How To Optimize Your Office Chair With Your Workspace: Five Quick Tips

Last week I took a look at how to adjust and set up an office chair and this week I want to take this a stage further by looking at the importance of the way your task chair interacts with your working area. These simple 5 tips will show you how to get the best out of your office work environment and help avoid bad work habits.

Optimize Your Office Chair With Your Workspace

Optimizing Your Office Chair With Your Workspace

Step 1 – Create Balance Between Your Office Chair And Your Work Area
Look on your office chair as the key element of your work environment and the way you work. It needs to be the hub of your work area to give you maximum productivity and comfort.

Step 2 – Setting Up Your Primary Working Zone
This is the area contained in an imaginary arc directly within a radius of roughly 12 inches from where you are sitting. Anything you use extensively throughout your work day should be here, things like your keyboard, mouse, pens etc.

Step 3 – Setting Up Your Secondary Working Zone
This is the space immediately beyond the primary zone extending to a 20 inch radius from your chair. It should be used for things you use from time to time during the day, maybe a phone, printer, scanner etc. Depending on what your work involves will establish the items you need to have here.

Step4 – Reposition Rarely Used Items
Depending on the size of your desk you may have space outside the primary and secondary areas for things you use infrequently, possibly a fax, laminating machine, reference books etc. Often these items don't need to be on your desk at all, so only include them when you have sufficient space to do so.

Step 5 – Check To Make Sure You Got It Right
Once you have re-arranged things into what you feel is the best position keep a check to see if you got it right. You may well find something you thought you used a lot is getting relatively little use. So for the first week or so re-access things and move and alter stuff around if it makes sense to do so.

You can download a copy of the 5 step process map here.

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Why Fixed Arms On An Office Chair Can Soon Become A Pain In The Neck

If your office chair has fixed arms, it can cause a number of problems which may not be immediately obvious. The most common problem is the height of the arms may well not be right for the way you work.

Typically, if they are too high, you will find your shoulders being pushed up in the air and this unnatural position often leads to shoulder and neck pain.

Less commonly, they may not be high enough. If this is the case, the only way to compensate for this is to alter the seat height. However this may well mean you are not sitting at the right height, and it can cause leg and back pain.

Fixed arms are often uncomfortable, even if they are the right height. They tend to be made from hard plastic and can be painful when used for any length of time.

This will rapidly become apparent when they’re too high for the way you sit, as they will be applying even greater pressure, so not only do they cause neck and shoulder pain, they also hurt the underside of your arms.

Maneuverability is often hindered by fixed arms. Because they are static and can’t be moved, they may well get in the way when you want to move your chair.

Things like pushing the chair under your desk while you clean or moving it around a tight space aren’t possible unless you lower the chair height, which then means you need to reset the seat height again.

Also, if you like to work up close to your desk, the arms probably won’t go under the desk edge unless you lower the seat height considerably.

When you lower the seat, you end up working at the wrong height and shoulder and neck pain soon set in. For the additional cost, it always makes sense to go for height-adjustable arms, and if the chair isn’t available with them it probably isn’t the right choice in the first place.

In fact, it’s probably better to have no arms rather than fixed ones.

This article and video take a look at the five essential features of an ergonomic office chair, with adjustable arms being one of them.

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Is Your Office Chair The Focal Point Of Your Work Area?

Your office chair is the key component of your work area set up. Everything you do flows from its relationship with the other key element which is you workstation or desk.

First, make sure you have your chair comfortably adjusted and positioned with your desk so you have a good upright posture and aren't leaning or lurching at an unnatural angle.

Next, you need to take into account the 3 elements involving the equipment and items you use when working, these are:

  • Primary Work Zone
  • Secondary Work Zone
  • Rarely Used Items

Let's take a look at each in some more detail.

Primary Work Zone

Imagine sitting in your computer chair with an arc immediately in front of you with a radius of about 12 inches (30 cms) from where you are sitting at your desk, this is your primary work zone.

It should include things you use often or for extended periods during the working day, so it will likely be your keyboard and mouse, pens etc. Arrange them so you can easily reach them.

Secondary Work Zone

This covers a larger area immediately beyond the primary zone extending the arc to about 20 inches (50 cms).

Items in this area should be things you will need occasionally and so may include items like your phone, copy holders, paperwork you plan to work with at some point during the day. Although having less frequent use they can still be reached reasonably easily.

Rarely Used Things

Anything you rarely use can be placed outside the primary and secondary areas. If you have a large desk it could be items like filing trays or maybe a desktop scanner.

Putting It All Together

For the next couple of days make a conscious effort to keep a close check on what you are and aren't using when working. Note them down and sort them into the categories covered above and then start re-arranging things so the most often used items are nearest to hand.

You'll find this will help you work a lot more efficiently in your desk chair and by minimizing stretching and reaching for things you use frequently working comfort will likely improve too.

