Rise of the ergonomeerkat
The first standing desk appears in the office like a cyborg meerkat on guard duty. From a distance, and with your glasses off, your colleague at the standing desk could be one of those Japanese product testers who get strapped into a metal exoskeleton before lifting more bags of flour than a person might be expected to handle on their own. They are a yawn. Contagious.
Another workmate sees the pioneer of not-sitting-andworking and wants in on the action. What’s not to like? You get the ergonomic rush of an adjustable-height desk and the existential boost of being able to physically look down on those around you.
In fairness, researchers say sitting is the new smoking so standing, I assume, is the new vaping. A friend tried to make her own standing desk by stacking a computer monitor on an increasingly unstable series of books. She adjusted the height by periodically adding or removing Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is also good for muscle tone in the arms. An overdue library book ended the experiment prematurely and she was sitting again by the next week.The standing desk you walk past is the standing desk you accept.
Some users are up and down all day, alternating between standing and sitting like a broken cherry picker. If the office needed a hydraulic centrepiece, a mechanical bull is a lot more fun. Susan the Coles checkout attendant is not a devotee of the standing desk, it’s just something she has to do in order to reach the till. For her, ergonomics is a concept the RBA deals with and not at all a way of life.
There are consultants whose purpose is to advise on this sort of thing. They all have interesting names like “workplace psychologist” or “Samantha” and they consult with people inevitably called Greg who want to do all the things they can do sitting but while standing. As a consultant, I would be brief: Do you want to look like an idiot, Greg? Then sit down.
The standing desk is the abhorrent offspring of the worst workplace innovation since Secret Santa: hot-desking. Hot-desking is the professional equivalent of being a gypsy and encourages the shedding of worldly possessions in the same way renting in Sydney discourages owning anything more substantial than a sandwich grill.
The hot desk graduated from minor annoyance to fullblown movement around the same time some genius rechristened it Activity Based Working, which is to the English language what Marie Antoinette was to fiscal restraint. ABW, not to be confused with the oil-for-food bribery operation in Saddam-era Iraq, is nonetheless almost as bad. This modernday representation of furnishing indecision is solely responsible for keeping the beanbag industry afloat, against the better wishes of almost everyone.
Have you ever tried to have a serious meeting on a beanbag? Do you think the President of the United States of America has ever planned an invasion from a bean bag? Of course not. No serious decision should ever be made on a bean bag.
The ABW environment is an obstacle course for productivity. I have a friend who got lost in a reading nook for an entire week. He tried to tell me he was on annual leave, but have you seen the nooks? Bear Grylls couldn’t find his way out of them even after selling his producer to a local for directions.
Try not being comprehensively annoyed when sitting on a soft cube. Now try getting any work done. What is it for? Who put it here? Cubes in offices are the Stonehenge of modernity.
Tech giants are known for their “cool” workspaces but it’s all just a ruse. Google didn’t lift the decaying leftovers of Sydney’s monorail into its Pyrmont offices out of the goodness of its own heart. They did it to trap employees (and boondoggle public infrastructure enthusiasts) in their binary claws.
One shouldn’t be too judgmental. Some of my best friends are standing-desk adherents and I know one bloke who sits on an exercise ball at his height-adjustable desk and I’d still have a beer with him. I’ve even been to his house.
There is, as ever, room for compromise and the meerkat model provides a way forward. So here’s the rule: if you have a standing desk then you’re on guard duty. Make a series of high-pitched noises when the boss approaches.