Rick Mor­ton

The Australian - The Deal - - News - Rick Mor­ton

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.

Good work.

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