Shopping for a Sit-Stand Desktop Workstation

Varidesk desktop sit-stand workstation

Varidesk desktop sit-stand workstation

Desktop standing converters like the Varidesk and the Kangaroo are a great way to quickly turn your existing desk into a height-adjustable sit-stand workstation. If you want to quickly get started with a standing workstyle, these sit-stand desktop workstation add-ons give you an affordable alternative to a free-standing adjustable-height desk.

Desktop Standing Workstation Converters Come in All Shapes, Sizes, and Designs

Sit-stand desktop workstations come in a wide variety of styles and designs. They can either stand on their own on your existing desktop or clamp or otherwise attach to it. They height adjust with gas-assisted lifts, manual counterbalances, or electric motors. Some models are on platforms or swing arms that can quickly give you access to your original desktop; others pretty much take over your desk. Some are essentially glorified monitor stands with a keyboard tray attached, while others integrate a monitor stand, keyboard tray, and work surface in a truly ergonomic, height-adjustable workstation. Much more on these various design choices below.

Advantages of a Desktop Add-On Standing Workstation Converter

Desktop standing converters offer a number of advantages over a free-standing height-adjustable desk:

  • They let you keep your existing desk and only minimally disrupt your existing office layout.
  • They can cost several hundred dollars less than a free-standing height-adjustable desk.
  • They offer instant gratification. Many of these models come out of the box fully assembled and ready to use.
  • The come in a variety of design paradigms that can accommodate different aesthetic and functional preferences (much more on this below).
  • Many of these workstations accommodate multiple monitors on sturdy columns (on the other hand, some models barely hold one monitor safely).

Disadvantages of a Standing Desktop Add-On

But these desktop add-ons can force you to compromise on ergonomics and other factors.

  • They have a much smaller work surface than a typical desk, both narrower side to side and shallower from front to back. Many of them come with no work surface at all, just places for your monitor and keyboard.
  • They can take up surprising amount of space. Some models essentially take over your old desktop. And some have height-adjustment mechanisms that cause the desk to protrude past the front and/or back edge of your existing desk. If you operate in tight quarters, this can be a problem.
  • They can be less stable than a desk that stands directly on the floor. Models that use any sort of lever or swing-arm in their height-adjustment mechanism are particularly prone to stability issues.
  • They can raise the height of your desktop when you are sitting. Even when set to their lowest level, many of these desktop workstations leave your keyboard an inch or more above the original desktop. (If a below-desk-level keyboard works best for you when sitting, there are a few models that let the keyboard tray drop in front of the desk surface, positioning them much like a conventional under-desk keyboard tray.)
  • They can make it hard to position your monitor properly. Many of these workstations either fix or limit the relationship between the keyboard surface and where you can put your monitor. This can leave you either peering into a too-close monitor or reaching for a keyboard that is too far away.
  • They can make it hard to maintain a good overall ergonomic set-up, especially when moving between sitting and standing. Most of these desktop add-ons have shallower desktop surfaces, making it harder to ergonomically position your keyboard and monitor and and other work gear. Some models swing through an arc or slide at an angle as they height adjust, moving your keyboard, monitor, and work surface forward and back as well as up and down. Some come with keyboard trays that are too narrow to accommodate both a keyboard and mouse and too shallow to let you add a wrist rest.
  • They can make for troublesome cable management. Free-standing height-adjusting desks typically use either the free space under and behind your desk and/or the telescoping legs to guide cables from your computer, monitor, and keyboard. Some desktop add-ons have good cable management built in. But many models either assume that you’ll just be using a laptop or otherwise fail to help you manage the wires attached to your devices. Some models even have levers that can pinch cables and wires that fall in between their arms.

If you have a minimal office set-up, working mostly on your computer and using few reference materials, then one of these standing-desk add-ons may work great for you. But if you need room for printed reference materials and like your family pictures, knick-knacks, and houseplants, I’d urge you to squeeze a couple hundred more dollars out of your budget for a good free-standing sit-stand desk.

Desktop Sit-Stand Workstation Choices

Sit-stand desktop converters come in a number of different of design paradigms.

Freestanding Platform (Varidesk & Workfit-T)

Ergotron Workfit-T sit-stand desk add-on

Ergotron Workfit-T sit-stand desk add-on

Freestanding platform models like the Varidesk and the Ergotron Workfit-T are very affordable (starting at around $300) and require no assembly to get started. In this paradigm you just set the desktop add-on atop your existing desk, pull a lever to bring it up to standing height, and get to work. Most of these models ship fully assembled and are ready to use right out of the box.

