Today’s guest post is written by Allison Klein who I first connected with on Facebook and later had the pleasure of meeting IRL last October at the MET 2014 conference. Enjoy!
First of all, I would like to say how thrilled and honored I was to have been asked by Nikki to write a guest post for her blog. This idea came about after I had posted something on social media about my quest to find the ‘perfect’ sitting-standing desk and chair earlier this year, and Nikki suggested I blog about it, and here we are.
This type of set-up is something I have actually been thinking about for a couple years now, between all the attention in the media about how a sedentary lifestyle, such as the one translators and many other professionals lead these days, can cause a range of health problems down the line.Having heard from various physiotherapists over the years that my neck, shoulder and back problems were a direct result of working at a computer all day, this ‘new’ attention in the media was certainly not news to me. What was new, as I soon discovered, was the seemingly sudden availability of products to counter these effects, offering diverse ways to reverse or at least reduce them.
After seeing various posts and articles about the Ikea Bekant sitting/standing desk, and having tried sitting on a gym ball (the comedic nature of that story could be a blogpost on its own), I decided to make this a serious project and investigate my options.
Two trips to Ikea later (to actually try the desk out; seeing it online wasn’t enough – I had to see it, touch it, sit down at it), I wasn’t completely satisfied with the Bekant. I wanted to investigate a few more of the many options out there first. After surfing the net on many an evening, reading blogposts and watching YouTube videos, I decided to go to a local ergonomic office supply store and check out what they had on offer. The salesman I spoke to spent a lot of time with me, showing me the proper way to sit (or stand) at a desk to promote good posture and minimize the chances of long-term problems. Who knew I was doing so many things wrong for so long? Well, I actually did, I just hadn’t actively looked into the alternatives yet.
I should clarify that this wasn’t a ready-to-go set-up. Based on what I wanted and my budget, they put the desk together for me. This involved choosing a frame, color, size and material of the desktop and the electronics to raise and lower the desk (mine comes from the Logic Office, a supplier of control units and hand switches to adjust the height).
All systems go!
Finally, after a series of emails, phone calls and subsequent tweaking of the quote to add or take away various extras, I finally placed the order for my adjustable height desk, and equally as important, the ergonomically responsible chair.
I would like to say at this point that this was a rather expensive investment, and there are definitely less costly alternatives out there, including the Bekant adjustable desk and other tabletop variable-height platforms or stands for your computer, monitor or laptop. This is a personal choice, and mine was to call in a company specialized in these set-ups. The manager is a former physiotherapist himself, so that was an extra bonus, as was the fact that they delivered it to my office, assembling and setting it up for me. (My days of struggling with Ikea instructions and staring at that one leftover bolt in confusion are behind me now.) As I mentioned, there are a lot of other options for achieving dynamic work postures that have similar benefits yet cost less. If you are not sure if you will be able to work standing up, these alternatives are excellent ways to find out without having to make such a substantial investment first.
The pending arrival of my new set up also meant I had to tidy up my desk area and get rid of many things I really didn’t need. I also had to make sure the bookshelves were high enough on the wall so that when the desk was raised up to its full height, nothing would get smashed or broken in the process. Tip: When you go to take measurements, make sure you take this into account, as well as any windows that open inward and so on.
Using my set-up
After they had come and installed the desk and chair, I couldn’t wait to start using it. Before leaving, the manager warned me that a period of gradual adjustment was necessary, slowly working up to standing and sitting rather than jumping right into it, er, feet first. He also recommended not getting rid of my old office chair yet, as it might still come in handy now and then in the beginning.
He gave me really great tips for proper work posture, the angle my arms should be to my body relative to my desk surface, the angle of my head and my neck when I look at the screen, both of which help to determine the right height for standing. After I ‘assumed the positions’, he set the two memory pre-sets for me so that a touch of the button was all I needed to move from standing to sitting and back again. The little panel on my desk (see photo) has four pre-set buttons, and though I only need two, one for sitting and one for standing, I suppose this would be handy if you plan to share your desk with someone else. The desk is suitable for people of varying heights, even up to 2 meters (6’7”) and taller.
There’s an app for that!
The first couple of days, I alternated between standing and sitting based on when my body told me to, and ended up sitting longer than standing in the initial period. It occurred to me that there was probably an app to help monitor these intervals and remind you when to sit and stand, and the one I found to work the best for me (and which I still use, after having tried one or two others) is VariDesk.
The app allows you to set the intervals you wish to sit and stand, and the setting I still use now, a couple months later, is 30 minutes sitting and 20 minutes standing. It also offers a choice of sounds to warn you when it’s time to change position. Although I never sit or stand for the same total amount of time each day, it’s an excellent way to make sure you are doing both at decent intervals. I still tend to listen to my body, and will stand for as long as is comfortable, and sometimes find that I can stand for nearly an hour without feeling any discomfort. This will naturally vary depending on the kind of work I’m doing, and how I feel that day. When I do my invoices, for example, I stand most of the time as it’s easier to move around my office, file things, grab something from the printer and so on.
One thing worth mentioning about the VariDesk app is I often forget to pause it if I leave my office, or resume it when I come back. Tip: If you really want to stick to strict intervals for standing and sitting, you might want to remind yourself to do this (with a little post-it or what have you), or make mental notes to do so. Sometimes when I forget to pause or resume the app, my body will often tell me when it’s time to stand or sit again.
During the first week or so, I actually felt more energetic, could feel vertebrae ‘resettling’ and cracking (not as scary or painful as it sounds), and my overall posture had even started to improve. I feel better in general; I don’t get so tired at the end of the day, and am already noticing improvements. My shoulders and neck are looser, my posture is automatically better, even when I’m not at my desk. I think a lot of this is due to the chair. Even if you don’t want to invest in a desk and only want a good chair, I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Apart from the benefits of forcing you to sit the ‘right’ way, the BackApp chair is also easy to get out of. Just swivel it a quarter turn, stand up and you’re off. It also fits under my desk, even when it’s in the lowered position, so it’s a real space-saver. I do recommend the wheels (these may be purchased separately as casters mounted on a ring you fit the base of the chair into) – I tried it without them for a week or so, and decided to buy them as they make it a lot easier to move the chair around, under your desk or wherever you want it.
I am thrilled with my new set-up; it has surpassed my expectations. I could have gone even more all-out in my quest for the perfect ergonomic set-up by adding a monitor arm to make sure my screen is at exactly the right height (I have an iMac, and I found out that it is not easy to find a monitor arm for these machines!), a vertical mouse and so on, and perhaps I will eventually add these or other items. One thing I still need to check off my list is a comfort, or anti-fatigue, mat for under my feet when I stand. You can read about one here, and why they’re a good idea.
I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting, or questions you might have. If so, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section below. Thanks again, Nikki, for giving me this opportunity!