What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of sit-stand computer workstations?
One of the key components of ergonomics is that one size does not fit all. While guidelines and generalized recommendations can be made for any office workstation setup, the truth of the matter is that each employee IS different and that each employee will have a preference in how he or she works and what type of workstation environment works best for the employee in terms of comfort and productivity.
Sit-stand computer workstations were designed to offer workers comfort through flexibility and movement, allowing employees to change positions from sitting to standing while still working. The theory is that workers who change positions, who can work in numerous different positions, can reduce risk factors associated with remaining in one general position throughout the day. Workers are regularly instructed to take breaks from sitting by standing up and moving around; sit-stand workstations take this premise a step further by offering the worker the option to continue his or her task in a different body position thus potentially increasing productivity as well.
Lastly, while the above question is an amalgam of a detailed thread from Ergoweb-L, Ergoweb’s on-line, ergonomics discussion list (https://ergoweb.com/resources/discussions/), it was never asked verbatim. Nonetheless, the following responses, all pertaining to sit-stand computer workstations, proved to be valuable and relevant even when taken apart from their original post topics.
In my opinion, the issue with sit-stand work stations is one of cost vs. benefit. For most healthy workers the high cost of sit-stand work stations (starting at $700 – $1500) outweighs the benefits derived.
Only for those with serious ailments such as low back injury and hip or sacroiliac pain, where the employee has severe limitations on sitting tolerance, does a sit-stand station seem warranted. And even in those cases, a percentage of those individuals will find standing almost as difficult as sitting rendering the use of the sit-stand infeasible.
— Thomas S. Sproger, MS, CRC
. . . sit-stand workstations are not a gimmick. Once again, the idea that a human body can remain stationary and comfortable for an entire day is unreasonable. Of course, many people have or take opportunities to move around their work area. Others, however, such as those that work in call centers, do not have that freedom. Providing them an opportunity to stand up promotes many positive postural changes. With sit-stand mechanisms there will be a reduction in facilities cost in the long run since desk heights don’t need to be changed and keyboard trays won’t need to be bought.
I am fortunate to work with a client that recognizes the advantages and is planning into the future to begin purchasing sit-stand workstations to take advantage of their flexibility and the value they bring for providing increased comfort.
— Susan Glumac
Your heart has to work harder in a standing position and without the additional pumping action from the muscles involved in walking to help pump blood back to your heart, blood will pool in the legs and varicose vein problems will be exacerbated. Blood pooling is one of the reasons there is a need or desire to fidget and/or move around and leg muscles constantly adjust to maintain your upright posture so you tire quickly and will soon want to sit down. If you have a repetitive stress injury of the wrist, shoulder, etc. I hope your adjustable sit-stand workstation isn’t crank operated.
— Norman Allen
We have been using [sit-stand workstations] for a couple of years and we have yet to identify (in my opinion) an optimal product
— David Wolff
The day of the keyboard platforms in the U.S. are numbered. Height adjustable tables are on their way into this market. In Scandinavia height adjustable tables that allow a standing posture are in about 80% of offices over there. Keyboard platforms don’t exist in Scandinavia as they don’t allow for good forearm support. Being able to support the forearms and use the keyboard and mouse is about as good as it gets. You can’t even compare trying to use armrests and keyboard tray to this type of forearm support.
— James Golden, CAE
Most of us think of sit-stand chairs as providing the opportunity for a user to work at a height of their choosing. The trouble is, it’s difficult to accommodate this in most workplaces. In contrast, [other organizations] seems to be emphasizing the ability of their sit-stand chair to accommodate a large range of user sizes to fit at a single height work surface.
— Rani Lueder, CPE
The furniture industry . . . [is] now working to convince everyone that sit-stand workstations are the ideal ergonomic solution for computer users. Sit-stand 1) promotes movement, 2) allows maximum user adjustability, 3) is expensive and highly profitable for the furniture companies, 4) requires you to replace furniture already in place, paid for and depreciated, 5) doesn’t make the chair armrests unnecessary, and 6) conform to products they already sell.
I agree that there are situations where sit-stand is appropriate, but not for intensive computer users. The static loads required to hold your hands at the keyboard while sitting without armrests – load on the upper arms, shoulders, back, and legs – are just a fraction of the static effort required to do so while standing and typing at a computer. To type steadily, or do programming or CADD work, while standing, requires many muscles from the feet to the forearms to be under static load to keep the hands at the keyboard and mouse. After all, each key is only about 1/2 inch square, so even slight movement of the hands resulting from “body sway” will result in mistakes. It would be interesting to know exactly how long someone can compute effectively while standing (in addition to knowing how often a seated intensive user feels the need to stand and work). I suspect it’s not more that 15 minutes at a stretch standing, at which time they’ll want to sit down again.
I recognize that those who may be accessing the computer every few minutes while moving around, like a person making a computer-based presentation, aren’t as likely to have problems while standing, but that’s not the user we’re concerned with. Call center operators could be in this category because they aren’t necessarily typing or mousing continuously. The problem is that the furniture industry is promoting the sit-stand as a solution for almost ALL types of computer tasks. The biggest reason they use to justify this is that it allows for “movement”, which almost everyone these days says is the “solution”.
But if you can only work standing for 15 minutes at a stretch (give or take), you might best just walk to the water fountain, which involves much more movement, as compared to spending big bucks on a station that let’s you stand at it while working.
Sit-stand is supposed to address problems that are the result of sitting for long periods with static loads required to hold your arms at the keyboard without arm support. Standing just moves this problem to other muscles used to hold your hands at the keyboard while standing. You’re moving the problem, not solving it.
— Win Lochridge
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2003-09-01.