Tech

Here's how I recreated my work setup at home during the coronavirus outbreak

Key Points
  • If you're asked to work from home, consider a few things that can make you more comfortable and productive.
  • You want a real desk, chair, keyboard, mouse, monitor and more. Basically, try to recreate what you have at the office.
  • You don't want to end up just sitting on the couch with your laptop. 
Catherine Yeulet | Getty Images

As the coronavirus spreads, you might soon be asked to work from home. Maybe you're already doing it.

I've already published a few tips on how to stay sane and productive while you're doing remote work, but if you're going to be stuck at home for more than a week, here's another thing that can really help: Try to recreate your work desk.

If you simply bring your work laptop home, you might find it's kind of fun to work from your couch for a day or two. Then you might find yourself slipping into terrible posture, sneaking a nap, or -- if you're working from the dining room table -- ducking into the kitchen every 15 minutes for a snack. 

If you have a work-like set-up at home, you'll find it easier to stay focused. Here's what I recommend:

  • A real computer monitor
  • Bluetooth keyboard and mouse
  • Surge protector power strip
  • Wireless phone charger
  • A small (19-inch to 24-inch) TV
  • A webcam
  • A real desk chair

Read on for more details about what I did and why:

A real computer monitor

I've found it much easier to work on multiple projects at the same time by running at least two screens at once. You can do this easily from either a Mac or Windows laptop by plugging in a second display and using the laptop's screen as your primary one.

When you're working from home, staying in touch with your colleagues is vital. Having a second monitor means you can run Slack or your company's chat app of choice in one window, and work in another. Or leave email and a calendar up in one and perform other tasks in another. It's a much easier way to get more work done.

First, check that your laptop is capable of running a second monitor. Most modern laptops are will support an external display, so just make sure the monitor you have (or buy) connects to the right port. Look for USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 if you have a modern Mac or Windows computer, or a larger HDMI port. Here's what cables for those ports look like:

USB-C on the left, HDMI on the right

If your laptop is really old, it might still need a VGA or require a separate DVI cable

I haven't tested displays in years (I own a really old computer monitor so it's time for me to upgrade, too!) so check out the latest recommendations from Wirecutter on what to buy. If you're not gaming or watching 4K videos, you can go with a budget pick.

SEE ALSO: How to buy the right monitor for your laptop so you can work more comfortably at home

A Bluetooth mouse and keyboard

Mechanical keyboards on display at the Bay Area Keyboard Meetup in San Jose on November 9, 2019.
Jordan Novet | CNBC

Get a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. Your wrists, neck and back will thank you. This way, you're not leaning over your laptop, or trying to move around big spreadsheets and websites with just your laptop's keypad. And you'll have a full-size keyboard to spread your hands out across. Most come with a dedicated wrist rest, too. I really like mechanical keyboards because they provide a lot of feedback and are comfortable to type on over long periods of time, but they can cost more than $100 and often don't come with a wrist rest. (Be sure to read my colleague's guide on why people are obsessed with them.) If you don't want to spend that much, I've had pretty good luck with Logitech keyboards and mice. This combo costs $65.

A surge protector power strip

Your office probably already has electrical protectors in place that prevent damage to electronics if there's a power surge. But you might not have one at home, so buy one. Plus, you're going to need extra outlets to plug in your monitor, keyboard, phone charger and more. Belkin has a pretty highly rated and reasonable one for $22 with enough outlets for 12 plugs, which is more than enough if you're planning to add other things to your desk, like a TV and a lamp.

A wireless charger for your phone

You'll have your phone nearby. Most modern phones, whether they're iPhones or Android, support wireless charging. If yours does, a wireless charging pad is a nice way to keep your phone at your side without having to worry about a charging cable falling to the ground. And you can just pick it off or plop it down whenever you want. My colleagues and I are partial to Anker's wireless charging pads because they work well, support up to 10W fast charging on phones that allow it, and cost about $12.

A TV if you need one

Don't use a TV to watch Netflix or movies if you want to be productive. But given everything happening right now, you might need to be tuned in to the news. I keep a TV on my desk at the office and at home so I can watch CNBC. Just don't go too big, otherwise it'll feel like it's taking over your desk -- between 19 and 24 inches is perfect. That should cost somewhere around $100 or so. But remember: if you need a cable box, you'll need to make sure you have cable setup near your desk. If not, consider a streaming service like YouTube TV or Hulu and either an Amazon Fire TV Stick, a Roku stick or a Chromebox. 

A webcam

If you're going to be doing a lot of video conferencing, consider picking up a webcam. Cheap built-in laptop webcams can make you look sloppy (even if you aren't!) and aren't always very flattering. Plus, the microphones can be really bad. Logitech's $68 C920S has been a highly rated webcam for a long time, with support for full HD video, decent microphones and a convenient form factor that clips on top of your laptop or external display. There's even a privacy clip that covers the webcam when it's not in use.

A real desk chair

Thomas Barwick | Iconica | Getty Images

You can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on desk chairs if you want to get a proper one for good posture. I haven't gone whole hog like this, but I do have a proper leather desk chair I bought from a furniture store, and it's far better than squatting on a stool or a chair borrowed from the dining room table. Consider something basic, like this $76 chair with arm rests, an adjustable seat so you can sit level with your desk, and wheels so you can move around. Or head to a local Staples and sit in a few until you find one you like that matches your budget.

Other stuff

Consider a few other items, like a smart speaker if you want to talk to Alexa or Google Assistant for podcasts, the weather, or for playing tunes. Or perhaps you might want some noise cancelling headphones if you have construction going on at home, or kids walking around the house. Maybe you'll want a plant to spruce up your desk, and a lamp in case you're finishing work later at night.

Trust me, you'll be glad to have a desk that's dedicated to work, and that feels much more like the one you use in the office, especially if you're planning to spend weeks or months working remotely.

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