Standing in the cube

I hacked up my cube last October. I was becoming more and more discontent with sitting in front of the computer all day, and all night, and most of the weekend, etc. After around six months I thought I would reflect on the decision. This is how it turned out:

The lower standing area - on the left

The lower standing is positioned to allow comfortable reading/writing/typing and shows the MBP featuring The Great Wave of Kanagawa (Hokusai); also notice the whiteboard - more on that later. lower standing

The standing area - in the corner/center

The center standing area is positioned to allow the keyboard tray at comfortable typing level. It has my workplace’s standard Dell setup, although I am lucky enough to be able to wipe Windows and use Linux. It is running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS right now. Ubuntu is slowly moving down the ranks in my preferred OS list (a whole other post), but none of the Red Hat derivatives would support my wireless card, hardware controls, and monitors out of the box. And yes, that’s a backlit Saitek keyboard. It is the eclipse, and it is the first run of the first edition, which has great keyboard action. The eclipse II has stronger springs, and the second run of the first edition had an issue with the paint wearing off the keys (not really that big of a deal). I do not really care about the backlighting, but it comes on by default, and I often forget to turn it off. standing

The seating area - on the right

There is the all-too-typical Aeron, in front of the seated area. There is a light over the desk, and a shelf above the light with a few tech books, some storage, and a couple of random things with which I could not part during the cleaning. Sorry about the lighting here. seated

I have been extremely pleased with my stand up desk. I recently attended a training event (seated), and it became even more clear to me how much I prefer standing. After only a few days of the 9-5, seated, daily grind, my back was already sore and I could tell that my spirits were diminishing. I could not figure out a way to accurately track things like productivity or morale, but I am inclined to say that both are positively affected by standing, at least in my case.

Rewind almost six months to the start of my stand-up adventure. I will admit that those first few days were a little daunting. I did have sore heels and my legs were noticeably fatigued by the end of the day. I remember relaxing into the driver’s seat at the end of the day, and thinking fondly of how rejuvenating my daunting commute would be. It was strange, as I generally dread the commute. That positive outlook (toward my commute) vanished after three days, as did my leg fatigue. The foot discomfort was gone after a week. For reference, my building has low plush, high traffic, tiled carpeting over a commercial carpet pad, over concrete. I wear Adidas Samba classics. Many sites and individuals have reported similar findings regarding sore feet/legs, and some suggest pads or special shoes - these were not necessary for me.

One other point of discomfort that I encountered was in my shoulders and biceps. Pre-stand-up, I slouched, and configured my chair (a Herman Miller Aeron - with which I have never really been pleased) so that my elbows could rest comfortably on the arm rests, while keeping my hands in an appropriate typing position. Once standing, I had to hold my arms up, bent around 100 degrees at the elbows. I had not considered this effort, but for the first week or so, my shoulders and biceps were tired. After the initial week, my muscles acclimated themselves to the new task, and all is well.

A lot of people talk about buying a stand up desk, or elevating an existing desk. I want to highlight for those of us in cube farms (we have Herman Miller walls and components), all it takes is an allen wrench, a couple of screwdrivers, and an hour or two of your time. The most frustrating issue I encountered was that some of the mounting brackets in my cube were bent, and this made them somewhat difficult to remove. In addition to moving my desk upward for standing, I also chose to implement a multi-tiered approach. I maintained a seated location, I occasionally eat there, and every once in a while I read in the chair. I have probably used the seated desk portion of my cube a dozen times in 6 months. My main desk is the corner area. It is positioned at a height such that my keyboard is at a natural position for typing. My monitors are positioned just below eye level, such that they are as close to perpendicular to my line of sight as possible. I investigated elevating the monitors to be at eye level, but I found that it had little impact on my posture, productivity, or eye strain, and decided that I preferred to removed the props. I also have a standing desk at height for comfortable writing. This lower standing area also works well for laptops, as it is right around the height of the keyboard. I generally tilt the monitor on my laptop very far back when using this area. The lower standing area is great for taking notes, reading, etc.

When I converted the desk, I also removed as much stray clutter from my work area as possible. I removed two bulletin boards, a filing cabinet, and two storage compartments. Removing the storage compartments and raising the desk areas makes the cube look enormous. In general, I keep a pen and pad under my monitor - for quick notes and in case anyone looks for such things in my cube when I am not around. If I am around, I have my notebook (Miquelrius, grid-lined, leather-bound) and another pen (a Pilot G3 with retractable point). I initially intended to hang my whiteboard behind me, but later realized that I liked the idea of having a desk on which I could take notes. I generally keep the whiteboard on top of my lower standing area, and can simply take notes on the desk; this works well under all circumstances except impromptu demonstrations, where it becomes difficult for more than two or three people to see.

I could not be happier with my stand up desk. I was the first to make the move in my office, and a couple others have joined the cause. Everyone is pleased with the change so far.

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