FORTUNE Small Business:

A stand-up guy

By opting to go chairless, I increased my productivity and improved my relationships with my staff.

By E. Thomas Gimbel, FSB contributor

Chicago (FSB Magazine) -- I decided to ditch my chair and start standing at my desk after a lot of frustration (and pain) from sitting all day. I run a staffing and recruiting firm called the LaSalle Network (, which I founded in 1998 when I was 26 years old. It now has five offices in the Chicago area, 60 employees, and $15 million in annual sales.

About two years ago I was suffering from back pain that seemed to get worse when I sat for a long time. I am 6-foot-6, and no matter what office chair I tried, the only relief came when I got up. One day I read an article in a business magazine reporting that Donald Rumsfeld works at a desk where he can stand up. I said, "Hell, if it's good enough for the Secretary of Defense, it's good enough for me."

E. Thomas Gimbel (right) and sales assistant Sirmara Campbell

When I contacted local furniture companies to see if I could buy a desk like Rumsfeld's, they thought I was nuts. Finally I called an outfit in Quebec called Groupe Lacasse ( It was willing to custom-make one for me for $1,000. The laminate desk stands about four feet high and it's six feet wide, so it doesn't take up much of my 400-square-foot office. It is tall enough for me to rest my arms on without leaning over. There are no shelves in the desk. I store my papers in a file cabinet.

After my desk arrived, I immediately found that I worked more efficiently. There's no leaning back in a chair while my mind wanders. Not that I'm a masochist. The desk is very comfortable. Because I don't have to scrunch into an uncomfortable chair anymore, I can work here for hours.

My desk has some benefits I didn't expect. Standing behind it eliminates the awkwardness that used to exist when someone walked into my office. It creates initial eye contact at the same level. Employees want to stop by and talk. There are no inhibitions about walking in. When job applicants arrive, the first thing my team wants to do is show them the desk. It looks a little like a bar, and sometimes my guests will pretend to order a drink, which starts the conversation on a light note. As you might expect, conducting meetings while standing helps keep them brief, which frees time in my schedule. If I need to hold a longer session, I don't insist that visitors stand, of course. I join them at a four-person conference room table in my office. Finding ways to work more efficiently has helped me keep sales growing 35% during each of the past six years.

I still take the occasional sit-down meeting, but I'd rather manage by walking around. I spend a fair amount of time roaming our offices wearing a Plantronics CS50 wireless telephone headset (about $300; My employees and clients might find my desk unusual, but no one can accuse me of sitting down on the job.

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