sprucing up the home office
February 16, 2021 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I have a small budget from work I can use to make my work-from-home situation better, and I'm not exactly sure how to use it. What can I buy to make my work-from-home situation nicer?

Some details:
-I have a little more than $200. I will probably get this amount every few months for a little while, though the amount doesn't stack
-I work for a small company, so if there isn't anything worthwhile, I wouldn't feel too bad about not spending the money
-I will be moving overseas in the next year, so I don't want to get anything too big (ahem standing desk), or where the power adapter will be to complicated to use in a new place
-I am a programmer

I already have:
-A second monitor
-A mechanical keyboard
-A mouse
-Nice headphones
-A tablet (which I use as a portable monitor)
-Some folding shelves
-A cooling laptop stand

Things I am considering, which don't feel very satisfying
-A webcam (mostly so that I can be a bit freer with the positioning of my laptop)
-Stationery (notebooks, pens, etc.)
-A desk organizer

Is there anything that unexpectedly made your home-office life better? What am I missing?
posted by taltalim to Technology (28 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
When we set up a desk in the corner of the living room for me, we decked the area around it out with some fake plants and vines from Ikea. It's surprising how much nicer it is to spend time there now.
posted by Lexica at 10:44 AM on February 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: *foot rest, if your posture/height would benefit from it
*good ergonomic chair
*wrist rest or other ergonomic aid
*something for your eyes -- like those yellow glasses or a glare reducing screen shade
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Yes to freestanding webcam. I have been tied to an unnatural position due to the webcam for extended periods of time. It doesn't take very long for me to feel discomfort or tension in my body as a result.

Useful lamps with decent quality lightbulbs to help supplement your lighting situation!

Maybe some additional cables or power bars to give you more flexibility in how you set up any powered devices.

Depending on your climate, something to address the temperature, humidity, and air quality - so a fan, a heating pad, an air filter, items like that.

Does a nice setup for something like tea or coffee count?
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 10:46 AM on February 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Splurged on a chair and I looove to sit on it, it makes Mondays suck less.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Here are a few things that come to mind:

- A lamp for good webcam lighting
- CAT6 cable to route to your modem, if you aren't wired in already
- a green screen or some other backdrop
- an upgraded modem
- hard copies of reference material that you might have had when you were in the office
- a nice microphone (I use my Blue Yehti, that I bought for podcasting, but it works great for business meetings)
- nice curtains or shades if you have a nearby window to even out any lighting difficulties
posted by chiefthe at 10:51 AM on February 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

something you can use later like a hard drive?
If they allow it, definitely a few plants (good for air quality)
I don't know if that's relevant for your lifestyle, but maybe a printer?
A rug to go under your desk?
A pinboard for your wall? (cork, can be rolled up?)
Anything related to sound insulation, for you/other housemembers/ neighbours?
posted by PardonMyFrench at 10:53 AM on February 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

A keyboard tray -- my home desk was not at the right height for me, and this made a WORLD of difference to my physical comfort
A dual monitor arm to free up more desk space
A phone headset with good range and a physical mute button so you can wander during meetings
Wireless charging stand for your phone
A nice coaster, desk pad, or or mousepad that makes you happy
A whiteboard (the thing I miss most from office life now that I've gotten my ergonomics sorted out)
Cable routing/organization gear to clear up the rat's nest
If you can't wire directly and your wifi signal is bad, some kind of wifi booster

If you have two computers (personal and work) you'd like to use the same peripherals with, a dock/hub/KVM switch to make that simple.
posted by natabat at 10:56 AM on February 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

The two things I've invested in since moving my office home have been only indirectly work-related:
- a bosu balance ball, hand weights and kettle bell to keep me from sludging all day; and
- an electric kettle (w/auto-shutoff in case I get on a call while waiting for it), dedicated mug and veg peeler (for ginger) to turn unmindful grazing into teatime (or miso broth time).
I also keep a 1.5 liter water bottle at my desk - aside from the tea mug, it's the only container allowed at my desk, and I try to finish it every day.
posted by headnsouth at 11:03 AM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A monitor stand that clamps to the desk to free up the space from the monitor's footprint and some under desk cable management trays for the bottom of the desk to corral all the cables.
posted by carolr at 11:15 AM on February 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: nthing webcam. I had a faulty laptop camera and once I realized I wasn't going to get away with the 'ol broken camera excuse much longer I had my company send me a freestanding webcam and it has improved things so much more from a zoom standpoint. You can position it in the best possible place to improve your personal and workspace appearance if you can't otherwise show up as a cat.

Also nthing wireless charger for phone or earpods and a dock.

When I move (home) offices this year - a corkboard is the one thing I don't have but want to buy to improve my current set up. I need a place to put all those things that I just need to put in front of my face - I hadn't realized how much I missed corkboard or magnetic surfaces from my in office setup.
posted by rdnnyc at 11:24 AM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Pegboard or wire grid would be a nice purchase, and both are affordable. Gets stuff off the desk for a cleaner look.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:30 AM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Things that have helped me:

- really nice chair and pad to keep rolling chair from chewing up my floor
- sun lamp for winter months helps with SAD
- cable organizing, however that works, good surge supressors and outlets
- good reliable B&W laser printer
- good pens
- good password manager
- plants (if possible)
posted by jessamyn at 11:34 AM on February 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My favorite change I’ve made so far to my home office is adding floor and desk lamps instead of relying on the harsh overhead light. It makes it feel much cozier and the lighting is more flattering when I have to have my camera on.
posted by skycrashesdown at 11:58 AM on February 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

posted by nathaole at 12:25 PM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I got a really nice, adjustable desk lamp that allows me to change the position and temperature of the light. I use it and one other LED lamp pointed away from my face such that the light both bounces off the light wall behind my laptop for soft, diffuse lighting on video chats, but also provides backlighting behind my laptop, which has very noticeably reduced my eye strain.

