If you and your employees are stuck at a desk for much of the day, you probably spend as much time in your office chair as you do in bed. So, it’s no surprise that more and more employers are exploring and offering radical new alternatives to the traditional office chair.
The trouble is, while some of these alternatives could give your team the daily lift they need, others could leave them feeling more stiff and sore than ever before.
“It’s a flavour of the month type of thing,” said Marnie Downey, president of ERGO Inc.
“The key is to get employees to realize that they need to move and improve their bloodflow. It’s not just about going out and purchasing something that has the word ‘ergonomic’ on it and thinking it’ll solve all your aches and pains.”
With that in mind, we asked ergonomics experts which office-chair alternatives stand out, and which should take a back seat.
These are all the rage.
Certainly, there are many benefits to being able to spend part of the day standing – especially for people working jobs where it simply isn’t possible to get up and move around (for instance, call-centre employees).
“I’ve been using a sit/stand desk for 14 years, and I love it,” said Carrie Taylor, principal ergonomist at Taylor’d Ergonomics Incorporated. “I stand more on some days than others, but I never have to sit all day, and I feel better when I stand more.”
That said, standing desks carry risks if used improperly. The height of the monitor is crucial. Some products are also designed to sit on top of an existing desk, rather than functioning as an integrated sit/stand unit. That can result in tall people having to stoop to reach their keyboards, or shorter people grappling with desks that are too high.
Downey’s even seen people working at a standing desk while wearing high heels – a bad idea.
“People don’t really understand the risk factors associated with standing,” Downey said. “Standing’s been linked to more challenges than sitting. Some people think they’ll go from sitting all day to standing all day. That’s not the solution – both done statically for a long time have negative effects. The solution is having the ability to change postures throughout the day. A sit/stand desk allows you to do that, so proper use of one can be pretty beneficial to almost anybody.”
Stability/yoga ball chairs
These chairs can provide a good stomach workout, but they probably shouldn’t become a core part of your seating routine.
Taylor places them firmly in the category of exercise equipment, noting that most people can only use them properly briefly before they get tired and start slouching, creating a “terrible” situation for the back and neck. Also, the balls usually don’t adjust in height, so they can create awkward typing postures.
Downey has even seen people lose their balance and fall off.
“I’m personally not a huge fan of an exercise ball in the office,” she said. “I’ve found them more to be a risk factor and a safety hazard.”
Balance stools are meant to relieve some of the pressure on the feet and back by redistributing your weight. They also tend to allow movement, which should encourage blood flow.
But Taylor found hers heavy, and therefore difficult to manoeuvre around the workstation. Once again, these are best used in short bursts.
“Stools don’t provide any back support, so they aren’t really appropriate as an alternative to a chair,” Taylor said.
These seats offer some of the same benefits of balance stools, but the saddle shape can be appealing for those needing more back support.
“It tends to help keep your lower back curve intact without creating contact pressure on the back of the thighs,” said Taylor.
However, she notes saddle seats are less dynamic than balance stools and can sometimes cause hip discomfort.
Downey sees the seats as being worthy for anyone working a job that requires a lot of getting up and down – for instance, a librarian at a help desk or a retail cashier.
“A traditional office chair is harder to climb in and out of,” Downey said.
For the restlessly active among us, a treadmill desk could offer the opportunity to break a sweat while plugging away on paperwork.
But the experts are hardly in a rush to recommend them. For one thing, all that running could actually leave your productivity lagging behind.
“In 20-plus years, I’ve never recommended one,” Downey said. “I just don’t see people being able to sustain working on a treadmill desk for any amount of time.”