I’ve worked remotely on and off for several years, and I’ve been lucky to work for a fully remote company over the past nine months. It’s glorious, and I don’t think I can ever be convinced to physically work in a corporate office ever again.
I’m in Zoom meetings for work several hours each day, and I also do a fair amount of speaking at virtual conferences. That means I appear on other people’s screens quite often, and I regularly get asked about my remote office setup. The feedback I’ve generally received is that my audio and video are notable for their clarity and crispness. This high quality is due to the investments I’ve made into building out my home office, and I’m going to share what I think makes my configuration so great. Since so many people are still trying to figure out how to work from home, my hope is that this post is a guide for the things that will make working remotely a great experience.
I should add that I’ve worked for a few companies over the years that provided a stipend for kitting out my remote office. So, I’m fully aware of how much financial privilege that’s been provided to me. However, I hope this article gives everyone at least an idea of the types of gear that can use to upgrade your remote experience, and individual budgets can be adjusted accordingly.
The Location of My Office in My Home
My wife and I purchased our current home in 2014, and it came with a nice office (called “Study” in the floor plan above) on the first floor of the northwest corner of the house. Two things to note about the image above is that my house faces north and the actual build of our house is a mirror image of the floor plan you see. So, the north side of my house is at the bottom of the image, and you take a right turn from the main entrance to enter my office.
The builder’s floor plan called for the West Wall of the study to just be a regular wall with no windows. However, my wife thought that would result in a room that was too dark so she had the bright idea of adding three windows. I can tell you that she was absolutely right, and I’m so glad we went with her idea. You’ll see those three windows later in this post.
Outside the Office
The first thing to understand about my home office is that it’s a totally separate room from the rest of the house. This is key because I have a door that I can close which provides a barrier to keep out noise from the rest of the house. Also, I can simply close the door to signify to my family that I’m working and should not be disturbed.
One key part of my remote office setup that you can’t see from a photo is the fiber service from AT&T that provides internet connectivity to my entire home. Since my home has several Nest security cameras that constantly use data, and we use several services that require internet access, I made the decision a long time ago to purchase a fast connection.
The Door from Inside the Office
|Ⓐ||Kenney Beckett 5/8” Standard Decorative Curtain Rod, 48-86”, Pewter|
|Ⓑ||Curtain Rod fasteners|
|Ⓒ||NICETOWN Bedroom Blackout Curtains Panels - (52 inches by 108 Inch, Grey, Set of 2) Triple Weave Energy Saving Thermal Insulated Solid Grommet Blackout Draperies|
|Ⓓ||Door that closes|
|Ⓔ||Suptikes Door Draft Stopper Under Door Seal|
In addition to having a door that could be closed, I wanted to sound proof my office as much as possible. My office is near the front door and not too far from the dining room and living room. So, at any given moment during the work day, one or more members of my family could be just outside the office or watching TV in the living room. I found complicated (and expensive) ways to sound proof the door, but I went with an economical and effective solution.
I purchased a rod and curtains to provide another layer of sound proofing than just the doors. The doors are quite high so I had to order really tall curtains. I also installed seals on the bottom of the door to help keep out sound from the rest of the house. While this setup doesn’t block all external sound from entering the office, it does provide a much quieter environment in which to work.
|Ⓐ||Wife’s Wedding Portrait (not for sale)|
|Ⓑ||Large Size World Map with Black Floater Frame|
|Ⓒ||Amazon Basics Mid-Back Desk Office Chair with Arm rests (Mesh Back)|
|Ⓓ||Anti-fatigue Comfort Floor Mat|
This part of my office has a lot of the things that make it easier to get through my work day. I spend the vast majority of my work day standing, but I also wanted the option to sit for the brief times when sitting in a chair made a task easier. I initially looked for those fancy standing desks that could raise or lower at the touch of a button. However, I had a budget to use to build out my home office, and that would have taken a lot of space in the budget that could be used for other things. So, I decided to go with a far more economical approach. I purchased two coffee tables from Walmart that I put on top of my existing desk, and I set up my primary laptop and monitors on top of those tables. That’s the set of equipment I use when standing. I can also sit down in the chair and use my secondary laptop and monitor on the lower desk.
