Your Most Important Office Tech: Your Chair

by Randy Murray on October 18, 2011

There’s been a lot of debate recently about the benefits of standing desks vs. the dangers of sitting. I’m not sure where I stand — or sit — in the debate, but I do know just how important chairs can be.

Back in 1994 I blew out a disk in my back and developed an amazingly painful case of sciatica (only to be exceeded by the shocking pain of kidney stones I experience years later). I did several months of various physical therapies. And I got my employer to install a special desk for me that could easily be raised so I could work while standing, or lower it so I could sit. It helped, for a little while.

Not enough, though. I eventually had to have surgery to relieve the pressure on my spine. I soon left that job and the desk, but I’ve been keenly aware of desks, chairs, and back pain ever since. The sciatica is gone, but I deal with arthritis on a daily basis. As Dr. Jones says, “It’s not the years, it’s the milage.”

When I began working on my own a little over two years ago I quickly became aware of how inadequate my old, wooden desk chair was. It was clear that I was going to spend many hours sitting every day and even with a pad and a belted-on back support it just wasn’t a good idea to sit in it all day.

I spend a lot of money on computer equipment, but frankly, the chair where I plant my butt may be the most important piece of tech I own. If you are really going to work for hours and need to sit for a great deal of that time, you need something that will keep you in a position that doesn’t leave you weak and crippled. You need something that provides support, will move, breathe, and let you find just that right position for working for long stretches.

I spent around $200 on my chair. I could have spent less and I certainly could have spent a LOT more. I sat in a lot of chairs at the local office stores, shopped around online, and eventually went back and bought one at Staples. It’s “heavily influenced” by the Herman Miller Aeron chair, but at a fraction of the cost. It has a mesh seat and back, a strong hydraulic piston base, and arms, back, and height adjustments. It’s very comfortable and cooling to sit on. Most of the time I sit perched on the seat, my back upright and relaxed. When I feel fatigued I position the chair so it supports the small of my back. And I try and remember to get up and move around at least once an hour.

What are you sitting on? I’ve seen people spend hours every day sitting on metal folding chairs or chairs that were too low, provided little to no support, or allowed slumping and slouching. That’s bad. You end up tired and in pain. Your chair should help support both your body and your focus. Before you spend any more money buying gadgets, go and get yourself a decent chair. Why spend thousands on computers and productivity systems and little to nothing on the thing that’s actually supporting you?

And please, please, get up and move around from time to time!

If you’re how softly singing, “My own little corner in my own little chair,” we’re completely in sync.

The Your Most Important Office Tech: Your Chair by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

pk October 18, 2011 at 9:52 am

I use a herman miller areon. I agree with you about the importance of a chair, for me it was that cheap chairs were uncomfortable and I’d end up sitting on my foot, so then my knee started to hurt. I realize the price tag on the areon is a bit spendy, but I’ve had my chair over 8 years and it still has years to go before I need to even consider replacing it. I wouldn’t think twice about recommending a decent chair and a decent display (also important).

If you’re in a job where you can live on just a laptop all day, I’d recommend that you move around, a lot. Start at your desk, then a couch, then a coffee shop, then somewhere else. Go back to your desk when your battery gets red.


Robert Falck October 18, 2011 at 9:58 am

Spot on, Randy! If anything, I have learned that how you sit and what you sit on are some of the most important things in any workplace. For the most part I have been fortunate enough to work at places where they have realized this and provided both good desks as well as good chairs. That includes the option to stand up for as long as desired with raisable desks, close to heaven when you spent nearly 8 hours a day on the phone!

In private I’m still looking for the ultimate chair, but I have found that my home-built chair from 5 years ago is still pretty ok. Not pretty anywhere since it’s cobbled together from a broken office chair and a seat from a car I used to have, but golly is it one of the most comfortable seats I have yet to park my rear in!

As soon as me and the wife get a house and I have a more proper office, a good chair is the first thing I’m going to go looking for. If I’m going to be spending time writing, I know I have to sit comfortably and well balanced! Given that I already have some pain in my back from time to time, it’s as good of an investment as I can make.


Mari October 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Your post reminds me of your oft mentioned adage: use the right tool for the project. Especially important for repetitive tasks that affect one’s comfort and health, an appropriate office chair is crucial. (Shoes keep popping into my head as I write this!)

I’ve changed chairs several times over the almost 25 years I’ve been sitting in front of a monitor, upgrading ergonomically, thinking I was doing right by my body. But the nagging discomfort in my shoulders and neck finally forced me to try sitting on an exercise ball. Being the daughter of a contract furniture manufacturer’s rep I grew up knowing the difference between a secretarial, a jr. executive, and an executive chair, carpet casters and floor casters, 4-prong vs. 5-prong bases, fabric, leather, naugahyde ( …pretty sure I had one of the first Naugas) so I resisted sitting on a ball. At the insistence of my daughter/massage therapist I am gratefully comfortable again. Plus bouncing is fun and balancing builds essential core muscles!


Randy Murray October 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I had a tame Nauga as a boy. After he died he made a lovely wallet.


No seriously, folks. Sitting on a ball, at least part of the day, is an excellent idea. I’ve done so myself and it really is comfortable and great on the back.


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