46 Best Work From Home Essentials 2020 | The Strategist – New York Magazine

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If you worked in an office before the pandemic, chances are you walked out one day in March hoping to return in a couple of weeks or, at the very worst, a couple of months. But now, almost six months later, working remotely seems destined to last at least until there’s a vaccine — or even longer, given how many companies are publicly musing about pivoting to a remote-first culture. Even though many of us have now had time to adjust to working from home, converting our largely comfort-focused homes into efficient professional workspaces can still pose a challenge. To help, we sought the advice of professionals who regularly worked from home before COVID-19 about the things they need to do so effectively, and combed through our archives for other stuff that new work-from-homers have come to rely on for this extended moment.

A note that while working from home almost certainly requires a computer, wireless router, and modem, for this story, we focused on all the other things you may need, from essentials like desks, chairs, and monitors to less obvious things that our sources say help one stay productive day in and day out. Read on for 46 things that will not only make working from home more productive and enjoyable, but will crucially help to keep burnout at bay, too.

To start, the folks we spoke to say you’ll need a workspace (a.k.a. a dedicated desk or table). “Research like this 2017 Harvard study shows it’s better for your mental health to keep the spaces you sleep, relax, and work in separate,” says product manager Nehemiah Blackburn, who works for his New Hampshire–based tech company remotely from his New York City home five days a week. While “working from your bed and couch may seem convenient and even more comfortable,” finance associate Daniel Kim, whose day job often requires him to continue working once he gets home, admits that, “in the long run, it puts you in the wrong mental state to get meaningful work done.”

If you are lacking a table that can function as a dedicated workspace, Elise Yeo-Donaldson, who works from home for a London–based educational-tech start-up, recommends this desk that she says is both affordable and quite user-friendly. “It’s originally an architecture table, but I use it for normal work with a laptop and notebook,” she says. “I didn’t expect how useful being able to change the angle of the desk would be, and the glass top is incredibly easy to clean.”

Three editors at the Verge told us they rely on this Jarvis standing desk at home. It comes in six sizes (starting at 30×24 inches for $549) and can be adjusted to rise between 24.5-inches tall (for sitting) and 50-inches tall (for standing). Verge deputy editor Dan Seifert, who has owned his Jarvis desk for four years, describes it as “comfortable, stable, and spacious,” while Verge news editor Nick Statt adds that assembly is “far less cumbersome than I thought it would be.”

When Kim needed to get a desk he could work from home at, he told us he was “drawn more to design” than solely function, especially because he was going to have to look at it even when he wasn’t working. While he landed on a simple oak desk from Muji that cost him $175 (but is currently unavailable), this even-less-expensive and equally streamlined desk comes from our list of the top-reviewed home-office desks on Amazon, where buyers raved about its minimalist look, simple set-up, and surface area. One happy shopper praised its height in particular, noting that their “desk-chair arms fit underneath without getting stuck, so I can roll around freely.”

Susan Dominus, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, likes her Ikea desk so much that she owns two (which she has raved about on Twitter). “At some point, I decided I really wanted to work in my nice sunny bedroom,” she told us, “and there’s this little corner where only a small desk would fit.” Dominus’s exact Ikea desk is currently unavailable, but it comes from the same Micke line as this desk — which, at just 10 inches wider than hers, is still compact enough to fit in most spaces and feels just as “clean, bright, and efficient” (the three words Dominus used to describe her own desk). With two drawers, this desk also has more storage than her one-drawer desk. For more cool-people-approved small desks, head here.

If you’ll be using your home workspace to do more than fire off an email or two, our sources say you might also want a proper desk chair. When a reader wrote in to us about finding the best home-office chair, we spoke to a professional about it (Marc Schwartzberg, a three-decade veteran of the office-furniture industry and the owner of Office Furniture Heaven), who told us that you should think of your office chair like you would your mattress. Specifically, it needs to be comfortable, as chances are you’re going to spend around eight hours in it every day.

This ergonomically-designed office chair comes recommended to us by Dr. Rudy Gehrman, the founder of wellness center Physio Logic. It has a supportive mesh construction, roller wheels, and the ability to adjust both the armrest and seat height. It’s also very reasonably-priced for a chair with back support, given that a different chair — Herman Miller’s Aeron chair, below — will set you back nearly $1,000.

