Where do you go to do deep work? Most people don’t answer with “the office”. Due to the current pandemic lots of people are forced to work from home - even companies which had a pure presence culture before are forced to send their people home! This may be stressful, everything went well too fast, but this is also a great chance for improvement.
I began my remote journey even before Corona, at the beginning of 2020. I lived in Berlin, in a small flat at the border of the city. It was hard to find a kindergarten for my son and I commuted at least 45 minutes to get to work. At that time, Axel Springer just finished their new office, without listening to studies or the needs of their employees . This prompted me to start a great new opportunity with Bertelsmann, building an all-new remote company and moving my family and myself to Leipzig.
I used that chance to move my family and myself to Leipzig and learned a lot about working from home in the past 16 month.
Your health = Ergonomic workplace + exercise
There is one thing I realized quickly: productivity and a feeling of belonging are not the only things that helps to create a great work environment. Ergonomics play an essential role as well. Back when working from a huge open-plan office, ergonomics meant great air conditioning (not the typical cheap AC, but fresh air ventilation through a so-called chilled ceiling system), height-adjustable desks, perfect lighting and two huge monitors including an expensive chair. At home, most people work with some books under a cheap display while sitting on a kitchen chair.
What is more, before working from home, in 2019, I did an average of 9k steps each day. My average in 2020 was around 7k! So it’s not only that my workplace was less ergonomic, I moved less in general. That’s really unhealthy!
So here are my 7 recommendations to improve your home office and increase the ergonomics of your working environment.
#1 Light & Illumination
Don’t strain your eyes! Good lighting is a necessity for focus and productivity. Science shows that poor lighting can ultimately impact your mindset — a dull, dim room doesn’t exactly do wonders for your motivation. It’s already sad enough that most developers I know need glasses, but let’s not make it worse.
This desk lamp is one of the earliest additions to my home office. The brightness is adjustable, and it doesn’t take up too much space on my desk while I’m working.
A lot of people I know and nearly everybody on YouTube have a monitor lamp like this one from BenQ, directly attached to their displays. It’s above the monitor but the light only reaches the desk, so it does not affect your monitor and creates no reflections.
This is a personal favourite of mine: Those are actually outdoor LED RGB floodlights, adjustable via an app. I found them on RandomFrankP ’s YouTube channel with an awesome series about “gadgets under 50$”. They are great to create a nice mood in video calls, for indirect lighting, to get enough light in the room for your webcam and overall: They just make a dark room way more comfortable. And for only 35€ for a pair, they are just really cheap compared to other options!
I also tried nearly every lamp Ikea has to offer and bought various studio lamps and spotlights from Amazon - they are all nice, but did not really improve the room and lighting situation that much. For some real improvements you need either directional lighting (like from the monitor mounted lamp) or something very powerful (like 2x15W LED floodlights). I still keep two small LED lights behind my monitors for some soft and indirect light.
#2 Monitor arm
I would have never believed it if somebody told me this one before: Not using the supplied stand but getting a real flexible monitor arm improves your whole setup about magnitudes. It not only gives you soooo much more space on your desk and looks way better. Now you can really adjust the height, angle and everything else to an optimal degree. With the same displays, it feels totally different and much more pleasant.
There are some arms which are very cheap and from the Amazon Basic lineup, like this one from “Eono by Amazon” (which is around 30€). I got this one first. It looks great, but it’s just way too unstable and hard to adjust. I got it on a 28" display and it seems to be already near the maximum - even if the description says “up to 32 inches and 8 kg”. But you get what you pay for ;) What you should really look for: an arm with as much stability as possible (check the description and reviews). One of the benefits is that you can move it around and adjust it. If the joint is not powerful enough, it will tilt your monitor down on each movement.
I switched to this “more” expensive one from Huanuo (40€) as it promised to support more weight and the reviews from users with bigger monitors were quite positive. Now I use it for a 32" monitor, an old 24" and a 25" display. It’s really great and feels like it could even hold a bigger monitor - even with the 32" 4k display, it’s very stable and firm, but still easily moveable and adjustable.
If you have a monitor bigger than 32" you will need a way more expensive monitor arm - most I have seen are around 150€. I think, however, that only a few peopole use such big monitors for work.
I have seen people working from their kitchen or on dining chairs. WTF. Even after doing this only for one day at my parents-in-law, I already could feel the strain on my back. Please, don’t do this! Even an old office chair for consumers is not enough for working from home. You sit nearly the whole day, you need a great chair!
In my opinion, there are only 3-4 real options here. The most expensive one is getting a Hermann Miller chair. Either the classic Aeron or the currently very en vogue one everybody in the silicon valley owns - at least every more or less known Tech-YouTuber I watch ;) - the Embody . Both are way over 1000€. And if you ever sat on one: Yes, it’s not a difference of 1000€ or 5x times better, but they really are just the best chairs to work from. Worth every penny.
The next best alternative is the classic Ikea Markus chair . I use one for over 10 years now and it still looks and feels like new. That’s actually the only reason I still have it - it’s so durable. At 150€, this is the best price-performance ratio.
If you are working in your living- or bedroom, maybe you want something, which does not look like a typical office chair. For working at my parents-in-law, I got this lovely chair from Yamasoro (280€), which not only looks like a couch, I also feels super comfy. I can’t wait until I can work from it again!
