Making my workspace more ergonomic with a standing desk

I spend a lot of time at my desk. Many of us do these days, with software eating the world and all. That’s why I’ve put some effort (and money) into creating a more ergonomic workspace. I’ve focused on three main areas for this: the keyboard and mouse, the chair, and the desk itself. Fortunately it wasn’t pain or discomfort that prompted these changes and hopefully by making them proactively I’ll remain pain and discomfort free!

Ikea Bekant Sit/Stand Desk

Keyboard & Mouse

I started with the keyboard and mouse, which I have written about previously. I went with the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, which you can get on Amazon for just over $100. An ergonomic keyboard definitely takes some getting used to, but I would never go back now. I do end up typing quite a bit on my Surface Pro keyboard when I’m not at home, but after a while I definitely find myself missing the Sculpt Keyboard. If I’m going to do a serious amount of typing, such as when I’m writing a blog post, I try to make sure I’m using it. It may not be the most ergonomic keyboard you can get, but it does tick a lot of the boxes for an ergonomic setup like the palm rest, split design, and natural arc. The mouse too has the thumb scoop and height to ensure your wrist is in a more comfortable position. Overall I’ve been very happy with this setup.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop


The next thing I decided to improve was my chair. For years I had been using a pretty basic office chair from Staples. It worked fine and did have a curved back which offered some support but after years of abuse it was starting to show its age. It was time to replace it anyway, so getting a more ergonomic one just made sense.

I read quite a bit about office chairs (or “task chairs”) and the different factors you should look for. I very quickly realized that if I wanted to, I could spend thousands of dollars on a chair! I decided my budget was going to be quite a bit less than that, hopefully below $500. I read a lot of reviews, but this one from The Wirecutter had a big impact on my decision. Their recommendation was the Steelcase Leap, but at around $1000 it was a bit too rich for me. Fortunately they also had a strong recommendation for a less expensive chair: the Ikea Markus Swivel chair which you can get for about $229. Here’s what they wrote:

“I don’t think the Markus would be a bad choice for someone who would never consider paying $800 for a chair, no way no how. It definitely never felt like my chair the way the Leap or the Embody did, in large part due to that limited adjustability. And I strongly believe that most people would find the Leap or the Embody far more comfortable than the Markus, in an immediate sense and over time. But in terms of the ergonomic criteria mentioned by the experts above, the Markus will be sound for most, except perhaps the tallest users.”

I’m definitely not the tallest person so that didn’t worry me. And it does have less adjustability than other, more expensive chairs; you can’t adjust the lumbar support, the head rest, or the depth of the seat pan. But other than that, it more than meets my criteria for an ergonomic chair. I’ve been extremely happy with it! I particularly like the mesh back and how thin it is. I didn’t think I’d like the headrest, but after months of use I’m sold.

Ikea MARKUS Swivel Chair

Of course, sitting properly and getting the benefits of a well-designed chair is easier said than done. I know it’s important to sit as far back in the seat as possible, so that my lower back is against the lumbar support. But even with the ability to recline, I found myself slouching too often. So I added a footrest and that made a huge difference. Now when I’m sitting at the desk, I make sure my feet are up on the footrest and it helps me ensure I’ve got the correct posture. It’s a simple change, but it made a big difference.

Standing Desk

You know what they say: sitting is the new smoking. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that sitting too much is bad, of course. Getting up and walking around has always made me feel better. I tend to pace when I’m on a call and I often try to go for a walk after sitting for a while. It helps to both clear my head and to keep my energy up.

Still, I have long wanted a standing desk. I’ve seen them in other offices and was always immediately jealous. I tried to approximate a standing desk on more than one occasion, using the counter, boxes on a table, whatever. But I wanted the real thing. While I again did a bunch of research on standing desks, I was pretty set on getting the Ikea Bekant Sit/Stand Desk from the moment it was announced. Not only was it electronically adjustable from 22″ to 48″ at the press of a button, it was less than $1000! Just like a good chair, standing desks can cost multiple thousands of dollars. For my first one, I wasn’t prepared to spend that much.

The only problem is that Ikea seems to have been plagued by supply issues. As I write this, the desk I bought isn’t even listed on Ikea Canada’s website anymore (the normal one, not the corner or five-sided which both still appear). For months it appeared but showed no inventory. Eventually I decided to just ask in the store itself and discovered that while the tabletops are available in self-serve, the motorized underframe is only available from the back warehouse. I was able to pay for it at customer service and then just had to wait for a few minutes while it was brought out to me. The frame cost $500 and the tabletop was another $90. That’s an amount I was comfortable spending for my first standing desk!

Mack at the Standing Desk

I’ve had it for about a month now and I love it. And yes, I really do switch between standing and sitting quite a bit.

