low is associated with neck pain so positioning of the screen is important. If the laptop screen is sitting on the desk when working in a standing position it would be too low. At the very least you would need to position the laptop on a screen riser and use an additional keyboard and mouse if an individual wanted to work in standing for more than few minutes. If the screen is fixed to the wall than the tilt of the screen will be completely vertical which is not such a comfortable viewing position, and we know that over 50% of computer users complain of eye problems such as visual fatigue.
So what about the 3rd option.
It is not actually necessary to provide everyone in an office with an individual standing desk. What you want is to provide the opportunity for everyone to stand for periods of time during the day. This can easily be achieved by having just one adjustable height desk for every 8-10 people. Ergonomic studies in office redesign from the Netherlands have used this concept effectively.
So for less than a couple of hundred pounds you can buy a simple circular table where individuals can take their laptop to work. Most people do not work for more than ½ hour in standing and people can move to the standing workstation as they choose. If desired a larger height adjustable table 1000, x 1000mm could allow 2 people to work in standing. You can also use a single high table as a meeting table to encourage people to stand more in the workplace.
Another advantage of using a single desk for an office area is that everyone will still have their own sitting workstation so they will be able to use office chairs that are fully adjustable and well designed for long periods of sitting rather than stool. And of course there are days when we do need to sit comfortably, if we have hurt our leg, or feel under the weather than we simply might be better working while sitting in a comfortable chair rather than on a stool.
So there really is no reason to completely redesign an office. A simple single addition is often all that is required. And remember we are not expecting people to work for extended period of time in standing as there are health risks, just to do less sitting. Of course there are other simple ways to get people to stand such as answering a phone in standing, and as mentioned, having meetings in standing, introducing work gymnastics as the Japanese manufacturing firms used to do, and engaging in lunch time activities.
If you would like to review your seating at work or to discuss which solution would be best for your organisation just give us a call.
(1) Occupational Sitting and Health Risks: A Systematic Review – Jannique G.Z et al. 2010 American Journal of Preventive Medicine
(2) Prolonged standing at work and hospitalisation due to varicose veins: a 12 year prospective study of the Danish population.
F Tuchsen, H Hannerz, H Burr, and N Krause. Occup Environ Med. 2005 December; 62(12): 847–850.