2020 changed the world in large, obvious ways and in some smaller ways. One of the ways it changed my world is that I needed to focus more on the comfort and productivity of my home office. Prior to 2020, my home office was a neat and tidy place where I kept the servers that run our house along with a desktop computer I occasionally used, mostly for maintaining the technology infrastructure of my home.
Then, in a flash, it became the room I spend more time in than any other room in my house. I began to care more about what was in it and how it enabled me to do my job. In this article, I’ll go over things that make my home office a nice and productive place, and some of the improvements I still need to make.
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Although I have access to a laptop from my job, I never use it. Most services are available via a web browser over the Internet. I don’t need to VPN for much of anything. On the rare occasion that I need to access something not available over the Internet, I can just connect to a machine at work via remote desktop.
I just use my 3-year-old Linux desktop from System 76. It’s plenty powerful with a 8th Gen Core i7 processor and 32GB RAM. It has been a champ throughout the pandemic.
The only thing I would like to improve about my desktop is its video card. The onboard graphics processing unit (GPU) can only drive one monitor at a 4K resolution. I prefer a dual monitor setup. Speaking of monitors…
When the pandemic started I was using a dual monitor set up, but not an ideal one. My monitors were mismatched; one was 12 years old and the other one 8 years old. As much as I tried, I could never get the colors to match. My eyes were extremely fatigued at the end of each day. Finally, I decided to purchase two new matched monitors (see below). They made a world of difference. Being the same size and coloration was great for my productivity (especially when working with graphics). Also, they greatly reduced my eye strain. My eyes are usually not fatigued at the end of the work day.
- OUTSTANDING VISUALS – This FHD display with IPS technology gives you brilliant visuals and unforgettable quality; with a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 75 Hz, you’ll experience the image accuracy and wide-viewing spectrums of premium tablets and mobile devices
- MORE SCREEN, LESS SPACE – Enjoy more desk space than you thought possible with an attractive and ultra-slim design
- PANORAMIC VIEWING – Vibrant detail from practically any position with consistent color and image clarity maintained across an ultra-wide 178° horizontal and vertical viewing angles
- MICRO-EDGE DISPLAY – With virtually no bezel encircling the display on three sides, an ultra-wide viewing experience provides for seamless multi-monitor setups
- EASY CONNECTIVITY – Get the picture quality you’ve been looking for without the additional dongles; easily connect to your PC, gaming console, and peripherals for big-screen entertainment with a broad range of ports, including HDMI, DisplayPort, and VGA ports
I also use these monitor stands to prop up my monitors to the appropriate height, although, I probably don’t need these stands anymore. I bought them when I had monitors that didn’t have height adjustment as my current monitors do. However, it’s great to have a little extra storage on my desk.
Video camera and microphone
Fortunately and unfortunately, a large part of my day is dedicated being in Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. I was lucky enough to have purchased a web cam and microphone just before the pandemic hit, as I was considering teleworking occasionally. Both (listed below) have been great.
There are two things I would like to improve about this setup. I almost always appear to be looking down in video conferences because I have my monitors high up and my video camera is on top of my monitor. I’m not quite sure how to fix that with a dual monitor setup.
Second, although my mic does a pretty good job of filtering out ambient noise, it isn’t perfect. I have a computer in my office with a moderately loud fan that is picked up as background noise. Sometimes I participate in podcasts and conferences and my sound isn’t as good as others. However, I never get complaints from others about being able to hear or understand me.
Keyboard and Mouse
I’m not very particular when it comes to keyboards and mice. I had the same DELL keyboard that came with a computer I bought 15 years ago until last year. I wanted a slightly larger keyboard with some LED lights, and a mouse to match. Below are the keyboard and mouse I purchased. They are both inexpensive and work well with Linux.
I don’t really like headphones. My ears always feel like they are on fire after an hour. Bluetooth earbuds do the trick. I have used a couple of different pairs of earbuds and they both have been great. I gave one set to my wife.
For me, a good multifunction printer is a must-have, even in this digital age. I use them with my kid’s homework, when I have to sign things that don’t allow for electronic signature, and when I need to scan in documents. Occasionally, I print out longer documents that I need to review. I prefer to do critical review and editing of documents using paper and pen.
I have an HP OfficeJet All-In-One printer. It serves its purpose. It has a reliable wired connection to my network and allows me to scan, print, and copy documents. However, it is a little loud and slow. If I were looking to buy a new printer I’d consider one of these:
I have a lot of devices that need power on my desk in my office like my monitors, a desk light, my levitating Deathstar Bluetooth speaker (similar to this arc star), my laptop, my mobile phone, my Nest Hub, and on and on. Some of these need regular AC outlets, and some use USB connections. I bought a surge protecting power strip tower that saves space on my desk while providing 9 AC outlets, 3 USB-A outlets and 1 USB-C outlet. It works great!
Smart lighting and LEDs
I’m a big fan of LEDs everywhere. The pandemic has been filled with some mental health challenges. LED lights make me happy. Having different colors and patterns lighting up a room sometimes put a smile on my face. In order to bring that happiness to the room I’m in the most, I installed LED strips along my desk and some LED lights along my wall. They are all powered by WLED, which you can get started with dazzling LED displays using WLED quickly and inexpensively.
I also have a Zigbee powered ceiling fan fixture that lights my room and provides a nice breeze as this is the hottest room in the house. Having it integrated with Home Assistant means I can turn it on and off without getting up from my computer.
Why do I need a Chromebook in my office if I have a desktop? Well, need is a strong word and I don’t really need it. However, I do use it when I want to work outside of this office. It’s great for when I want to sit outside or on the recliner. Also, I sometimes need to help my kids with their homework and proctor their tests. They can just come in my office, sit next to me, and log into the Chromebook and we can take it from there.
Home office networking
Network speed should be something I shouldn’t have to worry about. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about it in my office. I have a strong Wi-Fi signal in this office for my mobile devices, powered by TP-Link access points. My desktop has a gigabit connection to my Trendnet gigabit switch, and I have a gigabit Internet connection from CenturyLink.
Uninterruptible power supply (UPS)
Again, because I’m paranoid and live in an area where there are frequent power outages and power spikes, I have a UPS for all the key electronic equipment I have in my office. The UPS saved me a few times during the pandemic. Here is how I have integrated that UPS to give me power spike and outage alerts, even when I’m not home. And here is the UPS I have, which has served me well and has replaceable batteries:
Other items in my home office
I’ve got a few other productivity items in my office. I have a ring light to get rid of the shadows on my face during video conferences. I also have all the hardware for my home lab in this room. Additionally, I keep a set of colored pens in my office because sometimes I just like to write in different colors. Last but not least, I have a back massager for my chair, which really comes in handy some days. Here’s the list of all the items:
Like many people, I’ve been working primarily at home for over year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I get ready to regularly return to the office, I thought I’d recall the equipment in my office that allowed me to stay productive as I worked from home. I plan to work from home at least some of the time from here on out and these changes and future changes I plan to make should keep me productive.
What key equipment do you have in your home office? What do you wish you had? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter.