The use of standing desks by knowledge workers is starting to go mainstream, according to an article by the Wall Street Journal titled Standing Desks Are on the Rise. Focusing mainly on Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Facebook, the article explains how an increasing number of office workers are requesting standing desks as a way to improve health and maintain energy throughout the day.
One factor in this trend is certainly the culture of openness to experimentation that is found within Silicon Valley technology firms. Another factor may be the social media-enabled word of mouth from colleagues who tried the standing desk and found it to be a positive change. Last but not least, recent studies point out the health hazards of prolonged sitting:
A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society found that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37% more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than three hours, while the early-death rate for men was 18% higher.
Many friends and colleagues have been converted to the standing desk, including Kevin Meyer who blogs about his experience with his standing desk and also Ron Pereira who has given it a try. I’ve found it necessary to build makeshift standing desks when working for extended periods on hotel rooms.
The solution to the problem of too much sitting is not standing, however. Moderation is required in all things, and the best approach is a mix of standing, sitting and light exercise while one works. How can one exercise during knowledge work? You may ask. The design engineers at one of our clients regularly roamed the halls, finding that this helped them think big thoughts. Not a few executives have admitted to sneaking in a headstand or a few minutes of yoga during the day. And of course there is always the Surfshelf which lets you convert a treadmill into a laptop stand. If you find yourself checking e-mails for an hour or two each day, why not do it while getting some aerobic exercise?
It is a bit ironic that in the millenia of progress in the act of winning our daily bread we have gone from the physical exertion of chasing after our game across great distances, to the communal toiling in the fields, to working long days at the mill, and today to the far less strenuous indoor work often involving a personal computer which brings the work to us from great distances. Perhaps we have become the ones hunted, by the beast of ill health and early death through inactivity. Technology such as mobile computing may yet free us from the desk and allow us to roam and wander while we work. Until then we can always stand up and take a walk to the nearest gemba to collect some facts.