Q&A: Peter Schenk on the Treadmill Desk

The treadmill desk, having evolved from DIY fixes, is becoming an active solution to today’s workplaces

Much was said about designing furniture for active work-styles at this year’s Neocon, Chicago’s annual contract furniture show. Mobility of people and their work tools, including furniture of all types, dominated the conversation. Each time I walked by the LifeSpan Treadmill Desk booth at the show, it was surrounded by the curious, as well as those using the equipment. To find out more, I sent some questions to Peter Schenk, LifeSpan president who, himself, uses the treadmill desk; I reached him at the company’s Salt Lake City headquarters. Here he talks about how the product evolved from its DIY origins as well as new attitudes toward getting work done while staying healthy.

Susan S. Szenasy: What have been the results of the company’s “experiment” making treadmill desks over the last year and a half?

Peter Schenk: The LifeSpan Treadmill Desk began as an experiment. We’d been making treadmills for years, and started seeing people posting pictures of their DIY treadmill desks, using our treadmills! These customers weren’t necessarily designers; they were just people who wanted to incorporate movement in their day. Their homemade versions encountered a number of design challenges. LifeSpan took what we learned from the DIY’ers and made one that smoothed out the bumps. Each of our design elements is intended to solve a problem: the roomy desktop, cable management, wrist pad, control console directly in front of you, free-standing writing surface and height adjustability. We sold enough of that first treadmill desk to allow us to launch a whole line of active workplace gear.

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SSS: Who’s using them?

PS: Treadmill desk users aren’t clustered around a single occupation. They’re in all industries, and all ages. The “ideal” treadmill desk customer is anyone who spends a lot of their day sitting in front of a computer. Being sedentary for eight hours a day isn’t good for you, and they recognize that. Our customers are split between 60% corporate and 40% individuals. Individuals are using them at work or in a home office, and businesses are purchasing multiple units for staff members to use individually, or to share.

SSS: How do companies handle seating and conference groups?

PS: Right now, companies are either buying individual treadmill desks for individual staff members, or buying multiple treadmill desks for many staffers to share. An interesting example is Dropship.com, which has around 18 units: one for each staff member in its American Fork, Utah headquarters. It’s the first company we know of that’s gone 100% treadmill desk. Another example would be Dairy Queen. They have two units in a shared space, running nearly every hour of the day; employees can book time on the treadmill desk, using a shared calendar.

SSS: What areas of office work does it fit best?

PS: The footprint is comparable to a regular desk. Conference rooms and empty offices are where most units shared by multiple employees are being used. Where they’re not being used as often is in the corporate gym, because they’re not exercise-machines. They’re not for running, working up a sweat or sounding out of breath; they’re a replacement for sitting.

SSS: What did you learn by showing/demonstrating the product at NeoCon?

PS: At Neocon we showed two patent-pending configurations: one that allows two employees to share a treadmill desk within a standard 12 x 12 cubicle, and another that allows multiple employees to walk and work together, on their own units, with shared tables between them. Our booth drew a lot of smiles. Inevitably, after a minute of using a treadmill desk, even the toughest skeptic would say, “Wow, I didn’t expect it to be this easy.” Their expressions after they’d look down and realize they’d just walked a quarter mile were priceless!

NeoCon reminded us that people are in different places when it comes to changing their work environments. Some are stuck in the traditional model, with the perception that work and sitting go hand-in-hand. But an increasingly large percentage is now thinking of standing and working as mainstream, so the idea of walking and working is no longer viewed as something just for health-conscious early adopters.

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