Rolling adjustable desks make it easy to organize and collaborate.
Why should teams use rolling desks?
- AAA studios like Valve, Bungie and Blizzard use rolling desks to help teams organize.
- Teams can self-organize next to the people they need to work with.
- IT setups are manageable units with cables accessible without crawling.
- Electrical gear and data is safer off of the ground in case of floods or spills.
- Rolling desks are cheaper than cubicles and make optimal use of space.
- Teams are happier, more productive and more adaptive to changing projects
- Rolling workspaces attract the best people who tell talented recruitable friends
- You don’t have to sit next to that person who clicks their pen constantly.
How does it work?
- The computer and power supply is attached to the desk in a metal clamp or on a cart.
- The power supply is a UPS with all plugs connected to a single wall plug.
- UPS keeps computers, monitors and devices powered when moving.
- Cables are raised off the floor to keep desks mobile and tangle-free.
- Adjustable height enables healthy breaks from sitting.
How Valve teams self-organize with rolling desks
“People self-organize here. That’s not out of some nutty thinking – it is the only way we can properly solve the kind of problems that we need to solve, and do it quickly. That’s why we put wheels on desks. People say they have to go work on this different problem now, because nobody else is and we need to get it done in order to get other things done. So they pack up their desks, and move to their relevant teams.”
-Gabe Newell, Valve, in an interview with Develop Online
You can read how Valve uses rolling desks in the case study at the end of the article.
What people say about rolling desks
“Here’s the best shot I could get of the DOTA enclave. This proves the rolling desks are real. It also makes me extremely jealous and now I think I’m going devote all my energies to getting hired at Valve. I want this setup at home.” –bmceldowney
“Rolling desks, Valve was right. With my current needs, access to the back of my rig is as important as the front.” –@virtuafeed
“At Valve the desks are on wheels. In product/dev land this would be helpful when we work on different projects we can move our desks accordingly. –Cristin Carey
“Valve employees’ desks all have wheels, and people roll their workstations as their group projects change.” –What Makes Valve Software the Best Office Ever?, Bloomberg
Are rolling desks just for game developers?
“The desks famously have wheels to allow people to move around the building as they pick different things to work on. As Anna shows me around a floor of engineers and industrial designers prototyping hardware, she points out Frank: “Frank’s one of our lawyers, but he’s doing a bunch of work to do with the hardware side of things, so he’s moved here.”
–The Valve Headquarters: The Coolest Office In The World, Stuff Magazine
At least rolling if not also adjustable Desks
Not everyone needs an adjustable desk and the crank or electric height adjustment costs a bit extra but there are myriad health and productivity benefits to recommend it. Regardless of whether you go for adjustable desks, you should definitely at least do rolling desks.
Rolling Desk Gear Buying Guide
Here’s a list of the parts needed to put together rolling desk setups:
- Rolling adjustable desks to tie everything together.
- Mobile carts for L-shaped tabletop and extra storage.
- CPU holder desk clamp to attach the computer to to the desk.
- Machine cart for big desktop and UPS to roll under the desk.
- UPS uninterrupted power supply to power everything on the desk.
- Monitor arms to mount the monitors desk without taking up surface area.
- Rolling whiteboards for brainstorming and privacy dividers.
Rolling desk caster upgrade kits
You can put casters on your existing non-rolling desk and many desks have mounting spots designed for them.
Locking Casters $25
There are two types, ones with a small round upward pointing metal piece that slots into office chairs and table legs and the metal plate with corner holes for the screw-in kind to attach to wood and other furniture not intended for casters with the normal slotted mounting style.
Rolling desks without adjustability.
Rolling Training Table 60 x 24″ $120
Extremely compact 24″ depth for use with laptops, monitor arms, etc.
Staples Balt Brawny Desks 36″ $225, 60″ $343, 72″ $377
Mobile Storage Table
For those wanting a full L or U shape of additional storage space, there are various kinds of mobile carts with shelves and drawers that fit nicely with rolling desks.
Excess clutter on your desk negatively affects your productivity by creating constant distractions. That’s why we created the Side Desk Shelves: an easy add-on to your existing desk with three shelves for the extra storage space you need. With three shelves and four rolling casters, two with locking breaks, the Side Desk will give you an L-shaped desk and keep your desktop clean, organized, and uncluttered, and in return keep you focused and on task.
