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Top Home Office Upgrades to Improve Productivity

By Kaiti Norton
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The onset of COVID-19 has affected nearly everyone: students around the world are now engaged in virtual learning, unemployment rates are off the charts, and most people who are able to work from home have been doing so since March. Adapting to a new remote working lifestyle can pose some challenges, especially when forced to do so quickly and without much preparation. 

Thankfully, some employers have started subsidizing the cost of improving their employees' home offices, as what was once expected to be a temporary arrangement is now looking to be a more permanent workplace policy. While a new monitor or desk chair might not solve all of the global challenges we're facing right now, some home office upgrades can have major implications for an employee's day-to-day productivity and happiness. Here are our suggestions for products that can make your home office more comfortable—and you more efficient.

Home office furniture

Black man sitting at desk taking notes on a call

One of the most common tips for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and staying productive during business hours is to establish a separate environment specifically for working. When a space is designated for answering emails, joining video conferences, and working through the ever-growing to do list, it makes it that much easier to “switch off” at the end of the day. But it’s not just about making room on the dining room table for a laptop and mouse pad (although that’s certainly better than working from bed)—investing in furniture specifically designed for office use can help keep the mind focused on work-related tasks.

Standing desks

Research has found that even in an office setting, sitting for long hours has been linked to a number of health concerns. Consider investing in a desk that can be raised or lowered to easily accommodate a number of comfortable working conditions.

  • If budget or square footage won’t allow for a full standing desk, this FEZIBO tabletop standing desk converts any table to a standing desk with a few simple adjustments. 
  • This L-shaped desk from SHW is a great option for those looking for more table surface area, plus it comes with a cable management basket to prevent cords from getting tangled while trying to move up or down.
  • This classic Seville desk comes at a higher price point, but its sleek profile features a tempered glass top (perfect for dry erase markers!), two embedded USB ports, and a touch screen controller.

Rolling desks

In small spaces, a rolling desk enables you to set up your workspace during the day and tuck it away after hours. Similarly, the added mobility allows you to work from any location inside (or outside) your house.

  • For under $100, this height-adjustable desk has a rotating panel that’s perfectly sized for a laptop and a separate side console for notebooks, coffee cups, and other work necessities.
  • This Techni Mobili desk is a good option for remote workers who need a second display or prefer a little more arm room. Plus, it has a dedicated pull-out keyboard tray and added storage space (although the CD storage might not be as valuable in today’s digital world).

Chairs

When working from home, it may be tempting to spend all day sitting on the couch (or worse, lying in bed), but this could be to the detriment of your productivity. If you’ve established a working space that’s separate from your living space, consider upgrading from a household chair to one that’s specifically designed for work.

  • Toward the lower end of the price spectrum, this chair from SIHOO offers a balance between affordability and quality. Unlike some inexpensive chairs, this one features many adjustable options, including seat height, lumbar support, armrest height, and head rest position.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Herman Miller Aeron chair is regarded as the créme de la créme of office chairs. Years of research, engineering, and design have culminated in a chair that considers even the smallest details to maximize comfort. The people at Herman Miller spared no expense when crafting the Aeron chair, so its price tag might result in some sticker shock.

Chair alternatives

Some people may find standard office chairs too expensive, bulky, or uncomfortable, so there are some alternatives and adaptations that offer better ergonomics at a lower price point.

Peripheral devices

hands typing at keyboard

While it’s certainly possible to work remotely with just a laptop, power cord, and reliable Internet connection, there are some extra pieces of equipment that can make working from home more comfortable and productive. An external display can double (or triple) the active screen space, meaning you don’t have to squint at a tiny screen for hours on end. Similarly, an ergonomic mouse and keyboard can relieve any strain on the nerves and ligaments in your hands.

Monitors

When choosing a monitor, it’s important to consider the factors that are most important to your job—a graphic designer might prioritize color accuracy, whereas a programmer might find the size of the monitor most important to accommodate multiple windows. If you’re simply looking for a second screen to organize your browser, email, instant messenger, and video conferencing windows in a more efficient way, a basic screen might do just the trick.

  • For an affordable option, the Acer SB220Q offers a very slim profile with 1080p resolution. Its 21.5” screen offers some color, brightness, and contrast adjustments that can be saved as separate profiles.
  • If cost is no factor, this LG ultrawide monitor boasts competitive color accuracy and massive screen size—ideal for gamers, programmers, and designers alike.

Keyboards

An external keyboard might seem unnecessary—after all, laptops come with one already configured and ready to use out of the box. The surprising benefits of using a keyboard that’s separate from your laptop might justify the additional purchase. Regardless of your profession, keyboards can make heavy computer use more comfortable and efficient.

