So you can stay productive during this stressful time
Unless you are someone who works in an “essential” front-line service, you will most likely be working from home at the moment, due to the coronavirus. For some of you, this will be a bit of a rude awakening. Suddenly you are responsible for your own productivity. But how can you get anything done slouched over the dining room table with a laptop and a screaming child behind you?
The Help Desk Geek staff are here to provide you with recommendations on how to optimize your home office and get some meaningful work done during this already-stressful time.
Let’s start with myself. Here are the things I recommend for the ideal home working environment.
I recently ditched the Windows desktop computer, and my only work machine is now a Macbook Air laptop. I like the portability this offers – I can move from the office to the living room anytime I want. My other devices are an iPhone 11 and an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. Yes, I’m an Apple fanboy. What can I say? Guilty as charged.
If you have kids (which I don’t, but I hear they can get pretty rowdy), get a Netflix subscription (or a subscription to another streaming service such as Prime or Hulu). Netflix is good because it has its own kids-friendly area with cartoons and others like “SpongeBob Squarepants”. There’s no chance of them secretly switching to “Kill Bill” while you’re on a conference call.
While they’re watching “Frozen” for the fiftieth time, get yourself a pair of proper headphones to block out the noise. I personally love the Sennheiser ones – the audio is excellent and they’re also good at blocking out outside noise. Unless you have superhuman abilities to naturally block out all background noise, you are going to need headphones if you’re going to get any meaningful work done.
If you use a laptop, then a stand is the next thing you need. If you are looking down at the screen, then pretty soon you are going to develop neck pain. So bring the laptop up to your natural eye level. For this, use Nexstand. Or if you’d rather not pay the money, a stack of books works I guess. Just not very elegant.
Since your laptop is now raised from the table, you’re going to need a keyboard and mouse. Try and get a Bluetooth cable-less keyboard and mouse (the Apple keyboard is a natural choice for Macbooks). The less cables sitting on the table, the better. And if you are the type of person who likes more than one monitor, consider buying Duet Display which turns your iPad into another monitor.
For phone and video conferences, I now prefer Zoom over Skype, and for chatting, nothing beats Slack and WhatsApp. For file transfers to colleagues, Skype is not bad, but so is cloud storage such as Dropbox and WeTransfer. All work here is done through Google Drive which can be easily shared with colleagues.
I have two “working from home” setups: a desk setup and a couch setup. My desk setup uses a mini-ITX desktop computer running Windows. I use a 29” ultrawide LG screen, mounted on a gas-lift monitor arm. This leaves the entire desk space under my monitor open and means that I can adjust the screen to my exact eye level.
I use a Logi ergonomic wireless keyboard (the K540) along with the Logi MX Master Mouse 2s. This is hands-down the best productivity mouse in the world and it’s incredibly comfortable. One key feature is that this mouse has a three-preset switch. So I can switch between my desktop, laptop and tablet computer with a single button press.
My couch setup uses a Table Mate II, which is a cheap solution but surprisingly versatile and comfortable for writing from the couch. I use an iPad Pro 12.9 (2018) and MacBook Pro (2019) as my mobile work setup. The iPad can act as an extended monitor for the MacBook, using Sidecar.
Slack is my main team communication application. Google Drive and the rest of the suite is where I do most of my work as a writer.
My work from home setup includes a MacBook Pro, a Windows laptop, an iPhone, and an Android device. My primary machine is my MacBook that I’ve been using for the last 5-6 years.
I prefer using the web or extension apps rather than the standalone desktop apps. This way, the only thing I need to launch when I boot my machine is Chrome (my default browser). I use emails and Slack for communication, Trello for work management, and services like PayPal for receiving and sending money.
For me, working from home couldn’t be the same without a bit of music, so I’ve got the DT 1990 Pro, but the rest of my setup is really rather basic. My PC is custom-built but I have a 144hz AOC 24G2 24 monitor, and a cheap and cheerful Acer KA220HQ for a secondary, which is a must for me.
