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My job means I have to sit at my computer all day, 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, 46 weeks a year. That’s 1610 hours a year and 1/3 of my whole day (given that I also sleep about 8 hours so am not conscious I’m in my chair A LOT).

I work from home which is great as it means I can get up and do back stretches every hour or so and not get strange looks when I start rolling around on the floor. Working from home also gives me some freedom in terms of what my workstation looks like and up until now I’ve taken the traditional route of office desk and standard office chair. However my chair broke recently and so now I need to replace it, I currently have a few ideas on what my replacement might be...

  • Standard chair - This is the 'safe' choice, it's "just a chair", I'm not suggesting that particular chair, but just something like it. The chair I am replacing is similar to this one and I'm pretty sure that sitting in it for as long as I do has given me the occasional lower back pain and stiff shoulder that I get. I have seen an osteopath a few times and he also said he thought the chair was to blame.
  • Fancy chair - I quite like the look of a non-standard chair, something that supports me and allows me to move properly. The trouble here is that these kind of chairs cost more than the standard. I know that paying for an osteopath to fix problems after they’ve happened rather than spending the money to get a better chair that meant I wouldn't need to see the osteopath is daft... but a decent ergonomic chair is hundreds and I just don’t have that lying around spare.
  • Ball Chair - If I went this route I could use the 35 hours a week as exercise time and strengthen my core muscles. It would make it hard to slouch or chill out in the chair while reading documentation though and I'm not sure I could easily transition to something as radical as this. I have talked to people who use these and they’ve said that a few hours at a time is fine, but not a full day. So if I were to get up every hour and move around this is still maybe an option.
  • Poang - This would be unusual and I would need to get a new desk to keep things at the right level. But it would be a comfy chair, all my joints would be 'open', greater than 90 degrees. Plus I already have a spare Poang. Given that I work from home why not make myself comfy and sitting upright all day is not how I’d spend a day if I wasn’t working. Getting rid of my desk and going a bit minimalist might be good.

My employer has said they would pay £100 for a chair but I cannot top that up with my own money as it blurs the question of ownership and complicates things for tax. Sadly £100 doesn't go very far, I can just about get a 'standard' chair for that money, the Ball chair is also within budget. I own a spare Poang... so really it the comes down to the question of whether I want to spend £150 - £600 of my own money on a chair that I'll use for work.

Looking into quality chairs I quickly ran into the Herman Miller chairs, these have been highlighted in Investing in a Quality Programming Chair and in The Real Pain of Software Development \part 2\ Phil Haack says that he likes the Neutral Posture chair – again not cheap options.

Of course most of this assumes the traditional desk and chair what about Wild Workstations for Telecommuters? With my Poang I’m getting close to the SurfChair, it’s not quite as luxurious as a La-Z Boy but it looks very comfy and like my posture is being considered which, long term, is very important.

Does anyone have any long term experience in working in an unusual workstation setup? I've been using the Poang for a few days and it feels nice, but will I be setting myself up for problems later down the line? My back has been an issue and the standard chairs do little for me - but would the SurfChair be a step too far?

Edit
I've been using the Poang for a while now and my lower back is painful. Last weekend I bent down to pick up a child's jacket from the floor and... owch! I'm still not recovered from that and I wonder whether the unusual seating is the major culprit. I'm pretty active, do yoga and taichi regularly - but 7+ hours a day in a bad chair is clearly not doing me any favours.

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Does an acceptable answer require a chair be part of the set-up? Also, what kind of back problems (shoulders, lumbar, etc.)? –  Belisama May 20 '12 at 20:31
    
"whether I want to spend £150 - £600 of my own money on a chair that I'll use for work." It may be "for work", but don't forget that you're in it for a significant portion of your life so think of it as a life improvement rather than just work. –  Burhan Ali May 26 '12 at 11:47
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7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I have been through a lot of chairs and setups over the years.

I first needed a special setup 20 years ago with a touch of RSI in the wrists. A drop-down keyboard tray fixed that but it taught some valuable lessons. Since then I've adopted the following practices:

  • When there's a desk, a good solid keyboard tray is important like the ones from Versa.
  • Remove chair arms from standard office chairs to stop you from leaning on them and compressing nerves, particularly in the elbows.
  • A good eternal wireless optical mouse.

I work at home a lot too. After several setups I now have the following at home:

  • a big comfy chair (mini couch). Sometimes I work for 10-12 hours, so I want to be really comfortable!

