Standing up for editing

No, not a post about the many good reasons to employ an editor. (Sorry to disappoint: I’ll happily write that one some other time.) This is a post about office furniture.

I am only 5 ft tall (approx. 150 cm) and have always had problems with desk and chair height. For years I’ve had elaborate workarounds, but I have finally given in to the hype and invested in a standing desk. This post explains why I chose the VariDesk, how I’ve got on with it over the past six months, and gives a bit of an insight into a typical editor’s working day.

Occupational hazards

Editors and writers inevitably spend a lot of time at their desks. These days we are bashing on keyboards and staring at screens. In the not-so-distant past, we were tapping on typewriters and shuffling piles of papers. Either way, the default position for most of us was ‘bums on seats’.

That wasn’t always the case for proofreaders, however. Those who worked in the newspaper industry often checked galleys or page proofs while perched on a tall stool, staring at the material clipped to a drafting table (perhaps not as smart as these: aren’t they gorgeous).

There has been a lot of press coverage in recent years that we all need to move about more, at the very least to prevent the nasty problem of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The health benefits claimed for standing up to work range from potential weight loss to back-pain cure-alls.

I have always had problems with my desk set up. When I worked in-house, my employers always did their best to accommodate me. The Health and Safety Executive guidance, Seating at work, states [my italics]:

Unsuitable seating can cause people to adopt awkward postures which can lead to discomfort, back pain and upper limb disorders. This may prove costly to employers in the form of staff absences, potential civil claims and lost production. Individuals also bear some of the costs in the form of suffering and lost income.

Employers, the self-employed, and people in control of non-domestic premises used as a workplace have a general duty to ensure that seating is safe and that it does not pose a health risk to employees, or to others who may use their premises.

In fact, about 25 years ago I did have time off work for exactly that reason, after a particularly busy period of intense typesetting activity. (Ironically, one of the tasks I’d been working on was the production of a health and safety manual for engineers and electricians.)

Since then, I have always been very careful to sit comfortably and take regular breaks. These days my trusty Office Assistance (Matty) helps to make sure of that: early morning and lunch-time walkies are good for pepping you up for concentration time.

Getting down to my level

The world is not an easy place to navigate if you are slightly under (or over) ‘average’ height. Trousers are too long (as are tops, sleeves and jackets), worktops are too high, and wall cupboards and bookshelves are … well, suffice to say I married a tall man (6 ft 4 in) who helps to solve that particular problem.

My first work-at-home office desk was a standard Ikea model, but it wasn’t long before I needed to upgrade to a more adjustable (lower base height) version. I’ve had my Ikea BEKANT corner desk for about 10 years and it’s still going strong.

I also have a fairly basic Ikea office chair. I’ve rejected more expensive options because, again, being short, I need a chair where the seat is shallow enough so that I don’t get chair-in-the-back-of-knees syndrome.

My desk is at its lowest possible height; likewise my chair. I have a fancy 3M adjustable footrest. I’m fairly comfortable, but tend to find that I end up sitting too still for long periods. This happens because, once I get deep into an edit with maximum concentration, the time whizzes by. Before you know it a couple of shuffle-free hours have passed, and my posterior is beginning to numb!

Tried, tested and rejected

I have periodically trundled off to department stores to try out other chairs, but nothing (save the super-expensive varieties) has hit the mark. I’ve also considered, tried and rejected kneeling chairs (ouch!) and fitness-ball seating (hard work!).

I’d heard a few other editors talk about standing desks and I know of two who use them regularly and so, with the years marching quickly on, and the numbness becoming more of a worry – and on the recommendation of a couple of colleagues who work in-house – I decided a standing desk would be the way to go. Off I went back to Ikea. They have several models these days, from budget ‘laptop station’ to ‘executive’. I was impressed with the motorised version of the BEKANT, and quite tempted by the wind-up one which they don’t seem to stock any more. I scouted out a few in John Lewis too.

The problem with most of those was that I have lots of things on my desk (radio, pen/pencil stand, ‘to do heap’), and I didn’t need to have the whole thing moving up and down – crucially – potentially knocking my tea over.

So in the end I plumped for the VeriDesk CubeCorner, which someone had recommended to me.

Pros … and cons

The pluses, for me are:

  • No assembly required: works straight out of the box (see photo);
  • Fits neatly onto my existing desk (see photo);
  • Acts as a workstation, without taking up space for my to do heap, or my cuppa;
  • Accommodates my laptop and my larger screen;
  • Has raised the height of both, which makes them right in my eye-line, instead of looking down on them;
  • Easy to raise/lower with minimal fuss (v. important: doesn’t wake the snoozing office assistant);
  • Numerous heights are possible – so being a short standing editor doesn’t matter.

 

VariDesk as deliveredVariDeskVariDesk in situ

 

 

 

 

Standing desk in action

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there are a few cons:

  • My (wired) keyboard sits comfortably on the platform, as does my (wired) mouse, and a notebook. But there is slightly less depth than before, so I’ve needed to adopt a less florid mouse action (or else fall off the platform). That took a bit of getting used to.
  • Having the keyboard on the platform, permanently, has raised it up a bit higher than comfortable, so I’ve needed to adjust my chair upwards an inch. But it’s ideal when in the standing position.
  • Luckily all my peripherals have long enough wires to reach the USB hub, in both raised and lowered positions. Do check your wiring requirements if you consider getting a standing desk: I’ve heard people complaining that they’d overlooked this issue. If you have all wireless devices, this isn’t an issue.

 

Fit and healthy?

The crucial question is: has it improved my health? Lots of articles in recent years have suggested that “sitting is the new smoking” (i.e. bad for your health). I’m already fairly active, thanks to Office Assistant, weekly yoga, swimming and general buzzing around doing things. It would be good to report that I’ve lost a few pounds as a result of standing up more but, although I have lost a few pounds this year, that’s more likely to have been because I’ve carried on my dry January right through the year – so it’s not exactly a controlled experiment.

Nevertheless, I definitely like to work standing up. It feels dynamic.

It also makes it easier to reach out for things (less backache heaving the dictionary off the nearby bookshelf), and I can dance around a bit if Radio 3 (work radio station of choice) plays something groovy!

It has certainly reduced the dead-leg feeling that sometimes crept in towards the end of a hectic week at the editorial coal-face.

 

Office Assistant having a snooze

Office Assistant having a well-earned snooze

 

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