I had read a few comments online that suggested it was a little wobbly, and while it is indeed less stable than my previous desk, it’s far from an issue. I have it setup right on the carpet and I barely notice it, on a more solid surface I’m sure it would be even less noticeable. The desk is a bit bigger than my previous one, but it feels like it takes up less room because of the open sides.

While the desk itself has a pretty smart design to hide its own cables underneath, I didn’t think about the impact of having a height adjustable desk on my other cords. With my previous desk, I had them zip-tied to try to keep things tidy, but with the standing desk they need to have enough give to allow the desk to move up and down. I still need to think of a better solution to make my setup look cleaner, but it’s fine for now.

I can see how it would be handy to have presets, which is a feature some of the more expensive standing desks offer. But on the other hand it’s great to be able to move the desk up or down ever so slightly too. I can generally adjust the height into my “sitting” and “standing” heights using landmarks (the lightswitch on the wall, the armrests on the chair, etc.). It’s pretty impressive to me how quick moving the desk up and down is.

Ikea Bekant Sit/Stand Desk

I did make two additional changes to try to improve the ergonomics of my standing desk. The first was to add risers to lift the monitors up a bit higher (unfortunately mine are not height adjustable on their own and I’m not ready to replace them yet). Without the risers, I was looking down at the screens too much (don’t let the angle of the photo above fool you). I may raise them higher still, I’m still experimenting with that.

The second was to get an anti-fatigue mat. I went with the Imprint CumulusPro Commercial Grade which was a bit more expensive but was totally worth it. It’s surprising how much of a difference it makes when you’re standing for any length of time! I do of course have to move the mat when I want to switch into sitting mode, but this only takes a few seconds and as a bonus I move it into the kitchen where we’ve also enjoyed using it.

I find myself standing most in the early part of the day which also happens to be when I’m generally on Skype. It’s especially handy now that we have started using video at work so much more. Without the standing desk, I couldn’t pace as I like to do when I need to be on video. Having a standing desk means I can still move around and remain in frame.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my standing desk is how much Sharon has used it! It’s been weeks since she last used her laptop on the dining room table (her preferred desk). Fortunately the Bekant is large enough at 63″ x 31.5″ that we can both fit comfortably side-by-side with plenty of room to spare.

Overall I’m really happy with my setup right now. I have better posture and I can easily switch between sitting or standing.

Collaboration & Community: Edmonton New Technology Society (ENTS)

Nearly a year ago while in Vancouver I took some time to check out WorkSpace, a shared workspace located in the historic Gastown neighbourhood. I had been reading about the concept for quite a while and after seeing one in action, I knew that I’d get use out of a collaborative workspace (they’re also known as hackerspaces or innovation commons). The ability to have an office without having an office, and to meet and network with other local creatives is just so appealing. I’ve been wishing for one here in Edmonton ever since.

Now, it looks like I’m going to get my wish!

The Edmonton New Technology Society, or ENTS, is a new non-profit organization that is working to bring a collaborative workspace to our city. They’ve come together incredibly quickly over the last couple of months, and while they don’t officially have a space yet, they’re incredibly close. I’ve been quite impressed with the progress they’ve made in such a short amount of time.

The society has seven directors currently: Stephen Olesen (President), Rob Davy (Vice-President), Eric Warnke, Graham Batty, Matt Mercer, Jeff O’Toole, and Don Egliniski. Roughly 55 people have joined the society so far, paying a nominal $20 membership fee. As Graham told me, “this project will be nothing without people engaged and interested,” so that’s been a big focus for the group. They’ve made use of both social media and face-to-face gatherings to spur interest. Stephen says that “Twitter has certainly been one of the largest driving factors in informing people and getting to know the majority of members.” Early discussions used the hashtag #yegspace, but they’ve since switched to #ents. You can follow ENTS on Twitter here.

ENTS held its first AGM on June 7th, and has hosted a number of informal gatherings since. Rob and a few of the other directors presented ENTS at BarCamp last month, and Wings Nights have been popular. The most recent took place on Tuesday at the Elephant & Castle downtown which about 30 people attended.

ENTS Wings NightFree beer! London Pride

Another focus has been finding a space. It is on this task that the group’s commitment to allowing the members to drive things is most evident. They polled their members and quickly found that office space wouldn’t be enough – members wanted a “dirty” place to work too, so that they could experiment with hardware, robotics, etc. The space they’ve found fits both needs perfectly. Located at 10575 114th street, it is already nicely separated. Here’s the office space:

And here’s the dirty space:

You can see more photos of the space here. They’ve done a few tours already, so a number of the members have already seen it. If all goes well, ENTS should be moving in by the end of the month (and will need help with that so feel free to volunteer).

