Sunday, June 16, 2013

Taking a Stand

A few months ago, I decided to try a standing workstation at my job. I'm a computer programmer; I know I slump and slouch throughout the day. I also know that's not the healthiest position for me.

Because I don't currently have a medical problem with my back, my employer won't provide me with one of those nifty electric adjustable desks that go from sitting height to standing height with the press of a button.

I decided it was important enough to me to consider paying for a standing workstation out of my own wallet. I poked around on-line and found a few candidates, but those started at around $400 and went up from there. I might even have considered that kind of investment, but none of the stores around me had anything like those models for me to examine, and I certainly wasn't going to mail-order something that pricey without physically seeing it first. Your loss, Staples and Office Depot.

So one day during my lunch hour I went to Menard's to see if there was some kind of bookshelf or other shelving unit I could easily adapt to my purposes. Nothing I saw there really struck a chord with me, so I headed for the exit. I was about to consider the entire idea a wash until I saw some stackable shelving crates on an endcap near the front of the store.

They're called "Stackubes" (I'm pretty sure they threw an umlaut over the U to make one think of Ikea), and they're fairly basic: a plain, white wooden box, open on the top with handles in two sides. Turn it on its side, and it's a component that can be added to other Stackubes for an entire shelving unit. I spent a few minutes trying both the small and the large boxes on their sides and upside down, and thought they were close enough to what I was looking for that I bought two large boxes and a small one.

Back at work, I put the boxes together and put my two monitors on the large ones, turned upright. Because the monitors are adjustable within a range of a few inches, I was able to get them to just the correct height for my eye level. I put the keyboard on the overturned small box; it was close, but not quite to where I could hold my arms at the ergonomically correct position.

I pulled down one monitor and tried the keyboard on the large box. Put on its side, the box positioned the keyboard pretty much exactly where it needed to be. So that same day after work, I went back to Menard's to buy one more of both the large and the small Stackubes.

It even adds storage space
The next day, I finished my desktop by adding the new large box for the keyboard, turning the small box on its end for the mouse (it matches the height of the large box in that position), and using the new small box (also on its end) for my phone. Strictly speaking, I'm not on the phone nearly enough to really need the phone elevated like everything else, but I felt it completed the setup.

I've been standing with my computer like this for about 3 months, now. The adjustment took only a couple of weeks. I brought in a stool so I could lean/sit for a bit when my legs got tired, but I've pretty much stopped using the stool at all.

The only problem that persisted after those first few weeks was that my feet were a little sore by the end of the day. Not having to consider shoes for being on my feet all day since my stint at Best Buy, my shoes weren't the kindest to me in that respect. A co-worker who also assembled her own version of a standing desk mentioned that she had a simple mat on the floor, and that helped her a lot. Since our floor is a thin institutional carpet on concrete or something just as unforgiving, I thought that was a good idea.

Memory Foam bath mat on top
I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to see what they could offer me, and I selected a bath mat with Memory Foam. It seemed pretty soft, so I gave it a try. After a few days of realizing that it was good but not great, I returned to Bed, Bath, and Beyond for an upgrade.

My next purchase was a GelPro chef's mat. This was more expensive, but I was all in at this point. It's a nice, thick, cushiony mat that has some give to it, but it still keeps a layer of gel between my feet and the floor.

GelPro chef's mat underneath
I considered using only the chef's mat, but since I already had the bath mat at work, I wondered what they would be like together. It actually works really well. The texture of the chef's mat along with the bottom of the bath mat keeps them from sliding against each other at all. Together, I get the softness of the bath mat with the cushioning of the gel mat.

I do take my shoes off when standing on my floor mats. The gel mat says it can resist breaking even when shoes are worn, although it does advise against wearing high heels on it. (Probably good advice for me in any situation.) But slipping off my shoes makes the mats that much more comfortable, and I don't have to worry about cleaning the bath mat as often. That is, unless my co-workers continue to not observe cubicle etiquette and tramp all over my rugs even when I'm standing there in sock feet. How rude!

So now I have my own standing workstation, and it's pretty much exactly what I want. It's comfortable to stand and do my work for the entire day, and I feel like I'm being a little more friendly to my own back. Unfortunately, I don't have the easy option of sitting down that those with the adjustable desks do. I have worked out that if I absolutely have to sit down and even the stool doesn't cut it, I only need to pull down one monitor and my keyboard/mouse. So I won't have to rearrange my entire desktop if I need some chair time.

Of course, nothing can stay perfect for long. Shortly after putting the finishing touches on my arrangement, my department was informed that it was time for our cubicles to be rearranged and condensed (translated: shrunk from 8x9 to 6x9 sq. ft.) so we would be moving into a temporary space, one cubicle row at a time.

This past Thursday was my move-out day. I considered storing my crates in my car for the week, but then I decided that I wouldn't allow them to shake up my new standing regimen.

Temporarily in cramped quarters
Even though we were supposed to let a PC Tech move our computers, I moved all of my own stuff the night before. It's simply easier to set up the computer at the same time as the crates, rather than letting them move the computer first and then try to work the crates in under everything.

My temporary desk is more shallow than my previous one, so it took a half-hour of tweaking the setup. I eventually got everything to fit--well enough, at least, for my week's stay. When I move back to my smartsized cubicle I'll still have the same desktop area I had before, minus one section, and I've already determined my original arrangement will fit there just fine. (I honestly think one thing they're counting on is that a week exiled to the "study carrels" will make us pine for the smaller cubicles.)

Some co-workers have asked how much I spent on this or that item, and they usually seem a bit shocked when I tell them. I haven't added up the total for anyone here for fear of completely blowing their minds:

Stackubes (large): 3 @ $19.99
Stackubes (small): 2 @ $14.99
Memory Foam bath mat:  $24.99
GelPro chef's mat:     $69.99
Total with tax:       $196.93

Now don't get me wrong: I would love to not have had to spend that two hundred dollars. I can find many more enjoyable ways to spend $200, even if it's only to give it to the credit card company to cover some other purchase I've already made. But I'm at my desk for 7-8 hours a day, 40 hours a week; I don't want to cheap out on my own physical well-being. I consider that $200 well-spent.