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Sit-Stand Desks – Are they worth it?

Everyone is talking about sit-stand desks. All the office furniture manufacturers offer them and, it seems, are pushing like crazy trying to get us to buy them. Walk into any showroom in Clerkenwell and you’ll see these things prominently displayed – not just one but often a large bench configuration featuring 4 or 6 desks occupying a considerable amount of prime showroom space.  But are they worth it, does anyone buy them and should you be buying them?

As an office desking supplier, I’d love it if all my customers bought Sit-Stand desks rather than conventional ones. We’d increase our turnover and profit three or four fold!  But they don’t and it boils down to cost.  One of our standard desks will cost you around £150, whereas a light duty electrically operated desk comes in at around £400 and a heavy duty/bench type at £600 plus.  That’s more than 4 times the cost of a regular desk and most businesses are simply not able to justify it.

But cost aside, do they offer benefits and if we could afford them, should we have them?  The answer is probably yes to both questions.  Quite what and how much benefit these desks deliver is open to debate but for sure at least some of your employees would use them as intended. And even if it brings no obvious physical health benefit but instead gives the employee a sense of wellbeing (the fact that you’ve made an investment in something on their behalf that they believe is doing them some good), then of course it’s worth it –  happy workers are productive workers and all that!  Studies have been done into the benefits of alternating between sitting and standing at a desk but no doubt more needs to be done before we see conclusive facts and figures.  But I suggest that much of the justification centres around the already well established and universally accepted knowledge that sitting at a desk in a static position for the best part of 8 hours a day is not all that good for your back or your fitness.  Absolutely, I’ll go along with that! Having spent 40 years doing competitive rowing and also playing rugby in my youth, my back needs to be treated with care and long durations of sitting or standing really doesn’t help me.

So, we’ve always been told to take breaks from sitting and get up and walk around to exercise the spine, muscles and joints.  But of course people for whom work is predominantly desk-bound can’t keep going off for a stroll otherwise they’re not going to get their work finished, so a height adjustable sit-stand desk is the obvious solution to the problem!

But before we start thinking that a £600+ desk is going to be the answer to work-related back problems, it’s probably correct to say that it is just part of a solution that might benefit some people.

The other, and in my opinion more fundamental part of the solution, would be to make sure that whilst people are sitting at their desks, they have a chair that provides a high degree of support and functionality, and that they have adjusted it correctly and are using it as intended!  In other words, a decent ergonomic task chair with all the adjustments, support and mechanisms that aid good sitting.  If your budget is limited and you really can’t extend it to sit-stand desks, then spend as much money as you can afford on Synchronous Mechanism Task Chairs or other advanced ergonomic chairs instead and make sure your staff receive instruction on how to use them.  This will at least help to minimise the negative aspects of sitting down and just maybe your staff won’t develop the back niggles in the first place that lead to them needing to stand up or walk around at regular intervals!

To conclude.  If you can afford it, treat your entire office to Sit-Stand desks and high quality ergonomic task chairs.  If you can’t justify the sit stand desks, then spend as much as you can afford on ergonomic chairs.  Your staff will be appreciate it and you may just get more out of them in return.

The Problem with Bench Desking

I’ve written about this before – Bench Desks, a good investment? Perhaps not – but after a number of recent complications with decorating and the fitting of new carpet tiles in offices I feel compelled to write again and highlight the issues.

Yes, we sell bench desking, and we do so because our manufacturers make them, our customers often want them and no matter what we say to deter them they have them anyway, and there are, of course, a number of compelling reasons for having them.  BUT, there are also a number of reasons to avoid them.

A few weeks ago, we were called in to quote for re-decorating an office.  Because it is an operational office, decorating work would have to take place during a weekend and everything had to be back in position on Monday morning so that the staff could continue with their daily work without disruption.  The desks were positioned within a few inches of the walls that needed to be decorated – too close to be able to even push a paint roller between the wall and the desk let alone allowing enough space for our decorators to stand and carry out a proper job.  The desks would therefore have to be moved but they were bench desks and each bench fitted neatly between the wall and a pillar in the centre of the room.  Because of this, they couldn’t be shifted away from the wall and the only solution would have been to clear everything off them and box it all up and then dismantle every desk.  There simply wouldn’t be enough time to do this, get the office decorated and then re-assemble and  re-position all the desks during a weekend.  The net result is that the company still has unpainted walls and is still deliberating as to what to do. Had they had individual desks, we could have very easily just pulled the end desks out from the cluster and decorated the walls.

