The miserable week I spent at a stand-up desk – though I did burn 18,000 calories
I didn’t sit down for five days
Employers want their workforce to be fresh and energised – poised to generate the next viral craze they can turn into an app to flog to millennials.
And there are seemingly infinite “blue-sky ways” of getting the most out of teams. ‘Away weekends’; digital detoxes; paying for therapy; boozy dinners; giving people birthdays off; and making them feel like they are literally doing hard day’s work. That is where the stand-up desk comes in.
Standing up for a few hours allegedly burns 30 per cent more calories, though the desks can cost upwards of £500. And granted, you could just send everyone to the pub on payday and stick £100 behind the bar.
On the other hand, I was intrigued by the purported benefits. I wanted to see if it really does make you more productive. So I tried a standing desk for a whole working week, with a caveat: in order to see if going the extra mile would make me feel even more part of the ship, I didn’t sit down at all. That’s 45+ hours on my feet over the course of a working week.
Days one to three
I’ve always had trouble with my posture, so was optimistic this could be a way of strengthening my core while avoiding the gym. I also hoped it would help me to smash through all of my Monday tasks. I set up a Fitbit to record how many calories I’d burned and proceeded to stand. And the first morning flew past – as did everything on my to-do list. I felt fresh, productive and didn’t have restless, jittery legs like usual.
But in the afternoon, I spaced out. I hadn’t had a big weekend but I felt like I’d flown in on a red eye and come straight into the office. Obviously, I was meant to have sat down by this point.
Tips: music keeps you going; do not wear boots or shoes. You can’t move around and you have far less support. I resolved on day three to wear trainers. Having got used to the mental fatigue that always set in just after lunch, I became obsessed with thinking about how many calories I was burning to get me through the dark hours. And instead of the carb coma you experience after eating, you feel almost like you’re just back from a festival. A bit empty.
No wonder – even though I was exhausted by an 11-hour day and had walked 20 minutes to and from work I was still surprised by the results. I have no idea how they work this out – I’ve always had a fast metabolism and been able to eat loads – but just by standing up, the Fitbit told me that instead of burning the usual 3,000 calories, I’d knocked off 3,588 on Tuesday and another 3,780 on Wednesday.
Wearing trainers definitely helped, and probably upped my productivity. But I can’t do anything creative. I’m at a loss for ideas and can’t begin to think about writing an article. My notes are a mess and my handwriting has gone way downhill. I’m even having to take quick yoga breaks to stretch out for fear of cramping up.
I’m starting to think that these desks are great if you need to fly through tasks or emails, or make quick decisions with a relatively clear head (at least in the mornings) – but as as soon as you need to actually do something, it all goes to shit.
It gets to the end of the week and I’m a mess. I can’t remember what sitting down is like. My Fitbit tells me I’m sleeping for longer and not waking up in the middle of the night, but it doesn’t feel that way. I’m flagging. I eat lunch standing up . I’ve never felt less like myself. The constant need to stretch my legs distracts me from my work and my capability on quick and easy tasks evaporates.
I’ve also realised it’s much easier for people to bother you. Either because you’re so much more visible, or because you don’t look like you’re doing anything because you’re stretching the whole time. Combined with the snail’s pace at which time seems to pass, Friday is basically the longest day of my life.
By 6pm I feel genuinely sick. I’m totally spent. It started so promisingly, but it has completely destroyed me. Adjusting my footwear worked for a bit; music worked, for a bit. My sleep improved and throughout the whole week I’ve burned a ridiculous 18,500 calories. I’ve lost track of how much I’ve eaten because I’m always so, so tired.
Stand-up desks are a good thing, but not for the people who seem to be using them. Don’t give them to start-ups shaping the ‘Flat White Silicon Roundabout Economy’, or whatever we’re labelling young companies run by ‘millennials’. Give them to 30 somethings in the city who slam phones, bark orders and sign off sheets all day. Give them to accountants, research analysts, recruiters. Give them to the former rugby players turned spectacled insurance dweeb who still thinks it’s legit to eat a Burger King for lunch.
But making your employees stand up is not going to yield the next viral craze you can mass-market for millions. It’s too miserable.