I started to work from home over a decade ago and though it is not for everybody, I enjoyed it so much that I started investing heavily in my setup over time which includes a massive corner desk, but you don’t need that to start off, in fact, you may never need it.
Given the current circumstances, I thought I would share a few work-from-home setup tips. This post is derived from personal, friends, and my clientele’s experiences that are moving towards a semi-permanent or have a permanent work-from-home arrangement and though it might not be ideal for all use cases it will cover most newcomers’ needs.
First and before all, forget about buying anything until you find space in your home for a permanent comfortable workspace! This workspace should have a few important traits, be in a well-lit area but not in a high traffic zone, so not at the dining table on the way to the fridge for example. Though you can use your bedroom, this may be a problem in the long run, remember that it takes self-discipline to work from home. And I mean this in both ways, be on time at your workspace and leave your workspace at the end of the working day, I have an alarm set at 17:00 om my computer to remind me to stop working. Ideally, though not always possible, use a dedicated room and if you can’t, find an area where you can work without distractions. In this post, I will assume you do not have a dedicated room.
There are important considerations when choosing a suitable workspace, it needs to be well lit and cool in summer and warm in winter. Additionally, think about a desk, this can be a sturdy table and it needs to be at least 120cm wide and 80cm deep to accommodate the basics of your workspace.
You will need to be able to fit a laptop, possibly a screen, keyboard, mouse, a few papers, and a cup or glass on that desk. The advantage of this desk is that you should be able to find the right space for it relatively easily.
By now you are probably asking why a screen, mouse, and keyboard, and what about a printer? I’ll address the first part later in this post, as for a printer scanner it is a near necessity though less so in recent years as most tablets with a pen will let you sign and annotate documents using Word of a PDF document. If you need a printer and scanner have a look at a desk like the one on the right.
The next item on our list is a chair, and if there is something I would not cheap out on, it is the chair!
You are going to be in that chair for 6 to 9 hours a day, make sure it is comfortable. You do not need to get a Humanscale chair but a comfortable chair with back support will be important to avoid seeing your physiotherapist often. Something like the one shown on the left will do nicely for most people and is within most budget’s reach.
We are now entering some optional equipment which may be provided by your company but even if it is not and you have a company laptop, I recommend you invest in these.
The first is a monitor, a larger screen is easier to read but also forces a better posture, your monitor should be the closest to eye-level as possible. A 23 to 24-inch FHD monitor will do fine but you may need to raise it a bit, if you can afford a 27-inch FHD or QHD that is even better but these can get very expensive quickly. Alternatively, you could use a laptop riser but the screen will still be the 13 to 17 inch of your laptop.
Whether you use a laptop riser or a monitor, both of which I highly recommend you will need a keyboard and mouse. You can find very good and affordable keyboard and mouse combos from both Logitech and Microsoft, these generally tend to last longer than the cheaper alternatives. If possible go for a wireless setup, it makes for a cleaner desk.
Tools for online meetings
For great results in online meetings positioning your desk near a window is essential, the light provided will allow your chosen device to shine. I also recommend a white voile curtain at the window to diffuse the light. Furthermore, using an isolated part of your home will also avoid embarrassing moments both on video and on audio.
If you have a laptop, a laptop riser will also improve your meetings by bringing the built-in webcam to eye-level, if you use a monitor you can still do that by piling a few books or putting a box under your laptop.
Don’t have a laptop or you are not happy with your laptop’s webcam? You have a few solutions, some are more expensive than others.
- If you have a DSLR, Mirrorless, or bridge camera, using it as a webcam may be supported by the manufacturer, Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, and Sony have drivers that can do that. Check if your model is supported. You may need a tripod to use it though, I use this from Elgato.
- You could use your smartphone as a webcam if you have an iPhone EpocCam will allow you to use your iPhone as a webcam for free, though limited, all considering the “pro” version is about $8 far cheaper than buying a webcam.
If you have an Andriod phone, there are a few alternatives such as DroidCam.
- Getting a Webcam, this gets a little more expensive and complicated, because webcams that will outclass your laptop’s built-in webcam is going to cost you. If you are going to buy one, go for a full HD capable one. again both Logitech and Microsoft have good options.
The best way to improve your audio is to get a good quality USB microphone. You will be surprised at the difference in quality. An entry-level condenser or cardioid microphone will up your game dramatically and does not need to break the bank.
You can use a pair of cheap in-ear earphones to listen to the meeting when using a microphone.
Alternatively, there are USB headphones with built-in microphones that will do the job. Again both Logitech and Microsoft have sturdy ones that will last. Headsets have an additional bonus, often the microphones do not pick up sounds past 2 to 3 meters, in a noisy environment like dogs barking or kids playing, this can be an advantage.
Some gadgets you will want
In this post, I recommended a few USB devices with good reasons, USB 1 is still fully supported on USB 4, with an adaptor, so getting a USB 3 hub is a no brainer.
Chose one with a good reputation and a USB 3 Micro B plug for future-proofing, so that even if your next machine is entirely USB-C or USB 4, all you have to change is the cable. Try to get a powered one with at least 7 ports and some charging ports so you can use it to recharge your phone during an online meeting where it’s used as a webcam, I use a couple of Kensington UH7000C 7 Port Powered USB Hub 3.0 as shown on the left, it has 2x charging ports up to 20w. If you already have a USB-C machine, maybe look at a USB-C dock with an HDMI monitor output.
A well-lit desk is important day and night, so here is a gadget that seems useless until you start using it, a monitor mounted horizontal light.
I would not blame you for not knowing about these, the idea to light up your desk surface without blinding you, that’s it. But trust me when I say it is worth it, less headache. Speaking of headaches and lights, fitting some LED lights, I use color and intensity adjustable ones, to the back of your monitor avoid eye stress, it is gimmicky but it helps.
The last piece that you may want is a set of reasonably good computer speakers, but this I will leave up to you.
If I had to add anything to the above, it would be a small plant or a photo.
All of these items may seem to be a lot to invest in, but remember it is an investment, and if you change laptops or desktop computers all of these investments will still be there and used daily. These will also be there for many years to come and you do not have to do everything at the same time.