Investing in your home office is investing in yourself

Me awkwardly sitting at my well-used home office
Me awkwardly sitting at my well-used home office
Me awkwardly sitting in my well-used home office

Casual clothing, non-existent commute from the bedroom to the living room. I’ve been largely working from home for the past 6 years. Ive learned a lot about setting up my home office to be both affordable and functional. It might not be instagram ready, but it’s versatile and comfortable.

We’ve all been thrust into a new reality of working from home and we might not be ready for it. People on my video calls have run the gamut of home office setups. From working on a stack of books, the kitchen table, the bed, the couch, outside on a lawn chair there is a common theme. Most of us aren’t investing in our home office. Despite spending 8+ hours sitting in one place, many people are taking themselves for granted.

I’m here to tell you that you’re worth it. You’re valued. More specifically, your back, wrists, knees, and neck are valued. By investing in a proper home office setup, you’re investing in your wellbeing. That’s good for your physical health, mental health and your wallet.

Whether or not COVID-19 keeps us in quarantine, working from home more often is here to stay. Whereas before managers didn’t believe their employees could work from home here is the workforce at large, proving it can be done.

Will your work give a stipend? Like Google’s $1,000 per employee they recently set aside for home offices?

The reality for most people is a resounding no, and you shouldn’t wait to find out. Begin investing in a few key pieces of home office equipment now and you will be investing in your well-being. Corporate offices are, despite appearances, not haphazardly put together. They are carefully thought out for ergonomics. Chair type, desk height, monitor arms, mouse type. They are all intended to help by giving employees a baseline ergonomic experience.

Find the right space

Before you buy anything, finding the right space is key. Often a clean, quiet space can help you focus. It’s not always easy finding these types of spaces in our new reality. But finding an unused closet that is deep enough, corner of the basement, or rejigging the dining room can all become good workspaces. It’s okay if the space doesn’t work at first. Keep moving until you find a space that does.

Use your measuring tape to figure out how big of a desk you can fit. Phone apps can help you measure the level of noise in a room (Sound Meter, Decibel X) so you can find the quietest part of your home.

A solid desk

Simple but critical. Your desk doesn’t need to be an expensive component. Even with sit/stand desks, you can spend a reasonable amount. IKEA and PrimeCables offer affordable options for quality electric lift tables for $500.

If sit/stand desks aren’t your speed, having a nice, large surface with a proper height is key. Sit in your office chair and measure a foot from your lap. This isn’t an exact measurement but I find it this is a good guideline. This height allows your arms to rest comfortably on your desk when you are typing. Ikea offers a wide range of tabletops and legs that are very configurable to get a perfect sitting height. The ALEX drawer unit also provides a great stand for a tabletop and provides ample storage to keep your workspace clean.

The key to finding a good table is height and size. Make sure it fits your leg height and wrist position. It’s better to have unused desk space over wanting more.

Chair with lumbar support

While sitting at this new workspace, a chair is important in protecting your health. In my first office job, I sat in an old, torn up, outdated chair. A few months into my job, I lost feeling in the front of my leg until my toes. I couldn’t even feel the shoe on my foot. Thankfully with physiotherapy, a better chair, and proper posture the injury healed and I gained feeling in my leg.

I have since bought a high-quality gaming chair. These look great and have a high level of comfort. However, from anecdotal evidence, I find they are not a good purchase. Instead, spending money on a quality chair that is designed for functionality over style is a better purchase.

Don’t make my mistake. This is where you should spend the most of your money. The autonomous ErgoChair 2 is a great example of a medium budget, or a high budget would be a Herman-Miller Aeron. These are examples of chairs you would find in most professional offices. Mesh allows breathability, and the chair functions allow customizations for your body.

Quality mouse and keyboard

This is admittedly where I fall short most of the time. Due to convenience I truly think the trackpad on a MacBook is an excellent tool that I used most of the time while programming. With that said, carpal tunnel is no joke. Trying to find a mouse and keyboard that won’t injure your wrists can take time.

If you’re using an apple magic keyboard or mouse, go ahead and put that in storage. They are designed for aesthetics and not ergonomics. Favour functionality over form.