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Buying An Office Chair? Important Factors For Getting It Right

I'm often amazed at the casual attitude people take when buying a new office chair you see frequent posts and comments on Twitter and FaceBook about how they plan to call in at the local office warehouse on the way home to pick up a new office chair, treating it as though they needed some Corn Flakes for breakfast tomorrow.

OK if the chair is only for occasional use I guess it may not matter a whole lot and yet more often than not these people are full time desk chair users who desperately need something which will give them good support and comfort for the hours and hours they sit every day.

This laid back approach usually only results in disappointment within a few weeks as it quickly becomes apparent what they bought is actually a low quality seat, made to fit a price band so what seemed like a bargain quickly becomes an embarrassing liability.

So What Would Be a More Effective Way of Buying a New Office Seat?

It all begins with some research so check manufacturer's web sites and find out if there is a local office seating specialist you can visit and discuss your requirements with friendly, knowledgeable people.

Good ones will be happy to give you an approval period after buying to return the chair if it proves unsuitable. Often they will loan you a chair to try for several days to make sure it's right for you, because it really does take a few days to be sure.

Alternatively, find a good online store which has a good returns policy so you can be certain the chair is comfortable and supportive, the better ones will generally give you 30 days.

You will probably end up spending more via a chair specialist or online however you will quickly forget the extra cost as you appreciate the increased comfort and productivity it gives you. Here is a quick summary of quality chairs worth short listing.

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3 Things You Can Do To Make Your Office Chair More Comfortable In 5 Minutes

If you are finding your office chair isn't as comfortable as it used to be then maybe it’s time to take a quick look at some key adjustments, especially if you haven't checked them recently.

Seat Height Adjustment
When your seat height isn't set up correctly it can cause you a good deal of discomfort although it shouldn't be necessary to change it once you have it set properly, sometimes it gets changed without you realizing it. Maybe someone else used your chair and altered the height, how annoying is that!

Using the paddle lever or button take the time to set your seat's height so your feet are squarely on the floor with your thighs facing slightly downwards when sitting.

You never want to have your feet dangling in the air because it puts excessive pressure on the underside of you legs. If you are short built and find difficulty with this you may need to think about buying a footrest to correct it.

Seat Tilt Tension
Hopefully your chair includes this adjustment, generally speaking it most commonly adjusts using a tension knob under the front of the chair. Turn it inwards to increase tension and outwards to decrease it.

When this is properly set up you should be able to recline with relative ease in your chair with the back moving easily as you lean back on it. If you find it's difficult to do this or the back offers little or no resistance it's definitely time to check your settings.

Back Height/Lumbar Support Adjustment
Your chair will probably have a height adjustable back unless it’s a high back model which may be fixed and yet hopefully includes some form of lumbar support adjustment.

Most back height adjustment is either by a knob at the rear of back support stem or it may have a ratchet adjuster where you need to reach behind you and slowly lift the back up and down into preset positions. This may also involve pressing buttons to do this.

Try and set the back or lumbar support so that it is giving you good lower back support as this will help prevent slouching as well as encouraging your back to adopt a healthier more upright position.

Further Help
Where your chair lacks some of these functions out its worth taking a look at the critical features you need to include when selecting a new seat.

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Office Chairs Having Memory Foam Pads Are Best Avoided

Most people are aware of memory foam, and have probably read about it or may even use it in a bed mattress. Over the past few years, some seating manufacturers have begun using it in office chair foams and I don't think this is a good idea.

Why? Well, the basic principle of memory foam is your weight compresses the foam and allows it to mold to the shape of your body so you are cushioned where you need it – nothing wrong with that.

However, it's different with office chairs because we weren't designed to sit for hours on end, so we move around in the chair because our body maybe sends a signal highlighting our back is uncomfortable and needs to change position.

In the meantime, the memory foam has molded to your initial position and then you move, as a result your body weight distribution changes so the foam needs to decompress and recompress to a new position, and that takes time because memory foam has a real slow reaction time as it slowly readjusts to your new posture.

With modern high-quality polyurethane foams not only is the response time far quicker, it also gives excellent, comfortable support as well meaning as you change so does it by reacting rapidly without loss of support. What's more it won't flatten with repeated use always maintaining its original shape.

It’s for this reason I suggest you avoid memory foam in office chairs and stick with high quality polyurethane filled seat pads and backs which are the standard with most quality manufacturers.

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Is Your Office Chair Like Being Jammed In A Dodgem Car?

Although most manufacturers tend to make their chairs with generous sized seats, if you are very tall and or well built you may find your chair is cramped in the length or width leaving you feeling wedged into it.

This makes it very difficult to get comfortable as it restricts your movements and so consequently you can end up sitting in a very rigid way which is bad news for your posture and muscles.

Fortunately, the answer is pretty simple to fix because just as certain manufacturers realized the need to make below average seat sizes for petite users, a number also produce larger than average sizes.

