Sit-stand desks - what to look for

It’s now universally accepted that having the opportunity to adjust the height of your desk is a good thing.

At a simple level, such adjustments allow a shared ‘agile’ desk position to quickly adjust to the needs of different users. But perhaps more importantly, studies have demonstrated that significant health benefits accrue by alternating sitting and standing postures throughout the working day.

However, it’s easy to make mistakes sourcing the right products; this guide will help you understand which features to look for…

Safety

Anti-collision

User safety must be the absolute priority; moving parts introduce the possibility of physical harm - particularly to fingers - so it is essential to specify desks that feature an ‘anti-collision’ mechanism, sometimes referred to as ‘safety stop’.

This is an electronic protection system that is capable of detecting when a moving top hits resistance of any sort. The best of these reverse the direction of travel so that the top moves away from the obstruction by approximately 100mm. Arguably, the simpler ‘stop-only’ type could still leave a finger trapped.

Some suppliers only offer anti-collision as an option; offering (at extra cost) a plug-in ‘dongle’ to activate this feature.


Safety Gap

Safety Gap

Desks are generally configured in ‘clusters’, introducing the possibility of fingers becoming trapped between adjacent worktops. The ‘belt and braces’ solution is to introduce a safety gap of approximately 25mm between adjacent worktops. Importantly, there needs to be a physical linking component between adjacent desk frames so that this gap cannot be reduced.


Cables

Cables

Commercial-grade electrics for office furniture are double-insulated and safe to use without the need for earth-bonding. However, moving parts introduce the possibility of creating forces that can stress or dislodge power cables.

In our opinion it is essential to specify two cable beams/trays for each working position. The lower cable beam is fixed in height relative to the floor, thus avoiding stress on cables from floor to desk. The upper cable tray is attached under the moving worktop, avoiding stress on cables from desktop equipment.

The two beams must be linked by a flexible cable carrier, colloquially known as a ‘caterpillar track’ or ‘cat track’, which ensures that the cables travelling between the two beams cannot be stressed or trapped over the full range of travel.

One point to note is that each sit-stand desk position requires a 13A power socket. Typically, only six power outlets per position can be supplied under the BS6396 ‘Code of Practice for Electrification of Office Furniture’, so a maximum of 5 power outlets will remain available for user’s equipment.

Ergonomics

Memory function

Memory function

A sit-stand desk should be easy to use. Most are supplied as standard with a simple ‘up/down’ controller, which can make it difficult to quickly find precisely the right height for a given task. For a relatively small upcharge you can specify a programmable 4-position memory controller. Think about it the same way you would about the convenience of a car seat with memory function…

Most controllers require the user to hold their finger on the appropriate memory button until the desk reaches the desired position. We prefer a ‘go-to’ or ‘one-touch’ controller, where one quick button press will send the desktop to the right position.


Height range

Lower-cost desks are typically supplied with two-column legs with a height-adjusting range of approx. 700-1200mm (500mm travel). Three-column legs provide a wider range of adjustment of approx. 650-1300mm (650mm travel).

In practice, both types fulfil the requirement of ‘standing height’.


Dimensional ‘creep’

Although quoted in desktop sizes of typically 1600 or 1400mm wide and 800mm deep, most desks take up a greater floor area. 50-90mm must be allowed between facing desks for screens and cable access (varies by manufacturer), and a 25mm safety gap must be allowed between adjacent desks. Thus, the floor area required for a group of four 1400x800mm desks could be 2825mm x 1690mm.

Over a large floor area, this can make a real difference to the numbers that can be accommodated.


Dividing Screens

Dividing Screens

These are quite important for sit-stand desks; where one facing user is standing and the other is sitting, the view for the ‘sitter’ is the underside of the ‘stander’s’ desk!

We generally recommend the use of fixed-height screens, attached by metal brackets to the frame above the lower cable beam. This consistent height creates a tidy landscape, no matter what heights the various users have set.

