Choosing Office Chairs (for the Majority)

July 3, 2015

A while ago, I wrote the article How do I choose an office chair (for myself)? At the time, I promised to follow up soon with an article about choosing a chair for a whole department or organisation. It’s taken longer than planned, but this is that article! A further blog about choosing specialist chairs for individuals in the workplace will follow in a few days.

Manufacturers of workplace seating often talk of products designed to accommodate 90% of the population: meaning everyone except the smallest 5% (5th percentile) and largest 5% (95th percentile).

In reality, this is nothing like as simple as it sounds. A 95th percentile individual is not necessarily made up of 95th percentile body segments and anthropometric (body dimension) data tells us, for example, that a 50th percentile male may be 13cm taller than a 50th percentile woman but is also 1cm narrower across the hips [Pheasant, S. (1986, 1998).  Bodyspace – Anthropometry, Ergonomics and the Design of Work]

In the modern multi-national office, different races complicate the statistics still further and, taking lateral dimensions into account, women change shape in different ways from men as their BMI (Body Mass Index) increases. As obesity becomes more of an issue, specifying a general workplace chair becomes even less straightforward.

It is, therefore, no wonder that many ergonomists believe that the majority of chairs may actually be closer to 60-70% in their accommodation!

How, then, does a conscientious Facilities or Health & Safety Manager ensure best practice?

The answer comes in two parts. First, choose your general chair carefully and, secondly, implement a procedure to provide for those who are not properly served by the general chair. This article addresses the first process.

Choosing a general chair will often involve compromise, whether because of budget constraints, corporate sourcing guidelines or perhaps just the limited knowledge of your incumbent chair supplier! It is most important, therefore, to minimise such compromise and maximise value.

diverse_groupThe following are essential:

  • Create a focus group
  • Ensure it contains male and female personnel of different shapes and sizes and, if you have them, ethnic origins. They should also be different ages and from different parts of the business with varying job roles.
  • If possible, include some users with pre-existing physical disabilities and/or MSDs (musculo-skeletal disorders).
  • Make sure you have right- and left-handers!
  • Involve your Health & Safety and Occupational Health personnel.
  • Draw up a shopping list of features your chair must include (e.g. seat slide, adjustable lumbar support, etc.).
  • Perhaps controversially, I believe that the criteria list should not include any price restriction at this stage. This should be considered later in the process.
  • Using the shopping list, identify a number of chairs from different manufacturers that all meet your criteria in full (no compromises at this stage).
  • Ensure that all the chairs on your list comply with the appropriate international (EN, ISO) standards. The supplier(s) should be able to provide this information and explain the relevance of the various standards issues.
  • Obtain at least one sample of each chair from your preferred supplier(s).
  • Ask the supplier(s) to demonstrate each chair and explain the features and benefits. As well as providing you with an understanding of the various models, this is a good opportunity to judge their knowledge and the likely level of support they will be able to provide in the selection process and subsequent customer support.
  • Design a score card so that each member of the focus group can rate each chair. As well as comfort, other factors such as ease of adjustment and range of adjustment should be included. You may also wish to score non-physical factors such as environmental considerations and whether the design reflects your corporate brand.
  • It is often a good idea to weight the scores for different elements. e.g. sustainability may be rated out of 10 points but the appearance may only be rated out of 5 points. If you decide to use weighting, make sure you do this before the assessment process begins!

If you do not have the experience or the time to operate such a process, find a good ergonomist to advise you and manage the process.

The foregoing procedure should enable you to create a shortlist of 3-4 chairs. This is the stage at which I would recommend introducing price considerations. Doing so will enable you to compare focus group scores with prices and give a more measurable indication of value. You will also be in a stronger negotiating position with your supplier(s) if they know the chair has been shortlisted!

Once you have a shortlist, it should be straightforward to select and purchase the best chair for your requirements. Since this is not an article about negotiating skills, I shall skip the rest of this process.

You can find more information at seatingexperts.uk.

My next article outlines how to implement a procedure to provide for those who are not properly served by the general chair.


Why do we WoW?

February 10, 2015

WoW LogoI have been thinking about the significance of clever marketing in the creation of a reputation.

The influence of the internet is now so overwhelming that a new product can power its way into the hearts and minds of consumers on the strength of search engine optimisation, Google AdSense and social media alone. However, the fact that ‘everybody’s talking about it’ does not necessarily mean a product is good!

As a vendor of products to improve workplace ergonomics, we have established a procedure to bypass any marketing or publicity bias and ensure our judgements are based on facts. This has been part of our ISO9001 quality system for many years and, although it may appear quite unsophisticated, it has proven itself many times. I have shared our procedure below and welcome comments and observations. At the moment, I believe the process to be unique in the industry but will be flattered (and encouraged!) by any who wish to adopt it.

We call it the ‘WoW Factor’ test. Every new product is reviewed by our WoW Factor committee and it works like this:

Ergonomics and quality are key.  The review committee consists of four people from the Customer Service team and four from Sales.  As well as different roles, it includes men and women of different statures and different psychometric profiles. This helps us to consider both physical ergonomics and human factors. Typically, the Customer Service personnel look at what sort of follow-up, technical questions, setup issues, etc. they might encounter and the sales team look at how attractive it will be to customers!

