Task Chair Buying Guide | Why & How

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Why Buy Task Chairs?

Short answer? Task chairs are the most direct investment you can make in the effectiveness of your people. Research shows that most adults spend the majority of 9 to 10 waking hours in a sedentary position. Everyone knows prolonged periods of improper posture during the workday are attributable to aches, pains and irritability. In fact, those symptoms are called work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WSMDs), and they have a significant impact on the economy. A study by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine approximate that 1 million people lose work to WSMDs each year, resulting in “conservative estimates” of $50 billion in work-related costs annually.

On the positive side, there’s evidence that people who are comfortable at their workstation perform better. In theory, an increased investment in comfort positively correlates with the person’s productivity (ROI, if you will). Aside from these universal cost considerations, the “why” is entirely dependent on your workspace. So, in this task chair buying guide, we’ll examine the “how”.


How To Buy Task Chairs

First, we’re going to examine broader considerations for style. Then, we’re going to dissect a task chair from the bottom-up and look at considerations for each component and function. This way, you’ll better understand what you’re looking for in the context of your workspace. Finally, we’ll look at budgetary and planning guidelines to inform better buying decisions in the future.


Task Chair Style

As they’re one of the most numerous items in offices, the aesthetic of your office chairs can be a valuable asset in branding the workspace. Traditional office chairs often feature leather upholstery and focus on presence rather than function. Modern office chairs emphasize sleek lines and customizable functionality.

The weight rating of your task seating is an important considerations when it comes to occupants with smaller or larger frames. Most manufacturers produce petite and/or big-and-tall models in their popular lines. Petite office chairs often have a shorter cylinder, smaller seats and footrests where applicable. Big and tall office chairs typically have a heavy duty cylinder that accommodates upwards of 300lbs.

Your task chairs’ frame finish is a purely aesthetic quality, but is another valuable asset for branding the workspace. Individual manufacturers most often have uniquely-titled finishes that can be summarized into matte, brushed and polished. Matte frames (like graphite) are typically a dark charcoal color. Brushed frames (titanium, fog, etc.) have a muted metal finish. Polished frames (i.e. aluminum, steel) have a shiny, reflective metal finish.

Task Chair Fabric Options

Mesh task chairs are one of the most popular facets in modern workspaces for their superior breathability. While innovations in material and design have made mesh a top choice for support and durability, the membrane structure is typically fairly firm with very little cushion.

Vinyl and leather task chairs are often found in spaces with a more traditional feel. Leather materials are exceptionally comfortable and durable, but can crack if not cared for properly. Leather-like materials offer a similarly refined appearance with a much lower price point and level of maintenance.

Fabric task chairs are usually padded, and available in a nearly infinite range of upholstery colors. Routine cleaning and spot treatment will keep fabric task chairs in shape for years, but beware of stains and wear.

Task Chair Casters & Glides

This is a choice based primarily on the floors in your office. Glides are fairly uncommon, and are typically reserved for carpeted spaces. Plastic or metal discs on your chair’s base keep chairs stationary, but will glide over low-pile carpet. Casters are fairly ubiquitous, with two common options. Carpet casters are hard wheels also meant for carpeted spaces, as they may scratch hard-surface floor covering. Hard floor casters have rubber on the outside for use on wood, tile and other such floors.

Task Chair Height Adjustment

Standard task chairs with adjustable seat height have a range of roughly 16″-21″ off the floor, which accommodates most occupants. Drafting chairs and stools have a range of 26″-36″, which usually feature a footrest and are designed to accommodate higher work surfaces. Chairs with manual height adjustment are on a threaded post, so rotating the chair will raise or lower it. Seating with pneumatic height adjustment most often have a lever that allows the occupant to raise or lower the chair.

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Task Chair Tilt Mechanism

The tilt mechanism on your task chair has three main components: the pivot point, tilt lock and tilt tension. Tilt lock is generally a lever depressed at your optimal tilt angle that keeps the seat and back in a static position. Tilt tension is usually a knob beneath your seat that allows adjustment of resistance as you tilt or recline. The pivot point at which your chair and seat tilt. The other variation on tilt mechanisms is the number of controls involved, but that’s a case-by-case basis in terms of different manufacturers.

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Task Chair Seat

Because it plays a key role in comfort, the seat of your task chair is arguably the most important component on the most important piece of furniture in your workspace. Task chair seats are generally between 17″-21″ wide, and come in a variety of shapes and features aside from adjustability. Contoured seats offer greater comfort than flat seats, and often boast more cushion. Common task chair seat adjustments include seat depth and seat angle. Adjustable seat depth allows occupants to increase the distance between the back of the chair and back of the seat on a sliding track. Adjustable seat angle most often refers to the ability to tilt forward for intensive periods of work.

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Task Chair Back

Aside from ergonomic functions, task chairs are most commonly available in “mid-back” or “high-back” configurations. Mid-back configurations generally rise to the shoulder blades, while high-backs come up to the occupants neck. Common task chair back functions are adjustable back height, back depth and lumbar support. On task chairs with adjustable back height, the back support slides up and down on the post extending from your seat. Adjustable back depth allows extension of the post extending from your seat. Lumbar supports are an additional component that typically ratchets up and down to accommodate different size occupants and spine curvatures. Sometimes, lumbar supports also have a depth function that presses the support further into the occupants back.