And the last option which most people will probably chose: A random great mesh chair from one of the many suppliers out there on Amazon. A lot of my friends and colleagues got those. They are around 200-250€ and come from different suppliers. One last remark: Never buy an office chair from a furniture store.
#4 Standing desk
There are two kinds of people: Those who use their standing desk in an office all the time and those who never use them. I was one of the later ones. Until I became older. Nowadays, especially in calls and meetings, I really love to stand. I can feel the difference in my whole body. There is a typical sign for developers who sit all day before their keyboard: A hunchback. With tight chest muscles and tight hip flexors.
You can just buy a desk tabletop at Ikea or get a nice one anywhere else. I got a real wood one from a supplier in Poland. Then you just buy (formerly quite cheap) electrical height adjustable table legs, from Ikea or just from Amazon. Bad news: Prices nearly doubled. Before the pandemic this was the cheapest option, but currently, you pay 250-300€ to get an electrical table frame.
A different option is getting a complete height adjustable desk. Options from Ikea: The manual Skarsta for 230€, the smaller electric Rudolf for 300€ or the bigger electric Bekant for 450€). Other desks are the same, with electric ones normally starting at around 250€, depending on size and quality. Cheap ones (also the ones from Ikea!) normally have shitty and thin tabletops.
There are convenient alternatives: I’m using a holder arm for my iPad to stand while doing video calls. It works surprisingly well and currently this is my favourite setup. My conclusion: A simple holder for my iPad is enough, I do not need an expensive standing desk.
In 2019, I did an average of over 9000 steps a day. In 2020, even with a great increase in milage while jogging, I only had 7500 steps. There were days where I only had 2000 steps! I woke up, made coffee and went straight to my desk. After work, I played with my son in our flat and we ate dinner. I only left the house for jogging.
Different people I know fight the problem of not moving enough with different weapons. I got a walking treadmill and use meetings and telephone calls to walk while using my AirPods. I put it under my sofa if I do not need it, as it’s way thinner compared to normal treadmills.
There are also steppers and mini exercise bikes for usage under the desk, which you can use while sitting. In my opinion, they don’t fulfill the purpose of standing to improve your posture and get into a different position.
You really should think about how to move more, while working from home. My final suggestion would be to try out different things - maybe something for under the desk works for you. Pro tipp: Most things can be bought for a fraction of the original price on your local Craigslists (in Germany: eBay Kleinanzeigen). A simple stepper is around 25€ and you find tons of different treadmills.
I can’t wear headphones anymore. Point. This really became an issue at the end of a day - my ears felt worn-out. Especially if you are wearing glasses this becomes worse. Over-ear headphones always create pressure and in-ear at some point just become very uncomfortable.
One other thing to remember is that nearly ALL bluetooth headsets have a very bad microphone quality. Here is a great video in German about it. If you want to sound good in meetings, use something with cables.
First of all, it allows great audio quality: you can get some cheaper speakers from Logitech or Creative (I used those for many years) or invest 300€ in something which will really be a lot of fun. I got AudioEngine A2+ and I really love them. There are many comparable speakers on the market, just look up some YouTube videos and you will find many different ones. One thing I learned: Logitech and Creative are cheap, you won’t find high quality speakers with those brands.
If you are an idiot like me, you will get an XLR condenser microphone. You will need a pre-amp for it, which is attached to your laptop via USB. The most famous ones are the Focusrite Scarlett and you guessed it: They are not cheap. I got this one for 70€ and it works great, but I will upgrade to a Scarlett soon as I also want to use more microphones (and I also want to see what the buzz is about).
As for the micro: the best ones for conferencing have a so called supercardioid directional characteristic. Why? They do not pick up the noise from your environment or your speakers. I got this one from t.bone for around 50€ and a mount . There are also ones, which already include the pre-amp (to save you the audio-interface).
Which microphone should you get? If you want to save some money, get an supercardioid USB condenser microphone. If you want to invest in cool hardware and want the best quality, get an USB audio interface and an external XLR supercardioid microphone.
The last one was a revelation for my eyes and for my nose! After getting one, I could really feel the difference when going to bed. I’m talking about a humidifier to increase the humidity of the air in your room. I got a rather cheap one and it works great.
If you are in a smaller room, without good air circulation, and keep in mind nearly all normal offices have great air circulation, the air becomes dry quite easily and this becomes a topic. It’s bad for your eyes. And for your nose: the lining of the nose dries out.
One of the mayor arguments for a more expensive one is hygiene, because they are hot water evaporators and don’t use ultra-sonic sound. They are also more effective, with a possible stronger increase in humidity. I thought about getting one, but for me and my small room my one just works.
I often use essential oils, which further boost the positive effects and create a great climate. I got mine from a pharmacy, but nearly all drugstores sell them in great variety.
There are still a lot of other things to improve your home office. Things like a huge and soft mousepad (which is just more pleasant for your wrist), a stand for your laptop or just a holder to keep it hidden. Or just something to keep your feet warm (if you don’t move all day), or maybe just a plant to improve the feeling of the room.
Finally: I really want to know what’s your best finding to improve the ergonomics of your home office! Reach out on LinkedIn or drop me an email .