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Can You Use Multiple Monitors with a Standing Desk?

Avatar of Autonomous Autonomous | Nov 19, 2020
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When you’re researching standing desks, whether it’s risers that sit on your existing desk, small desks with ratchets to raise them, or motorized sit-stand conversion desks, one thing you may notice is how small many of them are. It seems as though most of these desks are designed for small workspaces, people who work on a single laptop or only handle a little bit of paperwork each day.

What about those of us who use more than one monitor? Having two (or three, or more) screens can be a huge benefit in the workplace. Being able to keep work on one screen and messengers like Slack and Skype on another, or use one screen for active tasks and another for reference material, or even just using one for dashboards to monitor your product’s health… it’s all an incredible boon. Many people, once they experience using multiple monitors, have a very hard time going back to just one.

So, can you use multiple monitors with a standing desk? Or is there some reason it often seems that standing desks only fit one?

A Simple Answer

First, let’s start this with a simple answer. Yes! You can use more than one monitor with a standing desk. There’s very little difference between a standing desk and a traditional desk when it comes to screens. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to use two monitors, as long as you’re addressing the potential concerns that come along with it.

That’s what we’re going to discuss next. While you can use multiple monitors with a standing desk, you need to make sure you do so properly. Some desks may not support it, some may need additional accessories to make it work, and some may have significant roadblocks. Let’s talk about the details.

Physical Space Requirements

Your first concern with a standing desk should be the physical space requirements for multiple monitors. Modern monitors are smaller than those old-school CRTs we were all stuck with a few decades ago, but they can still be fairly large. This is especially true if you’re used to using large screens of 30” or more.

Your typical standing desk is a relatively small desktop surface. A desk that is about 60” wide and 25” deep leaves you with a relatively small surface to support multiple monitors, particularly large monitors. Simply using two screens (plus a dock for a laptop) can take up the majority of the surface space on the desk.

Desk space requirements

Luckily, standing desks are surprisingly more flexible than you might think. While the “standard” standing desk is that simple 5’ wide rectangle, you can get standing desks in a variety of sizes and designs. What’s to stop you from getting a slightly larger desk?

If you have a relatively small space for your desk, but you have enough room for something larger than your standard desk, you can try looking for something like an art desk. Art desks are wider, usually with a curve to them to keep most of the surface within easy reach. They can be made as standing desks just as easily as a traditional desk.

What if you don’t like the curve, or you want something even larger? In that case, you can simply get yourself a larger L-shaped desk. Again, like art desks, nothing is stopping an L-shaped desk from being a standing desk, and there are standing L-shaped desks available on the market (like the one linked above). Large desks like this need an extra motor to lift them smoothly, but they offer much more space and usually have a higher weight capacity.

One of the only limits on the number of monitors you can use is the physical space to position them. You could have half a dozen screens for a major battle station and still be fine, as long as they fit.

Vertical or Horizontal Placement

A second concern you might have is whether you’re used to monitors that are placed vertically, one above the other, or horizontally next to each other. Standing desks can support both of these, but you may need to adjust how your screens are held in place depending on your desires.

Vertical or horizontal displays

The primary way this becomes a concern is when you use a docked laptop as one screen and a monitor attached to the dock as another. At a sitting desk, you may have it all positioned for ergonomic use. When you stand, the ideal position of your arms and keyboard change and you’re more likely to need another external monitor (if you use the laptop keyboard) or external human interface devices (your mouse and keyboard). We’ll discuss some details about the ergonomics of using multiple monitors later in this article.

Stands or Mounts

If you like to use multiple monitors, you may have explored your options for holding them, or you may not. Some people buy multiple of the same monitor, so they’re guaranteed to sit evenly with each other with the same positioning. Others buy different styles of monitors for different purposes, which can result in different heights for different screens. Some people also like to use one of their secondary monitors in portrait mode, for more vertical screen real estate. This is particularly useful in coding and development.

To this end, many people choose to forego the built-in stands entirely and mount their monitors on a monitor arm. Monitor's arms come in a variety of different styles, which can be divided into two.

First, you have your wall mounts. Wall mounts are monitor arms that drill into the wall behind your desk and can support anywhere from one screen to six or more. The more screens it supports, the better it needs to be anchored to the wall, to hold all the weight.

Wall mounts can be great, but they’re not always ideal for standing desks. They tend to be designed to position within a small range of movement. You might not be able to adjust your screens up high enough to be ergonomically comfortable while standing, and also low enough to be appropriate while sitting.

Wall mounted monitor

You also, obviously enough, need a solid wall that you can use when mounting the monitor arm. In a cubicle, open office, or another scenario where you don’t have access to a wall, you’ll need to use the other style.