I work with a basic Ikea desk, but it’s very large – desk space is everything to me and helps me from feeling too cramped. My keyboard is the (almost) cheapest Logitech office keyboard on the planet, the MK120. A good mouse matters to me a lot and I currently use the Coolermaster MM711, but that’s always changing. I also record video content and have occasional calls so I use the Blue Snowball Ice microphone, the Logitech C920 webcam and an affordable NEUMA microphone arm.
As far as my work process, it’s almost entirely done from within Google Drive in the Chrome browser, but I use Windows 10. I’m also a big Photoshop user, I use it pretty much every day and have done so for years.
My office setup consists of an L-shaped desk with a MacBook Pro 13-inch on one side and a custom-built PC on the other. I also have an Amazon Echo Show and Nest Home Hub under my PC’s monitor. I use both for productivity, smart home control, testing—and sometimes for music. My MacBook is my primary work machine, although I do use the PC as a secondary display from time to time depending on what I am working on.
I use two browsers: Google Chrome and Safari. Slack and Trello are my most-used apps, although Outlook comes in a close third. Chrome is my go-to browser due to the number of extensions. Some of my must-have extensions are AdBlocker, Grammarly, and Honey (it’s amazing how much money the extension has saved me on lunchtime pizza orders.)
I also have the Evernote extension installed, though I am thinking of swapping to Google Keep. Google Docs is a go-to for collaboration, so integration with Google Keep would streamline my workflow even more.
I use Microsoft Word for any writing work I do before I transfer it to a different platform. I always have Spotify playing, whether on a smart speaker or my computer. Instrumental music and foreign lyrics are a must for blocking out distractions. I almost always have a cup of coffee or tea somewhere on my desk, too.
On occasion, I will dictate my work rather than type. I have a HyperX Cloud headset in addition to a Samsung Q2U Podcasting Microphone that both work tremendously well for this purpose. It is set up beside my MacBook Pro. For research and time away from the desk, I use a 2018 iPad with a Logitech Crayon for taking notes.
When it comes to storage, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox are my preferred cloud solutions. I also have a 1TB portable hard drive.
Project management is done through Trello and Basecamp. Communication is handled via Slack, Email, Skype, and WhatsApp. I get my entertainment fix with Netflix, Soundcloud, and YouTube.
My company had designed its infrastructure to allow people to work from home several years ago. It was mostly intended for Canadian blizzards keeping us home, but it worked out well for Covid-19. The majority of our users connect to servers hosted in the cloud using HP thin clients. Using Citrix allows them to log in from any computer though.
Our desk phones are IP-based VoIP (Voice Over IP) phones. We can plug them into the Internet anywhere and have our desk phone number follow us. The service we use also has an app that we can put on our cellphones so we can take calls to our desk phones on our cellphones.
I’m rocking 2 HP 21″ monitors connected to my personal Acer laptop. The keyboard is generic, but I use an Anker ergonomic mouse. All set up on our kitchen table. Software wise, we just finished a migration to Office 365 so we use Teams heavily for communications and file sharing. It’s worked out well.
The pen is a Platinum Preppy with fine nib and Chesterfield obsidian ink. That’s right, a fountain pen. It’s the ecologically responsible choice and ergonomically far easier on the hand. The notebook is from Cambridge and I find the paper quality to be as good as Moleskine or Leuchtturm.
Currently, I’m using a 16 inch Macbook Pro with a Twelve South stand and a Pro XDR Display with the Pro stand. Also, got a pair of Audioengine A5 Plus speakers. This was all a fairly recent upgrade from a custom PC that I had built using CyberPC.com. Attached to that previous computer was a 25 inch Acer 1440p monitor.
What is not shown is a 4TB WD NAS which I’m also connected to, but is located elsewhere in the house. Lastly, the circle thing right above my mouse is the RavPower wireless charger for my 256GB iPhone XS Max and Apple AirPods.
Software-wise, I use Brave as my default browser now because of the privacy protection. I use Adobe Creative Cloud for video editing, photo editing, PDF manipulation, and a host of other tasks. For cloud storage, I use Google Drive, AWS for cold storage backups and iCloud for making sure all my Apple devices are backed up properly.
Let us know in the comments what your ideal office setup is.