What to look out for when choosing an office chair? This question is not easy to answer, but we will try anyway. In today’s article we want to explain what you should look out for in an office chair and how you recognise a good office chair.

What to look out for in an office chair? An overview

Concise and simple – the following overview shows you which features you should pay special attention to in an office chair:

  1. Consider the appropriate sitting duration: before you choose an office chair, consider how long you will be sitting on it every day. The longer the daily sitting time, the more comfortable and high-quality the office chair should be. Office chairs with a sitting duration of four hours a day are not suitable for office work!
  2. Make sure that the backrest is adjustable: you can choose between a mesh material or upholstery according to your personal preference. For tall people, a particularly high backrest is recommended, or if required, a wider one. The point is that you can nestle against it and thus relieve the strain on your back. Also check that the office chair has a backrest with an adjustable lumbar support.
  3. Seat adjustment: it is important to choose office chairs with the appropriate seat depth. Many can be adjusted in this regard. Office chairs should generally be adjustable in height.
  4. Headrest: this is optional. Leaning your head back can relieve the strain on your shoulders and neck muscles. Office chairs with individually adjustable headrests are even more convenient.
  5. Armrests: they are often underestimated. Armrests serve to extend and provide an ideal right-angled rest for the forearms. This in turn relieves the shoulders and ensures a straight posture. Armrests can also be adjusted very well for different sitting positions. Make sure that the armrests of your office chair provide adjustment features.
  6. Mechanics: pay attention to the type of movement mechanism on the office chair. This is an easy way to tell the quality of the chair – the value of these mechanisms increases as you look at them:
    1. No mechanism: the office chair has no moving elements.
    2. Permanent contact mechanism: a freely movable backrest is integrated in the office chair.
    3. Tilting mechanism: here, in addition to the backrest, the seat also moves when you lean back.
    4. Synchronous mechanism: similar to the tilting mechanism, except that the seat surface moves in a different ratio.
    5. 3D mechanism: like the synchronous mechanism, except that the seat surface also tilts in all directions.

When choosing your office chair, it is important that you always keep your personal mobility in mind. Rigid sitting damages the human body in the long run, so you should make sure that your office chair has at least a tilting mechanism, or better – a synchronous mechanism.

7. Castors: also pay attention to the office chair castors. Depending on the manufacturer, you can choose between multifunctional castors, castors for soft floors (= hard castors) and for hard floors (= soft castors). This is important in order to prevent scratching the floor. Modern office chairs also have castors with brakes so that an unoccupied office chair does not roll away.

8. Personal needs: are you very tall or short, do you have any health issues, do you want fabric upholstery, or leather? All of these factors play an additional role when choosing an office chair.

What to look for in an office chair

Check here what to look for in an office chair.

Choosing the right office chair for you is not always easy. Ideally, you should try it out first. Local advice often helps with the decision and the retailer there will explain to you what you need to look out for in the office chair. However, if this is not possible for you, there are a few points to consider in advance in order to be happy with your office chair for a long time afterwards. Your health should always be the focus.

But what do all the different terms mean and what do the technologies include? How relevant is this for you? And what difference does it really make? We will have a closer look at this below.

An office chair – what to look out for? Let’s have a closer look at the components

The duration of sitting

The duration of sitting is much more important than you might think. There are chairs that are designed for only four hours and chairs that are designed for a working day of eight hours or more. Did you know that there are also office chairs designed for a 24-hour workday?

But what is the difference between these office chairs? Well, first and foremost they differ in their quality. In this case, the frame, the fabric and the mechanics play a role. The longer the duration of sitting, the higher the quality and durability of the materials and mechanisms. On the one hand, this can be recognised by the cover. For long-term use, it is designed for more abrasion and is more robust. But the mechanism and the technology behind it also matter. The more hours an office chair is used, the more important it is to make sure that it suits your needs.

The backrest

Make sure that the backrest is well shaped. It comes in a variety of styles. For that, you should know your own back height. Then you should see if the office chair has an appropriate backrest size or if it can be adjusted. You should also consider whether you need a headrest. In fact, there are many people who don’t like one, but many don’t know that the headrest is often also called a neckrest. This is because it is not only used to support the head. It is actually used on the neck to relieve strain on it. Many chairs feature a backrest that can be used to relieve the neck thanks to an accurate sitting posture.

What else should you look out for in an office chair backrest? Well, there are two options for the backrest: one is the mesh backrest and the other is the upholstered backrest. The choice depends on your own preferences. If you sweat a lot, breathable mesh backrests are a good choice. If you like to snuggle up, upholstered backrests offer a high level of comfort. Ideally, mesh backs are flexible and adapt to the shape of your back just like upholstered backs. For desk sharing, where several colleagues share a workstation, I personally recommend a mesh back. On the one hand, it´s more hygienic, on the other hand, it is more comfortable for the next user. This can be particularly relevant at cash desks where the staff is constantly changing.

Speaking of the shape of your back: due to your spine, your back is slightly S-shaped. To support this, there is the lumbar support. Ideally, it can be adjusted to the height of your lumbar region. Some upholstered backs provide such support with the shape of the backrest itself. It is important to make sure that the backrest of your swivel chair is height-adjustable so that it can be adapted to your physique.

What to look out for in an office chair 1

An office chair – what to look out for? A good example of an office chair with a mesh back. Here you can also see the flexibly adjustable lumbar support.


The seat

Another essential adjustment should be provided with the seat. First and most importantly, the chair should be height adjustable by the seat to your height. Make sure that your feet are straight on the floor and at a right angle. It is also important for an ergonomic sitting posture to leave a hand’s width of space between the seat and the back of the knee. This is important to ensure blood circulation and prevent thrombosis. For this reason, the seat depth of office chairs can often be adjusted.

