Office Ergonomics: Jarvis Desk and Topo Mat Review

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I get teased and/or asked about my office equipment enough that I thought it might be time for a review. I say equipment because the word furniture doesn't seem to adequately describe its importance. I have a couch that I lounge on to watch Netflix, but it is nowhere near as important as the seating I have in my office. Why? Time. Sure, I might sit or lay on the couch for a couple hours to watch a movie, but I'm at my desk anywhere from 8 to 16 hours a day. That's a lot of time, and just like dating, the more time you spend together the more the flaws become apparent (current girlfriend excluded - you're perfect, babe). That slightly inadequate padding (talking about seating, not girlfriends) becomes lower back pain. That awkward reach for the mouse becomes carpul tunnel. The little things add up.

It's a lot like Office Space. There's a doorknob that zaps the protagonist every morning on his way in. He eventually snaps and takes a power drill to it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdlN-5V0Exs

The main contributor to office discomfort of course is a static positioning #dadjokes. Sitting in the same position all day is a pain, literally. Some people will laugh at this and say, "Well, get off your ass and move about." That would be great advice too, if I was actually able to work while walking about. Sure, if you're on the phone, reading reports, or even just brainstorming, moving around is totally feasible. The problem is that 99% of my work requires me to be at my computer. I'm a CTO, developer, full-stack integrator, and all-round technical bad-ass. If someone calls me, it's going to be about a technical issue that requires ticketing, documentation, remote access, etc. These are all things that mean I'm at my keyboard, sitting. My brainstorming, planning, and other tasks are also all done virtually, on-screen and online.

I'm surely not alone. As we improve efficiency, go paperless, and cut down on live meetings, we typically replace that time with time at our desks. That's why so many startups invest in good chairs.

The Embody Chair

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embody_chair

Yeah, this is a review for a standing desk and mat, but let's set the stage. The Embody chair came into my life back in 2010. The chair was relatively new back then, and was (still is) pretty darn expensive. A fully customized chair with arm rests and castors came to about $1400 after tax. I know. OMG. Please keep reading. Let's do a quick rationalization:

  • I spend more time in my office chair than I do in my bed.
  • I spend more time in my office chair than I do in my car.
  • Considering my career path, this is not likely to change for years, and hasn't.

My previous strategy of buying cheap $200 leather office chairs from Office Max and Staples wasn't working so great. The chair was OK for the first year, usable for the second, and useless for the third. The issue was always padding. Eventually it breaks down, and eventually comes way to soon when you use a chair for hours on end every single day.

The Embody chair has an interesting solution to this. It doesn't have cushions, foam, or anything of the sort. The adjustable seat uses layered matrices of bunjie-like material. The back is supported using its signature spinal-support-thingy. Yeah, that's what I call it.

The funny part is that the entire Embody design story is based on the idea that sitting is bad for you. It is designed to allow movement and change throughout the day, not forcing you into awkward positions. The chair reclines in a way that slides the seat forward instead of leaning it back and taking your feet off the ground. The back is tapered and flexible to allow you to bend to the sides, stretch, and wiggle about. The back also supports your spine without the need for a clunky headrest that can often push your neck into unhealthy positions. At the end of the day however, you're still sitting. After 5 years with my Embody, that's the thing that's settling in. I'm still sitting.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a desk-job kinda guy. I'm an asthmatic, allergy-ridden dude who blisters all too easily. I'm also getting old enough to start seeing the effects of my career choice.

It's a hard-to-describe feeling. None of my limbs are falling asleep (if any of yours do, buy a new chair immediately), but I often get out of my chair at the end of the day feeling like I just rolled out of bed. In a way, that's a good thing, if you have a nice bed, but doing that every day has left me feeling sloth-like. After a few months of research, I made the leap to something new.

The Jarvis Desk

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I started to look at standing and treadmill desks, but realized that sitting and standing on their own aren't the problem. The problem is the lack of movement. It just so happens that standing makes us more inclined to move than sitting does. The Jarvis desk is actually the perfect solution because it moves with you.

No, sitting probably won't actually kill you. But if you do want to stand, we can help. And if you want to sit, we can make sure you're doing it right. That’s our thing: we've got your back.

Jarvis is a sit-stand desk, which basically means it goes up and down. There are options through other brands for crank-style desks, but I knew that I'd be too lazy/annoyed to constantly crank the desk up and down. Jarvis, especially with the optional memory module, makes moving between sitting and standing as easy as pushing a button. I love walking into my office in the morning, hitting a button, and sipping my tea as my desk moves into position.

