I’ve worked from home for more years that I can remember. It actually started when I was relatively new in my career. So over the years I’ve probably learnt more about things that you shouldn’t do, as opposed to what to do. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I think that it’s fair to say that many were not prepared, or even I dare say comfortable, working from home. The purpose of this blog is to take you through my journey of setting up my current home office. Something that has taken some time and effort, but it was well worth it.
As I mentioned, I started working from home early on in my career. My home office was a couch, in front of the TV. Let’s just say this was not productive at all (but heck, what would a 20s old me think). Even later in my career I work on spaces such as the dinning room table. I could never really figure out why I wasn’t all that productive. It wasn’t until I visited my parents, that I worked at a proper desk, with a proper office chair. And most importantly in a separate room. For my this was the game changer. And since this is something that I’ve always advocated for when working from home. Ideally you need a separate room, but if you don’t have that at least an area of a room that is dedicated to your working space. At the end of the day you close up and “leave” the office. I can’t stress how important this is.
So originally I was in the room that I’m currently in. And it sucked! I became incredibly depressed. This was largely to the room itself. The room is a converted garage, they basically threw down a carpet and put a wall up. So this means that the room is windowless, so it gets very little sunlight. It got to the stage where I just had to get out. So I took over the dinning room. It worked OK for a few years (I went from the dinning room table to getting a proper office table). But since the dinning room was adjacent to the living room, getting peace to work in was really difficult, especially when I have 2 small children.
So I decide that it was time to try make a change. Unfortunately my options were pretty limited. I could either take up the spare bedroom, or horror, move back into the garage room.
So I decided to move back into the garage room, but this time it would be different. I would make it my space, spend time and money to spruce it up. Or so that was my plan. So it started, and me naively thinking moving things from the dinning room to my new office was only going to take a couple of hours. Ha! I was quite off with that time estimate! I can remember sitting on the floor looking at the giant pile of tangled wires and having one of this “oh s**t” moments!
None the less I pushed on, and glad that I did! And it slowly but finally started coming together. Piece by piece, cable by cable.
After several hours later, it was finally done!
I was amazing! All the hard work paid off, and it was fantastic to see the final end result. I was overjoyed. It got even better when I switched on the under desk lighting.
This is often a difficult one. My motto is as long as it's out of sight, it's out of mind! Don't believe me? Just look at this!
As I said, it's a difficult one. But things that I've found to help include plastic casing that helps you put plugs and extension adaptors in. It just helps to keep thins a bit tidier. Also cable wrapping helps. But the most useful tool you can have is cable ties! And you can use too many of them in my view.
Sprucing Things Up
While it was all neat and tidy, it felt like things were still missing. The walls were awfully bare. So I managed to get a few pictures to put up. The best are the canvas ones since they a relatively cheap off the likes of Amazon and easy to put up. I highly recommend using Command Strips. They work an absolute wonder, and best thing is that you don’t need to worry about any drilling and screws. And the best part is that they can be removed without leaving marks on the wall (really great if you want to avoid repainting). I also got a post of the amazing artwork that Scott McGready did for the InfoSec Happy Hour group. Command Strips also work for this (using their poster strips).
Even after adding some more posters, it was missing something. Above my work monitors was a lot of blank wall. This got me thinking, what if I decided to do something with this space. Liven it up somehow! Ofter looking around I decided to add some greenery. This helps living this space and room up, especially given the limited natural light that I get in the room. And the results were absolutely fantastic! I found some artificial greenery tiles that I would hang on the wall. I used some Command Strips to hang them up, to avoid any drilling or nails having to go into the wall.
But it was still missing some character and colour, so I looked online and found some artificial flowers to add some colour and character.
The last piece was to add even more colour and character! I decided to add some lighting in the form of flexible LED strips. This also had the added benefit or providing a decent border to the greenery.
And I mean just look at it! It makes it really my happy place. The room that once made be incredible unhappy now has the opposite effect. All it takes is some colour and character.
