Can a smarter desk get you to move more?

Stir thinks it has the answer with its $3,000 convertible M1

Every day, I spend anywhere from 10 to 12 hours at a desk. At my home office, I spend the vast majority of that time sitting. If I’m working in the New York office, I’m at a standing desk, which means I spend most of the day on my feet. Neither situation is ideal: numerous studies have shown the detrimental effects of too much sitting on our health, and many physicians and chiropractors (including my own) will tell you that standing on your feet all day isn’t great either.

The motorized, convertible standing desk lets you split time between standing and sitting in order to mitigate the detrimental effects of doing either for too long. A single button press can take you from a seated position to a standing mode in less than a minute. But despite the plethora of options in motorized standing desks and the popularity of them in the modern office, industry studies have shown that after a few weeks, most users don’t actually switch between the modes, leaving them with a fancy and expensive sitting desk.

That’s the problem that Stir is trying to solve with its own powered standing desks. The company released the M1 desk earlier this year, a less expensive version of the $4,000 F1 that came the year before it. Make no mistake, the M1 is still really expensive for a desk, and its $3,000 price tag puts it in the top price bracket of motorized standing desks. But Stir insists that its standing desks aren’t like any others because they are smarter, and they solve the problem of getting people to actually switch between standing and sitting modes.

Stir M1 standing desk

I had the opportunity to test a white M1 in my home office for a few weeks, and it’s hard to come away from the experience unimpressed. That might have less to do with any of the M1’s smart capabilities and more to do with the fact that it’s just a far superior work station than the 10-plus-year-old rickety, metal-and-glass sitting desk that I’ve been using since my college days. (It’s also about 20 times the cost of that particular desk, so one would hope it’s better.) But while you can easily get a motorized standing desk for less than a third of the cost of the M1, there are a number of places where the desk justifies its cost. Almost.

For starters, the finish on the surface of the desk is just sublime. Instead of metal, glass, or (shudder) particleboard, the M1’s desktop is made of CNC-machined recycled wood, which is then powdercoated with a smooth matte finish. The edges of the desk are softly rounded, and the contours beg you to rest your arms on them as you work. It’s a big desk, measuring about 30 inches deep by 60 inches wide (and there’s only one size option), and it has a lot of space for the various tools and accessories I keep on my desk during the work day. The M1 has a basic cable management system built in, including two cable trays, four built-in power outlets, and two long channels in the back to run wires through to your various devices.

But none of that is particularly unique or different from the many other desks you can buy today. The real appeal with the M1 is in its smarts, which start with the 5-inch touchscreen controller embedded in the left side of the desktop. The controller is used to move the desk up and down, replacing the typical buttons found on many other standing desks. It also is used to connect the desk to your Wi-Fi network, display how long you’ve been standing or sitting, and even show the extra calories you’ve burned while standing. The M1 can also send its calorie data to a Fitbit, so all of those burned calories contribute to your overall fitness profile.

A simple double tap on the display will start the M1 moving to either your preset sitting or standing position. It’s a quick and convenient way to change modes, unlike with other lesser desks, which require you to hold down a physical button to move them. (Or manual desks, which need to be cranked up or down.)

Sitr M1 desk

The smarts of the M1 further come into play with its scheduling and reminders system. Program the desk with how much of your day you’d like to be standing, and it will periodically remind you to switch positions. It’s not unlike the Apple Watch’s reminders to stand up or move around, except the M1 knows exactly when you’re standing and when you’re not without the failure rate of the Apple Watch. It does this by what the company calls "Whisperbreath," where the desk moves up and down by half an inch to remind you it’s time to move, almost as if it’s alive and breathing. You can ignore these reminders or turn them off entirely, but they are very unobtrusive and I ended up looking forward to them coming every 45 minutes or so.

It’s an original way to get users to actually move their desks after the novelty has worn off, and apparently it’s highly effective: Stir CEO JP Labrosse tells me that 95 percent of Stir desk owners change positions every day, as opposed to the industry average of 30 percent that move positions just once a week. Labrosse also says that owners spend 50 percent of their time standing, and change positions on average 3.4 times per day. During my time with the desk, I was pretty diligent in obeying its suggestions, switching positions roughly every 45 minutes.

The M1 has other novel ideas that could potentially make it more than just a fancy desk. It has the ability to sense when you’re at your desk and when you’re not, which it currently uses to track your calorie burn. But since the M1 is connected to your Wi-Fi network, it could potentially act as the central hub of a smart office. It’s not hard to picture the desk automatically triggering lighting and climate control when you stand or sit at the desk and adjusting things accordingly when you get up and leave. The M1 doesn’t yet do any of these things, but Labrosse says the company is open to exploring similar ideas.

The M1 could easily act as the hub for a smart office

Of course, all of this comes back to whether or not you need to spend three grand on the M1. The easy answer is no, you do not: you can replicate a lot of what makes the M1 special with a much cheaper desk and an egg timer. But if you spend most of your working day at a desk, the M1 is appealing not only because it is a smart desk that encourages you to move, but it’s also just a great space to work. If you do have $3,000 to spend on a desk, the M1 is a very good one, and it just might make you marginally healthier, too.

Stir M1 standing desk

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