The product I’ve been most impressed with so far this year isn’t digital — it’s an electric desk by Anthro, the Oregon-located makers of ergonomic technology furniture. I’ve been using their Elevate II desk for a few weeks, and it already feels completely indispensable and a surprisingly big life change, much like the feeling I got when I first used an iPad.
An electric desk sounds like a rather decadent luxury item that some trust fund ‘entrepreneur’ might buy for his or her chic ‘office’’, but the reality in use is more like the difference between flying coach and first class, or driving several hundred miles in a luxury car instead of an econobox. The Elevate II is a really well-designed, solid device that is remarkably efficient at making a long day of desk work much more physically comfortable.
Height-adjustable desks and tables are of course well-known for standing up and working, which has great health benefits. We’re not really designed to spend hours hunched up in a chair looking at screens on a fixed focal plane and talking on the phone. Where I’ve found the Elevate II really shines though is in frequently changing monitor height.
I’m writing this now sitting and looking down at my big iMac screen at the lowest setting which is allowing me to to stretch out my neck a bit. After a while I’ll probably bring it up a foot or so with a touch of the up button to neutralize my neck position, and I’ve found watching video and reading can be more relaxing if I sit low and have the screen quite high so that I’m leaned back, taking all the pressure off my neck and back.
A weakness with standing desks is often that long legs translate into a rather wobbly surface, unless the design and construction materials are well thought through. Anthro’s Elevate II is well-engineered and very robust — when up high it has no feel of looseness, and will apparently lift 150 pounds. My only negative is that the base has two rollers at the back to make it easy to move the surface around, which would be great in an open plan space where you want to scoot your desk over to a cluster of other people. The downside is a lack of locking mechanism, which means on a wooden floor like mine, if you’re propped up against your desk it may move a little. (A strategically located eraser seems to solve the problem).
There’s plenty of evidence that constant sitting is incredibly bad for you and that standing is our natural state, but everyone’s body and physical needs are different. There’s a slightly gonzo movement for ‘walking workstations’ with exercise equipment built in, for those who like to keep moving. Steelcase’s pricy $4k Walkstation is a good example of this. There is some research evidence that attempting to type and walk doesn’t bring out the best in us, but, again, everyone has different cognitive and motor skills.
I occasionally use my indo board, which is basically a plank of wood on a big roller to help your balancing skills, while on passive conference calls (it can be embarrassing falling off without the mute button on), but I can’t imagine attempting to type or concentrate on anything complex while working on my coordination. I’m sure some people could work all day on a balance board; we’re all different.
The Elevate II hits a good middle ground for me (I type this as I bring the desk to standing height) in fitting in with what you’re doing at any moment in time and keeping yourself fresh. Lots of office-bound people bring their own ergonomic chair to work, and I could see BYOF (Bring Your Own Furniture) taking off in a big way.
I assembled the Elevate II from flatpack delivery to my home office. It’s heavy and large, and comes ensconced in a lot of cardboard and expanded polystyrene, so you may need help maneuvering it all into position. The assembly instructions were reasonable, but the pre-drilled desk underside took quite a bit of figuring out to establish what screwed into where. Anthro provide a phone help line which I didn’t need to call, and they also provide all the fasteners bagged up and labeled along with all the tools you need. I put it all together solo and didn’t need help flipping it over, but given that it is pretty sturdy, others may need help — it would be easier with two people, and you’re less likely to damage the top surface.
Once together and plugged in, the Elevate II immediately worked flawlessly and was a bit of a revelation in liberating me from fixed posture prison. I have a great Herman Miller Embody chair, but I’d say getting an Elevate II is a better investment for your ergonomics. I long for them both when I’m working elsewhere, which really made me realize how important they are to the quality of my work life. When I’m concentrating, I tend to become less aware of my body until something starts hurting.
Overall, I’d say the Anthro Elevate II is a great value for the made in the USA price, and comes from a vendor who has been focused on quality ergonomic furniture for healthcare, corporate, home office and creative professionals since the 80’s. (They also make multiple tablet charging carts and cabinets for our rapidly expanding and evolving PC world).