Standing while coding may boost developer productivity

Lisa Morgan
June 26, 2013 —  (Page 1 of 3)
Reflecting a wider workplace trend, more software engineers are replacing their traditional desks with standing desks, walking desks or adjustable desks in hopes of becoming healthier—or at least more comfortable throughout the day. It turns out they are also becoming more productive.

Take Fullpower Technologies CEO and serial entrepreneur Philippe Kahn. While other CEOs prefer the comfort of leather executive chairs and cherrywood desks, Kahn prefers keeping his body and his mind in motion using a walking desk that features a built-in treadmill.

He has always integrated some sort of exercise into his workday (jogging, biking or sailing) to improve his health and professional effectiveness. Apparently his approach gave him an edge, if founding four successful companies, inventing the camera phone, or coming up with medical technology serve as any indications. About 18 months ago, he added a walking desk to his routine so he could work and exercise at the same time. There are now 10 such desks at Fullpower.

“I find that being more active always makes me more creative,” said Kahn. “Sitting in a rolling chair, eating Doritos and gulping Red Bull all day doesn’t make me more creative even if at first I think that it does.”

While other software team leaders agree that a vertical physical orientation yields health and productivity benefits, most are stationary while they code or design software, not walking. First, walking desks are considerably more expensive than standing desks (a couple of thousand dollars versus a few hundred dollars or less). Second, walking desks require more space because the desk is perpendicular to the treadmill. Finally, the idea of walking and coding simultaneously represents more stimuli than the average developer’s brain wants to handle. Even developers who stand while they code say walking would be too distracting.

Kahn, who still codes, disagrees. “I regularly walk 20,000+ steps without even noticing,” he said. “It's really a natural thing to do.”

The options
Standing desks, walking desks and adjustable desks are commercially available, although some teams are cobbling them together using whatever components are available in the office. Kahn’s team builds their own walking desks or buys them from TreadDesk.

“We all spend too much time sitting,” Kahn said. “[The walking desk] is a way to make a lifestyle change and become more productive. Suddenly we can be in motion without leaving our desks.”

While the average person walks about 3 mph, those using walking desks tend to move considerably slower. Kahn recommended starting at a speed of about 0.5 mph, for example.

ISV SaltStack and mobile platform provider Point Inside use standing desks built with components from Ikea. SaltStack CTO Tom Hatch said his developers stand about two-thirds of the day because the combination of standing and sitting makes them feel better physically, and they are able to concentrate for longer periods of time.

Bill Johnson, location manager at Point Inside, said his post-lunch energy dip vanished.

“I used to drink a sugared drink to compensate, but that’s not the case anymore,” he said. “I’m more focused, I can concentrate longer, and my productivity has improved.”

Cloud storage and collaboration solution provider Box uses electrically adjustable desks that raise and lower at the press of a button. In the beginning it made makeshift standing desks out of cardboard boxes, but now there are 700 to 800 adjustable desks at the company, and 60% to 70% of the engineers are using them at any given time.

“I can concentrate longer if I can change the mode from sitting to standing,” said Michael Smith, product manager at Box. “You’re more likely to be productive if you can change your environment.”

Pavel Grigorenko, a research engineer at ZeroTurnaround, said seven of the 20 engineers at his Estonia office have electrically adjustable desks, but everyone is clamoring for them. At the office in America, the company’s CEO, as well as the sales and marketing departments, are also standing while they work.

“I’ve been using the adjustable desk for three or four months, and I can’t imagine sitting all day now,” said Grigorenko. “I sit in a high chair about 30% of the time because standing all the time isn’t good for you either. I have a white board behind me so I can just turn and draw when I’m standing, which makes me more productive. If I were sitting all day, I’d be too lazy to get up.”

Related Search Term(s): ergonomics, standing desks

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07/14/2013 02:29:06 PM EST

I've had a "Next Desk" standing desk and LifeSpan walking treadmill for four months - and love it. I walk an average of 20 miles a day at 2 miles per hour. It hurt at first, but once my legs got used to it, I am now more comfortable walking than standing or even sitting. I've lost weight and rarely stop when emergencies arise. It is definitely healthier for me, but I also find I can concentrate as well if not better than when I used to sit for hours. Changed my life.

United StatesDavid Leppek

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