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Why space saving stand-up desks make commercial sense

More New Zealand companies offer alternative working environments for staff, with cost savings which can amount to millions of dollars.

On the heels of "hot desking" there are now stand-up desks.

The familiar "hot desking" involves using a single workstation which can be used by multiple staff members at different times.

That model has been employed by Vodafone since it moved into its new building in downtown Auckland in 2005, and saved it the cost of constructing a whole extra floor on the building.

Hewlett-Packard and Gen-i offered a similar arrangement, while ASB plans to use hot desking at its yet-to-be-completed headquarters in Wynyard Quarter on Auckland's waterfront.

Now Hawke's Bay lines company Unison is also conducting a trial of another type of workspace - stand-up desks.

The benefits of using alternative workspaces are more than ergonomic, although that is part of the motivation.

Companies are seeing the real cost benefits of alternative workplace models, from more efficient use of space to improved productivity.

The Vodafone example

Vodafone's six-storey building on Auckland's Fanshawe St opened just over seven years ago and houses about 1300 staff.

The company has a variety of working arrangements staff can use. They can sit at the same desk permanently, work at bench-height hubs which cater for about six to eight people, or use smaller single stand-up desks.

The larger hub workspaces have bar stools if workers want to sit, while staff who don't have permanent desks and roam about the building can put their things in lockers.

Vodafone national facilities manager Jonathan Jepson says this arrangement saved the company from having to build a whole extra floor on its new building.

"The fit-out of that floor alone would have been a multi-million dollar job.

"By having a mixture of work settings, we saved a huge amount of floor space."

He says in the average large corporate, a desk is empty for 40% to 50% of the time.

Head of property Peter Nicoll says companies can waste a lot of money providing permanent space for a person when they only need it half the time.

He estimates the flexible arrangement saves the company about 20% in overheads per year.

"It's a reduction because you don't have to build the extra floor, there's the rental savings, you don't have to clean it, furnish it, heat it, or pay for power."

Mr Nicoll says there are also improvements in productivity, but those benefits are more difficult to quantify.

Senior solutions specialist Grant Fisher, who works standing up, says the model works well for him because he needs flexibility.

"I'm bouncing from one thing to the other all the time.

"The collaborative concept is great because I'm often doing a lot of different of things, but don't need a lot of focused time in one place."

CEO Russell Stanners also works standing up at a single desk that resembles a small bar leaner.

Unison Networks' trial

Hawke's Bay-based Unison Networks has been conducting a trial of stand-up desks for the past few months.

It is a different concept to the hot-desking model in that staff use the same workspace, they just don't sit down.

Commercial general manager Jonathan Kay says he has already noticed cost savings in terms of the space it saves.

"The stand-up desks take up a lot less space so there's less clutter and paperwork.

"I now use my office more as a meeting space because I can fit a bigger table in and get my team in there."

The desks have a small motor that allows the height to be changed at the push of a button.

Mr Kay says the desks are great for people with bad backs, or who find sitting for long periods difficult.

"Personally, I find it more energising and it seems a more natural way of interacting with others.

"I find myself naturally more productive. The challenge is in measuring those productivity gains."

He says they plan to roll the desks out to more staff but they aren't cheap, and as a community-organisation they'll have to implement it slowly.

Still a niche item

While the idea of working standing up may be catching on in large corporates, it appears it is still a niche product.

Inquiries to Office Products Depot indicated the company doesn't stock stand-up desks, but rather gets them custom made by its supplier if a customer wants one.

Elsewhere, Smart Office stocks height adjustable desks, costing between $590 and $885 excluding GST.  

CEO of Language Perfect Craig Smith got around that cost by fashioning his own stand-up desk by stacking one on top of the other. 

He says he stands up to work because his business is modelled on a five-star hotel, where front-of-house staff are always standing and alert as a sign of good customer service.

"It means that I never slack off, I'm always much more focused on the task at hand." 

More by Caleb Allison

Comments and questions
8

We were doing this in London in the late 1990s...

30 years ago I had a job as a junior sales rep and scored an appointment with the owner of a substantial business here in Auckland. Imagine my surprise on being shown into his office by the secretary and he was standing at a large victorian style sloping desk much smaller than a drawing board and there were no chairs in the room. Papers and pigeon holes everywhere but goodness I recall he was an achiever.

Stand-up desk is nothing new. Decent companies, esp IT companies have been offering their otherwise physically inactive employees this for a long time...... It's also a way to show employees that the companies care their health (also save employee health insurance premium and sick leave).

Terrible ergonomics and you have a sore neck by the end of the day, wouldn't recommend it to anyone who has to use a laptop with stand up desks for more than an hour to two. Surprised OSH are not all over this for the later ACC claim for RSI/OOS.

Are you suggesting corporates supply hammocks?

Has anyone compared the savings in cost of office space compared with the loss of productivity of staff working in open plan offices.

Some jobs it makes little difference - however in other jobs the continual interruptions found working in open plan offices can greatly increase the time to do given tasks.

So if you have 1000 staff costing you on average 80,000 per year (full costing) and you loose 20% productivity, then that is a cost of 16 Million per year over the life time of a building. Over 10 years that 160 million.

How much was that extra floor going to cost. yes I know that to provide quality office space would have required numerous extra floors - or perhaps totally new ideas such as distributed offices in cheaper areas out of the city such that people who live north work, north people who live south, work south, same for east and west and have a much smaller office in the centre; use modern communication facilities to facilitate internal communication. I think they are still playing on a variation of last century work space solutions.

It was also common in England in the 1840's, see Charles Dickens' Scrooge for how clerks worked. No sitting down for those lazy blighters !!

great idea for those who never actually do anything!