The WFH novelty has worn off and your body will suffer if you continue perching on a kitchen stool, so the time has come to invest in a chair built to support you for hours.
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.