The map on the wall is a backdrop for framing myself in Zoom calls, and the picture of my wife in her wedding dress is just a lovely reminder of how happy I was when we got married. The boomerang on top of the picture is a gift from a co-worker who went to Australia several years ago.
For comfort, I purchased a reasonably priced office chair and an anti-fatigue mat that spans the part of the floor that’s right in front of my desk. Again, since I stand most of the day, I get a lot more use out of the mat than the chair.
The circular desk beneath my wife’s picture is a place to put random items that I don’t want to put on the upper or lower desks.
|Ⓐ||Inkeltech Ring Light (18 inch, 60 W), Adjustable 3000-6000 K Color Temparature|
|Ⓑ||Dell Computer Ultrashrp 24.-Inch LED Monitor|
|Ⓒ||Logitech Brio Ultra HD Webcam|
|Ⓓ||MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015)|
|Ⓔ||HP 25-Inch LED Monitor|
|Ⓕ||Bugdroid (Android Mascot)|
|Ⓖ||Google Home Mini|
|Ⓗ||Frederick “Freddie” von Chimpenheimer IV (MailChimp Mascot)|
|Ⓘ||Corsair HS70 Pro Wireless Gaming Headset|
|Ⓚ||Yeti Blue Microphone (Blackout Edition)|
|Ⓛ||Avantree Universal Wooden & Aluminum Headphone Stand Hanger|
|Ⓝ||Macally Ultra Slim USB Wired Computer Keyboard|
The upper desk is my command center. I use my MacBook Pro as a hub that drives most of the other equipment on my desk. The two monitors provide enough surface area for me to feel productive. I typically use the left monitor for personal productivity items like my task list, the MacBook screen in the middle is where I put the things I’m currently working on, and the right monitor is usually reserved for communications like email, Slack, Jira, etc. The MacBook Pro is hard wired via Ethernet cable to make maximum use of the fiber internet connection.
By the way, I used an old pair of speakers to elevate the Dell and HP monitors. I’ve found that having all three monitors at eye level does wonders for my neck since I don’t have to look down at them while working. This also puts the webcam at a perfect position for video calls since it allows me to naturally look like I’m making eye contact with the attendees.
The equipment that contributes the most to the clear sound and crisp picture on my video calls are the ring light, Logitech Brio webcam, Yeti microphone (which is positioned right in front of my mouth but just out of view from the webcam), and Corsair headset. They provide great lighting as well as strong audio and video signals for the people on the videoconference with me. While the MacBook has a built-in webcam, microphone, and speakers, it can’t match the experience of using separate dedicated devices.
The iPad is nice for quickly pulling up things like my personal calendar, viewing my Nest cameras if I hear something outside of the office, or checking personal email.
I also have little “flair” items like the Android and MailChimp mascots. I’m heavily in the Android ecosystem, and I once gave a talk at the MailChimp office in Atlanta so these are just nice personal items.
The white mat on top of the desk is there to protect it from damage, spills, etc.
I rarely use the lower desk since I stand for most of the day. However, it provides a secondary MacBook as well as an external monitor. I also have a scanner for the odd times I need to scan a picture or document and a laser printer. Like the upper desk, I also have a mat to make it easier to clean the top surface. I try to avoid eating in my office, but, when I do, I usually do it on the lower desk. So, the mat is a great way to protect the desk from spills and stains.
You can see the bench behind the desk. I purchased it to store the various plugs I needed to power my equipment and also serve as a stand for the ring light.
Behind the Desk
|Ⓐ||Anker 10 Port 60W Data Hub with 7 USB 3.0 Ports and 3 PowerIQ Charging Ports|
|Ⓑ||External Hard Drives|
|Ⓒ||VASAGLE Industrial Shoe Bench|
Yes, I know that I need to get my cord management life together. It’s a work in progress.
There are a few key items that you can’t easily see from the front of the desk. First and foremost is a USB extender that I use to drive the various devices that plug into the MacBook on the upper desk. I also have a couple of external hard drives that I use for backing up both MacBooks.
You can also see another view of the bench.
