Working from home one day a week -- be it a Sunday morning session on your laptop or WFH Fridays -- is manageable without much extra equipment. You can do it from the couch you already have in the tracksuit pants you'd wear anyway.
But when you work from home five days a week for weeks on end, or if you are making the switch to working from home on a permanent basis, there are a few hardware essentials, both low-tech and high-tech, that are well worth your investment.
Here are 7 essential products that make working from home in 2020 feel like a sustainable, productive, comfortable experience. I have personally tested these products where mentioned because I own them. There are three Honorable Mentions at the bottom as well.
While working from home in these times has very dramatically been described as a "huge, stressful experiment," you can make the actual working part of it less experimental with a few proven tools.
7 work from home essentials (apartment version)
- Laptop stand
- Peel-and-stick wallpaper
- Versatile table
- Hard-back chair
- Removable seat cushion
- A ring light
- A notepad
Laptop stand — More than any other tool in this guide, the laptop stand most clearly signifies the meaningful transition into working from home. While you can rest your laptop on a pillow on your lap for a few hours, doing it five days a week is going to invariably make you restless. The alternative (other than putting your laptop on a makeshift altar made from two instant Oatmeal boxes and a copy of Zinn and the Art of Bike Maintenance) is a laptop stand like this one. It has two basic positions, a triangular shape that is best if you have an external keyboard, and a more traditional table shape, good when you want to elevate your wrists. Like everything in this guide, a laptop stand feels like a game-changer, and will make you wonder why it took you so long to spend the $30 on one.
Wallpaper — Working from home means video conference calls -- Cisco WebEx, Zoom, or even Google Hangouts. If you're like me, you've realized that putting your back to a wall is the best position for a conference call. It protects your privacy and the privacy of people with whom you share a home. It also frees up the room you're in to be used by others. The side-effect of being against the wall is that you might look like you're a hostage in a ransom video. Or you might just be bored with the paint on the walls. Spending a lot of time at home can do this to a person. Enter peel-and-stick wallpaper. This lemons one isn't bad, is it? The point is that you can bring a little life to the endless Zoom calls.
Hard-surface table — You should not exclusively work on the couch or your bed, if you also want to enjoy them for their defining purposes. A table is going to make your working hours more productive, which means you won't be working more hours. Make sure you get one that is big enough for you to spread out notes, a cup of coffee, some fruit, a phone charger, and other WFH essentials. A big table can also be cleared so you can eat lunch with a sense of normalcy. Nobody wants to earn a living on a table the size of an airplane seat back tray table. You might want to avoid a table that screams, THIS IS AN OFFICE DESK!!! if you also want it to fit with the rest of your home. If you live in an apartment or if space is an issue, buy a wooden table with folding metal legs like this, which can be stored and put away, but also used as part of your home decor.
A chair with a hard, upright back — The humble chair, with a hard seat and upright back. It will keep you awake. It won't create a backache from a 9-hour day of slouching. While you don't want to sit too much, you should make sure you're upright and focused. I love this chair made by Devoko for its metal construction, polished finish, and rubber feet. Plus, it will help you enjoy your Eames Lounge Chair (or the Wayfair equivalent) when it's time to log off for the day.
Seat cushion — Working from home should mean you want to be able to tidy up after you're done working, so your home feels more like a home, and less like an office. A seat cushion -- this one is excellent -- can make sitting for hours on end a little more comfortable, but you can also put said seat cushion away when you're not using it. A WFH lifestyle, especially if you don't have an office in your apartment, is about flexibility. Removable wallpaper, seat cushions, a table that can double as a desk ... these are all ways you can achieve this flexibility to ensure a healthy work-life balance while working from home.
A ring light — They're not just for Kardashians and makeup tutorials anymore, people! If you've ever been on a Zoom call with someone sitting in a dark room (yes, and it's creepy) or a room without enough light (yes, and it's slightly less creepy), you've quickly realized the proper lighting is essential for maintaining some normalcy if you've got meetings. A ring light like this one gives the user control if they rely on natural light for meetings. This ring light isn't great -- the legs slip, the phone vice is a little janky, the entire apparatus feels cheap. But do you really want a top-of-the-line ring light? If not spending a lot on a device you're going to use only occasionally is your goal, buy this one, because it gets the job done and saves money in your budget for a better laptop stand or chair.
This notepad — I have been using these notepads for nearly twenty years. (!!!!) They work in that they are the perfect size (four inches wide by eight inches tall) for holding while cautiously interviewing an embattled small-town mayor with an infamous temper, but they also won't take up too much room on your table as you work from home. The crucial thing about notepads when you are WFH is that they become your to-do list. A to-do list while WFH helps you in myriad ways. It keeps you focused on the things you need to do instead of wondering if now is a good time to play PS4 for an hour, which in turn helps you clock out at a decent hour, which in turn creates a proper work-life balance.
WFH honorable mentions — The mobile phone battery or wireless charger will ensure that when your work's done, your phone is charged. I've learned that if you are WFH, you are probably going to spend more time on your phone than usual. I own this Mophie Wireless Charging Stand and it's another game-changer for smartphone owners. If your phone supports wireless charging, this device immediately becomes essential-feeling. I also own an older version of this Mophie XXL powerbank. My philosophy is to always get the largest mobile powerbank you can afford. It's going to be clunky no matter what you do, so you may as well get the 20,000mAh big boy. And if your laptop doesn't have a USB port, as many new Macs don't, this powerbank is a reliable power supply for the aforementioned ring light.
The jokes, by this point, have all been told. The tracksuit bottoms or sweatpants you're wearing haven't been washed in too long. It is time to buy some new ones. Anything other the Adidas Tiro line is a waste of your money. They have pockets and can be worn outside the house (in small doses) without much shame. If they show up in a conference call, it's not going to be great. Put on real pants.
Finally, and you may not want this because it cuts against the philosophy of this list of work-from-home essentials that can seamlessly fit with the rest of your life, but an external monitor. If you have the laptop stand that kicked off our guide, and your vocation doesn't require you to look at large amounts of digitally displayed data, you don't need an external monitor. It also doesn't stow away in a closet very easily or quickly. When I first began working from home nearly a month ago, I was dead-set on an external monitor. As time went by, I realized that not only did I not need one, but that it wouldn't improve my workstyle or lifestyle in any significant way. Your situation may be different, and they are relatively inexpensive. So, if you have the space to stow it out of sight, an external monitor might be right for you.