Not all standing desks are equal in functionality. While you can position yourself to stand while working in a bunch of different ways (see our DIY post here), there are a few simple rules to follow when selecting an affordable standing desk that will make a big difference while you use it. It’s not just issues of comfort, or even just ergonomics, certain aspects of whichever standing desk you choose may actually determine whether you want to stand to work at all or not.
First, consider whether a standing desk is right for you. The key benefit of having a sit to stand desk is that they allow you to change positions throughout the day. Currently it is recommended that you try and stand four hours a day (work up to it gradually), alternating between sitting and standing every twenty to forty minutes or when your feet get tired. For some people, taking a quick break once in a while is their preferred method for mixing up your position throughout the day.
The benefit of having a sit to stand desk, regardless of whether you use it to stand four hours a day or even use it daily, is that you give yourself the option to change positions even when you have to be at your computer for extended periods of time. This is also why it’s recommended to get a sit-to-stand desk instead of simply a standing desk. Alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day, whether you perch on a stool or sit in a chair, is healthy. If you make it difficult to either sit or stand to work, you will probably find yourself doing less standing.
If you’ll be sharing the desk with anyone else, having the option of it being height-adjustable is a must. Everyone’s ergonomic sweet spot will be different when adjusting the desk, monitor, and keyboard.
Some of the most affordable options out there for convertible standing desks are add-ons to your existing desk. The main thing to keep in mind when deciding on whether the right affordable standing desk for you is an add-on is that it will reduce the surface space of your desk by quite a lot. If having some clear desk space or a certain aesthetic to your workstation is important to you, a standing desk that sits on top of your current desk might work for a trial, but probably won’t feel right longterm, affordable or not.
How high or low should it go?
This depends, of course, on the height of the people using it. It’s important because if you’re especially tall or petite, you may not be able to fine tune the desk while sitting or standing to a proper ergonomic alignment. The height range should be at least 30 to 45 inches. For taller people you’re safer with a maximum height of 50 inches or more. You can calculate the proper height of you desk and keyboard tray.
This depends on what you use your desk for. If your desk functions mostly as a (stable) laptop and coffee mug stand, you won’t need to consider getting any more depth than the standard 30 inches. If you want your desk to function as a drawing table as well, or you’d like to place a printer, phone, or anything else with a large “footprint” on your desk, you should consider getting more depth.
Similarly, desk width will depend on what you’ll use it for and how you’d like it to feel. An average desk is around 50 to 55 inches, but if you need more space—for more monitors, plants, photos, printers, and the like—a 65+ inch desk will feel more comfortable for you.
There are a few different adjustment methods available out there. If you rarely use your desk in a standing position, a crank method may work for you. However you can find affordable standing desks that come with electric motors. It’s not just a luxury to be able to lift and lower your desk at the touch of a button, research on productivity and healthy choices has found that the easier we make it on ourselves to make a good choice, the higher our chances of making that choice are. It’s not “lazy” to make healthy choices easy on yourself. It’s smart, because you’ll end up making better choices more often.
You definitely do not want your standing desk to collapse with all your electronics on it. Thankfully most standard sit-to-stand desks won’t do that, even the affordable ones. But you do need to keep in mind how much weight you’ll be placing on the desk. A basic starting point is 200 pounds. This will support your laptop, keyboard, and an additional monitor. Up from there you give yourself room to add more monitors or other equipment that you may need down the line.
If you work in a dead silent office, or you know your colleagues may get irritated with distracting noises, be sure that the electric motor of the sit to stand desk you use is noted for being quiet. (Little note: if your desk is louder than you think it should be or you hear weird noises when you adjust the height, the desk is probably not assembled properly. Don’t move it until you get in touch with a customer service person to help you figure out what’s wrong).
This may seem like another trivial perk to add to a desk but it goes back to making healthy choices easy on yourself. Especially if you’re a type A person, having a slow desk may really irritate you. There’s no shame in that at all, the important thing is finding a desk that is truly comfortable for you. Luckily it’s not a luxury, there are affordable standing desks out there which transition quickly (we know because we happen to make the fastest one, but there are a few others as well).
Be sure when reading reviews of the affordable standing desk you are considering buying that users report that it is stable. This is foundational, no pun intended. If you have an unstable desk you not only risk your electronics wobbling (or falling) but you will feel more tense using a desk that feels like it may collapse. One good indicator of stability is telescoping legs for desks with electric motors (i.e. legs which are segmented into parts that easily collapse or extend when the desk is transitioning heights).
Monitor Arm/Keyboard tray
If you found an affordable standing desk that doesn’t have a keyboard tray and you don’t have a monitor arm, we can’t stress enough how important it is to get one or the other. For proper ergonomic alignment you either have to have your monitor or laptop elevated, or you keyboard on a lower level, so that your arms can be relaxed at a 90 degree angle with good posture.
If you’ve never tried a footrest (or foot hammock) under your desk you will probably be surprised at how much of a difference it makes in comfort when sitting. Foot rests not only allow you to alternate the position of your legs but they keep your legs elevated, which helps with circulation, and discourages any swelling from sitting or standing too long. When looking for an affordable standing desk, don’t forget you can upgrade with a foot rest or foot hammock for as low as ten dollars.
If you have already gotten used to standing while working and you spend two hours or more a day standing, you may want to consider getting an anti-fatigue mat to stand on. The mat cushions your feet and can help to keep you comfortable and standing up straight for longer—from your heels to your neck. Some mats also come with sloping edges and massage mounds which help you stretch and encourage you to take little breaks for movement, both healthy.
The last consideration when buying an affordable standing desk is what you’ll be sitting at when you’re not using it. If you don’t already have a good chair, finding an affordable ergonomic chair is just as important as finding your affordable standing desk. Alternating between standing and sitting is the healthiest way to use a sit to stand desk (for most people), meaning that you will spend half your day or more seated. Start looking for a fully-adjustable chair that has good lumbar support.
If you prefer to spend most of your time out of a traditional office chair, or if you’re especially concerned about your core muscles, an ergonomic stool may be what you prefer. An ergonomic stool will have a height range that allows you to use it both while sitting and standing. The weighted, anti-slip bottom allows you to both “perch” on it, while leaning forward, and sit in the center, as you would with a usual chair. The benefit is that it allows you to sit briefly without lowering your desk, so that you’re more likely to get back up and keep standing.
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