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The modern workspace would hardly have been recognizable 20 years ago: We’ve gone from hardwired phones to roaming telepresence robots, from static whiteboards to Internet-connected ones, and from sitting desks to workstations that let you walk in place — all while pairing wirelessly with your many devices. This week’s suite ofRe/code Reviews is about our individual experiences with some of these new, cutting-edge solutions.
Some of these products might typically require buy-in from a corporate IT department (or at least a fat wallet). But the growing trend in “BYOD” means that consumers have more influence than ever when it comes to workplace technology. According to research firm Gartner, 70 percent of mobile professionals will conduct their work on their own personal mobile devices by the year 2018.
What follows is a one-month experience with a treadmill desk, one of many options for people who feel they might be too sedentary during the work day.
You’ve likely heard it by now: We really should get up off our butts instead of slumping over our computers all day, nibbling Swedish Fish and sipping Starbucks. Sitting — “the new cancer,” as some are calling it — is bad for our overall well-being.
For the past month, I’ve been practicing not sitting while testing LifeSpan’s TR1200-DT7 Treadmill Desk. It’s just one of the many devices you or your company can buy to make you a healthier, happier worker … or at least, that’s the line you can use on your boss when she or he hears it costs $1,999.
I can honestly report that I feel better — physically and mentally — when I work and walk rather than work and sit. I initially worried that moving would make working difficult, but I was walking so slowly that I had no trouble reading and typing. Most of the time, I forgot I was walking, and an hour and a half would pass before I sat down again. I used the desk most often in the afternoon, just around the time when I used to stand up and walk somewhere to buy a snack.
But using a treadmill desk comes with its own challenges.
You won’t likely want to do a video call while walking, as a courtesy to your fellow callers, who might find all of your movements distracting. And a treadmill desk can make using a mouse or trackpad tough. For example, it can be challenging to get your cursor in a precise spot, like a number in an Excel cell, when you’re moving.
You also need to consider your shoes: Even comfy ballet flats or low-heeled boots can get sweaty after long periods of walking. I quickly learned to keep a pair of gym socks and sneakers at my office. But that small step of changing into sneakers deterred me on a few occasions. (I should add that I’m also six months pregnant, so bending down to tie shoelaces is a struggle.)
LifeSpan made its name in exercise equipment, including treadmills, and ventured into the office-furniture space to create its first treadmill desk in 2011. If LifeSpan’s desk designs don’t appeal to you, the company partners with desk manufacturers like Uplift andXybix to give you a LifeSpan treadmill with your preferred desk design. Or, if you already have a standing desk, one of three standalone LifeSpan treadmills can fit below the desk, and each comes with a console that rests on your desk. These range from $800 to $2,000.
Steelcase, another player in the treadmill desk space, came into the market from a different direction: It’s known for office equipment, but ventured into the fitness arena to make its first treadmill desk in 2007. It currently offers two models, for $4,459 and $4,629. Unlike LifeSpan, Steelcase doesn’t make standalone treadmills for use under desks.
The treadmill desk I’ve been using, LifeSpan’s DT7 model, became available last summer and is the company’s newest. It looks like a traditional standing desk with a low-profile treadmill tucked underneath. A one-line number display rotates through your stats, and you can pull on an emergency cord to stop the treadmill immediately. But I found I wasn’t particularly interested in my walking statistics. Using this thing is about just getting up and moving.
The desk can connect via Bluetooth to LifeSpan’s Android app or Mac desktop app; an iOS app is planned for later this year. It wirelessly sends data from your walks, including time, distance, steps and calories, to these apps. The apps then sync that data to something called your LifeSpan Club account, which is a website designed for holding your walking stats, goals and personal health metrics.
But when I accessed my account using the Mac app, it felt clunky. I didn’t like taking the extra step of visiting a website to set goals, enter my health metrics and check my overall stats. I’d rather see this information in a more concise format right within an iPhone app.
