As is true for most of you, I didn’t start 2020 with the intention of spending most of my waking hours in the same room in my home for months without end. My home office was, therefore, very much set up to accommodate my normal usage—playing video games, recording podcasts, and occasionally hobby coding—and to be “good enough” for the day or two each month I worked from home.
It did not take long to establish that what was sufficient for a few days a month was less than ideal for every day use. I believe my exact quote roughly a month in was “okay, this is about some bullshit right here.”
What followed has been an iterative process of tweaking my setup until it manages to satisfy my needs for work and for personal uses. All in, it’s taken about 8 months of calendar time, but that has amounted to probably one full day a month spent making significant changes to experiment with how things can be improved. I thought, then, I’d share with you!
This thing got excessively long, so, I’ve added some inline anchors to make it easier to jump around.
- Podcasting Microphone: Barely visible in the top-left behind the vertical monitor is the boom arm that supports my external mic for podcasting. I use a cardiod condenser mic to cut down on the pickup of the considerable extra noise in my environment while still catching my voice despite my complete inability to modulate said voice in any way. I must be a nightmare to edit. I’m currently using the AT2020 that I got initially to see if it would work out. Now that it has, I’ll probably pick up a Rode or a Neumann.
- Webcam: Nestled top-center of my lower monitor is my webcam. I spend a substantial amount of time on camera, whether it’s meetings at work, socially distant gatherings, or the occasional streaming session, so I wanted to make sure that I had a cam that would serve my needs. I spent a lot of time using the Microsoft Lifecam HD, but as it turns out it has a dimness problem when being used (ironically) with Microsoft products like Teams and Skype. Ultimately, I have settled on the Logitech 1080p Pro. Not only is the image quality ludicrously good, but the stereo mics have really amazing quality and noise filtering when I use it as a room pickup mic.
- Gaming Headphones: If you look in the lower-right underneath the right-most vertical monitor, you’ll see my Astro A50 headphones. I love these things. They’re comfortable, cut down on outside noise admirably, the microphone on them is top notch, and the battery life is more than 10 hours. I have only two complaints: the distance isn’t as amazing as my old Logitech G930s they replaced, and the boom mic lost its ability to hold position within a month or two of use. The former is a mild quibble and the latter was resolved with a rubber band to add friction…but at $300, I would expect a sturdier build.
- Work Headphones: In almost exactly the same position underneath the left-most monitor, you’ll see my work headphones. Ideally, I could use the same headphones for both, but my work headphones provide two benefits that my gaming ones don’t. Most importantly the range is impossibly good. I can go anywhere in my house, I can go out back, I can even stand in the front yard and the call clarity is perfect. As someone who paces when I talk, this is essential. The second benefit relates to flexibility; with these headphones always plugged into my work computer (through which I make all of my phone calls), I can jump on a call or answer the phone without swapping my computer into work mode. More on that later! I don’t know what brand this is, some Plantronics thing that was distributed by my employer.
- PC Audio: For general sound from my gaming rig, you can find the speakers of my Logitech G560 system on the right and left (one is hiding behind my coffee cup). The subwoofer is back behind the left-most monitor. I am deeply in love with these. The sound quality is great, they have bluetooth so I tether them to my phone to play music, and they have pretty lights that sync up to the moving lights on my desktop (Wallpaper Engine is the absolute hotness). The only downside? They’re a bit pricey.
- Horizontal Displays: Dead-center, horizontally are my two principle displays. Each are Acer X34p Predator displays. At 3440×1440 each, that gives me plenty of real estate immediately in front of me. I initially bought one to see if I’d like ultra widescreen displays; so much a fan, was I, that I bought a second.
- Vertical Displays: Flanking my primary displays are two ASUS VE278H monitors that used to be my primaries. Standing them upright in portrait mode gives me plenty of room for chat clients or lengthy sections of text with room left over for Rainmeter system stats.
- Mounts: All of my displays are mounted using either the tall or short version of the WALI Single LCD Monitor mount. I love these over the gas-tube driven ones that I used to have as they’re solid as a rock, support more weight, and they don’t wobble even when my desk is pushed up to its highest setting. Bonus: they’re stupid cheap. The downside? Their cable management is pretty sad; but that’s easily fixed with velcro and ingenuity.
- Keyboard: The split monstrosity front and center is the Ergodox EZ Glow. It’s ergonomic, completely programmable, pretty, and really enjoyable to use. I have layers set up for number entry, gaming, and normal typing (and pretty colors to match—because pretty matters!!) I type a lot, and I’m prone to RSIs, so the ortholinear layout and the ability to adjust the keyboard to where my hands land comfortably have been a life saver.
- Mouse: The pretty, glowy device next to my keyboard is the Razer Naga Trinity. It has two features that I really appreciate. First, it has buttons to quickly swap DPI so that I can move it from FPS mode to “I would like to be able to click on the edge of that cell with my coffee-shaky hands” mode. Second, the thumb panel is held on by magnets and can be replaced by a different button configuration. Normally, I run a simple 2-button thumb panel, but if you look closely on the KVM switch under the right side of my main monitor, you will see the 7 button rotary that I use when playing many games. Very handy.