If your home is going to be your primary office for years to come, you might consider investing in a chair that not only looks nice, but has been designed with long-term desk working in mind. The aforementioned Herman Miller Aeron Chair is the “the Ferrari of desk chairs,” according to Chris Black, and versions of it (if not the original) can be found in a wide range of offices. It’s the chair that Boyd Steemson, the work-from-home CEO of TotalRock radio, has sat on five days a week for years. “This assemblage of poly-carbon, leather and chrome is perfectly contrived to keep its occupant poised and powerful,” says Steemson, adding that the chair feels like “a hammock you can sit in, ping forward, rock backward, and scoot effortlessly over the carpet on. It’s a triumph.” It has also been recommended to us by chiropractors, who appreciate the chair’s adjustable lumbar support.

If you’re looking for a chair with a space-saving footprint that still offers some posture support, Dr. Adam Lamb of Lamb Chiropractic told us he personally sits on a stool when he works, because it because it helps him maintain good posture while improving core strength and balance. This stool comes recommended by chiropractor Dr. Randi Jaffe, who says it “makes it easy to go from sitting to standing” thanks to its adjustable seat.

This kneeling chair (which can easily be rolled under a desk at the end of a workday) has been a Strategist favorite since writer Alice Gregory told us about it back in 2017. Worried about what sitting down all day was doing to her back, Gregory picked up this chair with a design that she says “forces you to engage your core and naturally keeps your spine upright.” After using it for awhile, she continues, “your back muscles strengthen and circulation improves.”

Maybe you don’t want to replace the chair you’ve been working in, but would instead just like to make it a bit more comfortable. For that, contributor Maureen O’Connor says this inexpensive ergonomic attachment is a great way to upgrade a chair that you already own. She explains that the attachable support borrows its design from the Aeron chair, telling us that: “Before Easy Posture, at the end of the day, I felt as though I was two inches shorter than when I started. But like a classic before-and-after, now I’m standing taller and feeling great.”

Another recommendation for upgrading a chair you already own, this gel cushion is what Strategist newsletter editor Mia Leimkuhler uses to make the seat of the dining chair she works from home in more supportive. According to her, the cushion (which comes from the brand that makes one of our favorite firm-but-springy mattresses) makes it perfectly pleasant to sit “for eight hours in a chair that is not designed to be sat in for eight hours.”

Once you’ve got your desk and chair figured out, several of our experts say you might consider getting a lamp. Strategist contributor Bridget Arsenault, the London editor of Air Mail, who works remotely because her publication is based in New York City, notes that a lamp can be handy if you “often work late at night” like she does. And Blackburn, who lives with roommates and can’t “work from public parts of the house,” says he likes having a desk lamp at the workspace in his bedroom because “it helps me create a different light than the one I associate with relaxing.” He recommends this desk lamp, which has five brightness levels that can be easily adjusted using the touchpad on its base. “When I’m working, I put it on the whitest lighting for an office feeling, then turn to a softer tone for when I’m chilling at the end of the day,” Blackburn says. “It also has a USB plug in the back which is how I charge my phone while working.”

If, like Kim, you want office accessories that look less corporate and more like home décor, you could spring for the classic (but pricey) Anglepoise desk lamp. Or, you could go for this far more affordable Anglepoise–esque desk lamp that Strategist editor Alexis Swerdloff uses, which she says folks have mistaken for the real thing. (When we asked architects about the best desk lamps, one told us that he installed Forsa lamps at every desk in his office.)

Architect Peter Dumbadze has used this clamp lamp at his own desk “for years.” Beyond appreciating its “utilitarian style,” Dumbadze says that clipping a few of the inexpensive lamps around a workspace can create more balanced lighting. “I position the lamps such that I can bounce light off of the walls and ceiling,” he explains.

Another architect-recommended desk lamp, this is the one that New York City–based Scott Oliver told us he’s used while working at home since the days he was in grad school. “I bought a version of this halogen model 30-plus years ago,” he says, “and lo and behold, it is still around.” While it’s a bit more expensive, based on Oliver’s experience, it could very well last until you retire.

Tea and coffee makers

Because free office coffee isn’t a luxury work-from-homers can take advantage of, many of our sources say having an at-home coffee maker is essential to jolting themselves awake in the morning and throughout the day. Arsenault told us she uses a fancy Le Creuset French press to start her morning, calling it her “go-to French press for everyday use,” but if you’re just looking for something that gets the job done, this less expensive option (that’s still fun to look at) comes from our list of the best French press coffee makers (for all budgets).

When it comes to brewing coffee at home, Jamie McCormick, the co-owner of East Village coffee shop Abraço, let us in on a little secret: You really don’t need more than a simple Mr. Coffee drip machine. “People make a big ‘to do’ over a lot of nothing” when it comes to brewing equipment, McCormick told us when we asked him and other baristas about the best coffee machines to use at home, adding that the Mr. Coffee is a great choice for any “amateur coffee roaster who wants to flatter their grounds.”

There are, of course, fancier options. Film-and-television producer Steve Abbott (Monty PythonA Fish Called Wanda) — who has worked from a home office for the last three years — likes a top of the line De’Longhi bean-to-cup machine, which he reports does “everything from grind your beans to foam your cappucino and steam your milk,” and says it hasn’t broken down in the more than seven years he’s owned it. Arsenault also has a fancier at-home coffee maker she uses when she doesn’t want to futz with her French press, and while hers is not bean-to-cup one like Abbott’s, it is a De’Longhi (for Nespresso) and just as convenient, she says. “I know these aren’t particularly environmentally sound,” she admits of her pod-based Inissia, “but I can’t function without coffee and this is so easy and efficient to use. It lives on my counter all year round.”

According to Leimkuhler, “it’s tempting to guzzle coffee after coffee when you work from home, but that all too easily leads to caffeine headaches and dehydration.” To battle the 3 p.m. slump, she instead makes herself a pot of tea with “this lovely infuser and whichever loose-leaf tea I’m feeling at the moment.” Leimkuhler adds that a personal pot of tea is a “nice little ritual” that feels like a self-care perk of working from home.

For those whose tea-making time is money and would prefer a faster way to brew, Strategist contributor David Schwartz told us about Breville’s “groundbreaking” Tea Maker, which does “something that almost all run-of-the-mill coffee makers do: It brews automatically, at any time of day, without you having to do anything but pour in the tea.”

Headphones and speakers

If your home is on a busy street — or filled with busy roommates — you’ll likely be after some headphones soon enough, say many of our people who work from home. For a relatively affordable (if not fully noise-cancelling) corded option, Arsenault recommended these basic in-ear headphones from Master & Dynamic, a brand we’ve written about before (Chris Black, Michael Strahan, and hotelier Marie Louise Scio are also fans.) “My boyfriend and I both work from home in a one-bedroom flat,” Arsenault told us. “If I need to watch something or if I am transcribing an interview, then I just pop in these headphones.”

For a truly noise-canceling pair of headphones, two of our panelists — fashion photographer Jacqueline Harriet, who conducts her entire business from home, and Blackburn — recommend Apple’s AirPods Pro. Strategist writer Sarah Wexler also praised these larger AirPods, which she says stay in place better than any wireless headphones she’s used before. And, according to Harriet, their Bluetooth connectivity gives them an added benefit while working from home: “I like them because you can dance and do your chores while making conference calls with clients.”

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For an over-ear noise-canceling option, Sony’s newly released WH-1000XM4 headphones are the next generation of what Strategist contributor David Pogue has called the “best wireless headphones he’s over owned.” This writer recently tested the XM4s and found that the new model, even if marginally, is better for working from home than its predecessor, thanks to new features including a lift-to-pause technology and the ability to connect the headphones to two devices at once via Bluetooth. For more noise-cancelling headphones at a range of prices, check out our list of the top-reviewed pairs on Amazon.

People who don’t wear headphones (they do exist) looking for a better way to listen (and talk) during video calls should consider this inexpensive plug-in headset that Strategist senior editor Anthony Rotunno uses on Zoom calls. The headset, he writes, “tethers me to more professional environments and makes me feel like the CEO of my new office of one.” While it can plug directly into any device with an old-school headphone jack, newer machines may require an adapter like this one to be compatible.

Sometimes our workers from home say they want whatever they’re listening to to come from a source a bit further from their ear drums. This speaker is what Sophia Kardonski, the co-founder of Miami’s Sobremesa dancing supper club (who runs her business from her home five days a week) uses during her workdays. “The battery life lasts forever,” she says, adding that it’s called the Revolve for a reason: “The sound really does revolve around the room, it’s like a portable surround sound system.” While Bose makes a top-of-the-line portable speaker, we’ve written about other well-regarded ones at varying price points here.

This less-expensive and more-colorful Bluetooth speaker is what writer Jia Tolentino relies on. In her words, the (fully waterproof) speaker hits the two most important qualities for a portable speaker: It “sounds great” and “syncs instantly.”

Computer and laptop accessories

If you’re planning to work from home on an Apple computer, writer Emma Grillo told us she bought this keyboard with a gift card she won for good performance at her first internship. “I work off of a really small laptop, and typing all day is so much easier on this portable keyboard, which is bigger and easier to use than my laptop,” she says.

