As a commercial real estate executive, Billy Vahrenkamp spent a good amount of time hunched over a desk on the phone.
The side effect of that posture was routine trips to the chiropractor. But a chance meeting with Varidesk founder and CEO Jason McCann changed everything for Vahrenkamp, who is the senior vice president of Colliers International in Dallas. He met McCann when they were both a part of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year program.
McCann, who won the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year in the Emerging category, urged him to try out a Varidesk, an adjustable standing desk that allows workers to stand if they want to.
“I haven’t been to a chiropractor in about a year,” Vahrenkamp said. “It’s helped with my posture and some of the back issues I had. I can’t say enough good things about it."
McCann has heard the story countless times since he started the company in 2013. Today, Varidesk has sold desks to 96 percent of the Fortune 500 companies and delivers its products to 30 countries, according to McCann.
The Coppell-based company is a part of a fast-growing wellness trend.
According to the 2017 Employee Benefits guide by the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest human resources society, of the many benefits covered in the research providing employees with a standing desk had the greatest increase over the past five years. The benefit grew by 31 percent from 2013 to 2017, according to the research.
“We have this entire fanbase out there, almost 2 million people [are] using our product worldwide,” McCann said.
The latest evidence does, indeed, show that too much sitting is connected with several adverse health outcomes. Mayo Clinic doctor James A. Levine, who has spent three decades dedicating a portion of his research to the possible harm of too much sitting, wrote in a 2015 research paper that excessive sitting "contributes to numerous chronic disease."
Those include obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and multiple types of cancer.
"The good news is that people can adapt; if work places, schools and cityscapes could be designed to promote activity, the new default posture could be up and moving," he wrote in the research paper, titled Sick of Sitting.
That's certainly the picture inside Varidesk's 75,000-square-foot headquarters, where there's not one piece of traditional office furniture to be found.
Some workers stand on mats, some sit and some stand while leaning on elevated stools, getting the best of both worlds. When Varidesk first bought the building, it was full of cubicles and low ceilings. The company tossed all that out and created a large open space. Even the conference tables can be elevated so people can stand for meetings.
“We envision the workspace of the future as being totally flexible,” McCann said. “The needs of offices change and evolve over time. It should be healthy and active and also should be flexible.”
The majority of Varidesk’s products go up or down when you squeeze handles on either end. They have tabletop desks that you can set up on a flat surface, which are the best seller. Varidesk also sells standalone desks, which use springs and hinges to move the entire desk.
The latest innovation is the ProPlus 36E, a tabletop desk launched in December that goes up and down electronically at the touch of a button, said Brad Shipp, public relations manager.
Varidesk grew out of Gemmy, a tech and innovation company that develops LED lighting solutions.
Chairman Dan Flaherty needed to stand up at his desk to get relief from sciatic nerve pain that was bothering him at the time. He used a cardboard box to prop up his monitor.
That’s when he and McCann came up with the idea for a stand-up desk.
Since then, they’ve discovered back pain as one of the main reasons that employees miss work, McCann said.
“We’re selling something that helps you become happier, healthier and more productive,” he said.