- Shelves are wide enough to hold a printer, laptop, or variety of office supplies
- Dimensions: 42″ wide x 18″ deep x 29.5″ high
- 10.25” of space between bottom and middle shelves; 11” of space between middle and top shelves
- Easy assembly in as little as 20 minutes
- Includes four casters, two with locking brakes
- Frame made of steel with a powder coat finish; desktops made of dense reengineered hardwood
Rolling adjustable desks
Rolling standing desks come in three kinds: manual, crank and electric.
48 x 24″ for smaller setups on a budget that don’t adjust much.
Rolling cranked adjustable desk 48″ $290 60″ $350
Cranked desks are cheaper for those who don’t adjust as often.
Electric adjustment is important if you frequently adjust the desk.
Curved front is preferred by many as it lets you sit closer to the contents of the desk and reach things around you more easily.
Fully Jarvis Desk
48″ $519, 60″ $699, 72″ $739
Picked as a favorite by Reviews.com, Jarvis bamboo surface desks are quality.
Updesk’s high-end desks have an option to add casters.
Under Desk Clamp CPU Holder
An under-desk CPU holder keeps your computer and its cables off the floor under your desk without obstructing your feet.
Adjustable desk clamps come in various sizes to fit your CPU by companies like Ziotek.
If you have a very large CPU like the Corsair Carbide Air 540, you can get a small cart for it to roll with the desk or place a board between the back legs of the desk.
Mounting monitors to arms lets you orient them exactly the way you want while freeing up valuable desk space and keeping cords all managed along the arms.
Big enough for big 30″ monitors with 4 ergonomically located USB3 ports in the base for keyboard, mouse, phone and other devices.
Uninterrupted power supplies are batteries that charge from the wall outlet and supply reliable power to a computer system even if the wall power spikes or has an outage. In an outage, UPS allows you to save your work and prevent file corruption before shutting down. In rolling desk usage, UPS allows you to unplug from the wall and move to another spot to plug in without interrupting your work at all. UPS can be combined with a solar powered studio to provide longer term power or make your office completely grid independent.
Rolling whiteboards give people brainstorming surfaces as well as room dividers. Room dividers reduce the distraction caused by coworkers moving around open-plan offices. Uninterrupted concentration is vital to do complex development work. Rolling dividers are a great way to subdivide spaces with more flexibility than cubicles.
Tall enough to divide a room and compact enough to form cubicle walls beside rolling desks.
Swiftspace rolling cubicles and modular office furniture
Swiftspace makes every kind of office furniture out of modular rolling parts that fit together including Solo rolling folding cubicles, Foresight workbenches and Shaper adjustable rolling desks with attachable optional cubicle walls. If you are laying out a high-tech office and have a budget to get the best setup, Swiftspace is the top of the line.
Rolling Desks Case Study: Valve Software
Many AAA game studios use rolling desks, and Valve is the best known example. People make pilgrimages to take pictures of their setups and try to get hired there.
“Every desk at Valve is, in fact, a mobile workstation. The tower hangs under the desk in a metal sling, and all of the cords are plugged into your own power strip, which then plugs into a single outlet on the wall. The desk itself is on large, roller-blade style wheels, and there’s a large freight elevator in the middle of the building accessible to all. It’s an excellent representation of the Valve internal philosophy of hiring the best, then setting them free. Their employee manual says this:
YOUR DESK HAS WHEELS FOR A REASON. You’ll notice people moving frequently; often whole teams will move their desks to be closer to each other. There is no organizational structure keeping you from being in close proximity to the people who you’d help or be helped by most.”
A typical desk setup at Valve with monitor arms and the CPU under the desk with electronic adjustable controls on the right.
Valve employees organize to set next to the people they’re working with at any time.
New teams form whenever they need to around new projects.
When the project grows, people can join the team fluidly.
The team for Half-Life 3, confirmed.
All facilities and work tables are rolling as well so the whole office stays flexible.
Rolling desks make work more fun.
So, honestly, is it true that everyone at Valve has wheels on their desks and can change what floor they work at whenever they like?
Yeah, you know why right?
Because people get annoying?
[Laughs] Actually it’s quite relevant to what we’re talking about.
I’ve run lots of different kinds of organisations, and each one needs to be suited to the task they are performing. Hierarchical organisations are pretty good if your business operates on repeatability and measurability, and in fact they cope fairly well with the loss of personnel.
A lot of these concepts originated in the military, in fact, which of course often has to deal with a loss of personnel. The holes in a hierarchical set-up can be filled by new people and the business goes on.
Yeah. In fact, factories were reorganised around the military concepts in the early twentieth century.
But if you’re trying to invent things, or do novel things, a really strong hierarchical organisation can get in the way of that.