- Gaming Controller: Nestled back behind the Rubik’s Cube is a Razer Wolverine controller that I use when the best way to play a game isn’t the keyboard and mouse. It strongly resembles the XBox One controller, has additionally, remappable keys, and feels really nice in your hands. I like this better than the XBox Elite.
- KVM Switch: The name of the game for me was flexibility. I wanted to be able to switch between work and play systems quickly and easily. That’s especially tough to do with 2 monitors. The TRENDnet TK-240DP will support 2 displays at 4K resolution. The tradeoff? It restricts caps me at 60Hz. Luckily, I’m not someone who can see the difference between 60 and 100Hz without them being side-by-side, so, no harm. That said, I’m on the lookout for a 2-port, 2-display KVM that will do 4K resolutions at 100 or 120Hz.
- My PC: I built this one from scratch around the Ryzen 9 3900x to be quiet and powerful. It manages to be both, although, heat dissipation and quiet appear to be at odds with one another. The full system specs can be found right here if you’re interested in my build (and it’s usually up-to-date as I upgrade parts).
- Recording Device: When I record my podcast, I record into an external device rather than into my PC. I have several reasons for that (and, perhaps, at some point that’s worth a post), but in general the separation has served me well. Driving this, I use the same Zoom H4n that I’ve been using for almost a decade. Multi-channel, it handles up to two XLR mics (even with phantom power), and has very versatile and powerful mics built in. You can see it to the left of my left-most monitor next to my PC speaker. It’s also next to my…
- Charging Station: I’m currently using the Aukey 3 in 1 Wireless Charting Station. It’s not great. It does the job, but it’s finicky and I don’t like it. I’m currently researching replacements.
- Rubik’s Cube: How do you pass the time when you’re fidgety?
- Note Taking: I love taking notes by hand. I love having my notes available to me later on all my devices. My solution? I take notes by hand using a stylus into a note taking app (currently, I use OneNote and Nebo). When I’m not in work mode, I take those notes into a Pixel Slate i7 and a Wacom Bamboo stylus. The Slate also serves as an amazing PC replacement when I’m on the go. I hardly ever carry a laptop anymore unless it’s for work, this thing does what I need.
- Uninterrupted Power Supply: The first time we had a significant power outage while I was working from home, it became incredibly obvious that the situation was unmanageable, so I replaced my old UPS with one that would last me longer than 5 minutes: the APC SmartUPS LCD 1500VA. Between this and a home automation that allows me to voice shutdown my PC when I lose power, I have the ability to run my work system including displays, phone, and essential peripherals, for about 3-4 hours. Unfortunately, the beast is too large (and, occasionally too loud) to sit on my desk, so, it’s been hidden underneath.
- The Desk: I use up a lot of real estate and I’d like for some of my desk to be usable as a desk, not merely a support for a stupidly indulgent number of displays, so L-shaped was a must. I also like to stand while working a decent amount of the time. It turns out, a convertible, L-shaped desk is fairly hard to find. I was going to give up and just get a regular convertible desk with a small side desk for next to it when I found the Autonomous L-Shaped SmartDesk. It’s been moving pretty close to 250 pounds of gear up and down several times a day for nearly a year. I love it. I covered most sections of it with dry erase vinyl clings so now I can take notes rapidly without looking for sticky notes.
- The Chair: I was using an Autonomous Kinn for a while, which was good, but not great. Right when I was getting ready to pull the trigger on investing in a Herman Miller Embody, work started a lottery to give away refurbished ones left over from our office remodel. Thankfully, I won, so, that’s where I plant my ass when I’m sitting.
- The Standing Pad: I have flat feet, so, standing for any length of time tends to suck. The Topo Comfort Mat by Ergodriven makes it suck way, way less.
- Ambient Lighting: I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again…pretty matters. When I’m working in the dark (which is, honestly, a lot of the time), a little bit of indirect bias lighting goes a long way, so I have some random sticky light strips I got on sale mounted on the outer-back edges of both side displays. My primary displays also have “ground effect” lights underneath that I keep on and pulsing away as well. My office at night is a slow moving rave of cycling, purple lights emanating from bias lights, my PC, my displays, my mouse, speakers, and keyboard. I like pretty things.
The most notable change between work mode and play mode is the loss of two displays. My work laptop can only drive two externals, so, the two vertical monitors go to sleep and wait for video games. My note taking device becomes the touch display of my laptop which converts into tablet mode and becomes a glorified notebook. In all, it’s pretty effective. I’m going to really miss the second huge display when I return to the office though.
So, that got long-winded, huh? If you made it here, congratulate you and ask…why? What is broken in you that you made it this far? I’m sure it’s the same thing that is broken in me that makes me so intrigued by other people’s work setups. I love to read those “what’s in my bag” or “what software do I use” articles…so share with me. What does your work space look like? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, Mastodon, or Facebook, or (if you don’t social media) perhaps just shoot me an email!