The next experience was almost identical to the previously mentioned situation except that this time there was sufficient space to move the desks away from the walls into the main aisle. But they were immensely heavy and couldn’t be moved without first clearing everything away to avoid damage, and employing additional people to lift them.  Due to time constraints (again trying to get everything done and back to normal again during a single weekend), the operational procedure of getting everything ready for the works and then re-instating it at the end was almost as extensive as the decorating work itself.  The following additional steps would have to be employed:

  1. Unplug from floorboxes all computers, phones and electrical equipment
  2. Clear all desktops and pack away into labelled packing crates
  3. Clear everything from under the desks and pack away
  4. Label computers, phones and remove and store in a safe place
  5. Employ an additional 2-4 men to help lift and shift the desks without damage to the floor or desks, or injury to the people carrying out this work
  6. Repeating all these procedures at the end of the weekend to put everything back again.

The above could have been limited to clearing just a handful of desks had they have been individual units.  Again, this company has had to put off their plans to decorate their office because the process was too complicated and costly.

An finally, we had a recent experience in re-carpeting a fully operational office with bench desks (we have had to do this a number of times before I might add, so it was not a new experience too us).  What we would usually do is to work in areas by shifting all the furniture into another area, carpeting the cleared area and then shifting everything back again and working on another area.  But this is assuming the desks can be moved which, if they are individual desks they can.  The bench desks may (as was the case in this situation) have to stay put, and our fitters worked at a far, far slower pace because the desks had to be lifted whilst carpet was being laid underneath them.  Not least, we had to employ additional labourers who’s job was purely to lift desks.   All in all, the cost of the job was significantly greater because of the inability to move the desks.

To conclude, when buying new desks and designing the layout, think about how long you’re likely to stay at the office, and what the chances are that you will want to do an office re-fresh at some point.  In my experience, the most likely facelifts are new carpets and decorating.


Space planning; why is it fundamentally important to space plan an office in advance of signing a lease?

By Crispin Maby

Don’t take a chance. Signing up to a 5 year lease on an office suite and then finding that you can’t make the layout work the way you ideally want it to, or worse still, you simply can’t fit everyone in without making some serious compromises can have a major impact on your business for a number of years.

The landlord or letting agent is only interested in getting you to commit to a long term lease at the highest possible rental rate and service charge. It’s neither their responsibility nor is it in their interests to tell you about any negative aspects of their office building and certainly they cannot be expected to make sure the space is suitable for your needs. That’s your job, and if you get it wrong, they’re not going to be sympathetic and let you off the long term commitment you’ve just signed up to.

Your own commercial property (acquisition) agent, should you choose to appoint one to assist in your office search, should be more accommodating – after all they are working for you and you are paying them – however, they usually work on a ‘finders-fee’ which they only get if and when you’ve entered into a lease agreement. Furthermore their fee is usually based on a percentage of the annual rental, so we must question whether they really have your full interests at heart, or whether their concerns are more focussed on their own pockets. Perhaps I’m being very unfair on the commercial agents – there are a lot of very good ones out there and I know a few of them – but their job is to help you find a property of the size and specification that you decide you want. You need to tell them what you want and they will find it, but don’t expect them to spend time working out how you’re going to make best use of the space, or whether you can fit everything in. At best, they might throw a few rule-of-thumb figures at you – the most typical being 100 square feet per person – but every business is different and uses the office space in different ways, so one size (or rule) certainly doesn’t fit all. Also, the usable space of two offices of identical floor size (square footage) are likely to be completely different, so any general sizing rules should be used with caution. Take a guess and you may well find that you’re either committing to and paying for far too much space, or perhaps worse, not having enough space. Either one can have a serious financial impact on your business.

Space planning will confirm whether an office is too big, too small or just the right size and shape. But this needs to be done as soon as you find what you consider to be a potentially suitable office and most definitely not further down the line when it’s in the hands of the solicitors, or when the lease has been completed.  If it comes to light that the office is unsuitable, then you will hopefully have time to find another one that is.  There are plenty of companies and individuals who can offer you a space planning and measured building survey, some of whom might do it for free and others charge, but either way it is worth getting them in to assist you in making the right choice.


© Octopus Interiors 2018