Flexibility now defines the modern office. Think about when and how you and your employees work. Everyone keeps track of their own schedules and tasks. You might jump into a meeting and grab an iPad to type memos, text in the corner during a working group, or lounge around in an open office setting where employees are literally at your elbows all day.
Shouldn't your office chair be able to accomodate all of these changes? They need to tilt, lean, fold, and swivel--all the while supporting your back with smart ergonomics. I took two such chairs for a test drive. Here are the results.
Teknion RBT, $650
One of the best features on the Teknion RBT is that there is no lever to adjust the backrest. That's by design: the chair adjusts automatically to your spine (the backrest even looks like a spine) as you move forward or lean back. I've never tested a chair that felt so comfortable on my back.
There are six locking mechanisms and levers, though: seat height and depth, back lock and tilt, plus the arm width and height. Unlike the Steelcase Gesture I tested below, the chair does not go into a far lean-back position that's well-suited for tablet users and texters. Also, the arms do not fold outward as they do on the Gesture to give you more space to use gadgets.
One of the biggest differences between the RBT and a performance chair like the Herman Miller Aeron is that the RBT has a sliding seat. This helps you adjust for your own height--taller people will want to slide the seat forward and tilt up so their knees rise up. The Aeron doesn't have this adjustment, so you usually have to order in the size you need. The RBT levers were easy to find and use; I had no trouble getting just the right setting for my height.
While both the RBT and the Steelcase Gesture have five spokes on the base, the Gesture felt more secure when you swivel around and lean back.
The basic Teknion RBT chair costs $650, but you can customize it with just about any fabric. For example, a leather chair costs about $750. And, there's a cheaper custom-order model with no arms. The company says they do bulk pricing for businesses.
Steelcase Gesture, $979
There are two new features on the Steelcase Gesture. One is that the arms can easily swing wide out of the way for using a tablet, or raise and lower to support your elbows for texting. The second is that the chair can lean way, way back--almost to a precarious angle. Fortunately, the five spokes in the base kept the chair amazingly grounded during my testing.
All of this movement is ideal for the work environment: you are not locked into one stiff position, and the chair encourages flexibility. The adjustment levers are easy to find on the right and intuitive. The Gesture uses a brand new support mechanism in the back that, similar to the RBT, adjusts automatically to your position. The main difference is that the seat tilt is not adjustable--it moves automatically when you lean, which works fine--it's not a hindrance.
Steelcase also offers an option to customize fabrics, and the pricing for that varies by the grade of leather and the fabric you pick. Bulk pricing is also available. The basic Gesture chair is cheaper than the Teknion RBT, but you do lose the comfortable auto-adjust spine feature. Both of the chairs are comfortable, adjust easily, and match current work environments.