The one issue with flat keyboards like Apple’s Magic Keyboard is that too much time typing at one can result in sore wrists at best and carpal tunnel (or more) at worst, according to physical therapist and board-certified athletic trainer Dr. Scott Weiss. “The wrong mouse-and-keyboard setup can wreak physical havoc on your hand, wrist, and forearm,” Weiss told our tech writer Jordan Bowman. Those looking for an ergonomic keyboard should consider this model that Verge editors told Bowman they love for its comfort-driven features, such as a supportive wrist pad and contoured design, without any of the add-ons that can quickly make ergonomic keyboards super expensive (like rechargeable batteries and backlit keys). According to this keyboard’s fans, it’s a functional option that “still looks and feels like a high-end professional product.”

When it comes to an ergonomic mouse, four experts Bowman talked to about the best wireless mouses recommended this one. Beyond being designed to comfortably fit the shape of your hand, the mouse’s customizable thumb wheel can be set to scroll left-to-right across your screen, which a video creator says is a “huge” help when moving through a film’s timeline.

Strategist contributor James Lynch recently wrote about how this monitor has changed his work-from-home life. “Having room for two documents side by side on my screen, rather than having to flip back and forth between them, made me work so much faster,” he says, noting how handy monitors can be for those who try to keep dozens of windows open on a tiny laptop screen. Lynch adds that the monitor’s stand can be raised, lowered, and tilted across four different planes to create the perfect display setup. (His exact 27-inch AOC monitor is currently out of stock, but this version is only slightly smaller at almost 24 inches).

“One of my biggest complaints about working from home is not having a full-sized monitor,” Blackburn told us. He says that this iPad stand helps simulate a monitor for him by raising his iPad to the level and angle of his laptop screen, so he can use it as a second screen for his laptop. He adds that this “sturdy, affordable” holder (which can also fit a phone) is great “if you just want to have YouTube on while you work.” Blackburn adds that newer iPads have built-in technology should you want to use them as a second display for your laptop screen instead of YouTube (and that the dual-display function can be added to older iPads using Duet Display.)

Kardonski told us that she tends to work most often from her couch, with her computer on her lap. She says after being “sketched out by my laptop sitting on my ovaries for hours, and feeling like it’s zapping my insides” she bought this DefenderPad shield, which slides right under the laptop and uses EMF shielding technology to combat radiation. It might cost a lot for a tech accessory, she says, “but considering a laptop case can easily be over $60, the portability and peace of mind this pad gives me is definitely worth it.”

Sarah Weingust, the founder and CEO of travel company HostelPass (who from her home runs a business with employees all over the world), says this small stand that “sticks onto the bottom of your laptop” is helpful for two reasons. “I find it helps most with my posture and comfort, but also can be really helpful to keep my computer cool if I’m running a lot of programs,” she told us. “It props up my laptop and doesn’t cover the fan, making it easier for air to flow and keeping my computer from getting overheated.” Weingust adds that, for such a small stand, it doesn’t move even if she’s “typing up a storm” and that it has three levels to choose from, including an option to lie flat as if it wasn’t there. If you’re looking for other ways to keep your electronics fresh and high-performing, check out our expert-recommended guide to everything you need to clean tech products.

Strategist contributor Liz Carey — a television writer who works a lot from home — praised this affordable, adjustable table as an essential piece of gear, saying it helps her to maintain a better posture when she spends hours working from the desk in her bedroom. “The tabletop can be tilted, and you adjust its height via two buttons on either of its legs,” she writes. “If I put it on top of the regular desk I work from in my bedroom, the setup affords me enough height that you could call it a makeshift standing desk.” It also allows her to work from her bed (which more than one of our sources say they will do from time to time). “Perched on my mattress, the table stands tall enough that I can extend my legs beneath it or sit cross-legged.”

If working from home means you’re also working on a personal computer, you might want to invest in a back-up program, according to Eric Lawton, a freelance designer who works from home five days a week. “Don’t learn the hard way like I did and procrastinate about backing up your files,” he told us, adding that Blackblaze software provides a simple way to get unlimited storage for your computer, as well as any external hard drives attached to it. “It’s a must have for any freelancer whose files are their livelihood.”

Lawton also told us he likes to use this desk protector underneath his laptop and workbooks. “Essentially, it’s just a really comfortable place to rest your wrists and arms,” he told us. For more lap desks to consider, we’ve listed the best-reviewed ones on Amazon here.

