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Making Happiness Engineers Happier & Healthier, One Ergonomic Consultation at a Time

Posted by Applied Ergonomics on

One of my very favorite clients in the last few years is Automattic, the brains and company behind Automattic has been at the bleeding edge of everything they do, as they practically invented blogging (maybe they actually did, I haven’t asked). Since we at Applied Ergonomics are in the business of furnishing commercial spaces, primarily offices, I shouldn’t be very happy with Automattic, because they don’t have offices. Almost all of their employees, who are mostly spread across the country but also around the globe, work from home offices. A few work out of shared workspaces like the one we designed and furnished for Plugin in Highland Park, Illinois. As you can imagine, these are people who were born with a mouse in their hands. They are also a super nice group of people, completely dedicated to helping the rest of us succeed with their software. I’m writing, of course, on their software now, and it was a Happiness Engineer, (I don’t know if I can use names here or I would give K.P. a public thank you) who helped get my team started on our blog. Well, a few years ago one of their Chicago based employees was referred to us by his Physical Therapist for a better chair. He had a great experience and benefited from his improved ergonomic office furniture, and thought his teammates could benefit as well if we could figure out a way for me to work with them.

From this our distance ergonomic consulting and furnishing program was born. Since that time, I have worked with dozens of Automattic employees around the country and world, spending an hour or two on a Skype video call, just as if I was in their office with them. We schedule these mostly in the evening, so I can give them my undivided attention from home. We talk through their physical condition, I can see their posture and exactly where they hurt, plus their current equipment, furniture and workstation setup. Then I “prescribe” a new, better way to work. Sometimes, we just need to make changes to the way things are arranged, and for me to teach them what to pay attention to. Far more often, their current desk and chair are from a big box store and were bought based on a low price, and need to be replaced with adequate ergonomic office furniture. Their keyboard and mouse, too, usually came with the computer (an Apple, whose ergonomics I have come to distrust) and are contributing to their discomfort. Each person’s new furniture and computer equipment is individualized for their needs, addressing their physical condition and their office space. Sometimes I am able to arrange for them to try a chair locally; other times I simply “prescribe” a chair, knowing as I do about bodies, postures and chairs. We are even able to let them customize the fabrics, since after all this is going into their home. But ergonomics is far more holistic than can be addressed just by replacing a chair, so we also use a combination of keyboard trays, monitor arms, footrests, sit/stand desks and ergonomic keyboards and mice plus specialized palm supports. Again, each person’s recommendations have been unique to them. Some of the common choices have been chairs from Soma Ergonomics, HagKeilhauerHumanscale and Ergocentric. Ergonomic keyboards and mice are often from GoldtouchKinesisEvoluentHandshoe and Mousetrapper. Some of these aren’t even on our website, like Soma, with whom we can customize every detail of their chairs to create the ideal chair for the individual, or Ergocentric. I am looking forward to our first Automattician using a Locus Workstation from Focal Furniture.

I find it heartbreaking to see so many relatively young people living with substantial chronic pain because they have grown up spending so much time on computers with bad ergonomic office furniture. Ergonomics is not rocket science, but it’s not intuitive either if you don’t know what the possibilities are and what connections to make. There is no question in my mind that there is a direct correlation, and Automattic’s management and head of HR really are to be commended for implementing this program. Trust me, these are people who chat with each other, and there has been plenty of buzz about this program. Personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know and contribute to each member of this extraordinary company and look forward to helping many more. If you know any other companies or individuals who could benefits from this type of consulting and furnishing program, even (especially!) if they have traditional offices, please put them in touch with me.