How Do Electric Standing Desks Work?

Electric standing desks represent the most ergonomic type of desk ideal for good posture, focus, and a minimal work surface. Before you decide on buying a standing desk, here’s a quick guide on how electric standing desks work.

How Electric Standing Desks Work

An electric standing desk uses elevating columns instead of regular desk legs. These elevating columns lift the desktop to a customisable height that makes them ideal for standing or sitting whilst gaming or working. A height-adjustable desk is electrically powered by one or two motors that are housed within the legs.

To change the revelation of the desktop, a digital controller is used to program the standing desk tabletop to go up or down with the press of a button. This is done at a steady pace and controlled by the user. Most digital controllers come with the ability to preset a specific height for quick and convenient elevations.

The Components Of An Electric Standing Desk

There are several components that make up an electric standing desk. These include the frame and legs where the single or dual motors are housed, the desktop, a digital controller, and associated wiring cables.

Frame and legs

The frame of the desk is typically its legs which adjust up and down. Both electric and manually adjusting desks feature legs that go up and down. These are made to last and include a gliding system located inside of the legs, typically made from the same material with the adjusting frame.

The standing desk materials and the shape of a single motor desk or a dual motor desk are a type of metal (steel or aluminium) in most cases, due to their durability. The legs are connected by an upper rail and bracketing supports of the desktop. A standing desk works by moving its legs or the frame up and down, but these legs can have different shapes.

The legs aren’t full metal as they have a hollow interior since they need to house the glide system inside, which is where the small diameter leg pieces are. These extend as the desk moves up.


The brushed or brushless motor of the standing desk is mounted under the desktop. Depending on the model and size of the desk, a smaller motor may be fixed to the sides. A dual-motor desk setup usually implies having one small electrical power motor on one side and another closer to the other side of the frame.

While motorized desks come in different designs, all desk models hide the small electric motor under the desktop. Once mounted, the electric desk motor isn’t visible regardless of the desk’s height which is great for people who prefer a minimalist workspace.


The desktop is the top part of the desk the computer, monitor, and keyboard sit on. Apart from frames which can come in a variety of shapes and colours, the desktop is the component that can be customised to suit the needs of the user. Some electric desks are made with natural wood desktops whilst many of the cheaper desks consist of alternative materials such as fiberboard.

The desktop is secured to the metal frame by a series of screws. Pre-drilled holes are standard on most desktops and require an electric screwdriver or an Allen key to attach to the frame.

Some desktops come without pre-drilled holes for the frame attachment points. This means they need to be drilled by users. Typically installed quicker than a fixed-height existing desk, the desktop comes in different materials on different types of standing desks. These include hardwood, bamboo, wood veneer, particleboard, fiberboard, and melamine.

Digital height controllers

Control boxes known as digital height controllers are the unit that users interact with to raise or lower to get the perfect standing desk height. Their purpose is to send the input to the electric motor.

Some controllers may come with presets that are elevation points saved by the user. Unlike a manual or a pneumatic stand desk, electric sit-stand desks can quickly prompt to a pre-determined height set by the user.

The premium control boxes come with 4+ presets while cheaper ones come with 0-2 presets. If you have a lot of gadgets around then choosing a controller with Bluetooth connectivity and USB connections will be handy.

omnidesk digital height panel

Digital controllers are mounted during the desk assembly process. Typically mounted at the front edge of a standing desk, their position allows you to quickly change the elevation of your workstation. Depending on the desk brand and model, controllers may be installed perpendicular to the tabletop or on an incline where the panel can be easily seen. Most digital controllers will show how high the desktop is, but cheaper brands such as standing desks from Ikea have no display at all.

Standing desk accessories

Unlike your existing desk, motorised standing desks come with a wide range of accessories. You don’t need all of them but you may benefit from choosing those that suit your line of work. The main purpose of the standing desk determines your accessories:

  • Work, gaming, leisure – a work desk needs practical accessories such as a keyboard tray while a leisure or rarely-used standing desk may not need a lot of accessories.
  • Specialized work – architecture, drawing and creative lines of work that require a very large desktop.
  • Multi-monitor setups – high lift capacity (around 140 kg) is mandatory for a setup with 2 or more monitors.

Accessories that improve desk functionality

Standing desk accessories can be categorised as products that improve core functions or accessories that improve how standing desks can be used. Some examples include the following:

  • Monitor arms or raised trays to elevate your screen to the ideal monitor height for the standing desk.
  • Drawers that can be fixed fit under the desktop.
  • Cable trays that house power boards and loose cables for good cable management.
  • Power outlets or rails that can be secured to the desktop and provide the ability to connect more appliances or devices.
  • USB ports if you have multiple devices such as headphones or mobile phones.

