At most offices, lying back and kicking your feet up is a good way to draw stares and contempt. But a pair of Bay Area engineers think a chair-and-desk combo that switches between sitting, standing, and reclining positions is the next big tool for worker productivity and health.
The idea for the Altwork Station, as the project is called, started in 2010, when engineer and serial entrepreneur John Speicher injured his back playing hockey and couldn't sit in a regular chair for 10 minutes without feeling pain. So he started experimenting with creating a reclining workspace, and liked it so much that he stuck with it after his back healed and he could sit normally.
The desk is scheduled to hit the market in mid-2016 at a price of $5,900. Altwork, which has raised more than $1 million in seed and angel funding, hasn't released the number of pre-orders it has received, but co-founder Che Voigt, who is also a serial entrepreneur, says it is "far beyond anything we hoped for."
The desk has a layer of steel under the surface and comes with a magnet kit, which keeps the keyboard and mouse in place. A series of buttons on the desk can make the seat rise or recline, and controls a metal arm holding the computer monitor.
Many entrepreneurs have tried to rethink the standard office desk in recent years, as studies have shown that sitting for long stretches of time is correlated with health problems like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Standing desks, which have become a popular alternative, also have drawn scrutiny after research showed that standing for long periods is associated with an increased risk for developing varicose veins and muscle fatigue. A variety of products aiming to address that issue have popped up recently, including a desk that resembles a hamster wheel and balancing platforms that keep your legs moving while you work.
Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell University who studies the health effects of workplace design, says that the key to staying healthy at a desk job is switching positions throughout the day. That idea was the inspiration for Altwork's chair, which easily transitions between a wide range of positions.
Voigt says he likes to start off the day standing, and switches to sitting before lunch. He paces when talking on the phone, so he switches back to a standing position during calls so he can still access his computer. "And if I'm going to do a passive activity, like watching a video, I'll do it laid back," Voigt says.
Of course the Altwork Station isn't for everyone--or for every office. If you keep a pen and paper on your desk, for instance, they will fly off when you switch to a reclining position. "If your computer activities can be replaced with a tablet, it's probably not for you," says Voigt, who thinks the desk will be most popular among Silicon Valley types. "It's designed for the person who designed that tablet."
For a closer look at the desk, check out the video below.