  • Wireless keyboards like this one from Logitech are great for people who get frustrated with unorganized cables or simply prefer the clean, minimalist experience of going cordless.
  • Beloved by gamers, mechanical keyboards like this one from Razer offer better ergonomics than a standard laptop keyboard. Plus, all of the keys and key combinations can be re-programmed to execute complex functions for enhanced productivity. (Check out this article for more information on what to look for when shopping for mechanical keyboards.)

Mice

Before laptops, the modest computer mouse was the primary input for navigating a cursor across the screen. The introduction of the trackpad, however, sparked some debate about which was more efficient, and each advancement in these peripherals has made the contest grow stronger. While trackpads are ultimately great for convenience and make it easy to work on the go, a mouse offers better ergonomics for long term use and allows users to complete tasks with more refined movements.

  • Regardless of what task you're performing while working on your computer, chances are at some point you've become dissatisfied with the limited controls inherent to a laptop's trackpad. This Logitech MX Anywhere 2S mouse enables users to customize seven buttons including left and right click—meaning typical mouse functions can be adjusted to fit your unique needs.
  • For an even bigger upgrade, the Logitech MX Master 3 mouse offers a second wheel near the thumb rest, plus app-specific customizations that make it possible to do more without needing to take your hand off. Its top-of-the-line ergonomics make working at a computer for long periods of time comfortable and efficient.

Video-conferencing accessories

screen capture of video conference call

Working remotely means you’ll likely have several video calls throughout the day that will require a functioning camera, microphone, and speakers. While the standard equipment that comes with your computer out-of-the-box might be perfectly suitable, there are a few upgrades that will make video-conferencing more enjoyable on both sides of the screen. (Just remember to adjust your audio and video settings before the call to make sure you're using the right devices.)

Headphones

While video conferencing is an integral part of working remotely, the topics discussed on your call are likely irrelevant to other people in your vicinity. Using a pair of headphones will reduce audio feedback on your call and help minimize any frustrations from people who are working remotely in the same space, but the right pair of headphones can also reduce background noise to help you focus without obnoxious cords getting in the way of your work.

  • It may seem outrageous to spend nearly $300 on the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones, but the noise-cancelling capability of the QuietComfort line has reigned supreme for nearly 20 years. The latest edition offers built-in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, plus touch controls and 20 hours of battery life. 
  • For glasses wearers, over-ear headsets can squeeze the arms of a pair of glasses and create annoying headaches after prolonged use. The Apple AirPods Pro in-ear headphones alleviate this pressure without sacrificing noise cancellation or sound quality—a benefit for glasses wearers as well as those who simply prefer a more compact, lightweight listening experience.

Microphones

Of all the home office upgrades on this list, a high quality microphone is perhaps the most important investment; if your colleagues cannot hear you or clearly understand what you're saying during a conference call, the whole meeting is rendered useless. Nonverbal communication is effectively removed from video conferences, so it's imperative that what you say comes through loud and clear.

  • With an inexpensive microphone like this one from Fifine, you can take your built-in microphone to the next level right out of the box. Its cardioid pickup pattern means it will eliminate background noise and make your voice come through crystal clear.
  • A leader among USB microphones, the Blue Yeti mic allows users to control a number of settings for how their audio will be picked up in their environment, including gain, recording volume, and pickup pattern type. It also features a physical mute button, which could be helpful if you want to mute yourself without making other people on your conference call aware that you've done so.

Cameras

When video conference attendees are only able to engage with you through a screen, the picture they see can affect their overall impression of you. Most laptops or desktops that have built-in cameras were designed to do the bare minimum to get the job done, but don't offer much more for users who rely on video conferencing as their primary means of communication. Whether the person on the other end is another remote employee, your supervisor, or a client, upgrading your camera will mean they will be able to focus on the topic of conversation rather than the quality of your video.

  • This camera from AUKEY offers 1080p high definition video and clips onto the top of your desktop or laptop for a no-fuss setup.
  • If you're concerned about low lighting in your space, consider this ring light camera from UNZANO. It has three adjustable light levels so you can find the perfect lighting for your video call.

Bonus: Plants

home office desk surrounded by green plants

Research has shown that bringing some greenery into your space can make you happier and 15% more productive while working. Aside from the aesthetic benefits that come from the added color and texture, plants have been found to remove toxins from the air, improve memory, and reduce stress levels—all factors that are conducive to a more productive work environment. Try a low-maintenance plant like this Sansevieria to bring some green into your home office.


This article was originally published on September 11, 2020
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