Lean Office

How to Build the Road Warrior's Stand Up Desk

By Jon Miller Published on November 29th, 2009

lean office road warrior stand up desk.JPGWhere there is a will there is a way. I learned that lesson again. Yesterday I was complaining to myself about being unproductive, chalking it up to a 140AM flight, the weather and the uncomfortable chair at the desk in my hotel room. Today I realized one of those things, I could change. I wanted a stand up desk. But how?
Lean thinking is a set of principles that guide how we stabilize processes, organize into teams, and solve problems. Kaizen is a Japanese word for continuous improvement, synonymous with problem solving. One of the commandments of kaizen is “Instead of making excuses why something can’t be done, think of ways to make it possible.” So think I did. Looking around the room for a way to boost up the desk about 30 cm, I began opening drawers and doors.
Et voila! A light, portable, folding ironing board gave me the perfect platform for my stand up desk. But not quite. I am not a tall person, but the ironing board was still too low, causing me to stoop. The search continued. Luckily there was a wicker laundry basket of sorts in another drawer, the perfect booster to fit between my laptop and ironing board.
I set this up and worked for a few minutes. But something felt odd. Sure enough, the ironing board was tilted, such that the right side was lower than the left. This made for uncomfortable typing. The hotel Guest Service Directory binder provided the perfect wedge-shaped height adjuster. Now I was on a roll.
But wait, the Guest Services Directory was too slick for my optical mouse to function. A piece of blank paper from within the directory would act as a mouse pad. A piece of paper slides about when moused over. I needed some tape. I could have called the front desk, but that would have been too easy. Looking around the room, I spotted a piece of yellow baggage screening tape on my suitcase. Peeling it off, I taped the paper onto the slick services directory binder. This did the trick.
Finally ready to start working in a comfortable standing position, I realized that my page of notes and tasks on the desk was now a good 25 cm lower and farther away than before. Acceptable, but not ideal. We have tape, we have a wall, we have a solution. The road warrior’s stand up desk, version #1, was complete.
The next step is to think of how to standardize and expand this solution. The tape and paper are easy. Most hotels will provide an ironing board on request if it is not in the room. The wicker basket / height booster may be a challenge, but perhaps some sort of lightweight folding box or carton could be part of the road warrior’s stand up desk kit.
The lesson is that we need to stop making excuses and will ourselves to improve. Then we need to think positively about how to overcome each obstacle. And we need to turn each small improvement idea into concrete action. First engage the heart, then the mind, then the hands. I write these words from a road warrior stand up desk built from these principles.

  1. Daniel Markovitz

    November 29, 2009 - 7:46 am

    Jon, what I really like about this post is the recognition the impediments to being productive can be — and should be — addressed. I see so many people and companies that passively accept problems like interruptions, bad work spaces, poor email hygiene, etc., considering them as just the cost of doing business. You’ve shown that there’s no room, and no need, to accept the status quo if it’s creating waste.

  2. Damien Byrne

    October 4, 2011 - 2:21 am

    Hi there Jon. I love the idea, I’ve been trying to get into using a stand up desk at my work, not sure how to get approval. Anyway, I thought as a solution to the height of the ironing board and the box, if the ironing board is very height adjustable, you could put it (the ironing board) on the existing desk and then just set it to the height difference to make it a stand up height.

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