If you’ve suddenly found yourself working from home, it can be a big adjustment.
The once-clear boundaries between work and home have blurred, making it feel like you’re working all the time. What used to be a simple matter of walking to a coworker’s desk to ask a question now becomes a series of Slack messages to set up a Zoom call (is this the 5th or 50th of the day, who knows?). And let’s not get started on all the distractions your house offers…
However, one of the biggest challenges of working from home is the lack of a separate office space. While it’s nice to ditch the commute, it can be challenging to truly feel like you’re at work when your kitchen, kids, or roommates are just in the next room.
To help overcome these challenges, you should set up a proper home office. But with thousands of potential items to put in your home office, it can be overwhelming. How do you find the right equipment for your home office setup?
As a team that’s been remote from the beginning, we want to share what’s worked for us. Below, you’ll find our top gear recommendations for setting up your home office.
Looking for advice on setting up a study space instead? We’ve got you covered.
Before I get into the tech and equipment recommendations, I want to make something clear: you don’t need an elaborate home office to be productive.
While having multiple monitors, a hydraulic standing desk, and a luxurious office chair can help with certain aspects of work, most of that stuff is “nice to have” rather than “essential.”
For the first couple of years of my writing career, I worked from coffee shops, airports, and noisy hostels. The only gear I had was my laptop, plus an external keyboard and mouse.
Now that I’m a bit more established and less nomadic, I have a permanent office with some of the fancy items listed below. But in reality, all a good home office needs to do is provide a place where you can focus and work without distractions.
Some of the gear on this list (such as noise-canceling headphones) can help to create such a place. But don’t feel like you need to go out and buy everything on this list.
You likely have things around your house that will already serve fine. Don’t get so wrapped up in creating the “perfect” home office that you forget to do your work (online shopping is a great way to procrastinate).
Also, see if you can get your employer to reimburse you for some of this gear (or at least share the cost). Some employers may also provide you with certain equipment if you request it. If in doubt, just ask.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to the gear recommendations, starting with headphones.
If I had to pick one item that’s increased my productivity than anything else, it would be a pair of good headphones.
Aside from the productivity benefits I experience from listening to music while I work, headphones are great for blocking distracting sounds. Here are two of our favorite options:
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Headphones (Budget Pick)
Buying a pair of these headphones during my freshman year of college was a game changer.
Not only did music sound better than ever before, but these headphones made it much easier to work in noisy places like the student center, local coffee shops, and my ever-eventful dorm room.
Plantronics Wireless, Noise-Canceling Headphones (Upgrade Pick)
Want a piece of hardware that will let you work basically anywhere? Get a pair of wireless, noise-canceling headphones.
While most headphones will block a fair bit of noise, noise-canceling headphones “listen” to the sounds around you and emit special frequencies to cancel them out. The result? You can work in ridiculously noisy places. If there’s a lot of noise in your home, these could be worth the investment.
Finally, there’s no need to buy a new pair of headphones if you already have something you like. Even your basic AirPods can work fine as long as they block enough noise for you to focus.
Looking for some music to help you focus while you work? Check out our study playlist.
Working from home puts a lot of extra strain on your internet, particularly if you have multiple people using the network at once. Depending on how much bandwidth you’re using, you may need to upgrade to a higher-tier internet plan (contact your ISP for info).
Before you do that, however, consider upgrading your WiFi router. Your issue might not be a lack of bandwidth, but rather inadequate WiFi coverage. Here are the two WiFi routers we recommend, based on home size.
TP-Link AC1750 Smart WiFi Router (For Apartments and Small Homes)
If you live in an apartment or a small home with one or two people, then this router from TP-Link is a great option.
The three antennas will help increase your WiFi range, reducing “dead zones” where you can’t seem to get an internet signal. The VPN support will help you work securely (particularly if you need to connect to your employer’s network over VPN). And with support for up to 50 devices, you won’t have to worry about your router getting overwhelmed.
Google Nest WiFi (For Large Homes)
If you have a large home (3,000+ square feet), a home with multiple stories, or a home with an abnormal layout, then it can be challenging to get uniform WiFi coverage.
To solve this problem, we recommend a mesh router system. A mesh router “blankets” your home in a WiFi signal using multiple “satellite” routers placed throughout the building. Properly installed, this can make it easy to access WiFi whether you’re in the bedroom or the basement.
Our top recommendation for a mesh router is the Google Nest WiFi. While it’s certainly pricier than other routers, it’s easy to set up and vastly extends your coverage (up to 4,400 sq. ft if using the 2-pack, up to 6,600 sq. ft if using the 3-pack).
All the coolest hardware in the world isn’t much use without a place to put it. A good work surface quite literally forms the foundation of your work.
