With hundreds of cheap office chairs available in retail office shops, on Amazon, and via direct-to-consumer online shops, you’re left with a question: how to choose a great office chair that will serve your needs without blowing the budget?
Knowing what to look for in an office chair will help you avoid costly mistakes while maximising your comfort and productivity during your workday.
Here are 11 factors to take into account when choosing your next office chair.
1. The Right Seat Size.
In the world of office chairs, size does matter. The chair must fit both your body and the workspace around you.
In order of importance, the sizes you need to check are:
- Seat height (your hips must be higher than your knees when your feet are flat on the floor).
- Seat width (a wide chair will make you feel like you’re swimming in it).
- Armrest height (your shoulders must not raise to accommodate your elbows).
- Seat pan depth (the back of your knees must be about 3-5 centimetres from the edge).
(Related: 7 Benefits Of Ergonomic Chairs).
2. The Right Aesthetic.
People love to pretend that they don’t care about aesthetics. They usually justify it with some waffle about not caring for other people’s thoughts.
Aesthetic isn’t just a means of receiving praise from visitors to your home office.
Shown Above: the Herman Miller Cosm is one of the prettiest things you can add to your home office.
It’s a means of controlling the energy of your space. It’s what you use to set a tone in the environment which, in turn, impacts the emotional tone of your being. Ask yourself:
- Does this office chair add to, or detract from, the office aesthetic you’re aiming for?
Incidentally, the answer to this question will help you decide on your budget.
Paying $2,500 for an office chair may seem excessive until you see that it can uplift and transform the look and feel of your entire home office.
3. Solid Construction Materials.
If you want to choose an office chair that will last a long time, build quality is very important.
Things to look for are:
- Metal base (avoid plastic or polyethylene bases).
- Anodised aluminium subsection (that’s the part directly under your bum).
- Overall fit and finish (does it feel cheap, rackety, and plasticky?).
- High-grade mesh or foam (stays breathable, but won’t sag).
- Top-grade real leather (a must for breathability – don’t buy faux leather or leatherette).
4. Armrests That Fit.
Since we’re talking about how to choose an office chair in detail, I must mention armrests. Look for armrests with 4-dimensional adjustment, like the ones you get with the Haworth Fern office chair. This means:
- Height adjustment.
- Width adjustment.
- Depth / reach adjustment.
- Pivot adjustment.
A compromise is to look for an office chair that includes the first two – they’re the most crucial. The key is to have enough adjustment to keep your shoulders relaxed while your arms are on the armrests.
Are adjustable armrests necessary? No, but if the chair has fixed armrests, try it extensively in a showroom before you buy it. Don’t buy a chair with fixed armrests online.
Shown above: A high-end office chair with fixed armrests. Not a deal breaker, but proceed with caution.
5. Comfortable Lumbar Support.
With manufacturers rushing to include lumbar support even in their lower-quality chairs, it’s common to discover that it doesn’t feel quite right.
Avoid chairs where the lumbar region feels intrusive and stiff, or where you don’t feel it at all.
6. Risk-Free Trials.
Chair choices are intensely personal. What is supremely comfortable for one person will be unappealing to another.
Yet, it’s easier than ever to buy a chair online from one of many direct-to-consumer brands – without ever sitting in one.
- When you do this, you risk inheriting an office chair that isn’t as attractive, practical, or comfortable as you like.
- When this happens, returning the chair is a fiddly, expensive process as you’ll usually have to arrange, and pay for, courier pickup.
Chairs are heavy, bulky items, and couriers charge big fees for picking these up from residential areas.
Restocking fees are also common.
That said, some direct-to-consumer retailers are starting to offer 100% risk-free trials. If the chair doesn’t fit, call them, and they will take care of the rest.
7. Comfortable Seat Pad.
Softer isn’t better. In fact, soft seat cushions can create back discomfort and cause you to overheat on hot Australian days.
Likewise, if the seat pad is too firm, you may experience soreness in your backside when sitting for long hours.
I recommend that you err on the side of firmness. A mesh chair seat should feel surprisingly taught, and a fabric chair should feel progressively firm.
8. Soft Arm Pads.
The arm pad is one of the main touchpoints of an ergonomic chair.
Make sure it’s something that you will want to interact with daily, especially if you’re a kinesthetic type of person (some feel very cheap and plasticky to the touch).
Shown above: You interact with your chair’s arm pad more often than you realise.
Pay attention to the firmness of the arm pad.
You will be leaning it with your elbow throughout your workday, and sufficiently soft material is necessary to prevent irritated skin.
(Related: 7 Best Dual Monitor Arms in Australia).
9. Additional Ergonomic Adjustments.
An ergonomic chair will include basic adjustments like seat height and lumbar support tension, but many ergonomic chairs on the premium side of the spectrum take this further.