TL;DR: good lighting.

Oh and also a Purple seat cushion, which has made my lower back way happier.
posted by bedhead at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

- my own whiteboard
- excellent adjustable lighting
- a Very Good drafting chair
- a cheap ass tall table within easy reach (that's not the desk) to put kleenex, drinks, and snacks on without risking your tech.
- a mini buddha board
- nice photos of pets, kids
- a few good pens/pencils within easy reach. (I don't mean go crazy, just your fave commodity pens)
posted by j_curiouser at 1:12 PM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bought a good chair and have been much more comfortable. (I am a sysadmin and sit all day long.)

I have good headphones from Jabra, which are also designed for calls, with a USB dongle that's better-sounding than Bluetooth.

I still want a small light to illuminate me during afternoon/evening video calls.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:13 PM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

if you do want to give a standing desk a second thought, i stumbled on this pretty great deal.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:14 PM on February 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

Re: lighting, I have a table lamp behind my monitor, and it seems to do pretty well at providing diffuse light on my face. So you don't need an office-specific lamp; get a table lamp you might be happy with somewhere else in the house, too. The light behind monitor also seems to reduce my eye strain.

Sound bar -- I have a Dell that clips into my monitor stand.

posted by Dashy at 1:47 PM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

A non-office reading chair. I have the IKEA Poang from years past, and as I do a lot of reading for my work, it's nice to step away from the computer chair and sit somewhere else for a while. They have good resale value for when you eventually move.
posted by basalganglia at 1:50 PM on February 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

That external webcam is really worth it. The built-in ones are garbage and the flexibility of positioning is great. Also, a ring light to go with an external webcam! I have a Razer webcam with a built-in ring light, but a separate one would be worth it if that's what it takes to get one. You will be shocked at how much more flatteringly lit you are in meetings/presentations with a ring light. I also like that mine turns on when my camera is on, so I have an easy indicator light to know if I have my camera on/off when I'm multitasking in meetings.

Also an inexpensive laser printer (someone asked recently and the consensus was Brother, which I have). I muscled through the first six months without one, but sometimes having a hard copy is really helpful. I try not to waste paper or toner, but it's made a real difference in quality of life for me.

And a decent chair. I have an okay-ish office chair, but it is showing its age after a year of my squirming, and I would be a knotted wreck if I was using a dining chair or something instead of one built for desk usage.

I also splurged before COVID, and continue to, on a nice paper planner, pens that feel good to write with, lots of colorful binder/paper clips and sticky note pads in my preferred colors, a mug warmer, a lamp, house plants, and organizing shelves. I feel like I am better set up to perform my best when I am well-lit, breathing fresh air, and surrounded by things I find pleasing to look at and touch.

I put some thought into organizing the wall/corner immediately behind me as well, so that I am framed on camera in a non-cluttery fashion with plants, tchotchkes, and art that shows a little bit of my personality, but if you are less vain than I am or less frequently asked to speak publicly that may be less of a priority.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 2:39 PM on February 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Are you happy with your appearance on video calls? A small ring light or other kind of light can help if so.

Cold feet? Foot heater gadget

Blue-light blocking glasses

Earplugs or headphones

System to help you drink more water

Air purifier
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:44 PM on February 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you don't have any artwork over your desk, it makes a huge difference! I just put up some artwork that I really like and it makes sitting at my desk so much nicer.
posted by radioamy at 5:08 PM on February 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

I personally recommended webcam (and various swingarms), better microphone, a hanging greenscreen (for better backgrounds) and better lights in my article I wrote three months ago.
posted by kschang at 4:57 AM on February 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Things I've acquired over the past year that have improved my WFH work-life:

- monitor and laptop stands (you're halfway there already),
- a cheap networked auto-duplexing colour printer (may fall foul of your international power supply constraints) so I can print code out to review or scribble on,
- a good, comfortable chair,
- a cheerful, silly pen-holder that reminds me of my childhood,
- a webcam,
- a little digital thermometer/hygrometer,
- vast numbers of my preferred types of pen, so that accidentally relocating the pen I'm using to another room doesn't leave me without one at the desk,
- a couple of desk ornaments, and
- a switch to let me use my peripherals with either work or personal laptop without having to unplug anything (may not be relevant to you).

Things that I already had:

- a desk adjusted to fit my height,
- two monitors (you've got this),
- an ergonomic keyboard (you're presumably happy with the keyboard you've got),
- a mouse I like (you're presumably happy with your mouse too),
- a lint-free glasses cleaning cloth that lives permanently on the desk,
- pictures up on the wall behind the screens,
- storage within reach,
- a colourful coaster bought on an overseas trip.

Things I wish I had:

- better lighting for my work area in this dark, drab winter,
- a decent cordless headset,
- a whiteboard or notice board,
- a bit more storage space.

The lesson I've learnt: if anything you use routinely irritates you, even a tiny bit, it's worth trying to find a way to make it less irritating. For me at least, small improvements have a disproportionate effect on my quality of life.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:08 AM on February 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

My wife recently used her equivalent funds on a Lumecube light panel kit because she spends a lot of time on Zoom. The tripod is more useful for us than the suction cup mount, FWIW.
posted by fedward at 12:23 PM on February 18, 2021

pet seamonkeys
posted by Jacqueline at 9:21 PM on February 18, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I opted for:

-Monitor arm
-Tablet mount
-USB-C hub

I'm also planning on investing in some more decorative elements myself.
posted by taltalim at 1:07 PM on February 24, 2021

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