Stand up for the new desk top

It looks like standing desks are here to stay. This essential guide brings you up to speed with the various options for getting healthy by standing at work.

Feature by Alex Owen-Hill | 22 Sep 2015

Although standing desks have been around for a little while, it's fair to say that they have passed many people by. Now is the time to catch up with the craze, because it looks like standing desks might be here to stay.

Last August, the NHS began a long term trial into the effectiveness of standing desks at hospitals in Leicestershire. The mainstream media picked up the story last month, so right about now you might be wondering if a standing desk could be the solution to all of your problems.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that sitting all day is bad for your health. It can can cause serious problems, including increased risk of diabetes, spinal problems, heart attacks and obesity. On top of the health benefits, many users have found that standing up at work improves their productivity, focus and energy levels.

Standing desks themselves are not a new idea. Back in the 15th century Leonard Da Vinci was reported as using one, as well as Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway and many others. The new revolution is how they are being adapted into existing offices and workplaces.

One common misunderstanding by new users of standing desks is that you have to stand up all day. This is not true and, in fact, can cause just as many health problems as sitting down all day. Instead, the idea is that you regularly alternate sitting down with standing up. How often depends on you, but the basic idea is to keep moving and avoid long periods in the same position.

The best available technology allows you to adjust the height of your desk, to easily switch from a standing to a sitting position. Here are the top High Tech, Medium Tech and Low Tech options available to you right now to get started in the standing desk world.

High Tech Standing Desks

At the top end of the market, these standing desks use electric motors to raise and lower the whole desk. This is an advantage because it means that everything on the desk moves up and down with you, including paper work, coffee cups and photos of your dog.

The Stir Kinetic is at the cutting edge of standing desk technology. It has a touch screen and integrated timer to tell you when to stand up, which it does by “breathing” (moving the desk up and down slightly). It's currently only available in the US ($2,990 to $4,190). Also at the cutting edge, the iMovR Omega allows users to sit, stand or run on a treadmill while typing. Successfully funded on Kickstarter in April, it's also only available in the US ($1,024 to $1,814).

Here in the UK, the DeskRite 500 (£1,098) is adjustable by pressing and holding down a button. It raises and lowers in 16 seconds and looks very like most standard office desks. Similar in design is the IKEA BEKANT range (£445 to £1030). The Ergotron WorkFit-D (£583) doesn't bother with buttons at all and instead allows you to “instantly lift” the table to the right position with the electric motor taking the weight. This is a pretty cool idea and means you don't have to wait around for your desk to get to the right height.

DeskRite also have a cheaper (£467) hand-cranked version. But, frankly, if you're going to spend this much money, why would you bother?

Medium Tech Standing Desks

If you don't want to splash out on a whole new desk, one way to get started is to convert your existing desk into a standing desk. These options either sit on top of the desk or are clamped onto the edge. There are many brands but not all are available in the UK, and not all of them are easily adjustable.

The Ergotron WorkFit-P, LX (pictured) and A (£161 to £380) are simple telescopic arms which clip onto the side of your desk. The P model can just hold a laptop while the A and LX models have an integrated monitor mount. To operate them you just press a button to unlock, then move the desk to the required position with the spring-loaded arm taking some of the weight.  

VariDESKs (£325 to £400) sit right on top of your desk. They have an integrated desktop which can hold your monitor, keyboard and not much else. Their spring loaded arms allow you to simply lift the desktop to a standing height.

Low Tech Standing Desks

Even if you're not in a position to splash out on a whole new desktop, there are a load of cost-effective ways to get the standing desk experience. Some of them are good if you want to go DIY, such as the many IKEA Hacks available online which give instructions to convert existing desks into standing ones. However, even if you don't want to build your own, here are some cheaper ways to get the adjustable standing desk experience on-the-cheap.

Folding Laptop Stands (roughly £10 to £75) are a very simple way to convert your existing desk to a standing desk for your laptop. Just sit them on top of the desk and set the legs to the right height. When you want to sit down, it's a simple case of refolding the legs or just removing the stand from the desk. Before you buy, make sure that it extends to a comfortable standing height.

In a similar vein, Adjustable Laptop Tables (roughly £15 to £30) can stand on the floor and can be adjusted from sitting to standing by extending the legs individually. Some are also quite portable, making them a good option for travelling. However, as many of them only extend to around 90cm, they may be too short for some people to use free standing.

Finally, non-adjustable desks are a very affordable way to begin using a standing desk. If you have a large enough workspace, a separate desk at standing height, such as the IKEA PS (£40), can be a simple way to move your work to a standing position. This can also be achieved by adding an extra height to one portion of your desk, such as by using a tall Monitor Riser (£11 to £35).

Obviously these options are easier if you work with a laptop, as you need to move the whole computer when you stand up. For a desktop computer, some people buy a separate monitor for the standing portion of their desk.

The Hybrid

All of the standing desks above are basically just variations on a normal desktop. However, this year, a new type of standing desk was born. On the 12th of July, the LeanChair was successfully funded on Kickstarter at four times its funding goal. Looking like a cross between a standing desk and a reclining arm chair, it was designed to tackle the problem that standing up straight can be tiring. By placing the body at a slight angle, it takes 25% of your bodyweight off your feet.