Sit-stand desks, or adjustable height desks, provide the possibility to work when sitting or standing while still maintaining a neutral posture. They can be raised and lowered to suit the height of the individual, whether the height is adjusted by either electric controls or a manual mechanism.
A standard static desk can become an adjustable workstation with the use of a sit-stand converter: a platform placed on the desk that can raise and lower anything that is placed onto it.
What are the benefits?
A sit-stand desk is not essential in order to have a healthy and safe workstation, the key is to integrate movement throughout the day to avoid being sedentary.
It is well-documented that prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to musculoskeletal discomfort and is a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as stroke, diabetes, and cancer (you can read more on that here).
Physically moving from sitting to standing and vice versa expends more energy and engages more muscles than only sitting or only standing.
As well as physical benefits, there are also psychological and usability benefits. Research has shown that workers can be more productive when using sit-stand desks and can be more engaged and alert when performing tasks. Furthermore, sit-stand desks can have a positive effect on user-experience, with sit-stand desk users reporting feeling healthier and more energetic.
Sit-stand desk are however just one way out of many of introducing some form of movement into everyday life. The use of a sit-stand desk should not be relied on as a replacement for other ways of integrating movement into the working day and taking regular postural breaks.
Are there any disadvantages?
Despite there being ample evidence for the benefits of sit-stand desks, they need to be used correctly, a responsibility placed solely on the user. A sit-stand desk that is not used properly will offer little benefit.
Although sitting for long periods can have health implications, so does standing for too long. If workers stand for the majority of the working day, they may be at risk of lower limb fatigue and musculoskeletal discomfort, especially in the lower back.
Sit-stand desks and sit-stand platforms are generally more expensive than standard static desks, so the benefits they may offer when used correctly, should be considered along with their cost.
How to set up a sit-stand desk
Setting up a sit-stand desk is similar to setting up a regular workstation, with one difference. Instead of adjusting the height of the chair to suit the desk, the desk height can be altered to suit the correct chair height.
First, adjust the chair so the user’s feet are flat on the floor, with 90-degree angles at ankles and knees. Next, adjust the desk height so the top of the desk is aligned with the user’s elbows when their arms are relaxed at their side.
If using a sit-stand platform placed on a static desk, adjust the height of the user’s chair to ensure elbows are aligned with the top of the sit-stand platform where the keyboard sits.
Users should stand with their feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Raise the height of the desk so the top is aligned with their elbows. The rest of the workstation (if set up correctly!), like the screen height and keyboard position, should remain the same.
Using a sit-stand desk correctly is key to reaping the benefits. Here are our top tips for using sit-stand desks:
When first using a sit-stand desk, try standing for short periods (around 20 minutes) throughout the day, increasing time spent standing incrementally.
Avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods, remember to alternate between sitting and standing.
Include posture/movement breaks throughout the day, a 2-5 minute break at least every 45-60 minutes is beneficial for most people.
If users start to feel muscle fatigue when standing (the need to lean on the desk for support is an indicator of this), they should take some time to rest by lowering the workstation and sitting.
Our ergonomics page is filled with workstation guidance and advice for office and home working.