Here are our top recommendations for home office desks, plus some tables and DIY options:
It’s possible you don’t need to buy a new desk. You can often make do with whatever you already have around the house.
Any table can serve as a desk in a pinch. And for a quick standing “desk,” put your computer on a dresser, countertop, or tall table. While it won’t be as adjustable or ergonomic as some of the next options, it will work.
A small folding table can be a great option if you need a workspace that you can disassemble when you’re done working or studying.
Just unfold the legs, place it near an outlet, and set up the rest of your work equipment on top of it. A folding table is a fraction of the cost of a regular desk, and it’s great if you live in a small space without room for a permanent home office setup.
You can see one of these folding tables in action in the video below:
If you have a bit more money to spend, then look into the Skarsta Sit/Stand Desk from IKEA. It’s a clean, minimalist desk that you can easily alternate between sitting and standing positions. Just use the hand crank to adjust the height.
If you want a standing desk that you can adjust from sitting to standing with the press of a button, then look into the Jarvis standing desk.
I use their smallest size for my bedroom office, while Thomas uses a larger model to hold all of his monitors and other video editing gear. Jarvis desks also offer dozens of customizations, including cable management, programmable height controls, and even monitor stands.
Looking for more info on standing desks? Check out our complete review + buying guide.
Up next, we have the throne of the office worker: the chair.
Buying a chair is a highly personal decision. Each person’s anatomy is different, meaning certain chair shapes will work better for some people than others. There’s also a dizzying array of designs, from exercise ball chairs to standard chairs that would look at home in an episode of The Office.
Therefore, it’s difficult to recommend even a handful of chairs to suit everyone’s needs. I strongly encourage you to go sit in a few chairs for yourself (or buy one online with a generous return policy). Having said that, here are a few chairs to get you started:
Want a basic office chair for under $100? Then you can’t go wrong with this model from NEO Chair. It has controls to adjust the height and tilt, plus a mesh back to keep you from getting sweaty.
Looking for something a bit more ergonomic that won’t break the bank? Then check out this office chair from Modway.
In addition to adjusting the height and tilt, you can also customize the armrest height to ensure your elbows are bent to the perfect 90° typing position. The seat is also a good bit cushier than the NEO.
If you have an unlimited office chair budget, then you can’t go wrong with the Herman Miller Aeron.
It’s pricey, sure, but it takes ergonomics to a whole different level. The chair includes two pads to support the sacral and lumbar regions of your spine (which you can also adjust to fit your spine shape).
The arms are adjustable along multiple axes, helping you find the perfect position for whatever work you’re doing. And tilt and tension controls let you adjust how much (and how quickly) the chair reclines.
Overall, it’s certainly the Cadillac of office chairs. But if you’re committed to an elegant, extremely ergonomic design, then the Aeron is the way to go.
Depending on your choice of desk and chair, there are a few accessories that are worth picking up. These will make your work setup more comfortable and easier to use.
If you have carpet, then you’ve probably experienced how frustrating it is to roll an office chair on carpeted floors. The casters can get stuck in the carpet fibers, clogging up the wheels and damaging the carpet.
To protect your carpet (and make it easier to move your chair), get one of these plastic office chair mats.
If you’re going to use a standing desk, then a good anti-fatigue mat is a must.
Without it, you’re likely to develop foot and back pain from standing on a hard surface all day. I know they seem pricey for what is essentially a piece of rubber, but your body will thank you for using one.
One of the main benefits of a standing desk is that it naturally makes you shift positions as you work, helping to avoid strain and stress.
But if you want to add even more movement to your standing desk setup, then get a balance board. It will force you to change position while also strengthening your core.
I don’t use a balance board myself, but one of my friends (who’s worked from home for years) swears by the FluidStance.
Struggling to maintain work-life balance while working from home? Give this a read.
Now that you have a desk and chair, we can discuss what to put on your desk.
To start, let’s look at external monitors. For many kinds of work, such as video editing or programming, one screen isn’t ideal. You can make it work, but having a separate screen can make your workflow more efficient.
If you’re considering an external monitor, here are our top recommendations:
Just need a basic monitor to expand your screen real estate? Then pick up a Samsung CF390.
The 27” screen will give you a lot more space to work with compared to a laptop, and you have the option of connecting it using either HDMI or VGA. The curved screen also provides a more “immersive” experience, if that’s important to you.
Need 4K resolution? Doing color-sensitive video or photo editing work?
In that case, a Dell Ultrasharp is the way to go. Thomas and Tony use these monitors to edit the videos for our YouTube channel, and Thomas reports that they’re very color-accurate with a bit of calibration. The design is also quite slick.
If you don’t have the desk real estate for a permanent external monitor, then consider getting a portable one. This way, you can extend your screen space no matter where you are (even if that’s just in different spots around your home).
