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High Expectations

Standing desks can be a refreshing change of pace for workers, but they can also engender chaos if not implemented correctly. Image © David Lam

Adjustable height desks are growing more and more common. I started using one over a year ago on account of hip/hamstring injury that required me to stand. I felt like the odd ball in my office. Today, clients are increasingly providing adjustable height desks for every worker. Adjustable height desks will soon be a design standard. The costs are coming down as more furniture manufactures get into the market—the average cost now sits between $600 and $1,000 per workstation or office.

Adjustable height desks give workers flexibility and encourage them to avoid some of the health problems associated with prolonged periods of sitting. But adjustable height desks are not without their pitfalls and issues. When incorporating them into a workspace or using one for your own use, consider these issues.


On my first day using an adjustable height desk, I had difficulties raising and lowering the work surface. My first thought? I need to beef up my arms at the gym, pronto.

Luckily, I contacted the vendor, and she came by the next day and adjusted the tension on the counter balance mechanism. This feature was nice because it didn’t require another cord to plug into and manage.

Some companies offer motorized adjustable desks that do the hard work of moving the height up and down for you. But locations for these are limited: they require a nearby power source.

Wires and Power Sources

Nobody likes to crawl under their desk every day to plug and disconnect laptops, work tools, etc. Not to mention the safety concerns with getting on under a desk on a regular basis. So try and minimize the amount of plugging in and out you have to do on a daily basis. But if you use a laptop, like I do, power connectivity at the work surface is necessary.

Wire management is more important at adjustable height desks, because cords have to long enough to work with the up/down movement of the desk. Consider a neat wire management spine, or enclose to hide wires and cords. Sometimes it is possible to provide a power strip under the work surface for connecting PC or devices not needed to be accessed every day. Consult with your IT leaders to be sure this type of power is acceptable. Integrating a desk top clamp on power module works well and makes connectivity always nearby.

Otherwise you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time on all fours under your desk, fiddling with live sockets and multiple plugs.


Most people are not prepared for the visual impact of standing height desk. I am no neat freak, but I learned to get into the daily habit of taking a few minutes at the end of the day to tidy up the appearance of my workstation.

A messy desk at standard desk height vanishes into the background, but when a desk is closer to eye level, it can become an eye sore fast. When employees neglect the appearances of their adjustable height desks, even the most elegant workspaces can quickly come resemble barely organized pig sties.


Close quarters are the new norm as office footprints shrink and concerns for the cost real estate grow. I didn’t realize the acoustical impact an adjustable height desk would have on my workday.

I now spend most of the workday at standing height or perched on a stool. From this height, the voices of surrounding workers are more distracting. It’s nothing a pair of ear buds can’t fix, but the flip side is that I’m on a lot of conference calls during a typical day. I quickly became worried that my voice is distracting to the others around me. I found myself reaching out to my coworkers and asking them to please let me know if my voice ever distracts them. Thankfully, my office has a small conference room and phone booths I can easily use. Touches like these are critical in workspaces featuring an abundance of adjustable height desks.


It’s impossible to predict all the ways adjustable height desks will positively and negatively affect an individual workspace. So prior to introducing adjustable height desks into your workspace, it is imperative to test out different styles and configurations with a simple mock up or beta test group. You don’t want to make a decision in haste, without studying the different options, and accessories that can successfully integrate monitors, keyboards, wire management, and connectivity. There are literally dozens and dozens of solutions ranging from simple to complex.

Recently, a large tech company in Texas installed a few hundred adjustable height desks. Within hours of the installation, the majority of employees were making good use of their adjustable height desks. Our main client contact was absolutely delighted to see so many of the desks being used in such a short period of time.

Stories like that speak to the willingness of people to use any sort of tool that can help them achieve a healthier lifestyle. The rise of personal fitness devices like Fitbits and the newfound focus on wellness further illustrate how people are becoming more mindful of activity in their daily lives. Some adjustable height desks have the ability to integrate WiFi networks and smart devices. They can be expensive, but for the right client they can be useful. For the average office worker, this is too much to fuss with. Keep it simple and they will be more useful.

Adjustable height desk are becoming more the norm in the workplace. It may not happen tomorrow in your office, but it’s on the horizon. So be prepared if you want to achieve all the potential benefits.

Amie Keener is registered Interior Designer in the Gensler Dallas office with a valuable mix of skills and experience. She is a dedicated detail-oriented team player with a special touch for client service. She works with clients such as Devon Energy, Cenovus Energy, Shell, Jackson Walker, Texas Instruments and AT&T to find effective furniture solutions. From preliminary design, programming, design development, furniture documentation and installation she brings purposeful solutions to the built environment. In addition to being a furniture enthusiast, she likes fitness, volunteering with students in the design industry, and SCUBA diving. Contact her at amie_keener@gensler.com or follow her at @amiekeener on Twitter.

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