‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ is an oft-used reaction from those reluctant to embrace change or new ideas. Perhaps one well-known asset management company should have been equally sceptical when it decided to introduce a new type of desk that it felt was more in tune with today’s ‘millennials’.
The technological breakthrough? The ability to vary the height of your desk.
Who’d have thought that since the invention of the swivel chair by Thomas Jefferson and the introduction of the ‘gas lift’ that allows the height of an office chair to be altered, we would need such levels of personalisation that the desk, as well as the chair, needs to go up and down? Well, we do now, apparently.
That’s because today’s office workers no longer want to sit on chairs – that’s so last century – they want to stand at their desks performing an array of anti-deep vein thrombosis stretching exercises.
Armed with this new insight, the asset management company in question introduced height adjustable desks (HADs) when it moved into its swanky new offices. Little did they know how their well-intentioned innovation would lead to a huge increase in stress levels and sore heels caused by the daily desk dance-off.
Front of the queue
As with all things new, there are the early adopters who must be at the front of the queue for the latest iPhone or fabulous new restaurant and then there are the laggards who eventually catch up once the new product or service is about to be discontinued.
HADs allow no time for such leisurely adoption: it’s dog eat dog and every man/woman for him/her self in the battle for air supremacy, access to daylight and unrestricted views.
The problem with the HAD is that it’s always the people with the longest limbs who feel the need to check whether they can still balance on two legs. Why they need to do this more frequently and for longer periods than shorter-limbed people remains one of life’s unsolved mysteries.
Just as a person standing up rushing to catch the last bus home at the end of a theatre show may accidentally set off a full-blown, ‘standing ovation’, likewise the six foot five inch Oxbridge rowing blue – the mainstay of many an asset management graduate trainee scheme – who decides to stretch out his over-developed peroneus longus. Once in an upright position the ‘first stander’ inadvertently sets off a Mexican Wave, initially from nearby colleagues who, quickly missing the daylight and feeling the awkwardness of being towered over by an Olympic athlete, also raise their desks while rising to their feet.
The resulting ‘wave’ ripples from desk bank to desk bank rapidly engulfing all corners of any open plan office. For maximum impact, the larger the office space the better.
The daily wave
The start time of the daily wave is difficult to predict, however, the sound and occasional smell of electric motors struggling to reach their optimal new desk height, along with the oncoming shadow, give staff on the opposite side of the central lift shafts ample warning that the wave is on its way.
Faced with the choice of whether to sit in darkness, uncomfortably overlooked by colleagues or succumb to the power of the wave, most staff remember their Britishness and choose the latter, often accompanied with under-the-breath mutterings of ‘Oh no …
here we go again!’ Far safer though to pretend to stand proud than risk being labelled as some sort of technophobe Luddite.
Two or three ‘laps’ by the wave is usually enough for everyone to have established their new standing positions and so the ‘long stand’ begins.
In the stand up stand-off size matters: the taller the better, which is why many female employees can be seen delving into their under-desk shoe collections in a frantic hunt for their killer six inch heels, thereby negating any potential health benefits that may accrue from adopting an upright position.
As quickly as the desk wave can start, so can it end. The ‘first stander’, still blissfully unaware why everyone in the office is now vertical, remembers it’s time for his lunchtime session on the concept 2 rowing machine. Pressing the ‘down’ button on his desk, he grabs his gym bag and leaves the office with a cheery ‘see you all later chaps’.
Heaving sighs of relief, his immediate and much shorter colleagues can now ‘stand down’ by lowering their desks and slumping back into their chairs.
The ripple effect of the big ‘sit down’ is less pronounced and takes longer than the ‘stand up’ as staff pursue elaborate attempts to disguise their ‘landings’. After all, who wants to be seen as the follow in this particular dance partnership?
However, as the number of ‘sitters’ starts to overtake the number of remaining ‘standers’ there is a last-minute rush, akin to musical chairs, to avoid the embarrassment of being ‘last-one standing’.
To paraphrase Churchill, ‘Never in the field of office working were so many so inconvenienced by so few’.