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Task Chair Arms

Task chair arms feature two dynamic properties: arm caps and adjustability. Arm caps can be upholstered for extra comfort in a variety of materials. Arm caps can also be adjusted independent of the arms (left-right as well as forward-back). “Adjustable arms” encompasses a range of functions. Task chairs arms can be moved vertically to position elbows higher or lower, and moved horizontally for a wider seat area. Many task chair arms are removable, and many models are available without arms at all.

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Task Chair Accessories

Most of the components we’ve just covered are optional, depending on your chair. However, there are further accessories to optimize your task chair. The most common task chair accessories are headrests, lumbar supports, and chair mats. Headrests are typically fixed to the rear of high-back chairs, and have adjustable height and angle positioning. If your chair doesn’t have a built-in lumbar supports, there are plenty of inexpensive options to increase the support to your lower back. These generally slide around the back of your chair with an elastic band, then press against your lumbar with a light frame and mesh web. When your chair’s casters aren’t going to accommodate your existing floors, chair mats are a cost-effective solution. Acrylic, glass and other materials provide a smooth surface to roll over and protect your floor covering from wear and tear.

How To Position Your Ergonomic Chair

  • Feet should be flat on the floor, while thighs should be horizontal and arms should be even with the height of the user’s desk.
  • The seat should be deep enough so that the user can sit with his or her back against the backrest of the chair while leaving about 2″-4″ between the back of the knees and the seat of the chair.
  • Knees should be at a 90 degree angle while seated to provide proper support
  • Your spine curves inward toward your lower extremities, making it difficult to support your back while seated. Lumbar support should press against your lower back while sitting up straight all the way back in the seat. If your office chair doesn’t have one built in, there are plenty of cheap, effective solutions out there.
  • Set your backrest high & forward to keep your spine aligned straightly. Slouching down/forward as you tire compresses your spine & lumbar discs.
  • Keep elbows close to the body & supported at approximately a right angle (one side parallel with your spine & one side parallel with the floor).
  • Adjust armrest height such that your shoulders are relaxed & your forearms are parallel with the floor.
  • Wrists should remain in a neutral position (parallel to the floor, in line with forearm) while typing. Angling your wrist for a sustained period can result in an array of WMSD’s.
  • Keep neck straight with slight, natural downward tilt while working without maintaining an awkward position or leaning forward. Position monitor at least 20″ away from eyes, angled 10-20 degrees down such that the entire screen is at the same focal distance.
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Questions to Ask Before You Buy

  • How often will you use the chair? This is a essentially question of balancing budget and adjustability. Spending all day in your office chair? Splurge on seating that will allow you to find the optimal position during prolonged periods. Only in it for a few hours? Keep yourself comfortable, but you have an opportunity to prioritize cost-effectiveness.
  • What kind of work will you be doing? This is a question of what functionality to invest in. Highly mobile? Invest in a sturdy frame and casters that accommodate your floor covering. Strictly sedentary? Make sure your armrests, backrest and base mechanism rise to the challenge (literally).
  • How do you prefer to sit? Intensive, forward-leaning computer work? Make sure your seat has forward tilt. Prefer a casual recline? Backward tilt is more common. but look for tilt lock as well to maintain that position. Prone to sore legs? Invest in a seat with a sloping edge (“waterfall”) to promote adequate circulation.
  • Does your workspace have solid floors or carpet? This is a question of caster type and/or investing in floor mats. Hard carpet casters can scratch tile, wood and similar floor coverings. Soft, hard-floor casters won’t roll well on carpeted surfaces. Casters are typically an easy component to customize, but floor mats are a cost-effective solution when they can’t accommodate your floor covering.
  • Can I try before I buy? If possible, spend more than a few minutes on a showroom floor. Check with your retailer about return and test policies – many dealerships can get sample chairs just for that purpose.
  • What’s the warranty? Office chairs have to stand up to daily abuse, and companies should stand behind the product with a fair, straightforward warranty. Look for longer and more inclusive.
  • How to snag a quality chair for less? While large employers can often absorb the initial costs in favor of return down the line, price tags on new chairs can be tough for individuals to stomach. Stick to well-known models when buying pre-owned or person-to-person. If you’re able, check with liquidators about wholesale units for higher quality.

Thanks For Reading Our Task Chair Buying Guide!

We hope this resource proves helpful to making a more informed decision about buying task chairs. Want to dive a little deeper? We’ve also put together a selection of idea starters, segmented by style and price point. You can see it here or by clicking the button below.

See Task Chair Idea Starters!

And, remember, we’re here at any point to help make your workspace work as hard as you do. If you’re in the market, we can procure a variety of new and used office chairs. If you’ve found what you’re looking for, our team has the capacity to assemble, deliver recycle your seating and more. Up against it, or want to get ahead of the curve? Tell us about your project!

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