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The WFH Survival Kit

Working from home can be a great opportunity to focus, get a better work life balance, and not get sick. It may be a benefit of your position, or mandated by your employer.

Either way there are some equipment you’re going to need if you want to be able to stay productive and effectively collaborate.

Here’s a short list of tips and equipment I recommend for working from home. I’ll start the list from what I see as most critical to least and try to keep a working class budget in mind.

I won’t recommend keyboards, mice, or laptops because many times those will be provided by your company or be a highly personal preference. I will recommend that as much as possible your get an external keyboard and mouse for ergonomics and comfort.

Video Conferencing

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you don’t have to talk to your co-workers anymore. If you work in the same timezones you should treat video calls like stopping by someone’s desk.

They work best when they are frequent and painless.

Make sure you set up your environment to allow drop in video calls for quick questions. My main tips include

  1. Don’t use your laptop’s built in camera or microphone. It’s terrible, trust me.
  2. Make sure there is plenty of light and the light isn’t directly behind you
  3. Keep your camera at eye level and directly in front of where you look.
  4. Learn your conferencing tools shortcut keys for mute (audio and video).

These tips are pretty basic but it’s amazing how so many people ignore them.

Making sure you face a light source is critical to help your webcam see your face. Silhouette meetings are a fun guessing game, but you lose a lot of context and non-verbal communication.

I don’t care how great your laptop webcam claims to be. It’s crap. Not only is the lens poor quality but the placement is terrible. Only use it as a last resort. Same goes for the microphone.

Buy a webcam with a decent microphone is the number 1 critical thing I recommend for remote communication. The Logitech c920 is my go-to camera.

It’s not too expensive, has a good stereo microphone, and works out of the box on all operating systems. It also has mounting options if you don’t have a monitor to rest it on.

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920

If you don’t have natural light (e.g. a window) behind your webcam the next best thing is a light ring. This one is nice because it’s flexible and has a stand but make sure it’s positioned behind your webcam and in the direction you face.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen webcams off to the side and light sources in front of someone.

The thing that happens is once your talking to the side of someone’s face you’ll quickly become disengaged and feel like your not being listened to. You’ll get distracted and communication will break down.

While it’s impossible to look each other in the eyes in a conference call, it helps a lot if you’re facing your camera.

Webcam light ring and stand

An optional upgrade to a webcam is a good microphone. There’s lots of options here but if you have the budget the Blue Yeti will make you sound even more clear on the other side.

Blue Yeti Microphone

Display

Monitors are in the “highly personal” categories that I almost don’t want to recommend one but I also think they’re critical for the following reasons.

  1. Eye comfort and ergonomics
  2. Camera/light stand
  3. Productive screen space

Even if you have a 15” laptop or 4K resolution screen I know very few people who can cram enough visible windows on a laptop screen for 40 hours a week. Granted, when you work from home you should focus on outcomes not hours, but that’s a completely different topic.

Get a monitor big enough for your daily work and tall enough to raise your camera to at least eye level.

I really like this LG because it’s true 4K UHD resolution (cheaper monitors skimp here) and it has USB-C, DisplayPort, and HDMI inputs.

LG 27 4K Monitor

Desk

I went months using a tiny, cheap desk that was uncomfortable and cramped. Sure it only cost me $60, but every day I was sore and often frustrated because I didn’t have enough space to work the way I feel most productive.

If you can afford it get a desk you’re comfortable at. It doesn’t have to be super fancy and you can probably get by with less space than you think.

I prefer sit/stand desks because I like to stand up during meetings/calls to stay engaged and energized. It helps me keep my mood positive and makes me move.

You can find cheaper desks than the Javis by Fully and I recommend you do if you don’t plan on using it. It’s built really solid, comes in a variety of colors and configurations, and the motors are really quiet.

I love mine but this is in the “expensive and maybe not necessary” category.

I recommend getting them without grommet holes because the desk doesn’t have edges and (at least for me) the holes only limited where I could put things on my desk.

Jarvis Desk

Whiteboarding

This one is going to depend on your company, what type of work you do, and how you’re comfortable sharing that work.

I personally enjoy thinking through problems with pictures and explaining solutions to other people so I can better understand them myself. There’s a lot of really great tools that exist for doing this from your computer.

Miro is the most fully featured I’ve tried and jamboard works good if your a GSuite customer. I find that Miro tends to favor people at a computer while jamboard favors people with tablets/stylus.

My favorite whiteboard replacement app is Microsoft Whiteboard but it only has Windows and iOS clients and works best if your an office 365 customer. The drawing ability is really good and it has some nice features like shape snapping and a very pen friendly interface.

I bought an iPad mini with an apple pencil mainly to be able to do collaborative whiteboarding. To be honest I’ve only done it successfully a few times and mostly use the tablet for long form reading and as a secondary display for video calls.

iPad Mini Apple Pencil

At the very least I recommend you pick up a refurbished iPad mini because you can get one for under $100 which is a great deal.

My favorite diagramming tool is actually a blank sheet of storyboard paper and a Sharpie marker. These are hard to share but help me when I need to see a high level diagram of something.

The widescreen aspect ratio is great vertically for lists too!

Story Pad

Snacks and drinks

Hopefully, you know your own preferences for food. I would recommend you get a subscription for your favorites, but don’t keep them too close.

I gained 7lbs when I started working from home even though I only eat out for lunch once per week at most.

There are lots of options for snack subscriptions. For me a regular subscribe and save on Amazon was enough.

I really like Bohana Popped Water Lilly seeds

Popped Water Lilly seeds

Conclusion

There’s a lot more to working from home than just equipment. You need to have a team that is willing to try new things and management that is supportive and will encourage the team to work together in isolation.

There are lots of great articles about remote working practices. I hope you can better understand some of the hardware you might need to support your new flexibility.