There are a few types of keyboards and mice that can help you mitigate or assist with wrist and hand pain.

  1. Thumb trackball mouse: These allow you to use your thumb instead of the wrist to move the mouse around.
  2. Ergonomic keyboard: These keyboards allow you to change the angle your wists are when typing.
  3. Keyboard wrist pads: These sit just in front of your keyboard to reduce fatigue on your wrists when typing.
  4. Mouse pad with wrist support: These put a pad under your wrist when using your mouse.
  5. Desk pad: adds a layer of cushioning to the desk surface
  6. Oversize mousepad: Increases range of motion by providing a larger area for mouse travel
  7. Weight-adjustable mouse: Can allow you to dial in the weight of the mouse making it easier to handle.

Comfortable headset or microphone and speakers

Teams and Slack both have fantastic exclusionary audio. That means you don’t need to don a sweaty headset to do your phone calls. Most of the time, people will not be able to hear themself through your speakers. These applications do the heavy lifting for you by reducing ambient noise and cancelling out the audio from other people on the call. If your space allows it a microphone (a dynamic microphone opposed to a cardioid will be better for talking, and reduce ambient noise) on a boom mount (Rhode PSA-1) and speakers (any will do, but studio monitors offer superior sound) are a great way to keep up with your meetings. This will help your hearing, and an adjustable microphone stand will allow you to sit in the most comfortable position and bring the microphone to you.

If your home office doesn’t allow it, headsets meant for gaming are a great alternative for comfort. Many come with a built-in microphone that comes right in front of your mouth and is adjustable such as Turtle Beach. Avoid open-ear headphones if you need to block out noise. Some also come with active noise cancelling which utilizes white noise and microphones to eliminate the noise around you. Bose is currently the leader in this technology.

Quality Webcam

It’s a good idea to try and get face time with your coworkers. This helps develop stronger bonds and allows you to convey emotion better than just a phone call or message on Slack alone. Cameras are now built into laptops, tablets, and phones but they typically lack high quality.

If your work computer doesn’t have a camera or your video looks grainy, I recommend picking up something small, high quality, and portable like the Logitech c920.

A ring light can also help your camera setup. These can be found on amazon or camera websites and are typically used by streamers and vloggers. They are a ring of LED lights that can put constant soft light on your face. This will make sure your face is visible. (ex. Neewer ring light)

The key to a good picture is having more light in front of you than behind or beside you. If you find your face is washed out by light, you may need to cover a nearby window or move your sitting position.

External Monitor

This is a key difference I have heard from employees in just about every job. When you’re used to working on external monitors, being relegated to your work laptop’s screen can drastically affect your ability to work efficiently.

Unless your work is in the arts, you can spreadsheet on just about any sub-$100 monitor. Many now come with articulating stands that allow you to switch between portrait and landscape modes and raise or lower the monitor.

If you or someone you know has an old monitor lying around, you can purchase a very cheap cable that will convert whatever input it needs to one that is suitable for your computer. If it lacks a good monitor stand, those can also be purchased for under $80 and will allow you to set your monitor to the perfect position.

A proper monitor position should be just below eye level for the main monitor so you are slightly looking down. If you have multiple monitors, set the primary monitor directly in front of your sightline.

Extras

  • Acoustic Panelling: allow you to dampen and reduce sound. These can be purchased ($$$) or built ($).
  • Chair mat: Can reduce the wear on your floor and silence your chair movement.
  • Lumbar pillow: Can improve the lumbar support on an existing chair.
  • Portable green screen: Zoom and other video conferencing software now have virtual backgrounds. A collapsible green screen can be put directly behind you to hide your surroundings and give you the appearance of being in a clean office setting.
  • Audio interface: Useful if you pick up a microphone that uses XLR connectors. (ex. Scarlett 2i2)

Bottom Line

Even if you can only do one of these improvements to your office setup, you are benefitting your long-term health.

Not everyone can afford a new home office setup right away but putting money away each paycheque to improve your home office can be a great way to slowly get there.

Web software developer, leader, speaker and writer. Lover of horror games, craft beer, and rock climbing.

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