Pros: quick, simple, affordable

Cons: if you ever want to use your old desktop you have to painstakingly remove everything from the new desktop and put it back on your old desk (and you need to find someplace to put your desktop add-on while you’re not using it); some of these models swing forward and back as they height-adjust, requiring free space at the back and/or front of your desk; while these models are usually pretty stable, they don’t hold as much weight as even a low-end free-standing sit-stand desk

Examples:

Freestanding Column-Based (Kangaroo & Winston)

Ergo Desktop Kangaroo Pro desktop workstation

Ergo Desktop Kangaroo Pro desktop workstation

Freestanding column-based models like the Kangaroo and the Winston Workstation mount work surfaces and monitors on a height-adjustable column attached to a heavy base plate that sits directly on your desk. These models offer more monitor-mounting options than platform models and may offer separate work surfaces for your keyboard, laptop, and other work materials. In this paradigm, you may have to assemble your desktop converter, and you’ll likely have your work materials spread out across multiple work surfaces. These models typically have a smaller footprint than the platform designs, and they slide easily across your desktop, so it’s a little more viable to reclaim at least part of your original desktop without entirely removing the add-on from your desk.

Pros: more functional, better monitor arrangement and more monitor mounts (Winston offers a model that can accommodate up to four monitors)

Cons: less stable (Kangaroo ships their workstations with a stabilizing bar that props up the work surface), no depth adjustment for monitor (just up and down)

Examples:

Swing-Arm (Workfit-A & QuickStand Lite)

Ergotron Workfit-A swing-arm workstation

Ergotron Workfit-A swing-arm workstation

Swing-arm workstations like the Ergotron Workfit-A and HumanScale QuickStand Lite mount at the back or side of your existing desk and hold your monitor and keyboard on a height-adjustable arm that can also swing side to side. These desktop workstations sometimes also include an extra work surface mounted between the keyboard tray and monitor. In this paradigm, you can easily move your keyboard and monitor out of the way and quickly access your existing desktop.

Pros: easy to reclaim original desk surface, good height adjustability (including ability to position keyboard like an under-desk tray)

Cons: lever-arm can wobble a fair amount, usually a fixed relationship between keyboard and monitor

Examples:

Front-Mounted Column (Workfit-S & TaskMate Go)

Ergotron Workfit-S standing workstation

Ergotron Workfit-S standing workstation

Front-mounted, column-based models like the Ergotron Workfit-S and the HealthPostures TaskMate Go attach to the front edge of your desk and let you slide your keyboard tray, monitor, and (sometimes) a work surface up and down on a permanently mounted column. Depending on the exact design, these kinds of workstations may leave a fair amount of your original desktop available. In this paradigm, you permanently lose some of your old desktop but you gain the most height adjustability possible in a desktop standing add-on, since the keyboard tray can easily drop below the level of the original desk surface. Some models in this category integrate a monitor mount on the column; others simply provide a surface on which you can rest a monitor that comes with its own stand.

Pros: stable, excellent height adjustability

Cons: hard to reach original desktop surface, column typically slopes back a bit which requires you to move closer to desk in standing position, front mount may obstruct drawers, column mount make prevent you from adjusting monitor far enough back for good ergonomics

Examples:

Rear-Mounted Column (QuickStand & One Touch Ultra)

Humanscale QuickStand sit-stand height-adjustable desk

Humanscale QuickStand sit-stand height-adjustable desk

Rear-mounted, column-based models like the Humanscale QuickStand and the Ergotech One-Touch Ultra attach to either the back edge of your desk or through a grommet hole and let you slide your keyboard tray, monitor, and (sometimes) a work surface up and down on a column mounted to the back edge of your desk. In this paradigm, you permanently lose some of your old desktop but you can still access the front and sides of your conventional desktop fairly easily.

Pros: stable, leaves front and sides of original desk surface free

Cons: require room at back of desk (some models may require desk to be away from wall), some columns slope away which requires you to stand closer to desk in standing position

Examples:

Lever-Arm (TaskMate & UPLIFT Converter)

Health Postures TaskMate desktop standing add-on

Health Postures TaskMate 6200 desktop standing add-on

Lever-arm workstations like the Health Postures TaskMate 6100 and the UPLIFT Height Adjustable Standing Desk Converter rest directly on your desktop and adjust the height of your keyboard and monitor (and sometimes an additional work surface) by changing the angle of a lever arm that holds the work surfaces. In this paradigm, the keyboard tray can swing down over the front of desk to a position much like a conventional keyboard tray. Because of the simple lever design, your work surface will swing through an arc as it height adjusts, moving closer to you when down and further away when up.

Pros: stable, quick to set up, leaves much of original desk surface free

Cons: lever-arm’s front-to-back movement (as much as 11″ in some models) can require you to snuggle up to your desk as you stand and to move further away when sitting

Examples:

Other Choices

You may have seen media reports on the $25 Oristand cardboard standing desk and Kickstarter campaigns like the Levit8 portable desktop stand and the Ervo and Lift slat-adjusting desktop add-ons. I’ll cover those kinds of designs in the next section of this guide.