Working From Home: The Gear That Actually Helps

Working from home should not be painful and sad. Here’s some stuff to buy away that pain and sadness. Well, some of it at least.

In the past, I worked from home for almost 5 years, then back to the office I went — and like everyone else I found myself back home with little other choice to be had. Since I never planned to work from home again, I needed to rediscover a whole bunch of stuff to make my setup function well and to set up a comfortable and productive space. Even with a head start on knowing what I might need/want, I still needed to get it all together again and in place.

This post is full of gear which makes working from home better. I am not going to say it is the best stuff out there, because for some categories I don’t have enough testing in place of other options to be able to say that, but these certainly have proven themselves for me. I know many are looking at perhaps not ever going back into the office full time, or are now at the point where they have no choice but to make their setups better. Either way, the future sure is uncertain and having a good space to work in at home will never be a bad thing.

Here’s the gear:

  • iPad Pro 12.9”: I know. I do have a MacBook Pro for work as well, but almost every time I use it, I have issues which require extra time to get it working. On the calls I have taken with the Mac, the fans whir the entire time. Macs and PCs are great and necessary — there’s no doubting that — but iPads make life better. The iPad is silent, the battery life is stellar, and things either work perfectly or there is no chance of getting them to work — either way you are not left searching for help. The iPad is the perfect video conferencing device, it is the perfect ‘review this file’ device, and it is the king of being able to work from anywhere in the world, or your home.
  • TP-Link Deco X60: I was having a hell of a time achieving a network which both covered my entire house with good speed (so I can have video calls in the office, and the kids can do school work on the other side of the house without me hearing) and which also was stable enough that I was not constantly having to work on the WiFi. The last time I had a WiFi network this good, Apple was still selling their own WiFi hardware. The setup has three units, all the same. They are WiFi6, though not the fastest breed of it, but that doesn’t matter because I get 1gbps down, and 40 up with this stupid Xfinity setup, and these routers can handle that speed over WiFi without batting an eye. Each unit can do Ethernet backhaul to extend, which is stellar, meaning that on the one satellite I use that on, I still get the full speed as if I was hardwired to the modem, but over WiFi. So cool. The third unit that uses the WiFi extension cuts about 50% of the speed off the top, but 500mbps down is nothing to complain about for that spot in the house. The only downside is that the units only have two Ethernet ports on them, so you might need a network switch or two, but those are dirt cheap and not worth fretting over. I love this router.
  • Magic Keyboard for iPad: Look this thing is stupidly expensive, but it is also stupidly good. The entire thing is fantastic. Aside from my iPad itself, this is the most used tech thing in my house. It allows me to truly work from anywhere without issue. Which is key when you need to get somewhere quiet to focus. Or need a change of scenery because you maybe haven’t left the house in months.
  • Desk Pad: A huge part of being productive is being happy, and a part of that is loving the space you work in. That’s why I have a blue desk pad. I never had one before this pandemic but I got one near the start and I am super happy with it. I got this one, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out these ones.
  • Studio Neat Notebooks: A big part of my day is making small notes to myself during meetings — stuff I need to follow up on or do. I’ve used all the notebooks out there, and I keep coming back to these — they are perfect. Don’t bother with the other ones, just get these.
  • Tactile Turn Bolt Action Pens: I thought these bolt action pens were silly when they hit the scene, and I further thought that paying for these Tactile Turn ones was even sillier. Then I got one, and then a second one. They feel amazing to hold, with tons of great tactile feedback. And the bolt action bit, while a touch of a gimmick, is fantastic to fidget with throughout the day. I like the Short model as it is a good balance on size so that you can easily transport it, and still be comfortable writing with it, while still supporting a large array of refills. I highly recommend this pen.
  • My Crazy iPad Arm Mount: a couple of people have asked me about this arm setup I use to raise my iPad up and off my desk. It is all DIY, but effectively the list is this:
    • This monitor arm.
    • A 1/4” Piece of wood, cut to the size of your iPad
    • Screws (not needed if you are using glue) and bolts.
    • This iPad Case to cut apart or any other that connects using magnets and that you are OK cutting apart.
    • From there you take the VESA bracket and bolt it to the wood, and take the iPad Pro cover, cut the back off, and attach it to the wood. I used screws, but I would recommend a strong contact cement instead for a cleaner look. I then spray painted the wood matte black. Last tip: notch out the entire corner where the camera array is, this makes it super easy to pull the iPad off the cover.
