I think it's safe to say that you're probably going to be working from home for a while. As such, you're also probably going to be sitting in whatever chairs you have around the house to do that work in, and that may not be optimal for your comfort or productivity.
All the experts say that you really should work at a standing desk, but let's be serious here. Most people aren't going to go and buy an expensive standing desk to work from when they can use the kitchen island, or the dining room table, or any other semi-secluded space to tap at the keys on their laptop. That means you really need to buy the right chair.
The right chair is going to be different for everyone. Some want a racing-style gaming chair that looked like it came out of a cockpit, while others want something big and padded and "executive" looking, complete with the leather and brass hardware. But that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about buying a chair that fits you so that you can be comfortable in it. Here are a few things you need to think about, so you buy the right chair the first time.
How tall are you?
Yes, your height makes a big difference when it comes to buying any sort of chair that's on a piston. Ideally, you want your feet to sit flat on the ground or a footrest that's built into the chair, so the height from the seat to the floor is essential.
Most chairs are built for the average person, so this is important if you're taller or shorter than most people. You probably never noticed it, but most chairs sold online will tell you the height of the seat in the description. This is why it's done — nothing, and I mean nothing is worse for your legs and lower back that having a chair that's too tall or too short.
While we're at it, resist the urge to buy a chair made for folks who weigh a little more than average, too. The piston in a chair made for hefty folks is stronger and won't compress as much if you are under a certain weight. That makes the seat too tall, and your thighs and feet will hate you every night.
Find a chair in your house that feels good to sit in, and measure how high the top of the seat is from the floor. Stay within a few inches either direction, and you should be OK. If you feel pressure under your upper legs or your toes dangle because your foot isn't on the floor, you should have some height adjustment to dial in everything.
A lot of folks like a sturdy feeling right where the back turns into the butt and chairmakers often include lumbar support to make that happen.
You might find an extra pillow that straps to the back of the chair, or there may be a lever that pushes the chair's back in at just the right spot so your back feels good and you have the correct posture. That's really cool if you like that feeling, but if you don't, you need to make sure it's an option and that the chair isn't built with the firm support always in place.
A bigger problem here if you don't want lumbar support is a chair that is built in a way that you can feel the mechanism there even when the support is "turned off." Rollers or pads or whatever are there ready to roll in to support the lower back can feel pretty uncomfortable when they are in the wrong spot.
If you're ordering online, you probably want to read reviews to see if anyone complains about the lumbar support or lack of it.
Plastic, cloth, or leather?
I hate leather chairs. They always feel hot to me, and the back of my knees stick to them if I'm wearing shorts. My wife, however, loves a good leather chair and says that I'm crazy. But when you're buying a chair for yourself, you have to get one that's made from a material you like.
That usually means one of two things — fabric or leather (or fake leather). Leather chairs have an advantage when it comes to wiping up a spill or cleaning in general, but what's more important is what feels most comfortable to you. You've surely sat down in a leather chair a time or two in your life, and you know if you like it or not.
A third option you'll find can be a fabric seat and a mesh back. This mesh back looks like fabric and has the advantage of being breathable, but your skin can still stick to it like leather if you're wearing a tank top of have decided that it's a no-shirt day. Fair warning — that mesh is made of plastic fibers, and no matter how expensive your chair is, it will always feel like plastic. I'm cool with that and use a mesh chair, but everyone is different. You be you.
What about your floor?
Chances are you're going to be buying a chair that's on casters, and your floor makes a big difference in how well the chair can roll.
Most inexpensive chairs use all-plastic wheels with a metal insert rod and a tiny, cheap bearing. These can be OK on the kitchen floor or a chair mat, but there's no way you'll be able to zip around if your chair is on the carpet.
The good news is that casters are easy to change, and some companies make better-built ones that can roll nicely on hard surfaces or carpet. Be a little careful here because bigger casters will make your chair sit taller. See the first section above about why that isn't always a good thing.
Arms and headrests
Besides having your chair be the right height, the armrests are the second most important thing.
You want your arms to be supported and about the same height as your keyboard. You probably aren't having a carpenter come and make a custom chair for you, which means you'll want plenty of adjustment here.
You'll also want to consider how you sit and how the arms attach. Some of us like to spread out with the knees closer to the side of the chair than the midsection, so arms that stem from the front of the seat are going to press against your legs. I've got restless legs and am constantly knocking my knees together and then spreading them out without realizing I'm doing it. I can tell you from experience that a day of banging your knees against a metal chair arm support is something you'll definitely notice every evening.
A lot of chairs come with a headrest or are tall enough in the back that there's a place designed for your head to lay. Like everything else, some people love it, and some hate it. If you sit in a way that your back is straight (good posture means less back strain!), then a headrest can be pretty comfortable.
But chances are you're using a laptop, and even if you have an external monitor, it's just not the right height to lay your head back all the time. Being hunched over a keyboard will make your neck "tired," so a chair with some support for the upper back and head means you can take a break and lean back. I highly recommend it!
I saved the best for last here, because I know that not everyone can fork over a thousand dollars or more on the "best" office chair.
While super-expensive chairs tend to have all the options, the good news is that you can also find the right chair at the right price. Set a budget and spend some time looking at all your options, thinking about these tips before you buy anything. Putting an office chair together only to find it doesn't suit you means taking it back apart and shipping it. That's no fun.
I was lucky and found an expensive office chair being sold at auction from a business that closed out. I guess it's better than the chair I used to have, but not by a lot. They both have the same style and the same features and are comfortable for days when I don't want to sit in my wheelchair. The biggest difference that I can find was the retail price.
Do your self a favor and try to buy the right chair the first time. You'll probably be spending too much time sitting in it, so at least be comfortable, right?
Flash Furniture High Back Office Chair
This chair has all the options and can keep you comfortable while working or playing all day. And it won't cost you an arm and a leg.
I just spent about 3 hours researching different chairs... I've been putting off replacing my desk chair for a few years now but working from home has really kind of forced the issue. Settled on the Autonomous ErgoChair 2.
Better advice is to read a proper office ergonomics guide freely available from the NIH. The author should have done that before writing this piece. Not all experts say that you should stand all day. A mix of standing, sitting, and walking is most recommended.
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