I was never too fond of home offices. Personal communication is just way more efficient than remote one, and I don’t see how any technology could change it. At least if I don’t count spread teams, then, of course, the call is more efficient than travel. Even though I used home office only in rare necessary cases, that doesn’t mean I was on the other extreme. I just prefer when a team is in one room and can discuss anything anytime, including having fun.
That changed for me over a year of home officing. I still believe that having a team in one room is the most efficient way to achieve anything, but I love the home office as never before. The big reason is that I tuned my working place a lot. Probably a better statement is that I love my desk (home office as a place, not as an activity). I wouldn’t mind having someone from my team sitting here with me at all.
By this post, I want to share my path and decisions so you can take some inspiration to improve your desk and love it as well.
First of all, the most important is a chair. Many books and posts were written on this topic, and I’m no expert. So don’t expect many details. I bought my chair many years ago, and I broke it quite soon after that. Since then, the back part was never in the proper place. That was fine when I used it from time to time, but you need a perfect chair for a full-time job.
I was lucky to marry my wife, Lenka. She used to work from home way before the pandemic, and her hobby is practicing and teaching healthy exercising. That means she made sure to buy the perfect chair for her needs. And with the start of the pandemic, a bit unfortunately for her but fortunately for me, she transformed her hobby into a full-time job. So suddenly, the marvelous Aeron Chair was empty and waiting for me.
But such chair can be expensive. I’m not sure if I would buy it even if it’s the perfect chair on this planet. Lenka found it from second-hand for about a quarter of the original price. But the main reason why I would not consider buying such an expensive chair is what Lenka said to me several times:
Forget about healthy posture with a straight back, legs in precise angle, and so on. The best posture is always the next one. It’s more about changing posture every few minutes than sitting perfectly for hours. The movement is what counts.
When I say movement, I mean literally moving. Sure, we, the computer rats, need to sit in front of a computer to do our work. But we also need to sync with our colleagues. A lot is done over textual forms, yet still, we also call each other. So the best to do is to use this time to stand and walk around.
I, for example, use calling time not only to walk but also to look out from the window. Our eyes were not intended to watch screens from such a short distance for eight hours straight. By looking outside to distance, you make sure to not fuck up your eyes too soon.
Sure, we still have to watch screens a lot. Therefore, I encourage you to find a display with a flicker-free, blue light filter, automatic brightness regulation, and other features to protect your eyes. I picked 24” Benq BL2480T and set the mode for reading. There is also an office, but that is still too aggressive for me.
If you never tried it, expect it will look weird for you. I use low blue light modes also on my phone, which is automatically set up for me with the sunset for years, so I’m used to it. You can always start with lower modes and build the new habit slowly.
Besides training eyes, I use breaks (and not just during the call, anytime I feel like it, for example, when I think and not type) to relax my hands. Lenka showed me several tricks which I don’t know how to describe. Simply find ways to stretch your fingers and hands in general which you like, and do it from time to time.
Mind that you need to relax them as well. Even if it doesn’t look like it, you strain your hands. My automatic reaction to pain in my right palm was to reach for a stress ball. But, in fact, my hand needed relaxation, not more stretch. Shake them, relax them!
That so far was working for me quite well, yet I missed one detail. Standing desk. When I was walking, my monitor was too low for cases when I also watched some presentations. Or when I had to respond. Also, it isn’t probably polite to walk away from a video call. Not to mention you can work only while sitting without a standing desk.
To sum it up, a standing desk is a must-have. I wanted it already about ten years ago, but it was too expensive. Once I found out few months into the pandemic that I can get a standing desk for a very reasonable price, I ordered it right away. Well, I first researched if it wasn’t a fraud. It wasn’t, and therefore these days, there is no reason to prefer a non-standing desk over a standing one.
For all those who start working in a standing position: again, it’s not about standing. It’s about switching positions. We were not evolved to either sit or to stand for too long. It’s normal you cannot stand for too long. I use the standing position up to three times a day, for something between twenty minutes to one hour. Longer periods are usually combined with walking, in my case.
The good trick to not forget to stand up is to use it (again) for calls. Our team has daily standup every forenoon, and I always connect with my desk up. Do you remember why such a meeting was called standup? Every team member stood up in front of the giant board to discuss the status of ongoing things. So this is my first standing position of every day.
There is one more thing to consider: have some pad. A small rug is enough, or some foam (used for kids on the floor), especially if you have a hard or cold floor that is not comfortable to stand on. Besides the rug, you can also consider using from time to time some balancing or pebble foot massaging pad to activate your foot. And again: don’t use it for too long!
I’m not sure what helps you think, but a clean environment helps a lot in my case. That’s why I like clear architecture and why I like to refactor stuff, so everything is in its proper place. Then I can free my head capacity for the problem I’m solving.