  • An external curved keyboard to prevent RSI that I have in my lap.

  • A small footrest so I can have my legs supported when I want.

Prevent your rsi, etc. now, before you get it !

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If you're able / willing there are layouts WAY better than QWERTY for preventing RSI. Dvorak for example supposedly reduces hand motion 58%. (for warning a decent ergo/mechanical keyboard gets pricy, and expect the it to take months to get back up to speed typing) –  RualStorge Mar 14 at 19:36
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You may consider going chairless, and set up a standing desk. The previous link describes the experience of someone who used one for one year, listing the advantages and drawbacks of her experience. I am personally trying this since a couple of weeks, mostly a positive experience for now, but I don't spend 8 hours in front of a desk every day.

Also, regarding back and neck problems, I have found that, whether sitting or standing, it is useful to raise the computer screen (by placing a few phone books or other big books under it) until eye level is at the middle of the screen. I'm tall, and normally have to look down all the time. This gives me the opportunity to look up a little! Raising the screen also helps finding a better posture (if you're sitting you'll sit more straight, spontaneously) independently of furniture.

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I've also been using a standing desk for over a year and love it. Great for posture and makes moving around one's workspace so much easier (no chair constantly in the way). In contrast to the article writer, I stand all day most days and feel less tired at the end of the day than when I was sitting. (And when I do need to sit, a barstool gets around the need for two desks at different heights.) –  Belisama May 22 '12 at 10:16
    
A couple of things concern me about the standing approach; I've had knee surgery and long periods on my feet might not be wise. The other concern is that I've seen some studies that suggest standing sessions can lead to health problems - an increased risk of circulation related issues. –  Simon Martin May 30 '12 at 20:21
    
I just hacked together a nice standing and sitting desk from a $75 Ikea desk/bookcase combo. Total cost was about $100: ikeahackers.net/2013/09/… –  Josh Newman Sep 24 '13 at 17:57
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Variety is worth a lot to me. For that reason I have several setups that I change positions throughout the day.

  1. Desktop setup in bed to allow working lying down. Monitors and keyboard positioned to reduce neck/wrist strain.
  2. Standard large corner table with office chair. Super relaxing but not ergonomically perfect chair
  3. Second chair to alternate different physical posture. Ergonomically appealing setup with proper spinal alignment.
  4. Standing setup achieved by swivel monitor arm.
  5. Laptop in case I want to go mobile.

Instrumental in both the bed and standing setup is the concept of monitor arms that make computer height fully adjustable and easy to move from one place to the next. Similarly, excellent remote connectivity is needed to feel like I am working on one machine only.

The key idea is to be in whatever position leaves me most productive at that time and not to be tied down in any one physical setup (no matter how good that one setup initially appears).

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Maybe it is not for everybody, but just in case you don't know the option...

http://www.varierfurniture.es/Coleccion/Human-instruments/Thatsit-balans-R/

I use this ergonomic chair. It takes a bit to get used to it (mostly because our sitting habits are quite wrong), but its advantages are that it keeps the torso-legs angle open, and it allows you to get up and sit without strain... several sitting positions to move along...

Again, it is not a cheap option, but, like the furniture salesman told me, never go cheap on chairs or beds... you spend a great part of your life there :)

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Yes, the chair you linked too is expensive, but it looks a lot like a "knee chair" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kneeling_chair) which you can purchase from Amazon in the USA for less than $100. Rather inexpensive. –  Max Jul 23 '13 at 6:54
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I'm a programmer myself so I share you concern.

There are different setups that you can have for your seat, chair, table, keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc. The most important thing is to pay attention to keep your back and neck straight and aligned. This is very important.

Whenever our work involves sitting in front of the computer all day, we get so engrossed in our work that we don't notice that we are already slouching or that our shoulder and neck are slumped forward towards the monitor. So have regular breaks to walk around and adjust your posture properly.

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I have recently set up a makeshift desk that goes across my recumbent bike. I've never had a recumbent bike before and never liked them - but I love working while riding it because there is no "bouncing" like when I walk on a treadmill....and apparently it's really good for your posture vs. sitting in a chair or even on a ball.

The bike I got was about $200 from Schwinn and works great. I routinely ride it for 2+ hours a day and my energy level stays high and I feel great. Highly recommend it!

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On the topic of chairs I'd recommend: http://www.humanics-es.com/rethinkingsitting.htm ("Rethinking ergonomic sitting and seating ergonomics" by Humanics Ergonomics).

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