How to make the transition to a standing desk gradually

There has been a lot written about the health positives of standing desks in combating the infamous ‘sitting disease’. I’ve written in the past about how and why I switched to a standing work environment, this article is more about what happened when I made the change.

Before I stood, naturally, I sat. Up to 8 hours of a workday was spent in front of my computer. Then I’d go home and mix things up between sitting in front of my own laptop or a TV screen for the evening. I was beginning to feel like the guys from WALL-e (and I don’t mean the adorable robots!).

28-day Stand up and work challenge

As humans we always go for the easiest option. It’s natural to conserve effort and energy. In first adopting a standing workspace, I’d mostly lapse in early efforts to stand by forgetting to stand back up after a period of rest. After a few weeks of meagre efforts at standing more, I decided I needed more structure. Turning a rare event into a habit requires consistency, duration and planning. Much like a schedule of classes keeps me in the gym more than free styling it—I needed something that would offer a medium term change.

The DeskHacks challenge reminded me daily to stand by an email. The program has the effect of easing you into using a standing desk, and eventually, makes standing as easy as sitting ever was. For me, the program started a little slow. I’d been standing for a while at this stage—but it was worth a minor step back to be pushed on in the longer term. It also made the plan approachable.

I also set myself a second rule outside of the challenge. I had to stand for all calls, no matter how long. By the nature of my work, and some might argue by my own nature, I tended to talk a lot while I work. This rule encouraged me to be more effective at meetings and kept me engaged with standing. Eventually I went wireless and this made standing and even pacing easier.

My typical workday starts around 8 and wraps up around 6 p.m. I don’t stand the entire time. I began naturally splitting activities up into standing tasks and passive (sitting) work. Calls, emails, meetings or anything mildly creative tended to be scheduled for standing when I was fresh in the morning.

In the afternoon, I focused on project finances, document management and more engaged implementation tasks. I found I got more relaxed and could focus better. Even when I’m sitting, it’s on a bar stool—so it’s mostly just leaning for comfort.

I also added a big blue Fatboy bean bag to my home office as a reward for successfully converting to standing. It was a more comfy sitting option, but not one that would cause me to lapse as there a few work activities that can be done from a beanbag. This was reserved for breaks where I’d spent a couple of minutes chatting with team members or focused on private email or chores.

Making the change

In order to improve your early experience it’s important to think like someone who is going to stand all day. The challenge added structure but it’s also important to think about your body before you leap in. It’s necessary to realize that discomfort is a symptom—your body is telling you that it is weak or not well balanced. With this in mind I’d encourage prospective standing workers to really think about their desk setup, stance and posture in advance and at intervals.

I make a conscious effort vary my work stance. Primarily I employ a firm military footing—standing on flat separated feet, with my shoulders back, and my back slightly arched. Most importantly I don’t let my head fall further forward than my shoulders—standing up straight with ears over shoulders and shoulders over hips is important for success in the long run. At times I employ a second pose that somewhat reflects the stance of a lazy flamingo. I frequently focus my weight on one leg at a time with the other knee slightly bent. This is a ‘relief’ stance and I’ve found that its beneficial to shift my weight for short bouts during the day.

In terms of footwear, I’ve found comfy trainers to be best but I mostly wear slippers inside. I added an extra large mat after a few months to take the pressure of feet/knees and my off-white carpet (which was becoming increasingly more off-white). I resumed playing competitive rugby after a break of a few years and added a weight-based group-fitness program to help with core strength, but I’d suggest yoga or stretching could be good too.

From the beginning, I found that the standing wasn’t ever particularly painful or difficult. Also, thankfully for me, the only likely injury I faced was ‘eye roll’ fatigue of colleagues when they heard I’d started standing full time. Many colleagues thought it sounded a bit hippy or extreme to stand all day. However, in my case I didn’t have to ‘stand out from the crowd’. Working from home gave me the opportunity to pursue the experiment without onlookers. Telling people was positive though and benefited me as it reinforced my rationale, added some social interest/support and convinced me to keep going.

The result, in summary, was great. After the 28 day challenge, I didn’t once consider switching back to a sitting desk full-time. I hope you all get the opportunity to try it for yourself.

Kris McElhinney is a Senior Project Manager working in a large finance organisation based in the UK. For the past year he worked from a home office in Scotland.
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