Forget Standing Desks: Are You Ready to Lie Down and Work?

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Altwork Launches Ultimate Workstation For High-Intensity Computer Users.

After trying out the $5,900 Altwork Station, one thought immediately comes to mind: boycott work until you’re issued one of these babies.Altwork Station is a combination standing desk and fully automated recliner for work.

The Altwork Station is designed for high-intensity computer users such as software developers, CAD users, writers, and animators, among many other professions. Standing desk fans insist that being on their feet is the way to go for health and productivity, but for many of the rest of us, standing up for hours on end looks like an awful lot of hard work. Regardless, with its many limbs, wonky angles, and robotlike aesthetic, it’s not something that springs to mind when you think “office chair.” And according to Altwork CEO Che Voigt, that’s precisely the point; the desks and chairs we use at work haven’t changed all that much over the years.

These professionals constantly are challenged to remain productive as they bounce back and forth between sitting, standing, collaborating and focusing for extended periods of time on complex tasks. There is also a Standard Station for $3,900, but you have to make so many sacrifices regarding upholstery choices that I won’t even consider it a viable option.

And yet, even though I’ve spent most of my work hours standing for about a year now, I still sometimes need to sit down when writing a longer post, and other times I’m even more productive from the comfort of my own bed. Most ingeniously, as you gradually rock back into a position typically synonymous with snoozing in a first-class airline seat, your monitor and desk pivot and slant with you, with keyboard and mouse defying gravity thanks to powerful magnets. You try to avoid the couch and bed, but at some point, you will end up in that all-too-familiar position: on your back, knees bent, supporting a laptop somewhat precariously above your face, the heat from the processors gently burning your thighs. Basically, I work better in different positions depending on what I’m doing, but it’s inconvenient having to constantly switch my desk height and chair position.

While the standing desk has become a staple in homes and offices, this ergonomic revolution hasn’t given us an acceptable way to recline flat and still be able to work. While adjustable sit/stand desks have been done before, the Altwork Station takes things to the next level: it’s an integrated workstation combining seat, desk, and monitor stand, and it’s all electrically controlled to support not just sitting and standing but also a supine position: you lie back with your monitor or monitors above you. I was able to go hands-on with the Station, and though I couldn’t test it out for an extended period of time in an actual work environment, it kind of blew my mind with its comfort and adjustability.

It has four main modes: standing; sitting; collaborating — sitting, but the chair’s display facing outward so co-workers can see what you’re working on; and “focus” — reclined fully, the screen suspended above your head. Focus mode is extraordinarily comfortable — so comfortable that after I saw a demo in a windowless room in a San Francisco co-working space (no windows because Altwork was keeping its designs under wraps), it was hard for me to imagine not falling asleep in it.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly calling sitting “the new cancer,” a caveat used to promote Apple Watch’s stand-up reminder feature and one that no doubt has helped fuel sales of standup desks that typically run in the $500 range. I’m one of those annoying people who likes to pace incessantly while on the phone, so the ability to put the workstation into standing mode at the touch of a button is useful, and the laid back posture is extremely comfortable. This is less a chair than it is an ergonomic, adjustable productivity tool for the technological workhorses — the coders, CAD engineers, competitive gamers; the people who spend intense, sustained hours in front of two screens. Founded by serial entrepreneurs and investors, John Speicher and Che Voigt, Altwork’s mission is to create furniture that makes the body comfortable so the mind can be free. But when a recent study by researchers at Swiss university ETH Zurich warned that prolonged standing could lead to significant back problems, Voight realized he was on the right track with a device that could easily morph from standing to sitting many times over the course of a computer-focused day.

No, USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava isn’t at the dentist office, he’s demoing a $5,900 work station by AltWork in San Francisco. (Photo: Theresa Chong, for USA TODAY) Initial Altwork prototypes featured just three or four standard settings that a consumer could choose from, but focus groups quickly revealed that the chair would increase its chances of success if it provided an infinite number of positions. “Maybe not surprisingly, it turns out that different people have different ideas of what is most comfortable for them,” Voight says. “What’s really interesting is that when people get in a reclined state, they seem to be more focused on their work. To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/altwork-launches-ultimate-workstation-for-high-intensity-computer-users-300167905.html Copyright © 2007 PR Newswire. And somehow that position also telegraphs to others that you’re busy and shouldn’t be bothered.” The biggest challenge in creating the workstation was finding a way to minimize the use of electronic actuators, which over time can cause maintenance trouble spots. In standing mode, it’s easy to swing the screen around to show it to other people, making ad hoc deskside presentations and collaboration easy and accessible. While initially he thought a chair and desk with this range of motion would require more than a dozen actuators, his design team eventually got that number down to four, anchored to an ingenious network of cams.

Altwork’s chair was parked at a coworking building in downtown San Francisco, in a back room under a sheet, so passersby don’t get an early look at it. (I can only wonder what they think is underneath that cover every time they glance inside the room.) Unveiled, it sort of looks like the chair in your dentist’s office: a mechanized assembly with plenty of head support and with a swiveling desk attached. And let’s be honest: lying back with an array of monitors around you (the monitor arm supports up to 35lbs and standard VESA mounts, so triple head is no problem) in a chair that is purpose-built for hardcore computing feels a bit sci-fi. So while Altwork is actively pursuing research to prove that a relaxed, supported position does, in fact, make you a more industrious worker, the only way to prove it for now is to start getting people into its chairs. It’s the kind of thing that you’d expect to see in a movie, the sort of awesome setup that the bad guy hacker is using—probably with a keyboard for each hand—to reprogram the laser satellite while simultaneously making a nuclear power station melt down. It’s a little jarring the first time you try it out – I’m not used to my chair automatically moving me around – but it basically ends up feeling like you’re floating in mid-air.

In order to keep your keyboard, mouse, and mousepad from flying down at your face while the desk portion is situated above you, Altwork’s design uses magnets. Off to the far left of the tray are a discreet series of tabs, akin to press-and-hold buttons you might find attached to a seat in a vehicle or aircraft. Throughout the entire process, the Station felt like the most comfortable chair I’d ever worked in, and the transitions between positions happened in just a few seconds. The origin of Altwork—which has been in stealth mode for half a decade—didn’t come from a desire to secure our sloth-like selves into Wall-E-esque pods.

After a few prototypes (the unsuccessful first attempt was scrapped for parts, and everyone laughs when it’s mentioned—that’s how bad it was), Altwork went to an ergonomic firm to test the design. “When I went to pick it up, I asked him, ‘So what’d you think?’” says Voigt. “And he just goes, ‘We’re really going to miss this.’” From there, Altwork starting working with designers and artists to turn something inherently cumbersome into something sleek and office-appropriate. We have seen other workstations with a similar kind of concept—the MWE Lab Emperor range is perhaps the best known—but the Station seems to do a better job both in terms of the range of its positioning options and the convenience of getting in and out. That may seem a lot for someone to spend on a desk and chair but people already spend thousands of dollars on ergonomic setups (looking at you, Silicon Valley). Altwork expects to sell very few to individual consumers, instead envisioning the employers of software developers and engineers replacing the desk-and-chair workspaces with these pods. Sure, it is a giant, mechanized chair-bed-desk combo, but it’s nothing like its competiton, which are mostly La-Z-Boys with desks and computers attached.

The Altwork, while expensive, does compete economically with the pairings of very high-end ergonomic executive’s chairs and motorized standing desks — essentially the two things it’s combined into one. Che (left) and Cairenn Voight sitting on a ‘Simpsons’ couch sculpture the couple made; Che is the CEO of Altwork, which makes a $5,900 high-tech workstation for high-tech workers. (Photo: Courtesy of Che Voight) Voight doesn’t expect that a product with this sort of price tag will suddenly dominate offices. We are looking at CAD engineers, financial traders, animators, technical writers,” says Voigt. “I feel like the high-intensity computer user is undervalued. If you work from home full-time and are constantly at a computer (and either you or your employer has several thousand dollars to spare), there’s a place for it. However Altwork ends up making its way into the office of the future, Voigt knows that he‘s not going back. “That was one of the upsides,” he says. “As we were developing this and writing more and more personal checks, we said, ‘Well, at least we’ll get two workstations out of this if it all goes badly!”

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