We don’t often think about it, but we spend more time sitting down staring at our computer screen or at our desks working on a project than almost anything else. It makes sense to change your current uncomfortable chair for a better, ergonomic one that offers a greater comfort during long days in the office.
It turns out that the best office chairs don’t reach to the stratosphere regarding price, which makes the purchase affordable when considering how many years of use one will enjoy sitting in the chair.
A well-supported, ergonomically designed office chair provides ample support for the back and spine, with good lumbar support for the lower part of the back that is the most painful for people with back problems. One often discovers that the plush, the leather-bound executive chair isn’t necessarily the best choice when it comes to comfort or proper body support when sitting for extended periods of time. However, the cheap, basic office chair with its flimsy oval-shaped back support and minimal padding on the seat offer little too.
We looked at the best available office chairs on the market and came up with our guide to help understand the differences between each type, what factors to consider, features to look for, and what other office workers highlighted as important to them. We hope you find our guide useful.
Types of Office Chairs
There are many different types of office chairs. From the most basic type with the minimum of polyurethane foam for padding and cheap, often itchy fabrics used right up to ergonomically designed chairs that are adjustable in almost every way to suit the person who’ll be spending much of their weekdays sitting in it.
The types of office chairs are:
- Conference Chairs
- Executive Chairs
- Ergonomic Chairs
- Guest Chairs
- Mesh Chairs
- Stacking Chairs
Below we describe in detail the types of chairs one typically finds in the average business office.
The conference chair or boardroom chair as it’s sometimes referred to, are usually short stature chairs designed to look good but not be used for more than a couple of hours at a sitting.
Rather than be adjustable in height or to have flexible arms which are adjustable back and forward or up and down, these chairs tend to be one height, one position.
Depending on the design, the model might even slide around the floor rather than come fitted with castor wheels. The reason for this design choice is because conference chairs usually face towards the conference table with the occupier turning their whole body or head towards the person speaking, rather than the chair swiveling towards them.
In situations where the CEO feels the need to have a plush chair that looks more like an executive chair, their conference chair may look a little different with a few more features like the ability to swivel, adjust height, etc.
The Executive Chair is a luxuriously designed model most often fitted with leather covering layer and polyurethane foam for the padding. The overall appearance of this type of chair suggests style and prestige befitting of the executive who sits in it.
The back is likely to reach head level, substantially padded, with a pronounced lumbar support visible for the lower back area. Armrests are usually not adjustable with executive models where the arm itself is often fixed in position and given an ample padding of its own, and covered in soft leather.
The type of leather used with each executive chair is different. The rarer, more exotic leathers like ostrich or crocodile make the model distinctive but add considerable productive cost. After the leather tanning process, coloring is added which enables these types of chairs to veer away from the standard black and chrome appearance to adopt other colors choices like mahogany brown, emerald green, etc.
Depending on the features of the model, these chairs are height adjustable and usually recline a certain distance while remaining stable. Sometimes it is possible to fix the recline level in place to remain hovering in the air.
A built-in headrest, usually as part of the central back support, is given additional padding to rest the head and neck comfortably. Chrome or another material is used for the multi-spoke base, and casters with wheels are fitted to them which allow the chair to swivel around quickly in any direction.
The more affordable executive chair is upholstered in faux leather for its easy wipe surface and stylish look. The premium real leather seats include thicker high-density foam for an even plusher appearance.
The ergonomic chair (or task chair as it is sometimes known) is the main stalwart of the office. When one thinks of an office chair, this is often what one picture.
The basic appearance of this type is a steady back, well-padded seat to rest on, raised arms on either side and multi-spoke base that splay out to support castors and wheels below them. With the castors and wheels fitted, the chair can swivel around or indeed, roll across the office floor on the seat, to grab a printout or turn to face your boss when they approach your desk.
On the underside of this type of chair are the controls to make subtle seating adjustments. Depending on the features of that model, these tweaks may include raising or lowing the height of the chair using a handle that is sticking out from the side, moving the spinal support back at an angle and fixing it there, and tilting the seat forward or back. The arm rests are adjustable from the side, and height adjustment is often made while still sitting, just like when adjusting the height of the chair.
