Innovative Desk Makers Take A Stand Against Sitting At Work

By Alejandra Cancino
Chicago Tribune.


The hottest trend in office furniture is standing desks because sitting is believed to be unhealthy, “the new smoking.” That’s created yet another wave of products for people who like the idea of standing but aren’t necessarily committed to it.

“Most people, 70 percent, leave (the standing desk) parked in a sitting position,” J.P. Labrosse, founder and CEO of Stir, said at the recent NeoCon office furniture trade show in Chicago.

In response, Stir created a desk that can be programmed to prod users off their posteriors with soft vibrations. The desk comes in two models, the F1, priced at $4,190, and the M1, a curvier style, at $2,990.

The desk’s technology gets to know its users in about 20 days. It then uses data to pinpoint when users are more likely to respond to reminders and stay on track with their goals for standing up. For instance, users can program the desk to keep them up for half of their workday but for just 20 minutes at a time. The desk would do the math and send a reminder when it’s time to get up.

Usage data is reported back to Stir, which compiles the information without names and provides it to the employees’ companies, which they can use to check whether workers are in fact standing. The idea is for companies to use the data to try to lower health insurance costs, Labrosse said.

Then there are office workers who like standing desks but not necessarily standing.

That’s where Focal Upright sees its market. The company’s best-selling item is the Mogo, a $100 one-legged stool that allows a person to lean back in a neutral pose, not fully seated and not fully standing. The stool’s seat cushion is designed to accommodate the natural curvature of the buttocks.

Martin Keen, Focal Upright’s co-founder, said he’s sold more than 7,500 Mogos since his Rhode Island-based company released the stool two years ago.

“We are gaining traction,” he said.

To promote Mogo, Keen and his wife, Mary, are marketing the health benefits of being in a neutral position that they claim helps users forget their bodies and instead focus on increasing productivity.

To demonstrate the Mogo’s health benefits, the Keens offered a morning yoga class at a pop-up shop in Chicago during the trade show. Participants wearing office attire planted their feet on the floor, rested their buttocks on the Mogo and lifted their arms high above their heads.

“Look up,” said the yoga instructor. “Press your seat bones down into your seat.”

The Keens followed along on their Mogos, stretching their arms, legs, back and neck muscles. In the quest for perfect posture, the Keens were trying to find their balance.

Office furniture makers say the biggest challenge to selling standing desks is persuading companies to buy them because the desks are expensive and they think employees won’t use them. That’s why some companies are selling out-of-the-box stations that sit atop regular desks.

Coppell, Texas-based Varidesk, for example, offers four models priced between $275 and $400.

Jason McCann, Varidesk’s chief executive, said the company grew out of the need to find a standing desk for an employee who had back problems. He couldn’t find an affordable product that was easy to install, so he created an adjustable desk and, about two years ago, put the design on the market. Varidesk now employs about 60 people and has sold desks in all 50 states, McCann said.

McCann said Varidesk’s selling feature is its simplicity. To raise or lower it, the user grabs the desk from the sides and squeezes the handles. It locks into position and it’s ready to use.

“It’s not about standing, but about staying active,” McCann said.

Then there’s Justin Lucas, who wants to make desks smarter.

Lucas, director of partnerships at Autonomous, said the California-based startup raised $285,422 on Kickstarter to develop a standing desk with a virtual office assistant named Maya. The desk with the assistant sells for $599 on IndieGogo, where the company raised more than $67,000. It includes a wireless charging pad, a USB charger, an HD speaker, and bag and key hangers. Lucas said it will start shipping in the fourth quarter.

Maya can handle small tasks like calling a cab or ordering your favorite food. To do so, developers connect Autonomous software to such service partners. In the future, Lucas said, developers will create more apps to work with the software and make Maya a robot that’s affordable and consumer friendly.

Some day Maya might interact with devices like the coffee maker, work as an alarm clock that also tracks heart rate and as a stylist that knows the contents of your closet and suggests what to wear.

“There are a lot of smart desks out there, but nothing is exciting or new,” Lucas said. “We want to provide that excitement.”

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