  • Raleno Light: This is a seriously good soft light for video calling, and integrates perfectly with the above iPad arm setup. See this post for more details.
  • Soft stuff to stand on: Standing desks are very much the way to go. But in my house our wood floors are directly on top of a concrete slab, and even with a small rug on top of that, my feet were not happy. To combat that, I used two of these tiles to create a standing area. Two thumbs up, will sacrifice looks to stand on these any day. They are not squishy enough to be annoying, but enough to not make your feet die. An extra yoga mat would also work nicely.
  • Big Ass Desk: Look I love this desk, and the company has fantastic support for their products. Get the biggest one that will fit in your space. Having a desk which can easily switch from sitting to standing is crucial for comfort.
  • Magic Trackpad 2: If you are going to to have your iPad up in the air, and you should, then you are going to want a good trackpad to use with it — the only option worth considering is Apple’s. Enough said, luckily you can use it with your Mac too.
  • Loud and fun keyboard: the one major benefit of being at home is that you can usually have a louder keyboard than normal. Either way, you should have a keyboard you love, and it should not be the Apple one unless it is attached to your iPad like the Magic Keyboard case thing. So I submit to you these suggestions:
  • Yeti Travel mugs: I am a big fan of RTIC coolers over Yeti, but when it comes to mugs, Yeti makes better mugs than RTIC. My routine is to drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and fill a travel mug with more. When I get done working out and getting ready, my coffee is ready and waiting for me as I start work. Highly recommend these mugs.
  • Bodum Coffee Mugs: We bought a set of these because my wife wanted them. About a week later we bought 6 more and I purged most of our other coffee mugs. I love these things. I drink my first cup of coffee out of these almost every day now. I feel like such a hipster snob. Ugh.
  • Brother Laser Printer: even to print return labels, you need a good no-fuss printer. Something that can be left on, and wireless printed to from iOS or your Laptop. I needed to replace my Samsung printer after it finally shit the bed, RIP. This one is fantastic and does duplex printing, it is larger, but damn does it really embrace the no-fuss nature of life.
  • Moccamaster / Creatista: ya gonna need some coffee. I like to drink black drip/pour over coffee. I got a Moccamaster as a gift at the beginning of summer, and I’ve never enjoyed coffee more. This thing is killer. A couple months later my Wife upgraded her Nespresso obsession to the Creatista and she loves that machine. You might not need/want both of these things, but they bring a lot of joy in our house — and we are eventually going to break even on these since we no longer buy Starbucks coffee. Right? I think that is how it works.
  • Roomba: when your entire family never leaves the house, boy does it get messy fast. I did a little research on Roomba’s before ordering one. I wanted to strike a balance of something that would be good, but not also be the most expensive thing ever. This is the model we got, and I love it. It’s not perfect, but it genuinely makes our lives easier. We run it about every other day. My top tip is to ignore the pattern it is doing, otherwise you will lose your damned mind.
  • AirPods Pro: I got these at the beginning of March, took them on one trip and then got more use out of them then I ever imagine. I probably wear them for at least 4 hours every day. They are fantastic. I love them. They are the only headphones I need.
  • Reminders: I mean the Apple reminders app. The best one out there, great app.
  • PDF Expert: This is the unsung hero of my iPad toolkit because it can handle so many things and makes stuff so easy, but never gets in my way. Worth every penny, and I think every iPad owner needs a copy of it.
  • High Watt Chargers: there was a period of time in my life where I was firmly in the camp of ‘it doesn’t really matter how fast my charger works, as long as it charges my device before I wake up and is small as possible’. That was a better time. Anyways, the pandemic has meant I can burn through my iPad batteries before the day is out but I still need to use them. I hate being chained to cords, so I need my stuff to charge really fast. And also to be able to charge while using a lot of power for things like video calls, or the USB hub. For that, I recommend Anker and RAVPower.
  • Xfinity Stream: I make fun of Xfinity a lot, because they suck. But they have a great iOS app for those who subscribe to their cable plans, which allows you to stream live TV. Great for those times when the entire world seems to be falling apart around you and you want to keep an eye on the news.
  • A Chair to Lounge Work From: ok, not like to work all day from. But I have a comfortable chair to sit in placed in the corner of my office so that when I need to read a document or review things, I can go sit there and kind of take a focused moment for that task. It’s a nice trick I have been using for years now.

If you add all this up, yeah it is going to cost you some serious cash. Don’t go out a buy this, this is more like a spirit of this stuff guide. If you already have headphones you are happy with, AirPods Pro might not be something you need. I still use a super old iPad Pro for my work, and I have no need to upgrade. But, that said, this is all great stuff that allows me to work from home in a much happier place.

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