The same is true for non-virtual desks, even though I had a mess on my table for too long. I started to play with Arduino more than a year ago and had no place for it. So it stayed on my desk. You can imagine, it took a lot of space. Moreover, it looked like a mess because it’s too much small stuff (well, it was a mess).
That bothered me, but the solution waited till the pain in my right hand arrived. I love, at least loved, touchpad on Macs or Chromebooks. All those gestures are so efficient that I switched from an external keyboard and mouse to a notebook keyboard and touchpad many years ago. Indeed that was not a good idea because there is nothing ergonomic about this solution.
I had to clean my desk and move the notebook aside to have space for a long-forgotten keyboard and mouse. You know, I cannot measure that I’m now more efficient with a clean table, but I think I’m. At least now I have finally again place to have several unfinished projects on my desk and still have a place for my main job—no need to struggle with space anymore.
What also helped me to make more space is not to use big books to put my display higher. Instead, I bought a dual monitor desk mount Stell SOS 1020. You should be warned that if you want to use it for a display and notebook like me, you cannot set different heights for each arm—it’s one piece. However, I have a small laptop, and with a clever pad mount, I achieved the position I want. For you it might be more reasonable to buy a mount where you can set each arm separately.
The problem you might encounter is cable. My notebook has only one USB-C, and I used a short dock station just for power, HDMI, and one USB. Suddenly, I needed a USB-C extension cable to get to this dock station that supports everything—power, video, USB, and serial over USB (for Arduino). I tested several cables, and it’s tough to find one. Finally, I ended up with Vention Type-C Extension Cable. Yet it’s not without an issue: USB-C should work no matter which side you put it in, but for me, the serial port works only from one side. So make sure you try both sides, like with old USBs, before you return the cable.
I also switched to a better dock station which I’m finally happy with. I can charge my mouse, play with Arduino, read photos from an SD card all at once. It’s I-TEC USB-C Metal Nano Dock.
After making space on the table, the next step was to find a new keyboard (and a mouse). I still have legendary Logitech Wave, but that’s huge with too many unnecessary buttons and many other valuable buttons missing. On top of it, keys are too loud and hard to press. I got used to low-profile keys over time.
I had many requirements and, to be honest, there is no keyboard which would meet them all. I wanted Bluetooth connection, low profile keys, silent, ergonomic, not huge, having both PC and Mac layout, and ideally with Czech labels. I trashed the last requirement right away as almost all high-end keyboards do not provide it.
The decision was tough, but I ended up with Logitech Ergo K860. It’s still quite big but not as much as my old Wave. It cannot be squeezed more to keep it ergonomic, but still, I would love to see at least an ergonomic keyboard without a numeric part. That’s something I rarely use.
I was a bit afraid of a split keyboard, but it’s okay. I got used to it nearly right away. The only issue was that I sometimes press Y/Z with my left. I think it took me just about a week to forget about this habit. Otherwise, I don’t think I could say anything wrong about this keyboard. It’s perfect from any angle. It’s comfortable, silent, all keys work as expected, both PC and Mac layout is good, and Bluetooth connection is super fast!
The mouse was a bit harder issue. I wanted a vertical mouse to help my hand to relax as much as possible. Maybe you now expect Lenka had one, and you are correct! But that mouse was not usable for me. Every second double-click was two clicks instead. As I clicked sideways without holding the mouse firmly, it moved a bit. That is quite a paradox: a vertical mouse should help relax your hand, and instead, I needed to stress it even more.
But I didn’t want to give up. I checked out what Logitech can offer. I remembered the excellent scroll wheel, which I wanted again. The problem is, Logitech has only one vertical mouse, Logitech Vertical, and it’s without Logitech special scroll wheel™! Also, reviews were not that amazing either.
I guess I checked out all vertical mouses on the market and many regular ones (at least from pictures, thanks covid!). The decision was very hard. No vertical mouse was good, the Logitech one is too expensive considering the lack of Logitech standard features, and I truly wanted something ergonomic. Finally, after hours of doing research, I bought Logitech MX Master 3.
Do you know what is interesting? I compared my hand position between the vertical mouse we have home and MX Master 3, and it’s nearly the same! I don’t understand why Logitech doesn’t promote this more. Actually, I don’t even understand why Logitech Vertical exists.
Either way, MX Master 3 is a fantastic mouse. I also love the horizontal scroll wheel, which I programmed to switch between desktops (I don’t work with wide sheets). One of my fear from going back from a touchpad to a mouse was that I would miss three fingers gesture to move between desktops. With this second wheel, it’s excellent. At least if extra buttons are working—sometimes it doesn’t (on Mac), and I have to reconnect.
So this is my working environment at home. I hope it was helpful and gave you some tips on how to improve yours. It is definitely good for me, no pain anymore. If you have suggestions for me (or even others), let me know!
(Now I need to stop writing posts like this one from armchair!)