The more expensive chairs of this type don’t always use leather covers, but instead, rely on a comfortable hi-tech mesh and ergonomic design to provide a comfortable seat for all day use. Indeed, while the luxurious appearance of the executive chair may look appealing, often the ergonomic chair is far more comfortable for daily, prolonged use.
Guest chairs are the secondary ones positioned in front of the executive’s desk for guests to sit briefly during a private meeting. Alternatively, there will usually be a few ones lying around spare to pull up next to a worker’s desk ready to observe what they’re doing.
The design of this type from a basic model without any adjustments possible to height and seating angle, right up to models that offer similar ergonomic comfort and seating, is fairly simple. The idea is that the guest is not expected to spend much time sitting down while consulting with a worker or attending a brief meeting, and as such, this model should not offer all the bells and whistles.
A mesh chair offers similar ergonomic features to an ergonomic office chair, but specifically, avoids the use of foam for padding or leather/faux leather as a cover. Instead, this chair type adopts fabric that looks like a net which offers excellent air circulation to avoid heat build-up. These types of chairs are useful in hotter offices or in offices located in places with more humid climate that the HVAC air conditioning system struggles to handle successfully.
The design choice have the same multi-spoke base design, castors and wheels to make them easy to swivel and move around during use. A lever on the side lets the seated person adjust the height without having to get up. The arms are minimally padded, occasionally quite hard, and usually height adjustable too.
Stacking chairs get used in office spaces because of their space saving nature and ability to provide additional seating in a pinch when there’s an impromptu large meeting with the whole staff. These chairs are appropriate for temporary use in the office without looking cheap.
Depending on the design, the stacking chair is usually made with solid metal legs and frame, with padding on the back and seat for comfort. The chair stacks easily one on top of each other and doesn’t weigh too much.
As a more affordable alternative model, some are plastic and used in a business cafeteria because they’re lighter and easier to keep clean.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing an Office Chair
There are a few things to consider before buying one or more chairs for the office.
The primary objective of the office chair in question will indicate what type to purchase. For instance, when lacking a chair for visitors to an executive’s office, then the choice of chair is obvious. Similarly, when requiring ready access to several chairs quickly to anywhere in the office building, then stackable chairs make the most sense.
Chairs bought for one purpose are usable for others, but won’t make an ideal choice. Sooner or later, either the deficiencies of that type of chair or its lack of suitability for its new role will surface. For this reason, buying the right chair for the intended purpose is an important first step.
Comfort / Ergonomics
Comfort and ergonomic design go hand in hand, but only up to a point. A chair may be comfortable in the short term because it’s well-padded in all the places that count. However, following prolonged use it’ll soon become apparent that it’s lack of good ergonomic design is playing havoc with your back once you stand up and walk around after using it for a period.
With comfort, we think about the padding and the fabric that covers the seat. Foam is the traditional filling, but a supportive hi-tech mesh material is also often used to deliver support without the extra bulk. Fabric choices include faux leather, real leather, different types of textiles, and a hi-tech mesh which offers improved breathability other materials lack.
With cheap office chairs, the issue is a notable lack of sufficient padding for comfort and zero lower lumbar support for the back. A bare metal spine is all that is shown, and often a wobbly back support too. Such products offer little proper support and are not a good choice for long days in the office.
Exceptional ergonomics only comes from selecting an ergonomic chair that’s been designed with this goal in mind. Many such chairs form an “S” shape to them to match the curvature of the spine and support it properly. The longer one sits in them; the more important ergonomically designed furniture is for long-term spinal health.
The height of a chair makes a difference for taller people. The taller one is, the more proper back support plays a part in comfort. With shorter chairs with designs that don’t reach very high, the back is not well supported, and the neck and head lack any support at all. The ability to sometimes rest the head and neck during a busy workday is helpful for workers, particularly those who use their work computer throughout the day, often in a hunched over position that’s detrimental to them.
Depending on the type of chair selected, the height of the chair may always be baked in. For instance, guest chairs or stacking chairs typically don’t reach higher than the shoulder blades for most people and don’t have much, if any, lumbar support for the lower back either. Therefore, choosing the appropriate chair type dictates the height options.