(Related: Our Favourite Ergonomic Chairs Reviewed).
While these features aren’t essential, they can help people with specialised needs stay comfortable for extended periods:
- Tilt lock (allows you to rock back in your chair and have the chair hold that position).
- Forward tilt function (the chair will prop you forward, improving your comfort during tasking and typing).
- Back height adjustment (great for taller people).
- Headrest height, reach and tilt (you will either love them or hate them. I used to belong in the latter camp, but my experience with the ErgoTune Supreme headrest made me convert)/
10. Assembly Process.
The cheaper the chair, the more time you’ll spend assembling it.
- Most expensive office chairs, like models from Herman Miller and Steelcase, will arrive at your door 100% assembled.
- Mid-tier options will be disassembled, but will likely need about 20 minutes of your time to assemble.
- Cheap chairs will take the longest because cost-cutting leads to poorly thought-through assembly processes and the need to flat-pack the boxes.
(Related: The Best Standing Desks In Australia).
Choosing the right ergonomic office chair means making a financial investment, and that’s why we need to consider the warranty.
Not all warranties are created equal.
That said, cheaper chairs are often surprisingly well-covered.
Pay attention to any exclusions and variabilities in the warranty period. As you move down the price points you’ll find that different parts get given different warranty periods
- Mechanism and castors are covered for 10+ years.
- Frame is covered for 5 years.
- Upholstery and mesh are covered for 2 years.
This is normal, but make sure that the parts with the shortest period are covered for at least 3 years.
(Related: The Correct Way To Recycle Your Old Office Chair).
Frequently Asked Questions About How To Choose An Office Chair.
Why Are Ergonomic Chairs So Expensive?
The cost of everyday household furniture often shapes your perception of how much an office chair should cost.
If your dining chair costs about $100, should an office chair cost about that, too? Even if you double it, $200 is a fairly reasonable budget, right?
Household furniture has nothing to it except a frame, some cushioning, and fabric. It’s also not designed to move with you.
A good ergonomic office chair is more expensive because it:
- Has moving parts that are designed to enable your movement.
- Is covered by a 5-15 year warranty.
- Features high-density mesh, which is far more expensive to produce and stretch over materials than simple cloth fabric.
We think of sitting as a static activity. Yet the reality is that we’re constantly fidgeting, shifting positions and moving – and a good ergonomic office chair needs to mimic and facilitate that.
Passive vs Active Ergonomic Support?
The most classic example of an office chair with active ergonomic support is the Aeron.
It has a multitude of knobs and levers you can use to adjust several parameters, ensuring that the chair is perfectly adjusted to your body type.
- In contrast, a passive approach to ergonomic support relies on a degree of automation.
Although chairs like the Humanscale Freedom have been doing this since 1999, mass market adoption of this approach has only happened in the last few years.
(Related: How To Sit When You Have Lower Back Pain).
The passive ergonomic design dispenses with user-selectable controls for some or all of the adjustments, and allows the chair to make the decisions for you, based on your weight and seating position.
Passive ergonomic design is difficult to get right, so you’ll only see it in chairs made by established, premium, well-known companies.
Are Steelcase Office Chairs Worth It?
Yes. They’re great chairs, made by a serious company, and are backed by solid warranties.
You’ll often find them topping lists of best office chair reviews.
- They are famous for enabling movement through a multitude of smart adjustments.
Why don’t I own one?
Their rocking motion isn’t of the type I like. I enjoy rocking back fully, with my legs elevated in smooth motion in proportion to my back.
That said, Steelcase has a loyal customer base in people who want exceptional material quality, more ergonomic adjustability than nearly any other office chair and high levels of comfort.
Are Aeron Chairs Worth It?
Aeron chairs are made by MillerKnoll, a publicly listed company with 800 employees worldwide. They’ve been making office chairs since 1905, so they must be doing something right.
Did You Know?
MillerKnoll has the dubious honour of inventing the office cubicle, back in 1968.
I’ve owned a set of Aerons for a few years until I replaced them with an Ergotune Supreme earlier this year.
I personally think that their aesthetic is getting quite dated. They’ll look best in a very edgy, modern, minimalist office where their rounded edges and retro looks will contrast with the rest of the design.
If the design of your office features a lot of curves, carpets and other soft textures, I’d look elsewhere.
If there’s a flaw in the Aeron’s ergonomics, it’s the fact that depth of the seat pan isn’t adjustable. Combined with a hard front edge of the pan, you could experience circulations problems if your legs are on the shorter side.
Final Thoughts On How To Choose An Office Chair.
Finding the perfect office chair should not feel like an impossible task. Armed with my 13 things to keep in mind when choosing an office chair will help you avoid mistakes.