But my criticisms do not end with the workspace. It's widely noted that a sedentary lifestyle, lived by most tech and knowledge workers, is devastating to health in the workplace. (Check out Get Up and Code for some more motivation than I can muster.) So many developers and other cube-dwellers do nothing but sit for 8 hours a day, using barely-if-at-all ergonomic equipment, most of the time with crappy posture.
So anything that gets a knowledge worker up and out of their seat is a good thing in my book. I love the idea of walking meetings, and I've often had many productive business conversations while walking on the office walking trail. Companies that have walking trails should promote their positive use more and encourage people to do their business in a very healthy way.
So it should come as no surprise that I have been following the trend in the tech culture of hacking your workspace to include those sit-balls, standing desks, and even treadmill desks. Stand while typing? Walk while typing? Walk while coding? Is this uber-productive and healthy, or multi-tasking gone mad?
Hanselman suggests in one of my favorite presentations of all time that one way to make more hours in the day is to do things while exercising. Netflix + treadmill FTW, for example. So it sure makes sense that those of us that work at computers all day should be able to make some use of a standing or treadmill desk.
Walking and standing desks are not really even that novel by now. This experiment has been tried and written about. Over and over and over again, to be sure. I wouldn't call the concept mainstream, by any means, but it's not really new.
For example, I talked to someone at the office that wanted to try a standing desk as maybe being a little easier on the back. I think that's a reasonable request to make, but the individual I spoke to offered that they didn't want to stick out and be the lone person with one-off or weird equipment. It's a little sad to me that someone I know is afraid to ask for something that will physically help them because the culture doesn't encourage them to find the best way to work for them.
So score another one for remote work. In your home office, you have the freedom to set it up the way you want. I recently talked to a company whose entire tech staff all had some form of walking desk, and they all worked from a home office. They suggested that I at least give it a try.
Sounds good. I like to try things.
I have a treadmill that has pretty solid arms on it for support, so I thought I could probably fashion a temporary desk to try it out. I happened to have an 8 ft scrap plank that was just the width of these arms, and some old scrap 2x4 for stabilization. Here's what I came up with...
It starts with the bare treadmill. You can see the arms that I'm going to place the plank on.
|The invisible man went for a walk. Naked. In my shoes!|
Nothing more than a strip of plywood cut to length with a couple 2x4s deck-screwed onto it. The 2x4s sit just outside the rails so that the whole thing won't move left to right.
|A very simple construction.|
|The Invisible Man is now hanging out at the treadmill desk. Still naked, that perv!|
|Here, Gamble helps me put together a top extension to the platform.|
|Much better, but not perfect.|
|Here you can see the finished piece. It's at the perfect height, and you can see the angle I cut the back of the top extension to fit. Note also, the Invisible Man has finished his workout.|
|Sweet. The finished product. The paint is dry to the touch, but looks wet around the edges still.|
I can't give you a full verdict just yet, since I only used it for a couple days before heading to Codemash. Once I had this built, I got on the treadmill. What I can say is that starting out, it's hard to get used to. The first thing I tried to do was read articles on my feedreader, and I found that the side to side motion of my head and body made it a little tough to concentrate on the screen.
I also didn't really know what speed to start at. Some people that use a walking desk recommend 2 mph, so that's where I started. I usually warm up at a walking pace of 3 mph and go from there, but given that this is meant for long periods of time, I figure I'll go slow. My treadmill doesn't really like speeds slower than 2 mph, so this seemed like a good place to start.
After 20 minutes, though, I found that sensation had gone away enough to try typing. I opened up Webmatrix and pulled open the source to www.kevinpdavis.com, I pulled down a NuGet package and included it in a sample page, just to get the feel of coding. It's a little distracting, and I didn't feel that I was super quick. It felt like each thing I did took extra time, but maybe that was just self conscious.
After I got down, I felt a little sore in my back and hips. It's been a while since I've been on regular exercise, so this isn't a huge surprise, but definitely unwelcome (that said, this is why I'm looking at using a treadmill desk, after all).
So this morning, I tried again. I've written this entire article while standing, and it's been relatively comfortable the whole time. I got right up to speed and started typing right away, and haven't really felt weird about it (well, maybe a couple times, but only for a minute or so). It's been roughly an hour, however, and I'm starting to get tight in the hips and back, so it's probably time to stop for now, right at the hour mark.
For us coders, a big question is whether it's possible to get into the zone while walking. Can you concentrate on a difficult problem, using whatever tools you like, while walking. I very much wanted to figure it out, so I made another attempt, this time with some work I needed to get done.
And it turns out yes, it's totally possible to code. You eventually just kinda forget you're walking. Until you get tired, or you get a little thirsty (the shelf is big and sturdy enough, however, to handle a beverage on it, but remembering to keep hydrated isn't obvious).
One thing I did notice is that after I got off, I had sea legs, where it was almost weird to not be walking. I'd heard similar things from people who use walking desks, so it didn't surprise me that much.
If you have any feedback, recommendations, or experiences, I'd love to hear about them in the comments or on twitter @kevinpdavis.