Whether you manage a military-issue straight back or slouch like the rest of us, sitting still for long periods is not good for the body (or the mind). “Working from home can lead to aches and pains in the neck, shoulders, lower back and even your jaw,” warns Owain Evans, chiropractor and member of the British Chiropractic Association (BCA). “Usually this is due to people working from spaces not designed for work, making it difficult to maintain a good upright posture, which is what our spine needs.”
According to a pre-lockdown survey by office furniture specialists Fellowes, 81 per cent of those questioned spent between four and nine hours a day sitting at their desks, while 36 per cent estimated six to nine hours. It’s a long time, when, as Evans explains, “our spines love movement.” That’s why creating a healthy workstation and “varying your position throughout the day” is essential.
But no matter how many hours you spend at your desk, the fundamentals of a good office chair remain the same; it needs to fit your body, support it and adjust to your movements during the day. Looks are obviously important, especially at home, but as Martin Hutchinson from Office Furniture Online urges” “Choosing looks over support can be a mistake that will show up in neck and back pain over time. An orthopaedic chair – that mimics the natural curve of the spine – can improve work efficiency by simply supporting the body in all of the right places. Combined with a waterfall seat design – gently curved front edge – and your thighs and legs also supported effectively.”
John Lewis currently offer 42 different office chair designs ranging from £50 to £1,500, while Amazon UK have just the 759 chairs to choose from. It’s a minefield of pseudoscience and marketing mumbo, but to help narrow it down, your next office chair ideally needs the following features.
Adjustable seat height
You need to place your feet squarely on the floor to maintain a solid upright working position with your hips slightly above your knees. If you’re particularly short you may need an additional footrest. Some seats feature a forward tilt (five-15 degrees) which helps set your hips higher than your knees, encouraging a more upright position.
Adjustable seat depth
If you can’t try your chair before buying, look for adjustable seat depth as it’s important to sit at the back of the chair without it pressing the backs of your knees. By sitting back you’ll also engage the lumbar support.
Whether it has scientifically engineered webbing that moulds to the shape of your spine, or a lump of strategically positioned memory foam, lumbar support help maintain your spine’s ‘S’ shape.
Another seemingly obvious feature, but if you are constantly twisting and reaching for paperwork a swivel chair will reduce strain on your lower back.
Ignore fixed height armrests, and any that prevent you from getting close enough to your desk. The best options include height and width adjustment to suit your body width and support your lower arms at 90 degrees to your body to reduce stress on your shoulders and back.
Many find chairs that move as you lean back into them irritating, but a tilting backrest offers an element of dynamic movement – vital in easing pressure on your body – on even the cheapest office chairs. It also gives the chance to slouch a while without doing yourself damage.
Your heart says you want a classic Eames Executive Chair, but your body needs an orthopaedic design with dynamic movement in multiple directions allowing your body to move while fully supported.
A standard chair may have a backrest that tilts, but with a dynamic orthopaedic chair the backrest and seat will tilt together, maintaining your body position. Ideally choose a design which adjust automatically to your weight. “Every spine is unique,” explains Alessandro Centrone, VP of marketing for EMEA at Steelcase, “so users either need to adjust the ergonomic settings of the chair before sitting for long periods or choose a chair that adjusts automatically to the user.”
The Herman Miller Aeron, launched in 1994, remains the gold standard of ergonomic chairs, with a combination of adaptive mesh upholstery, adjustable arms, multiple recline functions, and, significantly given the investment, a 12-year warranty.
Gamifying the office?
“But what if there was an alternative to the traditional office chair that has been specifically engineered to remain comfortable and supportive for hours on end?” Computer journalist and WIRED contributor Mike Jennings is talking about gaming chairs, and the fact that in many areas “a gaming chair will be more versatile than most office chairs – more armrest and angle adjustability, better neck and lumbar support and taller, winged backrests are the norm.”
The first gaming chairs were essentially racing car seats bolted onto an office chair base, with the idea being that if a driver can sit comfortably for long periods of time, so can a gamer. It was an easy hack that found favour with the gaming community and those early chairs have now evolved with brands such as DXRacer and Secretlab focussing on ergonomics in trying to combat the inevitable repetitive strain from marathon Doom sessions, and posture crippling ‘nerd neck’.
They tend to have side bolsters to support the legs, extra thick padding, adjustable recline, 4D armrests, forward tilting and lumbar support, and they can also be found in a range of sizes to suit various body shapes.
“They’re physically large and often have bold designs that will put plenty of people off,” says Jennings, “but if you need something that’s large, comfortable and very adjustable, one of these chairs could be an ideal alternative to a conventional office product.”
It’s a trend not unnoticed by Herman Miller, who has partnered with Logitech G for the launch of Embody, a gaming chair that would look perfectly at home in the office. In contrast to the traditional racing seat approach, Mike Rowen, global performance seating, Herman Miller Europe, explains how they took a “world-leading office chair” and enhanced it for gaming by watching gamers: “If someone is sitting down for a long time, we need to stop them slouching, and make sure their sacral and lumbar areas are supported.”
Whatever style of chair you choose to work on, it is important to remember that no matter how comfortable and supported you feel at your desk, you still need to take regular breaks. Your company’s office has break out zones, meeting rooms, relaxation areas and stand-up desks for a reason, to keep you moving and help you stay focussed.
The best office chairs
Herman Miller Aeron
Having the chair’s technology on show was revolutionary when launched in 1994, and that bare-bones design has informed virtually every office chair since. Designed to support your every move, the mesh back is made up of eight different zones, each of varying tension to reduce pressure points, what the seat lacks in squishy cushioning it makes up for in temperature regulation. Every aspect of your back is supported, whether you’re sitting back or leaning forward to read a screen.
HAG Capisco 8106
Admittedly this peculiar option pushes against traditional chair design, but if you’re a fidget and work best switching between sitting, perching and standing it’s a great option and still provides plenty of back support. The saddle shaped back, and seat, lets you sit forwards, perch sideways, even straddle it backwards, basically however feels most comfortable. Although to be clear, this is not a design for kicking back and relaxing in. Available in three heights, and with two footrest designs, plus countless fabric and colour options it’s definitely leftfield, but impressively versatile.
The best gaming chairs for ‘working’ from home
Herman Miller x Logitech G Embody Gaming Chair
A gaming-specific update to one of the most successful chairs Herman Miller ever designed, the sci-fi style back rest curves to fit your spine and the added sacrum support reduces your ability to slouch, while 150 ‘pixels’ across the back bend and flex, encouraging movement and even weight distribution. Combine that with a heat-dissipating, copper-infused fabric and the ability to fine-tune arm height, width, seat height, depth, and recline position and you’ve got close to the perfect chair for work and play.
Price: £1,195 | Herman Miller
Used by many of the world’s top esports teams – and you can get your chair branded with their name if that’s your thing – it’s a great value design with plush cushioning, adjustable lumbar support, ‘4D’ adjustable armrests, and a deep reclining back for power naps (seriously) as well as a 5° forward tilt for maintaining body support as you lean forward. The design is suitable for anyone 175-200cm tall and has a max user weight of 130kg, plus a choice of leather or fabric, the latter of which gives it more of an executive, rather than gaming style.