Emerald Reverie

Gwmngilfen's blog - Tech, cooking, walking and other randomness from the heart of Scotland

When Is a Desk Not a Desk?

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Sounds like the start of a really bad joke, doesn’t it? Fortunately, this is not a post full of bad puns (well, any more than normal) but about the changes I’ve made to my home office this last week or two.

I’ve been working from home for nearly a year now (wow, that went fast). When I was getting ready to shift from office working to home working I wrote a blog about the steps I was taking to set up a dedicated space for me to work in.

This has all gone very well, but during the last year I’ve discovered a few things about myself and the way I work. Some of these are fairly banal, but one is of interest - without distractions, I can really get lost in things. Most techies are familiar with this, but in an office, there’s plenty of distraction - someone needs help, or is going to the kitchen, or just wants to chat about the show last night…

Without all that, I have on numerous occasions come back from lunch, and not moved from my oh-so-comfy office chair for over 4 hours. This is really, really bad for my health. The impact of long periods of sitting have come under increasing amounts of study, and while a lot of the individual results are contested, it’s clear that sitting for 8+ hours a day is a bad idea.

I’ve tried to combat this in various ways. However, I have no water cooler I can walk to at the turn of the hour, or a colleague I can walk over to instead of emailing. I’ve tried setting a timer to go off when I should walk around, but I mostly ignore it because I’m in the middle of something complex. That usually goes “oh, I should get up, let me just fix this test…. 45 minutes pass … oh crap”.

Then I came across the idea of a standing desk. The concept is simple - work standing up. I was intrigued - this is a way to improve the situation that doesn’t rely on office paraphernalia, nearby workers, or timers. So I started doing it.

The first thing to note is: it’s really hard! After 1 hour I had to sit back down again (my father is a shopkeeper, I have no idea how he stands all day). I also needed to alter my desk cheaply (since this was an experiment) and be able to switch between sitting and standing easily (as I cannot stand all day; the jury is out on whether standing all day is better than sitting all day - a mix seems good).

Thus my standing desk Mark 1 was… a cardboard box! A simple affair, in which I would pick up my laptop stand, put it on the box, move my keyboard, and keep working. It looked like this:

This was great for testing the water, and for the last two months I’ve been using this regularly to switch between sitting and standing. I was convinced that this was something I wanted to keep doing, and adding/removing the box was starting to get irritating. So I decided to spend some cash on a better solution. After some research I settled on an Ergotron WorkFit-A which arrived today.

Here’s two pictures (front and side) of the arm in sitting position:

Here’s two pictures of the arm in standing position

The construction is robust, taking up to 11kg in weight. The motion is smooth, and has numerous degrees of freedom. This is important to me as my chair is right under a light bulb, so if I stand where I sit, I get a hot head. Fortunately I can swing the arm to one side as I pull it up to standing height allowing my to move out from under the bulb. I’ve suggested the idea of “positions” in the photos above, but in fact the arm flows freely and will happily rest at any position - there are options for adjusting the spring tension if it will not stay put at your chosen height. I didn’t need them though, it seems very happy with my monitor.

All in all it’s a very nice piece of equipment (if somewhat pricey), and it’s now a matter of seconds to decide to stand for a while. Given how easy it is to move around, I’m aiming to work up to spending half my standing and half sitting. Should be interesting. If all goes well, there’s an adapter to allow me to mount the laptop side-by-side with the monitor. A good anti-fatigue mat for my feet is a possibility too. For now I’m using a old flattened pillow.