Ergonomic designs gain popularity as more people choose posture-friendly desk chairs to work from home in


Bank executive Benjamin Lam suffered aches and pains about two months ago, after spending long hours at his desk while working from home.

After hearing good things about Secretlab chairs - originally designed for gamers who are known to sit for up to 16 hours at a stretch during computer-gaming marathons - the 29-year-old decided to ditch his normal study room seat in May for one.

"Although I'm not an avid gamer, the gaming chair was the best work-from-home decision ever," says Mr Lam. "At first, I thought the chair was a little too firm, but I learnt later that you need a firmer chair to get proper support."

Like Mr Lam, more workers in Singapore have been snapping up ergonomic chairs for their makeshift home offices since April, after spending long hours cooped up while telecommuting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"There has been a significant year-on-year increase in sales of more than 31/2 times for such chairs since the start of the circuit breaker on April 7," says Mr Ivan Sim, 33, assistant digital manager of the Home & Living division of lifestyle retail chain Gain City.

"Customers find that the lumbar support and adjustable armrests make the long hours working from home more comfortable," he adds.

Scandinavian furniture retailer Danish Design Co, which stocks ergonomic designer pieces from Denmark, Norway and Sweden for the home and office, saw a 30 to 40 per cent spike in the sales of ergonomic furniture during the circuit breaker.

At furniture and electronics retailer Harvey Norman, Mr Clinton Truman, general manager for furniture at the megastore, says: "We have definitely seen an increase in interest in ergonomic chairs.

"Customers are generally more aware of the importance of proper support, having worked from home for a prolonged period of time."

  • Banish aches and pains
  • Ergonomic desk chairs with proper lumbar and neck support can make working from home a breeze even when one is putting in long hours. Here are other useful tips to prevent strain in your home office from Dr Philip Cheong, principal physiotherapist at the Singapore General Hospital.

    1 Stationary chairs or chairs with castors 

    Dr Cheong says personal preference, comfort level and the availability of options at home play a role in deciding whether to buy a stationary chair or one with castors.

    The good thing about a chair with castors is that it enables you to change the distance between your chair and table easily, he says. There is no need to lift the chair multiple times to find a comfortable distance between your body and the table.

    Chairs with castors will also allow users to stretch their legs more easily and move in different directions to change their positions, especially if there is a lack of space below the table. 

    2 Proper sitting posture

    Both feet must rest comfortably on the floor. If this is not possible, place your feet on a stool or platform.

    The seat pan of the chair must be wide enough to accommodate the buttocks and long enough to stop just before the crease at the back of the knees.

    Ensure that the back is supported comfortably with the back rest.

    Remember the 90/90 rule: Knees and elbows should be bent at 90 degrees while sitting comfortably. Arm rests, if available, should be positioned such that arms are resting comfortably, applying the 90/90 rule. 

    3 The right work desk 

    The table height should be such that when you are seated, your forearms should rest comfortably on the surface without causing your shoulders to be elevated.

    Keep your table clutter-free. Make sure you have enough space to put your keyboard and move your mouse comfortably while seated.

    The area below the table should be clutter-free as well so that you can stretch your legs unimpeded.

    4 Stand or sit 

    Prolonged stationary standing at your desk can bring on a set of issues similar to those of prolonged sitting at work.

    There are multiple potential causes for swelling in the legs, mainly in the ankles and feet, with prolonged stationary standing or prolonged sitting, which may include obesity and venous insufficiency.

    The lack of muscle movement can also lead to reduced pumping of body fluids back to the heart and lymphatic swelling.

    The issue is not due to heat and humidity at home due to the lack of air-conditioning, but because of the lack of movement.

    Whether you choose to stand or sit while you work, remember to change your position or take short breaks every 30 to 45 minutes.

    Depending on design or features, posture-friendly chairs range in price from about $80 to upwards of $2,000.

    Secretlab's seats, such as the best-selling Omega and Titan ranges, retail from about $500 for a polyurethane leather chair to more than $1,000 for a premium napa leather iteration.

    The company developed the proprietary synthetic "PU leather" - which contains polyurethane or PU - with scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

    It reportedly can last for up to five years compared with PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, a cheaper faux leather made from synthetic resin, which is found in common desk chairs. PVC is known to peel off when exposed to perspiration due to an acidic reaction.

    The home-grown gaming chair manufacturer, which was founded in 2014, has sold more than 500,000 ergonomic gaming seats to buyers from more than 60 countries in the last five years.

    But since January this year, it has ramped up production to 500,000 chairs every six months, with Singapore accounting for about 5 per cent of its total turnover.

    A good chair should allow for adjustments to accommodate the range of physical dimensions of different users, says Dr Gan Wee Hoe, head and senior consultant of the department of occupational and environmental medicine at the Singapore General Hospital.

    "Sitting for prolonged periods of time may increase the tension of back muscles and ligaments, resulting in lower back pain," he says.

    "An ergonomic, fit-for-purpose chair allows optimal load redistribution, corrects poor posture and reduces muscular effort of the user while seated, thereby minimising the risk of developing aches and pains."

    Apart from gaming chairs designed to fend off body aches, lighter mesh chairs made with perforated materials for ventilation are also catching on.

    Regulatory risk officer Lee Siew Sze, 35, shelled out more than $500 for a chair from the Schon Mesh Series about a month ago from Singapore-based office furniture firm Benel.

    Ms Lee had been using her dining-table chair for about three months while working from home until she could no longer bear it.

    "After a while, I had persistent neck and back pains," she says.

    "After switching to an ergonomic mesh chair, I no longer have pains, even after working continuously for 10 hours," she says of her purchase, which has neck and lumbar support to prevent poor spinal posture.

    Mesh chairs are also one of Gain City's top-selling workstation items.

    Mr Terence Ang, head of digital marketing and e-commerce at Gain City, says the chairs are created to allow air to permeate the design.

    "Mesh is light and breathable and prevents a chair from becoming too hot or uncomfortable after hours of sitting," says Mr Ang, 55, adding that Gain City stocks a range of ergonomic mesh chairs - priced from $79 to $119 - which are ideal for Singapore's humid tropical weather.

    Beyond providing support for good posture, furniture houses are also adding extra design layers such as plush fabrics and ultra-modern silhouettes.

    Some chairs can even be adjusted from a vertical to a fully horizontal position.

    Mr Truman says Harvey Norman will be retailing the IMG Soho series - which he describes as the ultimate desk chair - from the end of next month. Made in Norway, the chairs recline effortlessly and are engineered using moulded foam. They are priced between $2,199 and $2,599.

    But some furniture design houses interpret luxury beyond cushioned comfort and buttery leather.

    The spartan silhouettes of Norwegian office furniture design firm Hag, established more than 60 years ago, and Danish designer brand Gubi, started in 1967, are the antithesis of the voluminous desk chair.

    Sold in Singapore at Danish Design Co, the Capisco office chair by Hag and Masculo by Gubi are customisable with different fabrics and leathers.

    The Capisco, priced from $1,983, has a contoured saddle seat that opens the hips for a more active, forward posture.

    The Masculo, priced from $1,633, supports the lower back, has comfortable armrests and splayed legs forming a stable base - instead of castors - and a seat that pivots forward.

    Ms Rhiannon Hills, director at Danish Design Co, says: "With the right posture, you'll be able to focus well and with ease on your work tasks as well as be more productive."