Our top external monitor recommendation is the ASUS ZenScreen. At 15.6”, it gives you a lot of extra space to work with. And at only 1.7 lbs, it’s easy to transport across the room in your hands or across town in your backpack.
Note: If you have a Mac and an iPad, you can also set up your iPad as an external display using Sidecar. Full instructions here.
If you don’t need an external monitor but want a more ergonomic laptop experience, get a laptop stand. It will elevate your laptop so that you don’t have to crane your neck downward while you work.
There are many laptop stand options, but our top recommendation is the Roost Stand due to its portability, stability, and ease of adjustment.
Many people are quite happy typing on their laptops and navigating with the touchpad. If that describes you, then feel free to skip this section.
However, we prefer to have an external keyboard and mouse for long periods of work. Particularly if you plan to use a laptop stand or external monitors, these are quite handy to have. So here are our top keyboard and mouse recommendations:
The Logitech K480 is a solid, portable wireless keyboard. It’s great if you need to pack down your work area each night, prefer to work in different parts of the house, or need to switch between multiple devices.
I’m using one to type this article, and I’ve been quite happy with it. I do wish the keyboard was a little larger, and some people might find the round keys off-putting. But overall, it’s a great keyboard for the price.
If you want a full-size keyboard with an ergonomic design, consider the Microsoft Sculpt.
The split keyboard layout helps keep your wrists and forearms relaxed, while the cushioned palm rest helps support your wrists. You can also get the Sculpt with an ergonomic mouse if you like.
The only downside to the Sculpt is its lack of portability. If you’re going to get one, it’s best to have a permanent desk where you can set it up.
You probably have a half dozen mice (mouses?) lying around your house, and most of them will be fine for general use.
But if you’re in the market for a new mouse, I recommend the Logitech M510. It’s an excellent wireless mouse for all types of work. The battery life is long, and it will last for years (unless you spill coffee on it, as I once unfortunately did).
The Logitech M510 works great for standard office work. But if you plan to use your mouse for gaming as well, then it’s worth getting a proper gaming mouse.
Compared to a regular mouse, a gaming mouse offers a quicker response time and a lighter build that makes it easier to maneuver. This can make all the difference in a fast-paced, online game with no room for error.
Although you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy gaming mouse, we recommend the Logitech G305. It’s affordable and performs great.
And if you’re going to invest in a gaming mouse, be sure to get a good gaming mouse pad as well.
Even though work is becoming increasingly digital, there are still times when you need to print or scan something.
If you only need to print things occasionally, then you can probably get by with going to your local print/copy store. Just upload your documents to their website, pay a small fee, and pick up your printed materials at your convenience.
However, if you find yourself printing things more often, then it could be worth investing in a printer for your home office.
For this, we recommend the HP OfficeJet Pro 8025. It’s a reasonably priced machine that prints in color, scans documents, and can even send faxes. (I have no idea why you’d need to send a fax in 2020, but I don’t know your life.)
If you just need to scan documents, then you can also use your smartphone. We recommend the ScanPro app (Android | iOS). It lets you scan documents as either PDFs or JPEGs and then upload them to the cloud service of your choice.
Working from home can be great, but it can also lead to a pretty sedentary lifestyle if you’re not careful.
Because of this, we recommend keeping some basic exercise equipment around to get in some movement during breaks from work. Not only will this keep you fit, but exercise is also a great way to combat the dreaded afternoon slump.
Here are our favorite pieces of indoor exercise equipment:
Most of us could stand to improve our balance. For a fun, effective way to strengthen those core and stabilizer muscles, we recommend the Indo Board.
At its most basic, you stand on the board and balance on it for as long as you can. This is what we usually do, though you can also use it for more advanced moves such as handstands.
But be careful! If you’ve never used an Indo Board before, it’s a good idea to stand near a wall or another sturdy object so you can catch yourself if you fall.
Pull-ups are a fantastic exercise for strengthening your back, increasing your grip strength, and generally becoming more fit. And you don’t need a gym to do them. Install one of these door pull-up bars in a solid doorway, and you’re ready to start exercising.
Just be sure to wrap the bar in towels, old socks, or another soft material. Otherwise, it will certainly damage your door frame.
Jumping rope isn’t just for kids. It’s a brutally effective, simple workout that you can do almost anywhere.
Pick up one of these jump ropes, use it during your breaks, and watch the “minutes of activity” increase on your fitness tracker.
Getting stronger is only one part of fitness. You also need to work on your flexibility if you want to get more out of your workouts and avoid injury.
You should now be well-prepared to set up your home office or study area. Remember that you don’t need fancy equipment to be productive — all you need is a space that helps you focus.
Get the gear you need to do that, and then get back to work.
Looking for more remote work advice? Read this next.
Image Credits: home office