Appropriate support for the back and lumbar at the lower part of the back is something that everyone should consider when choosing a new chair.
Occasional or prolonged back pain sufferers should be particularly careful about the product they select; it needs to be both ergonomically well designed and provide support for their head, neck, back and lower back (lumbar) areas. A few models even have adjustable lumbar support, rather than fixed support in this area which is useful for fully customized back support.
Some models offer a reclining feature that allows the seated person to float back in a comfortable, relaxed position. Whether wanting to take a quick nap or just remove pressure from the legs, a reclining option is always useful.
A seat slide feature is one that allows the movement of the seat forward or back. Depending on the shape of the body, this allows subtle adjustments to be made to perfectly attune the chair to the form of the person who is using it. A seat slide option is rare and only usually seen in top models.
Mobile armrests are ones that adjust in various ways. Most often, mobile armrests are adjustable in height up and down. A knob on the side allows the individual to make the adjustment manually in seconds to suit the height level where their upper forearm and elbow naturally sit.
A few advanced ergonomic chairs also offer movable armrests that can adjust forward or back. The option is pretty rare but is another way to adjust to the size of the person using the chair (a heavy-set person is often sitting closer to the edge of the seat and requires a mobile armrest that is pushed forward).
Most office chairs are not that portable. Stackable chairs are designed to be lighter and easier to carry from office to office, room to room to set them up quickly.
With ergonomic chairs, when factoring in the weight of the main body, multi-spoke system, castors and wheels, the total weight is considerable. With conference chairs, guest chairs, and mesh chairs, the weight is lighter and sometimes they are more portable.
The strength often comes down to the quality of the materials and the manufacturing. With chairs put together carefully and well, then the fabrics do matter. Textile fabrics get used with guest chairs often because they’re robust and durable. Faux leather and real leather covers are easier to clean, but also sustain cuts to the material far more easily which are then difficult to mend successfully without making them vulnerable to further cuts.
The staff in the office weigh different amounts from the slight 100-pound slender ladies right up to heavy-set people who cross into the 300+ pound range. It is fair to say that not all chairs are built to hold the same amount of weight. Each design and structure have its own carrying limit. If worried about this aspect, check with the manufacturer to verify the exact maximum carrying the weight of a chair model before purchase.
Color schemes for office chairs are mostly muted. Nothing too flashy or colorful is usually the order of the day. Color schemes for office chairs mostly use blacks, browns, beige, chrome, and silver with occasional splashes of colorful inspiration with fabric covered chairs.
The choices of materials are mesh, woven textiles, faux leather, and real leather. The mesh is thought to offer greater breathability. Textiles are commonplace for chairs that don’t require or need the leather look. Both faux leather and real leather tend to be used in upmarket ergonomic and executive chairs where comfort and luxury appearance matter more.
Amount of Daily Use
Certain types of chairs are just not designed for all-day use. The seating one sees in the reception area of companies is one example. The more hours one expects to sit in the chair, the greater attention one needs to pay to ergonomics, padding, back and neck support, and how adjustability the setup of the seating is.
Ease of Assembly
Most chairs don’t come pre-assembled. For the ones that aren’t, it usually takes about an hour to assemble each chair. That’s okay when there’s only one new chair bought, but when purchasing 10 of them, assembly becomes an all-day affair. Look at what assembly is required, and the estimated time it will take.
Value for Money
The value for money of an office chair mostly depends on what you need to get from it. With only occasional use (like with a guest chair) it isn’t always necessary to purchase the best-in-class product. After all, it will mostly sit empty. On the other hand, when you know that the chair will be used throughout the day, comfort, proper support, and adjustability become far more important. A good chair is still far less expensive than a qualified chiropractor and that’s well worth remembering.
Features of Office Chairs
Here are a few of the features to consider with office chairs.
Chairs for the office either rotate around 360-degrees or they have fixed legs and cannot swivel at all. The mechanism to enable the chair to turn is similar across all brands with no one brand offering an advantage here.
The important point with swivel chairs is whether the ability to rotate around to face someone is a useful feature or not. When this isn’t necessary, then a fixed leg chair design is perfectly acceptable.
