The Rise of Standing Desks for Active Workplaces

Vibrant colors, ping-pong tables, video games, free food and extravagant decorations. Photographs of the Silicon Valley offices of the early 2000s became the model for ideal, disruptive work environments, meticulously designed to attract and retain new talent in a highly competitive job market. Most importantly, they were the extreme opposite of the famous cubicles of previous decades. Over time, these same companies have invested in creating healthier and more dynamic working environments, giving special consideration to providing contact with nature and better ergonomics for employees. Among the innovations of the past years, the so-called “standing desks” have been gaining popularity, as they offer flexibility and promote a culture of health and well-being. Having the flexibility to work either standing up or sitting down encourages more movement throughout the day and has been proven to improve health and stretching, burn more calories and even increase concentration.

It is a known fact that human bodies evolved to be active. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were constantly on the move, walking long distances, gathering food, hunting and performing various physical tasks. This active lifestyle shaped our physiology to be more suited to movement than to prolonged inactivity. Sitting for too long has been associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. This is evidenced by a study published in Science Daily that indicates that prolonged sitting leads to a 147% increase in cardiovascular events and a greater risk of metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes. Musculoskeletal problems, such as back and neck pain, are also common due to poor posture caused by sitting for too many hours.

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Buy Me a Coffee Office Space / Artystry. Image © Justin Sebastian
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Bench Accounting Office Interiors / Perkins+Will. Image © Ema Peter

According to the American Heart Association, it is recommended that adults spend less time sitting and get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity during the week to offset some of the risks of being sedentary. Standing for longer hours can contribute on several fronts in this case. It can increase blood flow and circulation, leading to higher energy levels and better concentration. Some studies also suggest that standing desks can increase productivity. The benefits of standing desks include burning calories and reducing the risk of obesity, as evidenced by research from the Mayo Clinic showing that standing burns more calories per minute than sitting (Smithsonian Magazine). It also contributes to lower blood sugar levels, with studies indicating a 43% reduction in post-meal blood sugar spikes when using standing desks (The Work Medic). In addition, they can improve mood, energy levels and productivity, with employees reporting greater comfort, focus and productivity when using them.

But in addition to the health and productivity benefits, these desks can create more dynamic and relaxed work spaces. In other words, they can create anything from casual to formal environments, depending on the configuration used and the purpose of the space. Furniture plays a crucial role in creating these environments. Adjustable tables and chairs are essential for promoting employee comfort and productivity. The possibility of working standing up, for example, with high tables in transition areas, not only offers an ergonomic alternative, but can also increase interaction and dynamics between employees. These design solutions take into account the varied needs of modern workers, providing spaces that allow for both collaboration and concentration, as well as improving the overall workplace experience.

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BEEAH Headquarters Interiors / ACPV ARCHITECTS Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel. Image © Delfino Sisto Legnani e Alessandro Saletta - DSL Studio
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Prescient Offices / Perkins+Will. Image © Hedrich Blessing Photographers

Using a height-adjustable desk, also known as a sit-to-stand desk, requires some adaptation. Initially, it is recommended to start with 30 to 60 minutes of standing per day and gradually increase the time. When setting your height, it is important to ensure that the height of the desk is ideal both when sitting and standing. For sitting, adjust the desk so that your elbows are at a 90-degree angle or slightly open (100-110 degrees) when your hands are on the keyboard. To stand, keep your elbows at the same angle, with your forearms parallel to the floor or slightly tilted downwards. Position the top of the monitor at eye level or slightly below, about an arm's length away from your face to minimize eye strain.

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Social Tailors / SuperLimão. Image © Maíra Acayaba

When sitting, it's also a good idea to use a footrest if your feet aren't flat on the floor to keep your thighs parallel to the ground. Take short breaks regularly to move around and stretch, focusing mainly on your neck, shoulders, back and legs. Customize the configuration of your workstation based on your comfort and any signs of discomfort, as individual needs can vary. By following these ergonomic recommendations, you can optimize the use of a height-adjustable desk, reducing discomfort and increasing productivity. Recognizing individual differences in posture and work habits is also important. There is no universal posture for standing; it varies depending on the task and the individual's comfort. Finding a comfortable and energy-efficient way to stand while working is key. 

Adjustable desks represent a significant shift towards healthier working environments. By promoting movement, improving posture and reducing the risks associated with prolonged sitting, they contribute to better physical health, higher energy levels and a potential increase in productivity. Adapting to their use can be a personalized process, but the benefits make them a valuable addition to modern workplaces, whether in offices or homes.

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UTA Offices / HASTINGS Architecture. Image © Eric Laignel
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Kashiwa-no-ha Open Innovation Lab / Naruse Inokuma Architects. Image © Masao Nishikawa

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Cite: Souza, Eduardo. "The Rise of Standing Desks for Active Workplaces" [Como mesas ajustáveis podem remodelar escritórios e aumentar a produtividade e saúde] 30 May 2024. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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