Adjustable standing desks should be mandatory

by Rob Galanakis on 26/05/2014

At CCP’s Iceland office, everyone’s desk is able to adjust into a sitting or standing position. I don’t know who decided this perk. It must have been a huge expense. Adjustable sit/stand desks are already expensive in the USA, and in Iceland I’m sure they were three to five times more expensive. Until recently I thought it was required by law! This is quite an investment for each worker, but in my opinion, well worth it for a wide variety of reasons, from health to programming. Why?

  • Lots of people want to try a standing desk but don’t want to be “that guy” who asks for an expensive piece of equipment but doesn’t use it. Having an adjustable desk by default removes barriers to entry.
  • Seeing people stand (and talk about how much better it is) becomes viral. I watched it catch on at work over a few years to where everyone in certain areas is doing it. This wouldn’t have been possible without everyone already having adjustable desks.
  • Standing for part of the day completely fixed my sciatica (lower back/hip/butt pain). It also apparently has lots of other health benefits.

Okay, but “health of your workers” is a pretty nebulous concept, and in America, a business’ job is to make money for shareholders, not, like, improve society! Why would Donald Sterling want to buy black employees adjustable desks in addition to cars and houses?

  • It helped me concentrate. I was able to work faster while standing. Standing is time for working. I don’t know if this is universal, but I certainly didn’t see many people playing games or getting lost in a “YouTube hole” (as a friend puts it) while standing.
  • Pair programming and over-the-shoulder reviews were incredibly more effective while standing, even with people of different heights. Standing, I could pair easily with pretty much anyone, from a good friend to an interviewee. I was able to mentor far more effectively since standing felt like such a more natural way to collaborate.
  • Even if you don’t like pair programming (have you tried pairing while standing?), being able to program and edit code collaboratively during a code review is, IMO, a requirement. Standing code reviews were more effective than sitting. More issues got uncovered and more knowledge was transferred.

How do I know all these things? Well, when I transferred to the Atlanta office, I no longer had an adjustable desk (or a sensible healthcare system, but that’s another matter). Suddenly, reviews with people I was very comfortable with and worked with previously felt rushed and unpleasant. They were done while leaning over (“when can I get my crotch out of this other person’s face“), or sitting together (“oh god we keep brushing knees“).

Pair programming, which is the foundation of the way I mentor (and learn), was basically ineffective. No one programs well at an angle to the monitor, and people mistype constantly if the keyboard is not in a natural spot. It’s difficult to share knowledge or equipment in such an awkward situation.

If you want a vibrant and dynamic engineering culture, standing desks are a must. I view them as fundamental to a programming team as decent workstations and SSDs.


Real studies about adjustable desks are difficult to find. This 538 analysis is promising: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/i-stand-corrected-about-the-best-kind-of-desk/. Otherwise, it is very easy to find endless anecdotes about the usefulness of adjustable desks. Start with the 538 article’s comments if you don’t know anyone!

rob.galanakis@gmail.com

There are 5 comments in this article:

  1. 26/05/2014RobG3D | Python Tricks says:

    […] More […]

  2. 26/05/2014James Mills says:

    +1 Hopefully this idea will catch on with many workplaces where historically sitting has been the mainstream thing. I can say from personal experience, sitting for long periods of time makes you tired, gives you backaches and is largely not a health way to work or live.

  3. 27/05/2014Robert Kist says:

    sounds like a better investment to me than gyms, basketball courts or other facilities everyone is too busy to use because of work ;)

    Although I have a very ascetic view on game studio equipment. Pay your employees well and give them enough free time. That way you won’t need to invest into e.g. a basketball court, a gym, a tiki bar or a roller coaster for them. They will have enough money and free time to pick their own leisure activities.

    Invest the savings in tools, infrastructure, RnD and ergonomics instead. Check the ROI on your investments. Does it really pay if everyone has a Cintiq, or will an Intuos do just fine? Somestimes giving people choice will be more beneficial than spending lots of money for a standardized solution for everyone.

  4. 30/05/2014Bjorgvin R says:

    Definitely all in on the adjustable standing desks.

  5. 25/06/2014D2 Office Furniture + Design | Standing While Working: Take a Stand at Work! D2 NYC says:

    […] Adjustable standing desks should be mandatory […]

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