How long should an office chair last?

March 25, 2013

ancientofficechairThis excellent question from a recent discussion group raises lots of issues and is, it occurred to me, a great topic for a blog!

The short answer, of course is “It depends”.

The next “rule of thumb” (and incomplete) answer is “Probably up to 7 or 8 years for a chair that comes with a standard 5 year warranty and 12-15 years for a chair that offers a guarantee of 10 years or more”. These life expectancy estimates are not directly related to the warranty period but to the quality of the products to which such guarantees are attributed. If you have a short attention span, you can obviously stop reading here with the question (sort of) answered but there are many contributory factors which will significantly impact the durability and survival of products.

First, these indicative expectations may apply to a majority of products for general office use but there will always be a proportion that don’t stay the distance. Rather like a pair of shoes, an office chair will experience different levels of wear and tear, even where the circumstances look identical.  Chairs used in hot desk environments, in particular, will not be afforded the same sense of ownership and resultant responsibility that would be attributed to a seat used by the same person throughout its life.

Another significant consideration is that events within the business may well make the practical life expectancy of the seating irrelevant. Office relocation, lease expiry, natural churn and smart working initiatives may drive replacement and refurbishment projects more directly than the actual life cycle of the products.

If you are about to buy new chairs …

Take a holistic view of the process.

In addition to the obvious issues such as price, usability, comfort, ergonomics, design, etc., check the warranty period for the products you are considering. As already indicated, warranties should be at least 5 years (in normal office use) but at least 10 years is the norm for better quality products. Also, check the warranty conditions. What is covered? Is there any routine maintenance that is required to ensure the warranty remains valid? Remember that the more expensive fabrics may actually be lighter duty and therefore less hard-wearing.

Consider end of life disposal. Cradle-to-cradle design may be your priority but think seriously about refurbishment options. If the manufacturer offers a rebuild/ reworking service, this can significantly extend the life of the product and may well fit your sustainability (and budget) criteria better than disposal and starting again.

Smart ChairAre you sure you know how many you need? With the growth of smart working programmes, it gets harder to monitor the utilisation of furniture assets. You may need less than you think and, if this is the case, you have greater buying flexibility within your budget.

Never underestimate the importance of ergonomics considerations in chair specification. The better the ergonomics credentials of a product, the greater the likelihood of buy-in from users. And, if they like their chair, they are more likely to look after it and report problems promptly. It is also reasonable to assume that seating designed with ergonomics at the forefront is generally better made and more robust (but the corollary does not necessarily apply!).

If you are reviewing the chairs you already have …

What warranty was provided at the time of purchase and are they still in warranty? Do you have a regular maintenance programme? If not, your original supplier should be able to provide one after an inventory review or, if that’s an issue, the manufacturer will be able to refer you to a reputable operator. If you prefer, they should be able to train your own personnel to carry out any maintenance.

Your DSE assessment cycle should have picked up situations where chair repairs or replacements are needed and tracking the incidence and nature of such situations will give you a good indication of the general condition of the estate. Many manufacturers provide a serial number under the seat so, at the very least, the date of purchase should be easy for your supplier to identify. Our own chairs all carry a 5-digit alphanumeric warranty label which identifies the date of purchase, exact specification and customer order number.

Check with your original supplier or the manufacturer about whether a reconditioning service is available for the products you own. Full reworking may require chairs to be returned to the distributor or manufacturer but, depending on numbers and available space at your location, components such as seat and back pads can often be replaced on site.

Most important of all …

Don’t forget about training your people. Making sure your personnel know how to adjust their chair (and why) not only improves their posture and resultant productivity but regular adjustment keeps chair components functional and identifies malfunctions and breakages promptly. As well as user training at the time of installation, intranet links, handouts and periodic reminders from your DSE assessor team or supplier are essential.

What have I missed? This is a big topic so I welcome, as always, other ideas and contributions.

Office workstations – sit, stand, walk, run?