The point being that, if you’re constantly having to change, rigid notions of organisation get in the way. If you look at how quickly the video game environment is changing, what works really well in one generation becomes pretty irrelevant in the next. You go from sprites to polygons. From 256-colour 64×64 bitmaps to shaded polygonal models. Game development studios have to constantly keep reinventing themselves, processes have to change over and over.
That’s why Valve is organised to find people that are cross-disciplinary. [Valve developer] Ken Birdwell is a fine-artist that taught himself to program. He did the skeletal animations for our games starting all the way back from Half-Life 1.
Do you remember the tentacle in Half-Life? Well, Ken was able to edit the level, change the tentacle model, and change the code, in order to make that all work.
If he’d have just been a modeller, or animator, or environment worker, or just a programmer, he would only know one way to solve a problem.
So, essentally you’re saying that Valve needs autonomous developers.
Yep. We don’t really have titles here; people decide for themselves what their role should be.
People self-organise here. That’s not out of some nutty thinking – it is the only way we can properly solve the kind of problems that we need to solve, and do it quickly. So, to answer your question, that’s why we put wheels on desks. People say they have to go work on this different problem now, because nobody else is and we need to get it done in order to get other things done. So they pack up their desks, and move to their relevant teams.
That makes you a more fluid company, I would imagine. It would allow you, in theory, to quickly adjust to the changes happening in the industry. Is that the wider plan?
Yeah, we think we have to be this way. Right now it feels to us that the games industry is changing faster than it ever has since we started Valve in 1996. As much as we’ve tried to be flexible and adaptable in the past, right now it’s more important than ever. Things we were successful at in the past don’t matter a whole lot in predicting how well we are going to do in the future.
1) Valve is “flat.” There are no managers at Valve, and nobody reports to anyone else. There is no boss. It even says quite blatantly in the Handbook that “you can just say no” to CEO Gabe Newell himself, if you believe you’re right. If you’ve been hired by Valve, then you’re considered to have exceptional skills and collaboration capabilities, making you worthy of this kind of freedom and responsibility. From the Handbook:
This company is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products… There’s no red tape stopping you from figuring out for yourself what our customers want, and then giving it to them.
2) Employees create their own assignments, and lobby other employees for help in making it happen. This creates an environment where “there are any number of internal recruiting efforts constantly under way.” The projects that have value are the ones that “staff up easily.” (Those that are unsuccessful fall by the wayside, I guess.) Personal interests dictate what project an employee chooses, although staffers are also encouraged to consider the value, impact, benefit, and the big picture when making a project selection. When two or more employees gather to work on a single project, they become a “Cabal,” Valve’s term for a project group. Everything about this group is fluid and flexible. (I wonder if this is why Half-Life 3 hasn’t happened yet: because not enough employees are interested in making it.) Valve’s hope is to foster managerial skills in every employee. The freedom they offer is meant to come with a strong sense of personal responsibility. They want all of their staff members to be able to make command-level decisions, with intelligence, maturity, and confidence.
3) Every desk has wheels, and employees are encouraged to move them. A lot. Say goodbye to offices and cubicles. Valve is a completely open environment, where staffers move from one project group to the next as they wish, and take their desk with them. There’s even a set of schematics in the Handbook that shows how to do this.
You’ll notice people moving frequently; often whole teams will move their desks to be closer to each other. There is no organizational structure keeping you from being in close proximity to the people who you’d help or be helped by most.
But how do they know where to find each other if they have no set offices? An internal server function is used to detect where in the building an employee plugs in their computer, so others can find them.
4) Valve’s structure is built around encouraging employees to be as social as possible. Absolutely everything in the Handbook boils down to social interaction. One gets the impression that the sense of community at Valve must be second to none. “The chair next to anyone’s desk is always open, so plant yourself in it often,” says the Handbook. Valve is aware that this unique environment can foster mostly reactive actions instead of proactive ones, so they ask employees to guard against that.
5) There are no committees, no closed-doors meetings, and no focus groups. Everyone is invited to participate in any discussion where they feel they have something to contribute. There’s no power group of execs making all of the decisions. If you want to work on a project, you just strike up a conversation with the people who are already working on it, and find out if you can offer anything valuable to them. “It’s your job to insert yourself wherever you think you should be,” according to the Handbook.
Rolling Desks Case Study 2: Bungie Studios
Bungie’s teams that produced the Marathon, Halo and Destiny games work in self-organizing offices filled with rolling desks. People sit next to the people they work with and move as needed as projects merge and move through different phases.