At the PASS Summit a few weeks ago, I had a great chat with some folks about our home office setups. More and more of us are working from home these days, giving us the freedom to customize our workspace to suit our individual wants. However, we rarely get to see the the home offices of others (other than through the lens of a webcam), and I think there’s some creative benefit in learning how others set up their offices. Many of my own home office design decisions came from my glimpse of someone else’s workspace.
Office Setups Past
Over the decade that I’ve been working from home, my home office has evolved, going through 3 major revisions. When I first started officing from home in 2013, I had a conventional desk with two monitors, which briefly grew to 4 monitors. This 4-monitor workstation looked like fun, but ergonomically didn’t work well for me. I discovered that even a short time of pivoting from eye-level to those two upper-level monitors were taxing on my eyes and my neck muscles, so I quickly abandoned the upper two monitors.
For my next office setup, I decided to go with a standing desk. I was still on the fence about using a standing desk as I’d never tried one before, so I went with a basic, manual crank version. Since it required a couple of minutes of cranking to raise or lower the desk, I usually just left it in the standing position. The desk was a bit on the small side, but it taught me that I did like having the option of standing while working. I also learned that having the monitors raised on a pole (rather than sitting on their built-in stands) allowed me to raise the monitors to a more usable eye level. I kept this same setup for about 4 years.
When we moved about 4 years ago, I upgraded the standing desk to a larger electric version. This made it much easier to switch between sitting and standing. As a result, I found myself alternating between the two throughout the day. The rest of the setup, including my aging monitors, remained the same.
Time for Renovation
Earlier this year, those two monitors (the same ones I bought for my 2013 setup) were starting to fail. I knew that tearing down and setting back up to replace these monitors would require at least a couple of hours of work, so I decided to go ahead and rethink my entire home office setup. First, I built out my list of pain points:
- My two main monitors were nearly as old as my youngest kid. The resolution wasn’t great, and they were starting to flicker unpredictably
- I often needed to extend apps across two monitors (think of perusing a really wide Excel document)
- I still didn’t have enough desk space
At the same time, I put together a wish list of less essential but nice-to-have items:
- A setup for a second PC or laptop for the occasions when I needed to multitask on 2 machines
- A vertical monitor for email and social media
- Better lighting for my webcam meetings
- Better sound dampening (since my office has tall ceilings and hardwood floors)
Most of what I wanted and needed required more desk real estate, so I started with a new standing desk. There are several reputable vendors in this space, and I found Uplift Desk to have a great variety of sizes and options. I went with an 80″ L-shaped desk, which has much more usable space than my previous square desk.
Monitors and Audio
I also retired my two old 27″ monitors, and replaced these with a single widescreen monitor. I went with the Asus 49″ curved monitor to replace these two. This single monitor has nearly as much viewable area as both the two old monitors. It also makes it far easier to open wide apps in a single window rather than stretching across two. This monitor’s built-in stand is adjustable to the perfect height, so I ditched the mounting pole from the old monitors.
To supplement the big monitor, I bought two, 27″ Asus monitors. I mounted one of these as a vertical monitor on the left, used for email, social media, and other apps that look better in portrait. The second one is mounted on the far left at the return of the L desk. I use this one primarily as a second workstation using my laptop, but also have it wired to the main desktop in case I need an extra monitor. I mounted both of these using flexible mounting arms.
The last monitor is a 15″ Sceptre, which I’ve got mounted just below the widescreen. Frankly, this is the one weak link in this setup. Since small monitors are hard to find, I had to take what I could get. Unfortunately, this one is usable but doesn’t have great color or resolution. Still, it’s an effective little utility monitor, great for note taking and other text-based tasks.
For my microphone, I went with the Blue Yeti. It’s got much better sound than the built-in microphone in my webcam or headphones, and makes both recordings and webinars clearer. To cut down on some of the reflected noise in the office, I added a wraparound shroud that I use behind the mic when needed.
These changes addressed all my must-haves, but left off a couple of things from my wish list. I didn’t add any lighting to this new setup, and it shows when I turn on my webcam. There’s a large window to my right, and the room lighting can’t overcome the natural light during the day. I’m still looking for a good ring light that will eliminate the shadows on my face when I use my webcam.
Even though I’ve got a good microphone and shroud, I still have a distinct echo sound on my microphone. I’m looking at adding some wall coverings to reduce the bounce, and I’m considering something from Feltright.com for this.
For either of the above items, I’d welcome input and suggestions from any readers who have solved lighting or ambient sound issues.