The other style is the desk mount. Desk mounts attach themselves to your desk itself to hold your monitors. Some of them use a clamp, some of them are free-standing stands with counterweights, and some of them require drilling a grommet hole into your desk to support it.

Free-standing monitor arms may experience issues with tipping when a standing desk converts from sitting to standing, particularly if it’s a manual mechanism rather than a smooth electric motor. Clamps are the most common but tend to only be available for 1-3 monitors and not as much for larger numbers of screens. Clamps also do not work on glass desks, as the torsion pressure can shatter the glass itself. Drill and grommet mounts are the most stable, but they require damaging your desk and are not as freely adjustable. Of course, they too cannot be used with a glass desk.

The style of mount you choose helps determine how many screens you can use and how you can position them.

Ergonomic Considerations

The proper ergonomics of a standing desk are slightly more complicated than you might think. Using multiple monitors simply adds some additional consideration to the process.

  • Height. Your height determines the ideal height of your standing desk. Typically, this ranges from about 36” high if you’re 5’ tall to 50” high when you’re 6’8” tall. You want the height of your desk surface to be even with your elbows, so your hands can easily access your keyboard and mouse without strain.
  • Screen position. Most ergonomic advisors recommend that your top third of your monitors be about level with your eyes. You don’t want to be tilting your head back to look up all the time, because this puts a strain on your neck. Conversely, too low a position and you strain your back muscles looking down all the time.

If you use your desk for other tasks beyond computer use, you may want to look into the specific ergonomics of those tasks as well.

Monitors and neck angle

Screen position can be variable because of the size of modern computer screens. You may also need to concern yourself with laptop stands that raise a laptop’s screen, or the extra vertical height of a portrait-orientation screen. Either way, aim for a standard ergonomic position for your screens, no matter how many screens you use.

Desk Weight Capacity

Another concern you might have is the weight capacity of your desk. Standing desks have a particular weight capacity that should not be exceeded. Depending on the mechanism holding the desk in place, putting too much weight on it could break or strain motors, break the brakes that hold the desk in position, or break pins and cams that allow a mechanical adjustment mechanism to function.

The average computer monitor today ranges from about 5 lbs. on the very low end, to 15-20 lbs. on the high end. Very large screens with built-in computers, such as all-in-one PCs or smart TVs, can weigh as much as 90 lbs.

Weight limit on desk

You may also need to consider the weight of the monitor mount that you’re using. If you’re using a wall mount, of course, it doesn’t affect the weight capacity of your desk at all. If you’re using a clamp mount or other desk mount, remember that it has some weight of its own. Your typical two-screen arm weighs around 10 lbs.

Everything else you put on your desk should be factored in as well. Do you put your entire PC on the desk, or does it live on a shelf below? Do you put binders full of paperwork or thick, heavy textbooks on your desk?

The fact is, even adding all of this together, you’re still only going to be supporting 100-150 lbs. of stuff on a large, packed desk. Even the cheap, low-end standing desks generally have a weight capacity of 250 lbs., while larger desks and higher quality desks can have a weight capacity of 350 lbs. or higher. You’re not likely to run into weight capacity issues at all, so long as you don’t lean on your desk.

Cable Management

One final concern is cable management. Monitors are not wireless devices; they need to plug into your PC. Other items on your desk, like your keyboard and mouse, may also plug into your PC, though they can be wireless as well.

The primary concern here is the length of the cables. If you only have a four-foot-long HDMI cable attaching your monitor to your PC, a standing desk might yank it out, drag the screen off the desk, or damage the PC by putting pressure on the port.

Cable management on desk

You have two possible solutions to this problem. The first is to use longer cords. This is fine for something like an HDMI cable, which can be found in very long lengths. It’s less fine with power cables, which are often relatively short. You might be tempted to use a power strip or extension cord, but this can cause other problems, such as putting hanging pressure on the cables.

The other solution is to keep the core PC on a platform that raises with the desk, either attached to the desk surface but below the desk, or just sitting on the desk. If you may have this problem, make sure to get a desk that can support solving the issue.

Wrapping Up

After all of this, we can firmly say that there is no inherent problem with using multiple monitors with a standing desk. You may have to make sure you have long enough cables and enough physical space for the screens you choose, but that’s about it.

Perhaps a more important question is: should you use multiple monitors? Does the additional screen real estate help your workflow, or is it more likely to let you keep a distraction easy to access? These are all things that you should consider as you plan and build your workstation. 

When in doubt, a larger standing desk like an L-shaped desk will give you more room to play with in-case you add extra displays later. It's better to have a little extra room than not enough room.

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