When the pandemic set in a year ago, there was no shortage of articles telling us which gear we needed to work comfortably from home. Scrolling my Twitter feed, it often felt like every online publisher (including Outside) had weighed in on the best home-office products: standing desks, fancy stools, mousepads, extra monitors. I smugly ignored all of these stories. Pre-pandemic, I worked from home three days a week and had no extraordinary aches and pains. My setup was sparse—I usually edited from my kitchen table, seated in an Ikea dining chair, with my laptop elevated on a stand—but I had no complaints. The people who needed these product recommendations were somehow different from me, I was sure. Maybe they’d gotten soft from all those days relying on comfy, ergonomic office chairs while I’d been unknowingly training for our work-from-home apocalypse. But several months into the pandemic, the aches and pains arrived.
I must have been demonstrating terrible posture at my computer before I actually started complaining about my back and shoulder pain. I only know this because very soon after the aches arrived, my boyfriend received a stream of packages at our apartment that were full of work-from-home gear. I hadn’t asked for any of this, but he had ordered it all for me. (Some gestures can be thoughtful and vaguely insulting at the same time. I cringe thinking about how hunched over my laptop I must have appeared to have prompted the unsolicited gifts.) There was a back cushion, a seat cushion, and a pillowy footstool, all from different companies. Out of desperation (and an attempt to be grateful), I outfitted my Ikea dining chair and got back to work.
I soon realized that I’d tried to implement too many changes too soon. On day one of my new setup, I felt restricted and uncomfortable at my workstation, but I couldn’t pinpoint which item was to blame. Over several weeks, I tested out different arrangements to see what felt best: I reintroduced the items in different combinations and tried to take note of any changes to my overall achiness.
Eventually, I settled on the winner: the Royal seat cushion ($79) from Purple, a brand mostly known for its mattresses. The “cushion” is made from a grid of firm, rubbery—and yes, purple—gel webbing and features a zip-on cover with a no-slip grip on the bottom. Unlike a regular cushion, the material is supportive and pleasantly solid. (You don’t sink into it.) It successfully upgrades my rock-hard dining chair to at least the level of those comfy office chairs. At the end of a long workday, I no longer feel desperate to book a deep-tissue massage. It’s a bit pricey but still much cheaper than a high-quality ergonomic chair.
I’ve mostly ditched the other add-ons, and I have to admit that I still have work to do to perfect my setup. (For starters, my large monitor has been gathering dust at my office for a whole year while I work from my laptop each day.) But I still can’t quite stomach the idea of putting a full-blown ergonomic office chair in my kitchen—it feels so final, like I can no longer pretend that we’ll be back to our normal office lives soon enough. Until I get over my denial, this seat cushion is an excellent stopgap.