March 12, 2013

Sit-Stand Desks for Active WorkplacesInternational interest in how much we sit is gaining high profile publicity. Whether we are using a computer, playing video games, driving the car or watching TV, it seems the cumulative effect of so much sedentary (in)activity may be reducing our life expectancy. A quick web search produces related articles from the BBCTIME, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times to name a few.

With new research about the dangers of prolonged sitting, a greater focus on reducing obesity and some radical products appearing in the market, it seems that sit-stand desks have finally come of age in the UK. In real terms, they now cost about a quarter of the price at which I sold them 15 years ago.  Many U.S. employers are ahead of European companies in sit-stand implementations and, for Scandinavians, sit-stand is already part of the corporate culture.

Whether the motivation is health, ergonomics or productivity (and they’re all intertwined anyway), I am a committed advocate of the use of sit-stand desks – and not just because I sell them! After nearly 10 years using an electric sit-stand desk at work and at home, here are some tips about why they are “a good thing” and how to get the best out of them.

  1. Get some training. In the same way you would expect to be given advice and guidance about how to set up a “standard” seated workstation, your employer (or supplier) should also train you to use the adjustable workstation. You should be confident about how to set it for different activities and how to reconfigure the items on the desk as well as the desk itself.
  2. Mix the use. Change your posture, sit a little, stand a little. Don’t stand all day.
  3. Use other products to enhance the ergonomics further. The desk can’t do it all on its own so think about the ergonomics of your standing work set-up as you would your sitting arrangements. If you’re using  a laptop for any length of time, make sure you have a separate stand, keyboard and mouse. If you’re using a desktop, make sure your screen is at the right height. In either case, think about document management and where to position your ancillary equipment.
  4. Stand up for short meetings. If someone comes to your desk whilst you are sitting, raise the desk to standing height. This is particularly useful if you both need to refer to something on your computer screen.
  5. Make sure all the cables are long enough! Don’t restrict the range of adjustment due to the cables you are using. A set of extension cables will ensure you have unfettered adjustment. You may also want to attach the computer to the underside of the desk to give you easy access and reduce the number of extension cables you need.
  6. Set the desk too high at the end of the day. Before you leave in the evening, raise the desk so that it is too high to use (even when standing).  This will make it easier for cleaners to get under the desk out of hours and force you to reposition it in the morning.
  7. Stand to sort papers. If you’re tidying files, collating papers or preparing for a meeting, it’s easier and more efficient to move around in front of your desk.
  8. Going out later? Take advantage of the opportunity to stand now – you will have plenty of time to sit in the car or a meeting room for the rest of the day.
  9. Popped in to the office at the end of the day? Don’t sit down. You have probably been in the car for hours anyway and you will get more done and get away earlier if you remain standing.
  10. Stand to be assertive. If you’re on the telephone making an appointment or dealing with a difficult caller, you will be more assertive when you’re standing. In the same way that the other party can “hear your smile”, they will sense your confidence. How do you think the expression “thinking on your feet” originated?
  11. Stand to lose weight. Standing burns energy in a way that sitting does not. Standing half the day burns 140+ calories.
  12. Find out more. This excellent booklet by Linak, the component manufacturer, gives lots more information, including exercises you can do at your desk.
  13. Walk away. From a standing position, it’s easier psychologically to take a stroll.  Try “walking meetings” – take a walk around the block instead of cocooning yourself in a meeting room. The combination of walking and fresh air will make the conversation more dynamic, and probably more productive. If, like us, you’re at the end of a cul-de-sac, the point at which your turn around defines half-time for the meeting and it’s amazing how the discussion is complete by the time you get back so the meeting finishes on time.

Agree/disagree? Please comment or call me.

Don’t believe me? Please come and see for yourself.  Our main open-plan office has 13 sit-stand desks and one sit-stand table (used for sorting papers and filing). As I look around me now, there are 4 of us standing and it’s almost unknown for everyone to be sitting. Contact us for an appointment to see what I mean.

Have I missed something?  The title mentions “sit, stand, walk, run” – I shall deal with the “run” issue in a separate blog about “active workstations” (coming soon)!

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