Ergonomic design is needed to support the body while seated. Ergonomic chairs are usually designed with an “S” shape that supports the spine while offering sufficient comfort. The cheapest office chair is often the least supportive.
Executive chairs and a few other types offer the option to recline. The degree of recline, ability to fix the recline angle, and the recline level increments are all part of the possible adjustments. The amount of pushback when reclining is sometimes adjustable, as is the flexibility of the front edge of the seat as one reclines. A reclining chair is best suited to one with a high back design.
Low back or high back
A chair either has a low back that reaches partway up the back or a high back that goes to the top of the back and sometimes supports the head as well.
Office chairs fall into two categories with height adjustment: the ones with the ability and the fixed height versions.
The fixed height ones are either four-legged stackable chairs or those with curved legs that reach the floor and lend themselves to sliding across the floor to avoid having to lift it across the room.
Most office chairs do adjust in height using a lever on one or other side which is reachable from a seated position. Usually powered by gas pressure, releasing the handle drops the seat down when full weight is placed on the seat, but when using the feet to push up, then the seat rises instead. Using the same lever, it’s sometimes possible to fix the chair recline level in place too.
Armrests are often adjustable up or down with many office chairs. The mechanism is directly activated, and it’s possible to do so from a seated position. At the top of the luxury end of the market, armrests may also be adjusted forward or back too.
Some arms have a width that is adjustable as well. For people with wider forearms, these models are preferred. Arms can also pivot to a chosen angle on models that offer this feature.
It is rare, but one or more models offer a seat tilting feature to adjust the horizontal level of the seat. While sounding like a novelty feature, some executive chair models lack the physical feeling of having the feet touching the ground securely, so a seat tilting feature is useful there.
Fabrics often come down to a personal choice and what comes with a chair model that you like. Mesh adds more breathability; woven fabrics are durable, and leather or faux leather lends a touch of class to environments where the use or appearance of leather doesn’t cause offense.
Best Office Chair Brands
When looking at the best ergonomic chairs, there are only a few companies that are at the forefront of excellent design and comfort.
The company has been making furniture since 1912. The business operates through several brands, but with their Steelcase name; their central focus is office chairs. Under this brand, colorful, ergonomic office chairs are the order of the day with a wide variety of design choices to please the most selective of customers.
The company was founded in 1923 and continues to lead the market in comfortable seating and furniture. Their range of ergonomic office chairs have an enviable reputation, and they also make seating for the home now too.
The company focuses exclusively on pure ergonomic design with their office chairs and desks. Their designs have been previously featured in some museums including the Museum of Modern Art.
The ErgoHuman brand offers both leather and mesh-based office chairs with (or without) high backs for complete back, head and neck support. Some of their chairs specialize in advanced lower back support too.
The company mostly sells directly to resellers and consumers via Amazon.com. Their range is extensive covering many seating categories, with a particular focus on mesh seating.
What Consumers Say
Not all seat cushioning is soft and as comfortable as one would imagine. It does sometimes happen that an extra seat cushion is purchased to make the chair more pleasant over long periods, but these can slide off. Getting the seat firmness right for you with the model selected is a more important consideration than people realize.
The high-tech mesh backs of some ergonomic chairs keep you cooler, but aren’t necessarily as comfortable as seats using memory foam (this type of foam tends to trap heat, though).
Some chairs have a high failure rate with parts going wrong inside the initial warranty period. Office chairs do have a limited warranty for 10+ years in many cases. Also, it is useful to understand what level of coverage manufacturers’ offer to ensure any issues are handled well.
Highly Adjustable vs. Completely Adjustable
A chair described as “highly adjustable” is not going to allow for full customization, unlike a product that is marketed as “completely (or entirely) adjustable.” In situations where you need to customize all aspects of the feel of an office chair, look for one that offers the most customizations possible. Only this will provide enough adjustability to satisfy completely.
Be sure to choose the right size chair for your frame. Choosing one either too small or too large will leave you either cramped or feeling lost inside it. The armrests won’t be correctly positioned and your body will be out of position making proper back support questionable.