South Wall (Coffee/Snack Area)
|Ⓑ||Speaker Badges and Memorabilia|
|Ⓒ||Keurig K-Elite Coffee Maker|
|Ⓓ||Seville Classics Stacking 10 Slot Desktop and Mailroom Letter File Literature Organizer Tray|
|Ⓔ||12 Pocket Expanding Project Sorter Heavy Duty Plastic Multi Pocket Rainbow File Folders|
|Ⓖ||Fancy Labeling System|
The South Wall has what I consider to be my break area. The top of the wall have the various degrees my wife and I have earned over the years. I also have a collection of items (mostly badges) I’ve collected from being an international speaker.
I have a coffee machine (single serve, unfortunately) to properly caffeinate myself throughout the day, healthy snacks, etc. I’ve thought about getting a water cooler, but that may be going too far.
The tray with the folders are, to borrow from Star Trek fandom, my own personal Memory Alpha. Each slot stands for a year, and the folders each have 12 dividers. Each folder is meant to hold written letters I received from 1993 to 2003. Those were the years when I received a lot of correspondence starting from my college years to my second year of marriage. I’m slowly sorting and placing those envelopes and letters into the folders. Letters from this decade are particularly precious to me because I stopped getting letters afterwards due to the near ubiquitous use of email for correspondence after 2003.
West Wall (Library and Kitchen)
|Ⓐ||Windows and Statues|
|Ⓓ||Hand Drawn Portrait from CraftConf|
|Ⓔ||AmazonBasics Microwave, Small, 0.7 Cu. Ft, 700W|
|Ⓕ||Danby DAR044A4BDD-6 Designer 4.4 Cubic Foot Mini Fridge|
Disclaimer: While I love the books in my library and have read many of them several times, not every item reflects my thoughts and beliefs. Some were gifts and others were purchased to better understand the perspectives of others.
The West Wall has my library and kitchen. The top of the wall has those three windows that my wife wisely pushed to get added to the build of our home. I have a statue in each individual window that I initially didn’t ascribe any purpose. However, I now think of them as symbols of three ways that humanity has tried to find meaning in life: thought, religion, and glory. These are the things I contemplate when I’m standing at my desk on the other side of the office and thinking through a challenging problem.
The top of the bookshelves have what I call “power ups”. These are things that I can look at from my desk when I need some positive vibes. They are a picture of my wife and I from our engagement photos and a photo we took on our wedding day. I also have a hand drawn portrait given as a speaker gift when I spoke at the Craft Conference in Budapest years ago. This was one of my first international speaking gigs so this drawing reminds me of another significant milestone in my life.
The three bookshelves have a hodgepodge of books. They are in desperate need of organizing, but I always have other priorities in my list of things to do. I occasionally turn my webcam around and do video meetings where a bookshelf would make a better backdrop than a map.
The microwave and mini-fridge are when I want to eat something more substantial than what I can get from the snack area. This usually includes things like reheating leftovers from last night’s dinner or eating foods that require refrigeration.
North Wall (Nook)
The north wall is my nook where I try to relax with a good book when I can. I used a rod and curtain to physically separate the space from the rest of the room. This curtain also provides some soundproofing if there’s noise coming from the front of the house.
Given recent stay-at-home orders, my wife usually works here which is a great way for us to spend time together!
The presence of my wife in my office is also a useful incentive for keeping it clean so I keep my cordless vacuum charged up and ready to clean up as needed.
I put a lot of effort into building out my home office for remote work, but I can boil it down to three essentials. First, have a door that can close if at all possible. This gives you a way to really focus on your work without distractions. Second, have dedicated devices for your audio and video. While most laptops come with a built-in webcam, microphone, and speakers, you’ll get a much better experience if you purchase good quality stand-alone equipment and plug them into your computer. Finally, invest in good lighting. You don’t have to buy a fancy ring light. Arranging a few household lamps around your laptop can do wonders.
For those who are curious, I used YayText’s Bubblecode Generator to produce the letters in circles for marking up the photos (applied using the Screen Master app) and for populating the tables in this post.
Note: Most of the links in this post are affiliate links which will send a small commission to me if you use them to make purchases.