As a software professional, it wasn’t uncommon for me to take a “work-from-home” day every so often — one company I worked for would even have “drills” where we would be sent a text message early in the morning instructing us not to come to the office that day, as a test to see if productivity would drop when employees worked from home unexpectedly. When COVID-19 came along, though, everything changed, and it seemed like the whole country was suddenly working from home, including me! Originally, our company work-from-home order was supposed to be a temporary measure, but after eight months, it turned into a permanent closure of my office (and several of the company’s other corporate offices) — so I found myself needing to create a permanent work-from-home office setup.
How I Feel About Working From Home
Now, I always claimed not to like working from home… and, honestly, I still don’t know that I prefer it to being in an office. Part of the reason I didn’t enjoy working from home was because I didn’t have a dedicated workspace, or proper equipment. In the office, I would have a dual-monitor setup, a keyboard and mouse, and a dock for my laptop, and a nice chair, but at home I would be working just from my laptop, sitting on the couch. Trying to write code (and manage a database, keep up with team chat and e-mail, Google things, and keep my files in order) on a 15″ laptop screen using just the built-in keyboard and trackpad is not a good time, especially if you’re doing it for more than a day. Computers spec’d for software development also tend not to have the best battery life, because they need to be very powerful (and we tend to abuse that RAM and processing power on the daily), so I’d have to sit near an outlet and keep the laptop plugged in most of the time.
When the company announced my office was closed permanently, my partner, Dave, and I turned our attention to the back bedroom of our house, which had pretty much become a storage unit. We cleaned it out, repainted, put down some cheap carpet, and took a trip to the nearest IKEA store for furniture. What the rest of the office is like is a story for another time (read: it’s still unfinished), but today I wanted to share what I keep on my desk!
Please note: I am not a minimalist. This is definitely not a Pinterest-project desk, this is where I sit for 8-ish hours a day and do an actual, corporate desk job.
First things first: I’m a software developer, and one thing that developers crave is screen real-estate. There is absolutely no escaping the presence of my crazy-big monitor. I was allowed to bring my dual-monitor setup home from the office, but I ended up buying this 34″ curved widescreen monitor instead, and I love it. It’s wide enough that I can put windows all over the place, and easily keep an eye on my team chat while coding. I really love not having a gap between two monitors, and having one big, expansive space instead. The other nice thing about this monitor is that there is a two-port powered USB hub as well as audio in/out in the back. I use a slim USB hub in the back of the monitor, and plug my mouse’s Bluetooth dongle, keyboard, microphone, and webcam into it; then I plug the speaker power into the other port. This is nice to have because it allows me to swap my work laptop (a Windows PC, provided by the company) and my personal laptop (a Macbook Pro) easily — I only have to swap out the video input and USB power cables to switch between computers.
My job requires a lot of typing (because code doesn’t write itself). I’m not a keyboard snob, but I wanted something a little fancier than the standard Bluetooth keyboard I could check out from the office… okay, really, I just wanted a keyboard that lit-up rainbow colors. This EagleTec keyboard is one of the cheaper full-size mechanical keyboards you can buy, but I really like it. The mechanical action is very responsive and satisfyingly click-y, and I absolutely love the rainbow LEDs. Eventually I want to swap the keycaps out for this pastel rainbow set to make it even more obnoxious. It’s paired with this wireless mouse, which comes in a plethora of colors to match your desk theme.
Sure, you can use your computer’s on-board audio and video capabilities to work from home… but it’s so much better if you don’t. I use this HD webcam, these cute circular speakers, and this desktop microphone instead of the webcam, speakers, and mic on my laptop (the microphone is not present in the photos; it wasn’t set up yet). The speakers are probably my favorite — they’re not expensive, but provide great sound and I really like the look of them. I’ve thought about getting a headset for meetings, but I don’t really like wearing them, so instead I bought a standing mic for my desk. It makes me feel a little bit like a radio newscaster, but it’s better than my coworkers trying to decipher what I’m saying during calls because I sound like I’m speaking from the bottom of a well (which is what my on-board laptop mic makes me sound like).
Instead of a traditional mouse pad, I use a faux-leather “desk pad” — it’s basically a giant mouse pad that covers most of my desk. It’s great because I can set my coffee mug down anywhere without staining the desktop! I cleaned it for this photo, but trust me, it’s usually covered in coffee-colored rings from my mug. It’s also useful because it gives you a wider range of motion with the mouse than a traditional mouse pad, which comes in handy using the widescreen monitor. You can find my desk pad here, and it comes in a wide range of colors.
I’ve had this monitor riser forever; it’s a cheapie, but does it’s job well. Eventually I’d like to upgrade it to a nicer wooden one, but I haven’t found one that I really like — most of the wood ones have slots in the top for pens, phones, etc., and I don’t need or want that. I do like the storage in this one; it has a pull-out drawer underneath and some catch-all pockets on one side. You can find a similar one here.
Other than that, I just have some odds and ends — a metal magazine holder that holds extra notebooks, a package of pens, bits of mail I need to attend to, and other odds and ends. I keep a melamine cup on the desk to hold pens (along with scissors and a nail file), and a thrifted vintage Pyrex sauce dish that serves as a catch-all for small items.
Oh, and if you’re wondering — my laptop stand is just a cheapie plastic piece from IKEA!
Desk toys are my favorite part of any desk! I love seeing other people’s desk toys, I feel like you can tell a lot about someone’s personality from what they surround themselves with at work.
When I worked in the office, I’d keep snacks and photos of my son at my desk, but I have those things elsewhere in my house now! I also had to pare down a lot because my desk at home is smaller than my cubicle space in the office. I did manage to fit all three nameplates in my space (two from previous jobs, and the one from my cubicle, which my manager rescued and gave to me later) — I always see if I can keep my badge or nameplate from a job, as a momento. I also have a diecast model of my Jeep, for fun, a few ceramic critters, and one tiny My Little Pony. The orange thing in my Pyrex dish is called a Tangle; it’s a plastic fidget toy that folds in on itself — I play with it while I’m thinking in an effort to keep me from biting my nails (an ongoing habit that I keep trying to break — yes, I know it’s gross and nasty, that’s why I’m trying to stop doing it).
Some Things Are Better At Home
One benefit of working from home over the office: I can burn candles at my desk without bothering my colleagues or setting off the smoke alarm! Sometimes it’s nice to have a scent going while I’m working (I am very lucky that candle scents are not a migraine trigger for me); I’ll light a tropical-smelling candle if the weather is dark and gray, to help cheer myself up. I think it may even help with my productivity a little.
The last thing I want to mention is the 3-pound dumbbell I keep on the desk. No, it’s not a paperweight — I use it! If I need to take a break to think about something, or if I haven’t moved for awhile and need to stretch a little, I’ll grab the weight and do some arm exercises. Who knows if it’s actually making me any stronger (it’s probably not), but it feels good to get moving and focus on my muscles for a few minutes every so often throughout the day. Again, I’d feel super weird doing this in the office where my coworkers could see me, but it makes for a nice break at home!
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