The greatest problem with knowledge work, as I see it, is the desk and chair. One does not move enough throughout the day. Sitting motionless in a chair for extended periods is not good for the back or your waistline.
A 1991 Boeing Study found that sitting puts 40% to 80% more stress on the back than standing [Bigos, S. J., Battie, M. C., Spengler, D. M., Fisher, L. D., Fordyce, W. E., Hansson, T. H., et al. (1991). A prospective study of work perceptions and psychosocial factors affecting the report of back injury. Spine, 16 (1), 16].
Another study suggests that adjustable-height tables might provide relief from the discomfort and inflexibility of fixed-height workstations. Prof. Alan Hedge, the director of Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, investigated this possibility in a 2004 study on the electric height-adjustable work surface, or EHAW.
The EHAW is a table with a built-in electronic control pad. By fiddling with the up and down buttons on the pad, users can sit low to the ground, stand up and otherwise fine-tune the table height in accordance with their preferences. Hedge noted that although EHAWs are common outside the United States and even mandatory in Denmark, but they are rare in the United States. These desks are starting to appear in some Canadian government offices. However, they cost as much as $2000.
Hedge conducted studies at two locations, an Intel Corporation site on the West Coast where employees performed extensive computer work and an insurance company in the Midwest where employees did moderate computer work. The results indicated that more than 80 percent of the employees favored the EHAWs to the fixed-height tables.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, standing desks were popular in the homes and offices of the rich. Most modern desks are 30 inches (76 cm.) but there is no such average for standing desks. It was common in the past to have a standing desk made to measure to the height of the user, since only the rich could afford desks. One way to get around the problem of accommodating many users at a single desk was to angle or slant to the writing surface.
Most standing desks have an open frame with few or little drawers, and a foot-rail (similar to those seen at a bar) to reduce back pain.
If these desks are good enough for Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Ernst Hemmingway, and Donald Rumsfeld, then it’s good enough for me.
Now that you know how a standing desk might help your aching back and why, you might want one. I’ll show you how to make one easily and inexpensively out of 2 x 4’s and 3/4″ plywood.