Investing in the right furniture for your working day will help you avoid back problems. Meadhbh McGrath asks the experts for their pick of desks and chairs
When we first set up our makeshift offices in the kitchen or spare room a year ago, few of us could have imagined they would still be our workspaces 12 months on. Now, with no clear plans to return to our old desks and WFH continuing to take its toll on our backs, necks and shoulders, you may be looking to upgrade your home set-up. We asked the experts for their top recommendations to give remote workers a little extra support.
Many of us are sitting down for longer periods than we did in the office — without the luxury of proper office furniture. That might mean hunching over the coffee table, kitchen counter or the couch, and Dr Paul Bradley, clinical director at Chiropractix in Mount Merrion, says he’s already noticed the effect on his clients.
“70-75pc of new people are either working from home or studying, so the desks are probably the most important. The gold standard is the sit-stand desk,” he says, highlighting the ranges from GoStand.ie (from €402) and YoYoDesk.ie (from €390). “The person is able to continuously change their height if they are feeling any sort of tension in their back or neck, so you’re able to sit in front of them or stand up. That would be the first thing I would usually advise, if they can afford it.”
Brian Crooke, founder of Workplace Wellbeing Ireland and host of the Work Well podcast, is a fan too, though he favours the Modulus desk from AJ Products (€299, AJProducts.ie).
“I like to be efficient with my space and I don’t need a desk the size of a car. Large desks usually become a magnet for objects,” he says, praising the Modulus’s “compact” single column base design which is ideal for areas where space is limited. “It’s electric which means it’s really easy to adjust the height when I’m switching between sitting and standing.”
He emphasises that you don’t need to be standing all the time, and instead recommends a mix of sitting and standing throughout the day. “Standing also helps when I’m delivering a workshop or on an important call,” Brian says. “It feels like I’m standing on stage in front of an audience — which I miss — it gives me a greater range of body language options, and adds confidence and authority to my delivery.”
If you’ve been making do with a basic kitchen chair up to now, it may be time to invest in a more ergonomic design, or else WFH can really become a pain in the neck. Colette O’Flynn, chartered physiotherapist with PhysioNow.ie, points out that it can be difficult to select one chair that will fit all heights, shapes and sizes, but her general rule is: “The more adjustable the chair, the better.”
“You can have the best chair in the world, but if you don’t adapt it to suit you, it’s not going to help,” she says, naming the New Logic RH 220 (€1,399, kos.ie) as her favourite, because it has a stable base and tilt mechanism, while the backrest, seat height and armrests are all adjustable.
“What I really liked about this chair is that it has an inflatable lumbar pump, so you can pump it up to give extra support at the curve of your lower back,” she says, adding that the Scandinavian designers, Flokk, ensured every component is recyclable. “We’re always trying to get people not to rely on a chair to solve everything — we need to work our muscles, we need to get up and move around, but it is great if a chair moves with you and you’re not boxed into it. Any of the chairs that have the tilt [mechanism] are very suitable for sitting for long periods.”
For a less expensive option, Paul’s top pick is the Dorsum Executive Ergonomic Mesh Chair (€422.30 from HuntOffice.ie). “That’s got the neck support as well as the lumbar curvature, and adjustable height so your feet can hit off the floor,” he explains.
His top pick for a budget buy is Ikea’s Markus (from €150, ikea.com), which offers adjustable height, a head rest and lumbar curvature to give support to the lower part of the back. “That’s quite a decent one, and that supports the spine the whole way up.”
If you don’t want to splash out on a new chair, Paul suggests getting a lumbar support cushion that can be attached to any basic chair. “Usually I advise people to get the thickest one which goes from the curvature of the upper part of your lower back right down to the base of your back. They’re usually made from memory foam, and they wouldn’t be as durable [as the chairs], but they typically have a lifespan of about a year or so,” he says, citing the range from Back-Shop.com (from €25) as particularly good.
Paul also likes the Vokka Posture Corrector (€28.80 from esrgear.com), which he recommends for anyone who finds their head or shoulders dropping forward over the computer. “That really alleviates some of the tension,” he says, noting it should be worn for two-three hours, taken off, then put back on for two-three hour periods throughout the day.
Another item to consider is a footrest, although Colette says you can use a stack of books to avoid further spend.
“It’s important, when you’re sitting at your desk, to have your feet flat on the floor,” she explains, adding that you don’t have to use a footrest all the time, and can push it away at intervals. She likes the KOS ergonomic office footrest (€28.92, KOS.ie), but her favourite is the active footrest (€44.95, KOS.ie).
“It encourages you to move your feet up and down — in a similar way to that recommended to airline passengers,” she says. “That gets the ankle pump and the muscle in your calf going, it helps your circulation, but also helps you feel better when you’re sitting.”