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The Journey to Using a Standing Desk

Why a standing desk?

Ultimately the goal is to go to a treadmill desk (for reasons outlined here), but before sinking the money and effort into that endeavor, I’d been meaning to try out a standing desk. It was never really a priority and I was working at a client-site (which inhibited my ability to request furniture) and so I kept putting it off. Finally one day I snapped. After lunch I went to the copy room, started grabbing reams of paper, and in less than 10 minutes I had a standing desk from W.B. Mason.

Standing Desk #1: Improvised Standing Desk

Standing Desk #1: Improvised Standing Desk

After half a day standing I felt pretty good—my legs were a little tired, but less than I’d expected. The next day we went back to the home office for a lunchtime tech talk. The plan was to stand at the WB Mason in the morning and then sit for the rest of the day at my home office, but I found that I wanted to remain standing. I commandeered an unused metroshelf and built a desk out of it.

Standing Desk #2: Quick metro standing desk

Standing Desk #2: Quick metro standing desk

I wanted a few surfaces on the desk: a shelf for the monitor, another for the keyboard and mouse, a third for random work / storage (e.g. to set down keys or reference book or to put your cup of coffee out of accidental-spill range), and a place to rest my feet. Changing position is important if you’re going to stand for long periods of time, and resting a foot on a raised surface changes the way your body carries weight (this is why taverns often have a brass bar to rest your foot on). Its also helpful to have a shelf at the bottom which gives rigidity to the structure of the desk. Metroshelves aren’t very deep, but here’s the trick: it’s possible to hang a shelf on only 2 of the 4 poles, and thereby double the depth. The cantilevered shelf won’t bear as much weight as a shelf with 4 supports, but its sufficient for a keyboard, or even an iMac.

In order to get better foot access to the bottom shelf, I cantilevered the top shelf behind the desk, so the keyboard shelf is over the foot shelf. As a bonus, the iMac floats above the air conditioning unit, reclaiming a bit of wasted space.

It’s hard to see in this photo, but the back of the shelf directly leans against the wall. Note also that the UPSes on the bottom shelf to act as a counterweight to lower the center of gravity. This thing is secure from falling towards the window; no one wants a $2000 iMac tipping over.

Standing Desk #3: Kitchen Island

Standing Desk #3: Kitchen Island

The next day was a blizzard, and I decided to work from home. Not willing to quit my standing streak, I moved my spare monitor to kitchen island and worked from there for the day. I also experimented with using an iPad and AirDisplay as an additional monitor. Its small and suffers from high latency, but it works just fine as a Pivotal Tracker display.

Standing Desk #4: Keyboard Shelf Metrodesk

Standing Desk #4: Keyboard Shelf Metrodesk

Cantilevering an iMac scared enough people that I reconfigured the desk to put the keyboard at front. The footrest is pretty much unusable now (but the bottom shelf is still nice for rigidity and storage), but the desk definitely feels more solid. Wooden butcher-blocks are added for a nicer work surface.

Standing Desk #5: Cantilevered 48in. Metrodesk

Standing Desk #5: Cantilevered 48in. Metrodesk

Back at the client site, I finally found some metroshelves to build into a standing desk. This one followed the rear cantilever design, which worked nicely given this particular A/C unit and space constraints. This one is a 4-foot-wide desk, which is substantially nicer to pair on. Again, you can see the shelf directly leaning against the structural wall to prevent tipping over backwards. Here we use Mac Pros as the counterweight.


I’ve been standing at desks almost exclusively for ~24 months now, and aside from the occasional exhausted day when I grab a high stool to sit on, I doubt I’ll ever go back to sitting full-time. Standing desks have blossomed at the office too: we’ve got 5 Metroshelf standers, and another 4 or 5 Geekdesk-style adjustable desks. Since we’re a pair-programming shop, that’s ~20 people standing every day. We use bar stools and architectural drafting chairs to let a stander pair with someone who prefers to sit, and the standing Metroshelf desks have proven to be economic, ergonomic, efficient in their use of space, robust, and flexible. Now I just need to figure out how to get a treadmill desk in here…



Don’t wear them. Your feet are perfectly built to support your bodyweight for long periods of time. Even the best running or walking shoes are less than perfect. Barefoot or socks is the way to go.


If you’re the kind of person who’d be sitting on a balance ball at a sitting desk, try a Bosu Ball for your standing desk. It’s a great all-day workout for your core and legs, and its a lot of fun. A word of warning: for the first day or two, your vestibular system (i.e., sense of balance) will get quite a workout. I definitely felt the added cognitive load, and while it doesn’t prevent you from using the rest of your brain for work, it definitely takes a bit of concentration. By the second or third day I was used to it, and not standing on a balance ball just felt boring.


Get them. Being able to easily relocate the desk is unexpectedly awesome and useful.

A BONUS: Tete-a-tete Pairing Desk

This could provide a standing version of Susser’s Tete-a-tete pairing configuration. We mocked it out when we ordered the second desk, but haven’t had a chance to try it out for real.

Standing Desk #6: Tete-a-tete experimental pairing standing Metrodesk

Coming Soon:

How to build a metroshelf standing desk.

UPDATE 2013-02-10: check out How to Build a Standing Desk!

  1. Serguei Filimonov says:

    :) Right on! I miss those metroshelves from that office.

  2. […] written about using a standing desk; now let’s talk about building one. Commercial standing desks are ugly and overpriced. Building […]

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