Accessories that improve your quality of life

Most Australian manufacturers of standing desks offer a suite of accessories that are aimed at improving your level of comfort and ergonomic performance.

  • Anti-fatigue standing mats provide more comfort whilst standing.
  • Exercise balls can be used with standing desks that assist in improving posture through increased body activity.
  • Wheel castors to make moving your workstation easier.
  • Mobile apps to control the desk via Bluetooth.

The Anatomy Of Standing Desk Motors

The electric motor is the heart of the electric standing desk. Those asking themselves how electric standing desk work are mainly interested in the motor of the desk as it moves the frame up and down.

A higher weight capacity and even load distribution are the attributes of dual-motor electric standing desks. This higher weight capacity may not be needed for most users which are fine with a one-motor design.

The motor of the electric sit-and-stand desk is located inside the leg or frame of the desk. The Omnidesk only requires users to attach the control box to the frame as the motor is inside. Standesk standing desks also come with motors inside of the legs only requiring users to attach the control box to the legs and the crossbar.

Electricity is needed to power a height-adjustable standing desk, regardless of its load capacity. Australian electric desks such as those made by Artissuse come with a standard 240V capacity that is sufficient to lift up to 140kg.

Amps measure the amount of electricity that goes through a circuit or an outlet. A standard Australian-made standing desk runs on 5 amps, which means a standard electricity outlet powers 1-2 standing desks.

The power of the electric motor can be measured in lift capacity and speed. The speed of an electric motor is measured in millimetres per second and it refers to how fast or slow the desktop is able to move. The standing desks in Australia have elevation speeds between 25 and 43mm per second.

Electric Standing Desks With Single Motors

A single motor works together with the digital controller and the frame. There is one sensor that reads the rotations of the motor and the location of the frame in relation to its rotation. This is how the desk calculates the elevation and how it maintains a consistent motor speed when going up and down.

Height control is automatic in an electric sit-stand desk as you simply press the up or down arrows on the digital controller to adjust it. Different heights can also be programmed through presets, allowing the motors and their sensors to do all the work for the user. For a quick tutorial on how to program your standing desk height, read this guide.

Powered by electricity, this type of single-motor design doesn’t require user effort such as with the best standing desk converters or manual standing desks. The motors of single-motor desks are located in the legs. They are controlled by the controller connected to the frame during the assembly process.

Pros of a single-motor standing desk

  • Cheaper than dual-motor sit-stand desks.
  • Fast-enough for the needs of most users who don’t need very high load capacity.
  • Lower weight for easy desk movement.

Cons of a single-motor standing desk

  • Limited maximum load for multi-monitor setups.
  • Not as efficient in determining uneven weight load distribution as dual-motor desks.

Electric Standing Desks With Dual Motors

Electric desks with dual motors possess a control box connected by cables to the left motor and to the right motor in the frame’s legs, ensuring they work together efficiently. Similar to single-motor stand desks, two sensors determine the rotations of the two motors and ensure they both elevate and lower at the same time.

Electricity powers the digital controller which balances the two motors of a dual-motor standing desk. These motors aren’t visible as they’re inside the two legs of the frame. But they connect through cables to the controller located under the desktop.

Pros of a dual motor standing desk

  • A dual-motor standing desk can lift up to 140kg as opposed to the 80kg maximum load of a sit-stand desk with a single motor.
  • It suits the needs of most users, including those who need the largest desktops.
  • Ideal for balancing out a desktop with uneven weight distribution.

Cons of a dual motor standing desk

Frequently Asked Questions

How do motorised standing desks work?

Electrically-adjustable columns known as the desk frame allow the motorised desk to move up and down. At least 1 electric motor powers these height adjustments.

Do electric standing desks need to be plugged in?

Yes, electric standing desks need to be plugged in all the time. They can still be used without height adjustability in the case of a power outage.

What is the difference between a pneumatic and an electric standing desk?

A pneumatic desk is a type of manual standing desk that uses at least 1 gas cylinder to adjust up and down. An electric standing desk uses electric motors to power height adjustments.


An adjustable height desk comes with electric motors which move it up and down. Single electric motor desks move up to 80kg while dual motor standing desks move up to 140kg up and down.

All of the adjustments are automatic and made through a digital controller. A standing desk is made from a frame, crossbar, digital controller, desktop, and other accessories. All of these accessories need to be assembled during the desk assembly process.

If you’re ready to make the swap to an electric desk, here’s our guide on how you can transition to a standing desk and useful tips to make the most of it.

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