Frequently these are referred to as Big and Tall chairs which is a good thing as it alerts potential buyers who they are best suited for.

A word of caution though, just because a chair is referred to as big and tall by no means makes it a good chair, it's just a name with no guaranteed level of quality.

Here are some ideas for quality built big and tall chairs from specialist manufacturers.

First, Neutral Posture really understands the sort of chair needed by well built and or tall users and its NP6000 and NP8000 ranges are well worth a look. You could also consider an Aeron it comes in 3 sizes and likely a size C will be best, you can check here on the size chart, the new Embody is another potential answer. BodyBilt is yet another manufacturer to check out

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Is Your Office Chair Like Sitting In A Boat?

A lot of office chairs are just plain big and petite and slim built people find them almost impossible to get comfortable in, for some it's like having to wear size 10 shoes when you real size is a 6, not very practical.

So why does this happen? Well there are 2 reasons, first people frequently buy chairs on looks and more often than not big looks good, it carries a sense of importance.

Second manufacturers try and produce seats fitting the widest spectrum of users and consequently usually make things bigger rather than smaller. I suppose it makes some sense, a small framed user can always fit into a big chair, whereas a large framed person may not be able to sit in a small chair.

You should never buy a chair which looks big and imposing unless you are the right build for such a seat. As a rule of thumb a suitable office chair should leave around an inch at each side of the seat. So, simply measure the distance across the top of your thighs when sitting and then check it against the seat width and make sure it is a good fit for you.

Some of the better quality seating manufacturers recognize the need for producing chairs specifically designed for a petite office chair user and lighter framed people.

So, if you need a more compact sized seat take a look at HÅG H04, HÅG Futu, Aeron or a Neutral Posture 5000 series as these should work well for you.

In the next post I will take a look at seating problems big and tall users face and how to resolve them.

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Is your office chair desperate for cleaning and checking?

So when was the last time you cleaned or checked your office chair? For a lot of people the answer is can't remember or worse – never.

It remains a fact the humble office chair is like any other piece of equipment it needs to be cleaned and checked over periodically, nothing too demanding just some common sense things which will help prolong its life.

Here are the things you need to take care of:

  • Regular vacuuming
  • Cleaning the casters
  • Lubricate the gas lift
  • Occasional cleaning of the upholstery

 

You should aim to give your chair a thorough vacuum clean once a week, the upholstery might not look dirty and yet you may be amazed at the amount of dirt it's concealing.

Try this simple exercise, take off a shoe and give the seat a few smart blows, I bet there were clouds of dust coming out.

The trouble is all those minute particles of dirt act as an abrasive and can shorten the life of the upholstery significantly, so a weekly vacuum will keep them at bay.

Maybe you are finding your chair isn't moving as easily as it used to, chances are the casters are chocked up with carpet fluff and other grime. Turn your chair upside down and inspect the wheels, if they are full of dust try either vacuuming it out, you may even need to use an aerosol duster which literally blows the dust away.

Once cleaned try spraying with some silicone to keep the parts moving freely, this only needs to be done once or twice a year.

It's a good idea to occasionally move the seat up and down to keep the gas cylinder in good order. If it's dry apply a small amount of lubricating oil.

If you have had your chair for some time you may find vacuuming isn't cleaning the fabric completely and it's worth using a fabric cleaner to remove stains and ingrained dirt.

Some cleaners although effective can harm the fabric's natural oils, particularly wool, try and find what the manufacturer suggests is best.

Leather upholstery can become dry and brittle over time, so it's a good idea to feed and clean it with something like saddle soap. Care should be taken with delicate leathers like nubuck, suede and aniline, leathermagic.com has an excellent range of products designed for this purpose.

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Is Your Office Lighting Causing You Working Discomfort?

An area which is often overlooked is office lighting and if poorly set up can frequently create a lot of problems with screen glare.

If your work space is poorly lit you may find you suffer from eye strain, headaches or back and neck pain caused by putting your body in awkward positions because of inadequate lighting.

Where you work near to a window it's important to have your office chair correctly positioned, you shouldn't sit with your back to the window as bright sunlight on your VDU can make it unreadable.

Instead, make sure you are facing the window to avoid direct sunlight hitting your screen. Where it is unavoidable and you have to have a window behind you, look to fitting a window blind so you can control the amount of natural light entering your work area.

If your office has fluorescent lighting it’s important to fit a good quality diffuser to the fitting which has been designed to remove glare and spread light evenly over the work area. Where this isn't possible you will often find adding task lighting can help to illuminate the desk area removing shadows and giving a more even light distribution.

Another way of tackling this problem is by fitting an anti-glare screen to your VDU screen, these simply clip over your display screen and have polarizing filters designed to cut out glare problems.

Steelcase has an interesting article on office lighting and you will also find further information on anti-glare screens here.

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