4 Best Office Chairs of 2021 — CNET

There’s no question that COVID-19 upended how many, many people work. Lots of offices have gone remote permanently and people who previously spent their scant work-from-home days at the kitchen table are looking for a more permanent solution — one that doesn’t wreak havoc on their backs or necks from sitting in an uncomfortable chair or from balancing a laptop on their actual laps all day long.

I was one of those people, not too long ago. I used to work from the CNET Smart Home — an actual house where we test smart speakerssecurity cameras and other products — typing from any surface that would allow me to set up my laptop and get to work. When it became apparent that working from home was going to be for the long haul, I knew I’d need a solid home workspace and thus started my hunt for the best office chair. 

This wasn’t an easy ask and it’s definitely been a process. Over the past year, I’ve tested 10 office chairs, ranging in price from $32 to $1,495. I took this process very seriously, knowing I too was in the market for the best possible desk chair.

To make sure I kept important health and wellness factors in mind, I also spoke with an ergonomics expert for general tips on how to improve work setups, whether that’s at home or in a more traditional office setting. Seat height, backrest, adjustable height, adjustable lumbar support, tilt tension, headrest, seat pan, seat depth, seat cushion and adjustable arm features all factor into getting the most from your computer chair.

For the purposes of this list, I tested only traditional office chairs, so if you’re looking for something like a gaming chair or a drafting chair, or something more out there, like a kneeling chair, this might not be the right place for you. Also, if you’re looking to forgo a chair entirely, we do have insights into the best standing desk.

Note that product pricing tends to vary on third-party sites, so the prices I quote as of writing this may change slightly over time. I’ll do my best to update the list often to reflect the most accurate prices.

The best office chairs

Megan Wollerton/CNET

The Hbada Office Task Desk Chair wins as my favorite office chair of the bunch. This ergonomic office chair has a streamlined design that doesn’t take up too much space. And the task chair also has good lumbar support, a good armrest and a supportive, breathable mesh backrest. At $140, it’s pretty affordable too. 

After trying all the models, I found myself reaching for this task chair most often. It does lack the cushioned comfort of my second favorite chair (scroll down to see the runner-up winner), but it’s the most well-rounded model I tested, ticking nearly every box.

Fast facts:

  • Price (Amazon): $140
  • Finish: Black upholstery and mesh
  • Weight limit: 250 pounds

Megan Wollerton/CNET

It isn’t the most sleek-looking chair around, but what the Serta Arlington lacks in style it more than makes up for in comfort and customizability. Serta is best known as a mattress-maker, and that tracks with the supremely comfortable Arlington chair. This ergonomic chair is by far the most cushioned model I tried out, with layers of soft cushioning on the headrest, backrest, seat and armrests. 

It also provides decent support, thanks to an adjustable lumbar lever under the seat. 

It currently costs $240, down from the $300 list price. If you’re looking for a comfortable office chair with customizable lumbar support, this is a great option. 

Fast facts:

  • Price (Amazon): $240
  • Finish: Black leather
  • Weight limit: 275 pounds

Megan Wollerton/CNET

I liked the AmazonBasics Leather-Padded Swivel Office Chair right away. This swivel chair was easy to assemble, the leather design looks nice, and the adjustable seat and back are both cushioned and comfortable. At about $75, this AmazonBasics chair isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s a great option that’s relatively affordable without sacrificing much, with one exception: lumbar support.

If lumbar support is an ergonomic feature that’s a must for you, consider one of my other favorites.

Overall, though, the AmazonBasics Leather-Padded Swivel Office Chair is a comfortable, reasonably priced ergonomic chair that’s easy to put together and easy on the eyes.

Fast facts:

  • Price (Amazon): $73
  • Finish: Black leather
  • Weight capacity: 275 pounds

Megan Wollerton/CNET

OK, I know. This ergonomic office chair is very expensive, but it also has a lot going for it: a great design, lots of adjustability, lumbar support and, bonus, it comes in three sizes. For my test, I got size B, which fit within the weight range and height adjustment needs of both me and my husband.

The one issue is its price, which is why it didn’t win for best chair overall — the price just isn’t reasonable for most people, us included. I will be sad to see this one go. 

