Imagine you could prevent a surgery by changing an office. Imagine you could reduce waste and trim a budget in the same manner. Imagine you can reduce–even eliminate pain and increase a worker’s productivity just by making them more comfortable.
This imaginative world is Jeff Meltzer’s reality. As president of Applied Ergonomics, Meltzer consults with people, helping them set up a unique, ergonomic office fitted to their specific needs.
I was so blown away by the changes my office setup made in my own physiology and work productivity that I asked Meltzer for an interview so he could share some tips and tricks with us all. He graciously agreed.
CP: Can you offer an anecdote about someone whose life was changed after getting a proper office setup?
JM: Over the years I have been able to help a large number of people. Certainly one of the most dramatic impacts was for a man that worked at a law firm and was scheduled for double carpal tunnel surgery and we kept him from needing to go through with it.
CP: What’s one of the most common mistakes you find when consulting with people in regards to ergonomics?
JM: The most common mistake I see being made is that people are assigned a workstation that has already been set up by the previous occupant and they don’t even think about whether it will work well for them. And so they work for months or even years without being comfortable.
Ergonomics is very often just about asking the right questions and paying attention to your own body. It’s about self-awareness and making the connection between your immediate work environment and the strains on your body.
CP: What would you recommend for people who are building up the perfect office on a limited budget?
JM: Good ergonomics on a limited budget can be a challenge. Cheap seating is usually a mistake in every way. It doesn’t give good support generally and the life expectancy of a cheap chair is a year or two while that of a quality chair is 7 to 12 years. So it turns out to be a better value and a better product that directly impacts your health, not to mention better for the environment, to reach for a higher quality chair.
When choosing a desk, it’s best to avoid a desk with a pencil drawer or apron because they can impact your shoulder posture. If you already have an office setup and are living with chronic pain, pay attention to those postures and movements that make it worse and then figure out what product you are interacting with that impacts this. A piecemeal approach to ergonomics can still be very beneficial if it is targeted correctly.
CP: Which piece of office equipment (in your opinion) is most worthy of investing in initially when someone is on a limited budget?
JM: I’m not sure that there is one universal item above others. One that we don’t even sell but is critical is a headset for those who are on the phone and computing as trying to cradle the handset with your head is really bad for your neck.
Basically, I look for aspects of the work or workstation that create tendencies toward reaching, twisting and slouching and try to mitigate them. One of the best tools for this is to replace the mouse with either a RollerMouse or Mousetrapper, which moves the cursor control to in front of the keyboard. This alone cuts down on most of the awkward reaching that is associated with computing.
Some of the other less considered but still important tools to consider are footrests for those working at a standard desk and are not tall enough to easily reach the surface, keyboard trays for the same purpose but also more generally to allow one to work essentially in their lap, document holders, monitor arms and task lights. Of course, sit/stand desks which have finally gone more mainstream in the US, can be a tremendous benefit.
CP: What would be your dream office setup for your clients if price were not a factor?
JM: A dream office is quite a question. I suppose it depends on what your job is, how many different tasks one does. If you are solely interacting with the computer all day, then I would want the freedom to work at a Focal Upright Sphere part of the time and a sit/stand desk with a Hag Capisco or the new Aeris 3D chair. Of course I would have a monitor array. And being an aesthete, it has to be beautiful.
Tips and Thoughts
I want to reiterate that becoming attuned to making the connection between how your body feels and the environment you are interacting with really is key.
First, you want to notice how you are sitting. Are you slouched, leaning over your desk, reclined or comfortably upright? You may need a new chair.
Are you reaching for the mouse or keyboard, with your arms extended or are your elbows comfortably at your side with your forearms gently forward and perhaps sloped a little downward? You may benefit from a keyboard tray with a mouse surface that is adjustable and can come up over the keyboard, or perhaps a RollerMouse or Mousetrapper.
Are your feet supported on the floor? Do you feel pressure on the underside of your thighs extending close to your knees? You may benefit from a footrest, which is good for your circulation as well as your lower back.
Are you getting sore legs and ankles from standing? You may benefit from a standing support mat.
Are you straining to read the screen? You may benefit from a larger monitor, or a monitor arm that can safely bring the screen closer.
Do you feel pressure in your forearm or wrist when you bend you wrist in any direction? Depending on which types of bends or rotation bother you, you may benefit from a pronated mouse or a split keyboard.
How Meltzer Became an Ergonomic Specialist – in His Own Words
I have always been ahead of my times, and my current occupation is another example of that. I began studying nutrition and ecology, and doing yoga and meditation, in high school and college in the 1970’s. I graduated from the University of Michigan with a major in Business, planning on going into my family’s retail business. After college though, I decided not to do this and had a variety of careers before I started this company, Applied Ergonomics.
My innate talents tend toward design and marketing, as well as finance, and after college I became a Market Maker on the CBOE (Chicago Board of Options Exchange) relatively early in its existence. I stayed there for five years, after which I went into residential rehabbing but had bad timing as interest rates were prohibitively high. Soon thereafter, I joined a company that was pioneering ergonomics and stayed with them for five years. Again, I was way ahead of the trend, and was able to interact with and learn from the real pioneers of the industry, both medical doctors and ergonomists.
I chose to open my own company but wanted to expand into the furniture business instead of being narrowly focused on ergonomics. I aligned with a forward thinking manufacturer and had pretty instant success. The contract furniture business has been a great fit for me because it calls on all my talents and interests from design to construction, from understanding client’s business work flow and culture to using my business education in running my own company.
Having the grounding that I do in ergonomics allows us to design better spaces for clients when working on large projects. I have continued to do individual ergonomics consulting throughout the last 25 years because it is incredibly gratifying to make a direct contribution to the quality of my clients’ lives. What sets my consulting apart from that of an OT (Occupational Therapist) is that I use specific products prescriptively as I know product intimately so I am able to recommend specific items to accomplish the result I want for the individual. I am also vendor agnostic and pull from manufacturers across the industry.
Thank you, Jeff Meltzer, for taking the time to answer these questions. I am very thankful to you and to Automattic, Inc. for my incredible office setup. I look forward to many years of pain-free work in this lovely, ergonomic environment.