LifeSpan’s apps also have three different names, and the LifeSpan Club account is run by something called Interactive Health Partner — a way for LifeSpan to separate its treadmill business from its health-tracking website. Using an unknown name for this kind of thing is a little nerve-racking, considering that the site hosts your personal health data.
LifeSpan’s president, Peter Schenk, said the company plans to work with Apple Health, sending treadmill data back to iOS devices. For now, LifeSpan Club doesn’t connect to other third-party apps, with the exception of Garmin’s Garmin Connect. As mobile apps for health and fitness continue to grow, it’s hard to see the value of something like the LifeSpan Club software.
By this point, you may be convinced that a treadmill desk is just what you need to get out of a workplace rut. Or maybe you think walking in place for hours at a time while reading spreadsheets sounds hellish. In either case, here are a few treadmill desk tips to consider:
Small office? Good luck.
If your office is the size of mine, you’ll be squeezed for space. I’m walking with a bookshelf to my right, and my regular sitting desk to my left. But I still have my sitting desk in place, and if I were keeping the treadmill desk permanently, I would probably have that moved out.
Some are nearly silent and made to go slowly.
The LifeSpan Treadmill Desk DT7 that I tested isn’t designed to go as fast as a regular treadmill — ever. Its speed only goes up to four miles per hour. In fact, some businesses get LifeSpan to set a limit on their treadmill desks to a speed limit of two miles per hour so employees don’t work up a sweat in the office. (Hint: If you’re using a towel, you need to slow down.)
Because of this slower speed, the treadmill desk’s motor isn’t working very hard, and is quieter than traditional treadmills. This treadmill is also very close to the ground, and has eight shock-absorber-like rubber bumpers to absorb sound. This means that nearby officemates won’t hear when your treadmill desk is on or off.
Your desk phone might be waaaaay over there.
Once I got going on the treadmill desk, I groaned every time I had to step off earlier than I intended. Be sure to grab a few key items and place them on your treadmill desk before you get going, like a phone and bottle of water.
Your standing desk might not make the best sitting desk.
This brings up the issue of how to set up your computer. Tech companies send me laptops to test on a regular basis, so I easily worked on one of those laptops at my treadmill desk while keeping my everyday desktop PC at my sitting desk. But a lot of people only have one computer in their office. Because of this, they may prefer to use the same desk, adjusting it up or down for sitting or standing. Of course, this means an extra step — and a potential barrier — every time you want to walk and work.
The LifeSpan DT7 that I used has two memory-preset buttons, so it’s easy to save your sitting and standing desk positions. This desk also adjusts automatically; a manually adjusted desk costs roughly $500 less. But because of how it’s designed, you can’t lower it and slide your computer and phone to the side and pull up a chair. Instead, you’d have to pull up a seat on the side of the desk opposite that of the treadmill.
LifeSpan says its future plans include wider treadmill desks that will more easily accommodate both standing and sitting positions. Meanwhile, you can buy combination desks that have different levels for standing and sitting, but these cost more.
People will stare and/or ask you about it.
Get ready for unsolicited conversations with strangers. Lots of people are curious about standing desks, so a standing desk with a treadmill will be even more attention-grabbing. Be a good sport and let them try it out.
Treadmill desks are growing from executive offices to shared workspaces to college study halls. Today, LifeSpan’s treadmill desks are being used in more than 150 colleges and universities. In Denmark, entire classes are being taught to students while they walk in place at treadmill desks. Some companies or schools let employees or students sign up to reserve the treadmill desk for a couple hours of walking each day, so one person doesn’t hog it.
I’m quite sure my company won’t be springing for my treadmill desk anytime soon, but after seeing the benefits of it in just a month, I can easily understand how someone would pay for one of these. However you use it, the treadmill desk will surely do one thing successfully: It makes you feel like a total couch potato when you sit back down to work at your desk.
By Katherine Boehret