One other thing I had to deal with is my office chair. For a good while I made use of a really decent chair that I got off Amazon. It was well made and fairly comfortable. The only draw back was the backrest was a bit short for me (it even came with a “headrest” but was more like a neck-rest for me). Over the Christmas period last year I treated myself to a gaming chair. The one that I had was really uncomfortable. Since I don’t use that chair all that much, I wasn’t prepared to fork out the prices for a Secret Labs chair. You looking upwards for £400 for a chair from them. So I looked on Amazon and found a brand called Anda Seat. It got pretty good reviews so I decided to get it. And I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed. It’s well made and really comfortable.
So I had 2 chairs in my office. And given the shorter backrest of my office chair, I decided to give the gaming chair a go for work. My only disappointment was that I didn’t try it sooner. The better backrest made all the difference in the world! So now I just have the 1 chair which means the added benefit of less clutter!
The other big thing is having some decent monitors. I means these are the very things that you will be staring at all day! As you can see (and much to the delight of my other half) I have what you could say a collection of them. Having multiple screens goes a long way in helping improve one's productivity. In terms of the best monitor? Well this is largely going to come down to personal preference as well as personal budgets. I like utlrawides since they provide more real estate on the monitor, making it better for having 2 apps side by side. 4k monitors are also a good shout, and their prices have dropped significantly to make them really affordable. One thing to note is to make sure that any dock and laptop (yes Mac M1 I'm looking at you) you use, can support the monitor setup that you want.
If you find that it can't, there is a solution! And that comes in the form of a DisplayLink adaptor. I've got all mine off Amazon, and they aren't too badly priced. One thing to consider though is that most only support 4k at 30Hz. And you do notice this, especially if you have a HD screen (which runs at 60Hz) next to it. It feels somewhat sluggish as a result. Best thing to do is check the specs of the adaptor that will tell you the modes and refresh rates that it will support.
On the point of monitors, a really helpful thing is to ensure that they have vesa mount. This means that you can use a monitor arm to mount your monitor. This helps free up loads of space on your desk. It also helps to get the monitor at the right and height. I can't recommend using this enough! A brand I often look to is Duronic who have some decent mounts at a pretty reasonable price.
Another important piece of kit is a docking station, and they are well worth shelling out for. You want to get a Thunderbolt one since this will it to drive more things such as multiple monitors and USB devices. This does make them a bit more expensive, but the costs are well worth it. It also means that they also generally support charging as well. So this means a single USB C cable to worry about on your laptop. Like the DisplayLink adaptors, be wary of the video modes that the docking station can support. They have limitations as to how many monitors they can support and this will vary based on the resolutions. The best advice I can give is to look at the specs. Another tip I can give is look to eBay for some docking stations, you can often find them at a better price. Some of them will have been used before, but as long as it works it doesn't matter if it has a few marks on it. Some even are brand new at much lower prices.
Finally you want to make sure that you get a decent keyboard and mouse. This is often a matter of personal preference. Some prefer mechanical keyboards, while others don't. Pick one that will work for your. Wireless is also great since it means less clutter and you can move it around. Logitech devices are great to since some you can have paired up to 3 devices (there's a dedicated button to switch devices). Making it easier to switch between multiple systems. Also I highly recommend at least looking at an ergonomic mouse. I used to get pains in my wrists and this went away when I started using an ergonomic mouse.
Working from home has it many perks, but it is incredibly important to make sure that you create an atmosphere that you enjoy. If you don’t you will not be productive and likely start resenting working from home (or working for that matter). It doesn’t have to take much to make a really comfortable working environment, just a bit of creativity. And lastly, tailor to fit your needs and taste. After all this is your space, so it should be something that makes you happy, not others.
Some of the things that I purchased for my office
Greenery tiles for the wall:
My original office chair:
The Anda Seat gaming chair that I have:
I use a brand called Govee. I stick to a single brand where possible since it means that I can control the lighting via a single app. They also seem like a decent product but for a lot less than some other better known brands.
Some of the tech that I have and use.