How do I choose an office chair (for myself)?
By Guy Osmond on 8th Jan 2014
When I see the question “what is the best office chair?” online, I just want to shout “wrong question” at my screen. Unfortunately, such rants are no help to anybody so this article a) raises a better question (in the title) and b) goes some way towards answering that question.
Many people outside (and within!) the office furniture industry grossly underestimate the importance of the work chair. Numerous articles have warned us about the perils of too much sitting but the truth is that many of us still have to sit at a desk whether or not that is our preferred mode of work. Even with frequent breaks, it is essential to optimise our comfort and posture by ensuring the chair(s) we use regularly are well chosen.
It is obviously not enough to go to your nearest office superstore and buy the first chair that says it’s “ergonomic” on the box. The fact that the chair (or packaging) manufacturer can spell the word is no guarantee they know what it means.
So here is an action plan for buying a work chair for your personal use. If you are looking to purchase for a department or organisation, then understanding this process will certainly assist you but the specifics of bulk purchase (“How do I choose an office chair for lots of people?”) will be addressed in a separate blog.
Assuming you are willing to commit the time and energy to “do this right”, I hope this plan will help you. If you don’t have the time to follow this process, the alternative is to find a good supplier(!) who has a real understanding of ergonomics and can help arrive at the best decision.
- First you need to understand what is “out there” and gain some understanding of the furniture industry terminology. This will ensure you are moving towards what is best for you rather than what is best for the chair salesman. To assist, you will need a list of chair features, what they do and what benefits they offer. This list is a good example.
- Such a list will not give you all the answers. It may even raise more questions but they will be useful questions that will ensure an informed choice in due course. From the list, create a shortlist of a) essential and b) desirable (but not essential) features along with any questions that you need to ask in order to add or eliminate a feature.
- Now start looking for a supplier. Unfortunately, “ergonomic” is one of the most over-used, abused and misused words since the invention of Google so you have to be a little imaginative with your online searching. Try using specialist office chairs, for example, but read more than the link line of each search result. This will start to give you a feeling for the businesses available. Don’t be deterred if the business(es) that look most promising are not in your geographical area: they may well be willing to travel and, if not, will probably recommend a reputable supplier closer to you (the dedicated workplace ergonomics community is quite small and genuine specialists will be surprisingly willing to refer you to someone they trust rather than let you down).
- Ask your questions – this will inevitably generate further questions. The answers will help you decide if this a supplier you are comfortable with (this purchase is an important decision). Get the names of chair models that meet your criteria and ask for web links to the products. Viewing online will be better than using a catalogue because the best companies often use video on their web sites. Here are some other questions to ask prospective suppliers:
– do you offer an installation service?
– if so, does it include user training?
– if so, what does the training involve?
– do you offer a Sale or Return (or similar) trial period?
– if so, how long is that?
– what training do your installer(s) have?
- By this time, it is desirable to have decided on a preferred supplier. You will be counting on their advice so it must be someone you feel you can trust.
- You also now have an idea of the sort of chairs that meet your feature requirements, so you need to check they will also fit you dimensionally. The best way to ensure the optimum physical match is take your measurements. All good suppliers will be able to offer you a form for this, either as an emailed pdf or an online version like this one.
- With your chosen feature set and the anthropometric data (measurements) recorded on the form, your preferred supplier will now be able to provide you with specific model recommendations and you can start talking about price.
- To ensure you stay within budget, you will need to review whether or not you want to keep all the desirable (non-essential) features.
- You now have a chair shortlist so you will need to sit on at least one chair, possibly two or three. This may involve someone coming to see you or the supplier may have a showroom. A good supplier will probably suggest one chair with firm foam and one with soft or perhaps one chair with a lumbar support and one with a pelvic support so that you can compare and contrast the different feel. I would advise against trying more than 3 chairs because it can become very confusing.
- By now you should be able to make your decision. To be confident about the process, double-check that your new chair can be supplied on Sale or Return or there is some trial period option.
- Finally, ensure that someone delivers the chair, shows you how to set it up and trains you properly in its use. This process will probably take 30-60 minutes. Ensure you are shown, not just what the knobs and levers do, but why you would want to use them and what you need to achieve. You should also be given chair instructions and posture information for reference in the future. Many chairs now have animated instructions available online and an animated Posture Guide (for European setups) can be found here.
As I said at the outset, many people underestimate the importance of the work chair and, as a result, the importance of the selection process. I hope this article demonstrates how not to underestimate it!
Do you agree with my action plan? Have I missed anything out? Do you have a (really reliable) simpler process?
Do you have the time to follow it? If not, contact one of my colleagues for assistance!
If you are also interested in how to choose an office chair for lots of people, my blog ‘Choosing Office Chairs (for the Majority)‘ provides a suggested procedure and more information is also available at seatingexperts.uk.
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