The seat should fit the body width. It is often comfortable to have a hollow in the seat, depending on personal preferences. The thickness of the upholstery and how soft the seat should be is just as important. After all, the comfort of the seat also has an effect on the relief of the spine. It also plays a role whether a chair has a deep suspension. When you sit down, the suspension swings with you and does not compress your back.

What to look out for in an office chair 2

An office chair – what to look out for? High seat cushions ensure a high level of comfort. Chairs that are frequently used for long periods of time should be equipped in this way.

The armrests

Another aspect that is often neglected is the use of armrests. It is often said that they are not necessary. Basically, however, this is wrong. If there are no armrests, no matter how close you sit to the desk, your arms will hover over the keyboard. They are not placed accurately and thus strain your shoulders. Armrests serve to extend the workspace and precisely to relieve the strain on your shoulders. There are a number of options for this. Ideally, armrests should at least be adjusted in height so that they exactly match the height of the desk. This in turn should be a 45-degree angle of the crook of the arm.

Other features of armrests can include adjustment in depth so that you can get as close to the desk as possible. They can also be adjusted in width to suit the way you work and the shape of your body. One special feature are the swivel pads, which can be adjusted horizontally. This offers even more comfort, especially if you like to work particularly close to your workplace.

Another increased comfort is offered by particularly soft arm pads, but this again depends on your own preferences, so does the pad shape.

What to look out for in an office chair 3

Multifunctional armrests can be adjusted to completely meet your needs.

The office chair mechanism

For many, one of the most difficult things to understand and comprehend is the mechanics on which an office chair is built. Many manufacturers use their own terms, which may quickly be confusing. However, the mechanics can simply be divided into three classes. The basic mechanism is the tilting mechanism. It corresponds to a rocking chair. The body is moved backwards and forwards at an equal angle. What is particularly relevant with this, as with any other mechanism, is that it should be possible to adjust it to your weight. If this is not done, you may well have to put too much effort into moving in your office chair or it may move too easily, which can quickly become annoying. The tilting mechanism is more recommended when working short time, as in the long run a consistent movement is not beneficial.

The synchronous mechanism, which allows the backrest to move backwards in proportion to the seat surface, is better. Here it exceeds an angle of 45 degrees and is significantly more ergonomic. Every 8-hour chair should feature this mechanism.

Increased comfort is provided by the 3D mechanism, which allows movements to the right and left. This complies with the natural movement of the body and strengthens the muscles. This also encourages the necessary mobility, the so-called dynamic sitting, during a long working day. If this is not always comfortable for you, many office chairs also offer the option of pausing. This means that office chairs that allow the 3D function to be switched on and off as required, offer the highest level of comfort.

What to look out for in an office chair 4

An office chair – what to look out for? An ergonomic office chair should at least have a tilting or synchronous mechanism. Here you can see the function of the 3D mechanism.

The castors

Finally, always take a look at the castors on the base. Meanwhile, many of them have a function for braking, which also serves personal safety. But it is also relevant what kind of floor covering you have. Castors that move too easily over the floor, will quickly cause physical strain. This is because you always have to tense up to keep the chair in place when you want to sit at a 45-degree angle. That is why soft castors are available for hard floors. They also help to protect your floor so that no scratches are left on it. Hard castors, which are often used as standard, are mainly suitable for carpeted floors. Sometimes, office chairs have multifunctional castors in advance; these can be used for both floors.

What to look out for in an office chair 5

Make sure that your office chair has the appropriate castors for your floor covering. By that, the floor will be protected from scratches.

Individual needs

When choosing a proper office chair, your physique also plays a role. It is also important, for example, if there are any health problems. In the case of the latter, it is essential to ask a doctor for advice. He or she should be able to tell you what your body needs in order to prevent consequential damage.

All in all, the body needs flexibility, movement and stability. Swivel chairs that can be used for eight hours or more should meet these requirements. Flexibility means that the office chair adapts to your body. No matter how tall or short you are, how strong you are or what weight category you belong to, movement is all about mechanics. The swivel chair for an eight-hour day should definitely have a dynamic mechanism. Because it is important that it can adjust to your body movements but also move with them.

Stability means that the office chair should stand securely, but also gives your body a sense of security. For example, a backrest that supports your posture is absolutely essential. But also, a solid base. They are available in chrome, steel, and very high-quality plastic. But the weight class also plays a role. Most office chairs for an 8-hour day are designed for weights of up to 120 kg, so you should also pay attention to that.

The personal demand for comfort and convenience is also of importance. What are your preferences? Do you prefer hard seats or soft ones, the same goes for the backrest or armrests. Do you like it curved, ergonomically shaped and soft or do you prefer free movement, something that is also reflected in the upholstery? The design will give you the first indication.

Conclusion: what you should look out for in an office chair

Choosing the right office chair for you may not seem very easy in the first place. But it is worth knowing exactly what features and necessities are available. After all, a high-quality office chair can help reduce or even prevent the everyday back problems that arise during many years of working in an office.

By the way: it is not uncommon to experience absences due to musculoskeletal disorders or even slipped discs in this working environment. Those absences can hit companies hard financially if staff is absent for a long period of time. To counteract this, appropriate mechanisms and work guidelines have been developed. These are beneficial to the health of the employees and therefore also to the company.

Therefore, you should always be aware that if you deal thoughtlessly with workplace equipment, this can often lead to absenteeism, demotivated employees, and concentration problems. Employee-related workplace equipment starts with an ergonomic office chair and has a performance-enhancing effect.

The post "What to look out for in an office chair" written by:

Sophie Voigtländer

Expertin für Bürogestaltung und Ergonomie

Sophie joined deskonia at the beginning of 2021. Since then, she is mainly responsible for translating all kinds of texts into English.

She studied International Communication and Translation.

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