The alternative is desk-mounted screens/modesty panels that move up and down with the worktop; these can appear quite untidy, and will double the quantity of dividing screens required.


Sliding tops

For traditional fixed-height desks, sliding tops are sometimes offered to provide more convenient access to the (upper) cable tray. However, the advantages are more marginal for sit-stand desks, which provide relatively easy access when set at maximum height.

Durability

Actuator type

The actuator is the ‘motor’ embedded within the column-legs of a sit-stand desk, and is the most critical component when considering long-term durability.

Some ‘bargain’ desks have only a single actuator, which are slow, noisy and less reliable. This may be adequate for a home-office setting, but commercial users should specify dual actuators (one in each leg column)


Actuator Manufacturer

Linak is the best-known supplier of reliable actuators; they supply electrics and frames to many of the leading furniture suppliers. However, there are other good suppliers – typically German – such as Logicdata. Although it is a generalisation, most ‘cheap’ desks will incorporate actuators from China or the far east, which can be temperamental.


Warranty

Look for a warranty of minimum 5 years; ideally 10 years. This should include on-site repairs in the event of component failure. There is no better indicator of quality, confidence and durability than the warranty offered.


Weight-loading

Look for a rating of minimum 80kg per worktop (40 kg per column)


Adaptability

Adaptability

Durability is about length of service as well as physical strength. The general trend is for the size of individual desks to get smaller, so it is advantageous if the desk frame can ‘adapt’ in the future, rather than be replaced.

One innovation recently introduced by a particular manufacturer is a ‘telescopic beam’ which allows the frame to be reconfigured to any width. This can also be used to provide a 25mm safety gap while staying ‘on-module’ for space planning purposes.

Aesthetics

Most sit-stand desks look very similar, utilising a steel ‘H-frame’.

However, many suppliers offer ‘cladding panels’ to tidy up the appearance, and we are now beginning to see some different frame treatment incorporating materials like wood and brushed stainless steel.


Cladding panels create a tidy, crisp and clean appearance


This neat ‘single column’ allows for integration of storage and CPUs within the workstation footprint


Nicely rounded cladding detail lightens the scale


This ‘A-frame’ looks like it can’t work, but a clever sliding mechanism keeps the top perfectly aligned at any height


This cantilevered leg support creates a light scale – also available in wood or brushed stainless steel finishes


Seen at Orgatec 2018, this variant has actuators embedded in the dividing screen; the worktops slide up and down in a track.


Another approach to lighten the scale; this one uses round column legs and worktops are linked to the dividing screen for stability.


Once more at Orgatec; these neat ‘back-column’ actuators give the worktops a ‘floating’ appearance…

Costs

As sit-stand desks increase in popularity and economies of scale kick in, costs are generally reducing.

As a benchmark at time of writing (October 2019), we suggest that a sensible budget for a ‘full-specification’ solution including most of the recommended features above should be around £550 per user for the ‘H-frame’ style. There is huge variance in the market, and of course larger project quantities can make a big difference to cost per user.

As an independent furniture specialist, we are constantly reviewing the market, and well-placed to guide you towards the best value currently available. Use our knowledge – contact us.

How to re-set your desk if it gets stuck

Very occasionally a sit-stand desk can appear to be ‘stuck’ in a certain position. This is often because the columns have become ‘out of line’ with each other, but sometimes (in our experience) because the desk has been unplugged or a cable has come loose – so check those cables first! (Any plug-in cables connecting controllers under the desktop are 12 volt and perfectly safe).

This is a typical procedure to re-set:

  • Hold the ‘down’ button for as long as needed until the desk starts to move; keep holding the down button until the desk reaches its minimum height on both columns.
  • Hold the down button again for a period of 6-15 seconds (you may hear a small ‘click’)
  • The desk should now operate normally

If it does not:

  • Unplug the desk for 30 seconds, plug back in and repeat above procedure

For information and advice please contact us or call us on 0208 315 9400 – we’re here to help!

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