Comfortdriven accessories

While you should probably change out of your pajamas, the folks we spoke to say that a proven work-from-home benefit is being able to add a dash more comfort to your work environment. Just as you might use one to warm you up in a chilly office, a blanket can be a nice accessory to keep you cozy while working at home, too, according to Arsenault (“If I’m working at the kitchen table, I wrap myself in a blanket.”). Her go-to is a luxe merino-and-cashmere blanket, but if you’re looking for something more affordable that simply looks nice and will keep you comfy, this faux fur throw from our list of interior-designer-recommended blankets should do the trick. According to the designer who recommended it, it’s “inexpensive, easy to maintain, has a great look, and is ultra-soft.”

While you don’t need to put on dress shoes if you’re working from home, a pair of slippers is crucial for keeping your feet warm and clean, according to Lawton (and Chris Black). “It’s hard finding house slippers that are comfortable, well-designed, and not covered in fur,” according to Lawton. But he says that these loungers from Allbirds are all three. They “fit the bill perfectly — so much so that my girlfriend and I have matching pairs,” he adds. For a more (non-fur-covered) footwear you can wear inside and on the occasional errand, check out our cool-person-approved list of slides for men and women.

Perhaps, like Fast Company associate editor Yasmin Gagne, you’ve also been able to take advantage of the “five-minute midday shower” that she often treats herself to while working from home. On days when she showers and doesn’t have to show face at any Zoom meetings afterwards, Gagne told us she’ll wear “this weird towel/turban at my desk,” adding that it makes her “hair dries faster” and “doesn’t get my shirt all wet.”

Things to keep you focused

When she’s approaching an afternoon slump, Gagne says that putting a dropper’s worth of this liquid supplement in a glass of water “actually works.” She adds: “It tastes like dirt, but placebo effect or not, I feel like I can focus better afterwards.”

Grillo told us that she turns this lava lamp on whenever she sits down to work. “It sounds kind of ridiculous, but it always makes me smile to look at,” she says. “Freelancing and working from home can be really stressful, so it’s nice to just zone out to my lava lamp for a few minutes, and remind myself how lucky I am to get to do what I do.” As for how it works, Grillo says it usually takes the lava lamp about 20 minutes after you turn it on to really get going, which she uses as a timer. “By the time the insides are bouncing around, I aim to be pretty deep into my work and no longer doing clerical emails and invoices.”

Grillo adds that she always keeps a “chunk” of purple amethyst crystal on her desk, because as well as being aesthetically pleasing, a former meditation professor told her it prevents harmful rays from electronics. “I even brought a chunk with me every day to an internship when I was 21, which I think thoroughly freaked out my boss,” she adds.

Strategist deputy editor Maxine Builder wrote about how this satisfying block color timer is the “only thing that helps her avoid Twitter,” claiming that it helps her work for two hours straight without feeling burned out. Just flip the cube to display the time you’d like to count down from and the timer will begin, allowing you to give yourself a guilt-free break on social media between timed chunks of work.

After working from home for a while, this affordable back-posture corrector saved Strategist contributor Frances Dodds from becoming, in her words, the “Quasimodo of Park Slope.” Following a trip to her chiropractor, who told her that her mid-century desk chair was ruining her back, she purchased the corrector, which helps redirect your default pose from slumped over to pencil-straight. (Though chiropractor Jason DiTullio told Dodds that the device works best as a supplement to a regular workout regimen, and that those with any serious back issues should consult a chiropractor before using it.)

“Taking breaks is necessary” when working from home, Chris Black wrote when a reader asked him for things that could make an office of one more enjoyable. Black added that it helps to “walk around the block, or do something physical to keep the blood flowing.” If you can’t walk around the block, he recommends these handles you can use to get a few push-ups in (and perfect your technique) at home. As he puts it: “You don’t get pecs from writing emails!”

“If you’re used to working in an office every day, your routine likely includes stepping out for lunch or having it delivered, and making your own can be a big adjustment,” says Leimkuhler. She says this rice cooker (which is also a favorite of cool florist Elle Jaime and Bon Appetit’s Brad Leone) gets used in her home at least every other day. “In the morning when I make my coffee, I wash and prepare 2–3 cups of rice, then set it to cook. When the rice is done, the cooker keeps it warm all day, so when I’m ready for lunch (or dinner) I have perfectly cooked, hot rice ready to top with anything.” Leimkuhler adds that she purchased her cooker nine years ago, and it’s still going strong.

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