Sit to Stand desk options – Full desk Vs Retrofit

Sit to Stand desk options – Full desk Vs Retrofit

One of the most regularly ask questions we have working in our space of creating more movement in organisations is what is the difference between full sit and stand desks and the ones you place on the desk?

In our game we call the ones you place on the desk a “retrofit” or “desktop” option. However it’s good to point out that you can retrofit an existing desktop to sit and stand desk legs turning it into a full sit and stand desk too.

For our purposes today we’ll be comparing the pair of a full sit and stand desk vs. a retrofit on the desk option.

Firstly, both are more beneficial in terms of creating movement than just your standard sitting workstation. However, there are some specific hazards to be aware of with the retrofit models (we’ll get to this).

Lets start by looking at our retrofit models. These are models that you put on your existing desk and away you go. A common example is the range of models from Varidesk. PHW Group are not advocates for these for a number of reasons including:

  • A significant reach is required to move these up and down
  • The spring assistance for the action of lifting and lowering has improved over the years but in our opinion is still not sufficient. Thus a moderate force is required to use these.
  • Taller people are not usually able to get these high enough for comfortable use
  • Cords can become jammed
  • The design does not allow you enough room for supporting forearms when keyboarding in either the sitting or the standing position

These model types are very well marketed but very poor and out dated in our view.

However if a retrofit option is what you need there are better products coming to the market. Products such as the Deskalator and Ergotron have partially overcome the design flaws of the Varidesk outlined above.

PHW have also been pleased to see the recent development of two products that sit on top of a desk but can be controlled electronically. These are the Standesk (contact us for details) and also the  Movi

So to summarise the pros and cons of the common retrofit options:


  • Price Point (models between $250-$700)
  • Better than a sitting workstation as allows for standing for able bodied people.
  • Can help increase movement in the workplace
  • Can be simply placed on top of an existing office area so no hard rubbish consideration when first put in (hard rubbish becomes a problem later when workers want to get rid of them).


  • Weight rating usually low (15-30kg on average)
  • Takes up a lot of space on the desk
  • Lever lift mechanism is a manual handling hazard and has reportedly aggravated low back, shoulder and wrist injuries in some workers.
  • Increases the height of the original desk in sitting causing poor ergonomics for people who are on the shorter end of the height spectrum
  • Commonly only goes to a relatively short max height in full standing height creating poor ergonomics for those who are quite tall (over 6 foot).
  • Shorter warranty and less life span. Environmentally hard to re-use/recycle when broken or no longer needed.

Whilst these models have been great as part of the early movement to get people into moving between sitting and standing postures at work, the complications in using them need to be considered. However, they can still be a suitable option for healthy and strong individuals who fit within the right height range and don’t need too much desk space.

Now looking at a full sit and stand desk. In the last 5 years thankfully we have seen great technology movements and changes here ultimately benefiting the consumer. In addition to this, as in many cases these desks are built with legs then onto a tabletop. So existing tabletops in offices can be fitted with the legs, recycling the current table tops and turning them into complete sit and stand workstations. Looking at a common memory set models we see:


  • Touch of a button changes in sitting to standing (many now have memory settings where it will move without continual hold)
  • Great weight rating (Varies typically from 50kg-150kg model depending)
  • Very ergonomically friendly
  • Height ranges usually suitable for people as short as 5 foot to as tall as 6 foot 6in
  • Ability to have different sizes commonly anywhere from 1200-2100mm wide
  • Ideal for anyone with RSI in the wrists, shoulder, back or neck workplace injuries (no manual handling hazard).
  • Increased likelihood of posture changes and use due to ease of change of the postures.
  • Full use of desk space
  • Custom table colours and range of hardwood tops available (for those creative people who like pretty things)
  • Typically 10 year warranty and easier to replace/reuse parts/fix if required.


  • Price (models commonly between $700 – 1200 a desk for memory setting options – this continues to improve with technology improvements was typically over $1500-2000 five years ago).
  • Installation into offices requires more time than simply placing a retrofit model on top of a table.
  • Cable management, solutions exist which can add to the cost.
  • Noise, technology has improved significantly and this is now minimal with a 2 motor option.

In comparing the pair…

Both options allow us to begin to imagine work forces of more confident, healthier and more empowered people, all benefiting from the ability to move from sitting to standing.

Ultimately, we at PHW are increasingly convinced of the advantages of the full sit to stand desks for the reasons outlined. Huge advantages come for those willing to put a little more budget and planning in at the outset.

For a more detailed look into this please contact us.

Note: We are not a furniture seller so what we have put forward here is to help equip people with greater knowledge of options they pick. Our opinion is from the viewpoint of treating Physiotherapists and consultants in the area of ergonomics, office design and workplace health.

About author: Ryan Ebert Ryan is a qualified Physiotherapist graduating from Curtin University (WA) with first class honours in 2012 and director of Healthlogic.

Ryan focused his honours studies on low back pain and has published a paper in this area. Following graduation and moving to Melbourne, he began working in physiotherapy before learning more in Occupational rehabilitation with Workfocus Australia. Following this he co-founded PHW Group, a national occupational physiotherapy and office design company.

Ryan practices as a Physiotherapist with special interests in low back pain, workplaces and office design through things such as sit and stand desks. Named in the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30 by smart company he loves finding solutions to people’s pains and problems. Outside of the clinic, Ryan is a fellow Melbourne café scene explorer, property enthusiast and adventure obstacle racer. A big fan of Spain he is also currently learning to Speak Spanish.