Some specs:

  • Industry-leading warranty: 7 years on all frame, mechanical, and electrical components (amazing)
  • 350lb lifting capacity (enough to lift both kids)
  • Height adjustable from 23.25” to 48.75” (~24.5" to 50" with top)
  • Adjustment speed of 1.5" per second with soft start/stop
  • 4 programmable height presets
  • Auto-darkening LED display (to eliminate any annoying glow)
  • Adjustable foot leveling studs (perfect for my shoddy floor)

And here's their video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtThI9beM74

As many other reviews have stated, assembly is super easy. It was way easier than the particle board mess I was sitting at previously, and about the only issue to work out is cable management (see my video for info on that).

Price, quality, and service were all great. My particular model has a very nice bamboo top, dark metal legs, and arrived within a few days. Note that base price is about $600, but you'll definitely want to at least get the memory module so you can save preset heights. I opted out of any additional holes for routing cables, just in case my use changes in the future. It's definitely more expensive than my previous, and still awesome, Z-Line desk. Yet, it's still cheaper than a lot of basic L desks that are made out of inferior materials. Again, you also have to consider that you can sit AND stand at this thing, so the versatility is really great.

Now to complete the package, one of the most recommended accessories for standing desks is an anti-fatigue mat. When I scooped up my Jarvis from Ergo Depot they were running a special deal for the Topo mat. I honestly bought it because it was on sale and I needed a mat. I didn't expect it to be one of my favorite things ever.

The Topo Mat

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The Topo mat came in an unassuming brown box just like the Jarvis desk. It was the last thing I opened, and I certainly didn't expect to be excited about it. I usually completely ignore the usual marketing blurb, but Topo's is actually pretty accurate.

Look down. Your legs and feet aren't as happy as they should be. We know humans weren't meant to sit all day, but standing on flat ground isn't exactly a natural position either.

Topo is the only anti-fatigue mat designed with standing desk users in mind. The calculated terrain encourages healthy movement while supporting the user with incredibly comfortable environmentally-friendly foam. The peaks and valleys activate blood flow and engage more muscles than simple standing mats are able to.

Bringing outdoor, natural environment variations into the office increases range of motion, circulation, and connects you to your surroundings. Static standing leads to postural fatigue, which forces people into unhealthy positions. Adding standing position variations alleviates cramping and other discomforts associated with unnatural positions.

Topo Mat Features

  • Calculated terrain encourages healthy movement
  • Incredibly durable and comfortable polyurethane foam
  • Easy hands-free position let's you slide the mat on various floor surfaces

Topo Mat Specs

  • 29" wide (along your desk) x 26.5" back (away from your desk) x 2.7" tall at highest peak
  • Durable skin wipes clean and resists puncture
  • Data-driven design facilitates blood flow and movement
  • One-piece integral-skin polyurethane foam colored with dye, not paint

In other words, they put a lot of thought into this thing. While most the mats are your typical rectangular foam pieces, the Topo mat is this awesome alien spaceship shape. It's nice to see someone unafraid to break the mold and put out something totally unique. Here's a video of it in use.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g7GYWApXLU&feature=youtu.be

I'm not quite as enthusiastic as the actors in the video (Seriously, who has that much fun at work?), but I am pretty happy about stepping on my Topo mat in the morning. The memory presets on the Jarvis pair nicely with this. I can press my preset, open a can of Red Bull, and hop on the Topo. My feet feel awesome. To be fair, I didn't do much stretching or anything with my feet before, but that's kind of the point. Even a sedentary dude like me can hop on this thing and stand at a desk for hours. This week I averaged 5-6 hours of standing per day when most people say they aim for two.

So far my favorites are stretching my calves on the back ledge, rolling my toes in those front corners, and of course, the piece de resistence: massaging my arches on the center teardrop. I don't even wear sneakers. Throw on a pair of Ininji toe socks and you're all set.

How It's Going

The above experience is by no means scientific research, but after nearly a decade at a desk you can probably deem this significant anecdotal evidence. I've been using this for nearly 3 months now, and I'm standing at it every day. Some days, I just stand all day, but here's the usual schedule:

  • Morning: Standing and working. Definitely have some tea.
  • Late morning: If I get into something deep I tend to sit for an hour or so before lunch, spinning in the chair and trying to figure out life's problems (like how to cool my Mac mini).
  • Lunch: Sitting.
  • Afternoon: Standing post-lunch definitely helps with any afternoon lethargy.
  • Late afternoon: Sitting, running reports, tying up the day.
  • Evening: Standing makes it easy to jump in to do little pieces of work without ending up slumped over the desk for hours.

Wnat to see it all in action? Check out the video review.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Go_BORSeI