Fast facts:

  • Price: $1,545
  • Finish: Multiple color options, mesh
  • Weight capacity: Varies based on chair size

An awesome chair alone isn’t enough

Ergonomics is the “science of work,” explains Gary Allread, the program director for the ergonomics division at Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute. That definition doesn’t just apply to our jobs, though; ergonomic principles can be used for pretty much any activity (that means an ergonomic chair isn’t going to immediately fix your lower back pain). Allread and his team offer consultation services for a variety of workplaces, including manufacturing plants. They even occasionally provide input on product design to help companies better understand how to create products “to make sure they can interact with people as well as possible,” Allread says.

A less-than-ideal work setup might cause pain in your back, arms, hands or wrists. You might also find yourself fidgeting, making more mistakes or taking more breaks, all because you’re uncomfortable, says Allread. Long-term, you might end up with tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Allread makes two main suggestions we all can try to improve how we work:

  • Sit with your back against your chair. (“You want the chair to do the work and not your back,” he explains.)
  • Support your feet. Either plant your feet on the floor or, if they don’t reach, use a box or other foot rest to support your feet.

If your chair lacks lumbar support, Allread adds, you can roll up a towel, secure it with tape or rubber bands and place it at your lower back as a lumbar cushion to “keep the back in its natural curve.” Allread also notes that companies are beginning to introduce different chair sizes, supporting a wider range of body sizes, which is an important consideration if you’re shopping for a new ergonomic office chair and looking for the best seat height and seat depth. 

“One mistake people make, is they say, ‘Well if I get a great chair, then I’m not going to be sore anymore,’ and that’s not really looking at the big picture of what it takes to keep people comfortable and productive at their jobs,” explains Allread. There are a lot of factors, and a new chair is just one of many things that can make your work environment more comfortable. 

So, let’s keep that all in mind as we weigh our options for the best office chair. 

How we tested office chairs     

Here’s a complete list of the office chairs I tested:

How did I pick my favorites? First, I assembled each chair and noted any issues with the process, with the exception of the Herman Miller Aeron Chair and the Steelcase Gesture Chair, since they arrived fully assembled (bonus points for that). Then, I spent one work day, or about eight hours, sitting in each chair, noting the level of comfort, adjustability (such as adjustable height, adjustable backrest or adjustable arm features) and any issues I had. I also asked my husband to try out each chair. For reference, I’m 5 foot 7 inches, he’s 6 foot 2, and we’re both average weight.

What might work for me or for him may not work for you, but I kept in mind all of the tips Gary Allread from the Spine Research Institute had mentioned as I sat and asked Kevin to do the same:

  • Was the chair designed so I could rest comfortably against the back of the chair?
  • Did my feet touch the floor with my back against the back of the chair? 
  • Did I find myself fidgeting or standing up a lot? 
  • Did I experience any pain or discomfort while using a particular chair?

I had to immediately cut the Hodedah Armless Task Chair from the running, after noticing a label inside the box that read “NOT FOR ADULT USE.” Apparently this chair, which regularly appears on lists of adult office chairs, has a 100-pound weight limit. I wasn’t alone, either — a number of customers have written reviews online expressing frustration that this chair (which at first appears to be marketed to adults, on Home Depot’s website if not Amazon) broke while they were using it. If you’re an adult under 100 pounds, this chair could potentially work for you, but its limited features, including no armrest, completely ruled it out for me regardless. 

So we were down to nine chairs. Despite looking pretty nice and cushioned, the OFM Essentials Collection Executive Office Chair was a little stiff and uncomfortable. It also lacks lumbar support. The HON Exposure Mesh Task Computer Chair also lacks lumbar support, and it leans back too far for both of us, making it uncomfortable to sit with our backs against the backrest as Allread suggests. The BestOffice Mid-Back Ergonomic Desk Chair leans back too far as well, though it did have a bit more lumbar support than the HON Exposure chair. 

The Humanscale Freedom Chair arrived mostly assembled; I just had to connect the top half and the wheelbase. Despite the simplicity of putting this Humanscale chair together, I struggled to adjust the chair without consulting the instructions. Even after figuring it out, my husband and I both found the backrest and headrest oddly proportioned and extremely uncomfortable on our backs and necks. The Steelcase Gesture Chair is highly adjustable and feels sturdy. But even with the Steelcase chair’s many customizable controls, including a seat depth adjuster set to maximum depth, the seat was much too short and angled downward, making me feel like I could slide out of the chair. 

The other four chairs I included in the best office chair list above kept us comfortable all day and offered degrees of adjustability that set them apart from the pack. For more advice on the best items to buy, check out our other CNET best lists.

More recommendations for your kitchen and household:

First published Aug. 5, 2020, at 3:25 p.m. EST and updated periodically. 

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