Both Eric and Stephen agreed that financing the project has been one of the biggest challenges. In addition to collecting membership fees, ENTS has been actively seeking projects and partners to help raise money. They found a powerful ally in the City of Edmonton IT branch recently:

The City of Edmonton is looking to have ENTS host some exciting events within the Edmonton technical community. The City of Edmonton is committed to supporting us in our core goals of social collaboration and innovation within Edmonton, and we’re very glad to have the support of the city in our endeavours.

I’d say that’s more proof that the City’s IT branch is transforming for the better. I’m excited to see what ENTS can accomplish with the events, and I’ve offered to help where I can.

Finally, I asked the directors what they hoped to accomplish with ENTS. I like what Eric had to say:

We’re all about collaboration, it’s in our mission. We want to foster the tech community in Edmonton and give people the opportunity to learn something new while teaching others what they already know. We’re about making Edmonton a better place through technology.

If you’d like to join ENTS, fill out the membership application online. For the latest news and updates, check out their blog and Twitter feed. They’ve also got forums and a wiki.

Congratulations to ENTS on everything they’ve been able to accomplish thus far! I’m really looking forward to seeing the society grow and evolve, and to being able to use the space of course.

More on co-working

coworking A couple weeks ago I posted about WorkSpace in Vancouver, and suggested it would be good to have something similar in Edmonton. Clearly I’m not the only one, as there were quite a few comments on both that post and Twitter. Cam posted a link to Edmonton’s Beans and Boardrooms, which while not quite the same concept, looks interesting.

Last week Sharon sent me this Globe and Mail article on Citizen Space in San Francisco:

Sebastien Provencher takes the bus into San Francisco for another day at the office. At the third-floor loft of Citizen Space, he sits at a desk, fires up his laptop and gets to work.

This type of service, known as co-working, lets travellers like Provencher rent a desk in a communal setting. Once mainly the province of tech-oriented freelancers, co-working centres are attracting a broader spectrum of consultants and small-business people in search of space to work – and network – on the road.

Citizen Space and WorkSpace sound very similar. The most interesting part of the article is found near the end:

Today, there are co-working sites across the country that welcome out-of-town visitors, including others in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Thunder Bay; others in Calgary, Guelph, Ont., and Halifax are in various stages of development.

And not surprisingly, given their appeal to jet setters, co-working sites are establishing global connections. The Hub, which is scheduled to open this fall in Halifax, will be linked to 13 sites worldwide including space in London, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo. Members of one site will get privileges at the other spaces.

You can check out The Hub Halifax here (and their excellent links page here). Being connected to other sites around the world would be good for travellers, but I think WorkSpace and The Hub probably have very different clientele for the most part.

Apparently WorkSpace and Citizen Space are trying to form a similar network. I think that makes sense. As more and more similar spaces crop up, those connections will become really valuable.

I’m curious to know what’s going on Calgary – anyone have any information?

Who knows if or when something will get going here in Edmonton, but at least we know there are existing resources and people to tap into for help.

Edmonton could use a place like WorkSpace

A few years ago I started reading about shared workspaces. In particular, I was interested in what Boris Mann started calling The Innovation Commons – a place for “creatives” to gather and feed off one another. These are physical places, with tables and chairs and Internet connections. They are perfect for programmers, designers, mobile workers, and others who don’t necessarily need office space of their own. I love the concept, and I am happy to see it catching on in a number of places. In Toronto, there’s the Centre for Social Innovation and in Vancouver, there’s WorkSpace. I took some time to visit WorkSpace when I was there a couple weeks ago.


Located at 21 Water Street in Gastown, WorkSpace is in a historic and unique area of Vancouver. It’s fourth floor view of the harbour is quite impressive. Sharon and I met Dane Brown, who gave us a quick tour and let us explore the place for a bit. There are small offices that can be used for breakout rooms, a larger meeting room, and lots of open space with tables and chairs. There are also private offices available, and a small cafe at the front. WorkSpace is even equipped with a shower!

Instead of renting space as you would in a traditional office building environment, WorkSpace is membership-based. For $95 per month, you can use the space after 4:30pm on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday. The rates go up from there. Full-time access costs $495 per month, and the private desks cost $595 per month. There are also drop-in prices available, starting at $25 for half a day. WorkSpace currently has about 70 members.

I think Edmonton could definitely use something like WorkSpace. Dickson and I originally got an office for Paramagnus because we knew that being in the same room together often has a really positive effect. We ended up getting rid of the office because we didn’t need it all the time, and it got to be too expensive. WorkSpace would have given us the best of both worlds.

There are lots of interesting, creative people in Edmonton working from their bedrooms and basements. Opportunities to connect are somewhat rare though, limited to events like BarCamp. I can’t even begin to imagine how positive something like WorkSpace would be!

I know I’d be a paying member if we had something like WorkSpace in Edmonton. What do you think? Would you find such a facility useful?