Each product is given 2 scores:

  1. Wow Factor – would I like one, do I “get it”, is it obvious what it’s for or how to use it?
  2. Usability Score – are the instructions good, is it easy to adjust, does it fulfil our ergonomics expectations, does it “do what it says on the tin”? (We also consider sales price at this stage).

WoW Factor ScoringTotal scores are not an absolute decider but they focus our attention on the key features and benefits as well as providing a basis for comparison to similar products. They also inform our discussion about whether or not the product is good enough to be part of our portfolio.


How do I choose an office chair (for myself)?

January 8, 2014

When I see the question “what is the best office chair?” online, I just want to shout “wrong question” at my screen. Unfortunately, such rants are no help to anybody so this article a) raises a better question (in the title) and b) goes some way towards answering that question.

Many people outside (and within!) the office furniture industry grossly underestimate the importance of the work chair. Numerous articles  have warned us about the perils of too much sitting but the truth is that many of us still have to sit at a desk whether or not that is our preferred mode of work. Even with frequent breaks, it is essential to optimise our comfort and posture by ensuring the chair(s) we use regularly are well chosen.

ChairDetail1It is obviously not enough to go to your nearest office superstore and buy the first chair that says it’s “ergonomic” on the box. The fact that the chair (or packaging) manufacturer can spell the word is no guarantee they know what it means.

So here is an action plan for buying a work chair for your personal use. If you are looking to purchase for a department or organisation, then understanding this process will certainly assist you but the specifics of bulk purchase (“How do I choose an office chair for lots of people?”) will be addressed in a separate blog.

Assuming you are willing to commit the time and energy to “do this right”, I hope this plan will help you. If you don’t have the time to follow this process, the alternative is to find a good supplier(!) who has a real understanding of ergonomics and can help arrive at the best decision.

  1. First you need to understand what is “out there” and gain some understanding of the furniture industry terminology. This will ensure you are moving towards what is best for you rather than what is best for the chair salesman. To assist, you will need a list of chair features, what they do and what benefits they offer. This list is a good example.
  2. ChairDetail2Such a list will not give you all the answers. It may even raise more questions but they will be useful questions that will ensure an informed choice in due course. From the list, create a shortlist of a) essential and b) desirable (but not essential) features along with any questions that you need to ask in order to add or eliminate a feature.
  3. Now start looking for a supplier. Unfortunately, “ergonomic” is one of the most over-used, abused and misused words since the invention of Google so you have to be a little imaginative with your online searching. Try using specialist office chairs, for example, but read more than the link line of each search result. This will start to give you a feeling for the businesses available. Don’t be deterred if the business(es) that look most promising are not in your geographical area: they may well be willing to travel and, if not, will probably recommend a reputable supplier closer to you (the dedicated workplace ergonomics community is quite small and genuine specialists will be surprisingly willing to refer you to someone they trust rather than let you down).
  4. ChairDetail3aAsk your questions – this will inevitably generate further questions. The answers will help you decide if this a supplier you are comfortable with (this purchase is an important decision). Get the names of chair models that meet your criteria and ask for web links to the products. Viewing online will be better than using a catalogue because the best companies often use video on their web sites. Here are some other questions to ask prospective suppliers:
    – do you offer an installation service?
    – if so, does it include user training?
    – if so, what does the training involve?
    – do you offer a Sale or Return (or similar) trial period?
    – if so, how long is that?
    – what training do your installer(s) have?
  5. By this time, it is desirable to have decided on a preferred supplier.  You will be counting on their advice so it must be someone you feel you can trust.
  6. You also now have an idea of the sort of chairs that meet your feature requirements, so you need to check they will also fit you dimensionally. The best way to ensure the optimum physical match is take your measurements. All good suppliers will be able to offer you a form for this, either as an emailed pdf or an online version like this one.
  7. ChairDetail5With your chosen feature set and the anthropometric data (measurements) recorded on the form, your preferred supplier will now be able to provide you with specific model recommendations and you can start talking about price.
  8. To ensure you stay within budget, you will need to review whether or not you want to keep all the desirable (non-essential) features.
  9. You now have a chair shortlist so you will need to sit on at least one chair, possibly two or three. This may involve someone coming to see you or the supplier may have a showroom. A good supplier will probably suggest one chair with firm foam and one with soft or perhaps one chair with a lumbar support and one with a pelvic support so that you can compare and contrast the different feel. I would advise against trying more than 3 chairs because it can become very confusing.
  10. By now you should be able to make your decision. To be confident about the process, double-check that your new chair can be supplied on Sale or Return or there is some trial period option.
  11. Finally, ensure that someone delivers the chair, shows you how to set it up and trains you properly in its use. This process will probably take 30-60 minutes. Ensure you are shown, not just what the knobs and levers do, but why you would want to use them and what you need to achieve. You should also be given chair instructions and posture information for reference in the future. Many chairs now have animated instructions available online and an animated Posture Guide (for European set-ups) can be found here.

ChairDetail4As I said at the outset, many people underestimate the importance of the work chair and, as a result, the importance of the selection process. I hope this article demonstrates how not to underestimate it!

Do you agree with my action plan? Have I missed anything out? Do you have a (really reliable) simpler process?

Do you have the time to follow it? If not, contact one of my colleagues for assistance!

If you are also interested in how to choose an office chair for lots of people, my blog ‘Choosing Office Chairs (for the Majority)‘ provides a suggested procedure and more information is also available at seatingexperts.uk.


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