Gear Up for Remote Work
The Remote Worker’s Home Office Equipment Guide
Last Updated: December 2020
Setting up your remote work space can be daunting. You’ll be confronted with dozens of purchasing decisions, and you may feel like you need to do a lot of research. I build and advise remote development teams as part of my regular work, and have been doing so since 2014. I’ve looked at all the microphones and headsets, furniture, and accessories, so you can gear up quickly and get right to work.
Here are my current recommendations.
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A Fast Computer
Remote software development is CPU and memory intensive. You’ll often be recording and transcoding video clips, screen sharing or video chatting while compiling and interacting with a web browser.
Lots of computers will struggle with those demands. You’ll start an
npm install and the video will drop frames. Grab at least 16 GB of RAM for best results. 32 GB is better. A current MacBook Pro will do a great job.
I recently purchased the 16" 8-core i9. It’s a great machine. It’s lighter, smaller, and still manages to pack an extra inch of screen real-estate into the compact package. I love the new keyboard, touch bar, and touch ID, and I don’t miss the old function keys. Apple recently announced the new M1 laptops.
New MacBooks only have USB-C compatible Thunderbolt 3 ports. You’ll probably need to connect to USB 3, HDMI, and memory cards. You can get a connector hub that has all of those built-in.
- Apple MacBook Pro 16", 8 Core i9, 16GB RAM, 1TB Storage, Space Gray
- Lenton USB-C Hub w/HDMI, USB 3, Card Readers
External Keyboard, Trackpad, Mouse
Ideally, you’ll want to mount your laptop on a high stand to bring your screen and video camera up to eye level. Doing so will make you more comfortable, allow you to easily adjust your camera for video conferencing, and probably improve your health, but it will also put the built-in keyboard and trackpad out of easy reach.
In my opinion, nothing beats the Apple Magic Keyboard and Apple Magic Trackpad for productivity. Syncing is easy. There are no battery replacements to worry about. Plug them in with the included cable, and you can charge them while you work.
If you plan to do any gaming to relax when you’re not working, you’ll want a real mouse. Trackpads just won’t do it. The best mice out there are designed for gamers. Check out the Logitech G Pro Wireless.
A Good Microphone
A built-in mic is OK, but it’s not ideal for video chats. First, it’s too close to the speakers, so if the speakers are too loud, it will pick up your coworker’s voices and echo back to them, which can be very distracting. Second, it’s not very good at rejecting sound that’s farther away, so it’ll pick up all the background noise.
If you want your coworkers to really hear you clearly, pick up a better external mic. Choose a dynamic mic rather than a condenser mic. You need to speak directly into a dynamic mic for it to pick up the sound well. That’s a good thing, because it automatically filters out most of the background noise.
I’ve tried a whole lot of mics over the years, and I keep circling back to the Shure Beta 58A. This is a professional mic commonly used by professional musicians on stage, which means it’s not a USB mic. That’s OK.
A Good Monitor
The MacBook Pro monitor is great, but even a 16" monitor is a bit small. While I’m coding, I usually have a browser and terminal on one screen, and an IDE on the other. Having plenty of screen real-estate can help you be up to 20% more productive. It’s worth splurging on a nice ultra wide. While you’re at it, pick up a desk mountable, adjustable stand. My favorite is the VARIDESK Vari Monitor arm + Laptop Stand.
If your surroundings are loud, first, remember your coworkers and mute yourself when you’re not talking. Second, you may want to block out the noise for yourself. A pair of comfortable, over-ear, closed-back headphones might come in handy. It’s hard to do better than the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro.
If you are in a particularly noisy environment you may want to get some cans with active noise canceling. Many of those also offer wireless connectivity. The Sennheiser Momentum 3 offers best-in-class sound and a more natural sound signature helps you avoid ear fatigue. It also offers a transparent mode so you can have conversations or hear your surroundings without taking them off.
Sometimes you might want to tune into a meeting without looking like you’re hiding in some gigantic over-ear headphones. Sennheiser has you covered with the Momentum True Wireless Earbuds. I find these far more comfortable than the ubiquitous Apple AirPods. Despite their popularity, AirPods don’t comfortably fit all ears, don’t offer different size or ear shape options, and can’t hold a candle to Sennheiser on comfort or sound quality.
If you don’t need the noise isolation, the AKG K 701 will let your ears breathe and offer more transparent, detailed, expansive sound than any of the other options here. If you’re looking for the best sound quality to enjoy some great sounding music while you work, with great comfort and build quality, these are the ones to buy.
Sick of headphones? Check out the Beats Pill+ bluetooth speaker. It’s hard to believe such great sound can come out of such a small package. Compact, loud, and plenty of punch.
- Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro Closed Ear Headphones
- Sennheiser Momentum 3 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless Earbuds
- AKG K 701 Open Ear Headphones
- Beats Pill+ Bluetooth Speaker
For best results, you don’t want a big window with bright sunlight directly behind you. Your indoor lighting won’t be able to compete with the sun, and your face will be lost in shadow on your video calls. Instead, you want good illumination. I used to use a pair of brightness and color adjustable LED panel desk lamps which I set up on the left and right sides of my desk. Now I use desk mountable LED panels to free up desk space.
The panels are bigger, which makes it possible to position them a little further away and retain the softness. They also get brighter than the lamps, so they can more easily compete with and overpower a bright background, like a window.
Many people make the mistake of skipping the lights. Don’t make that mistake. Good lighting is an inexpensive way to dramatically improve the experience of video calls. Even an inexpensive lamp can make a dramatic difference.
A Good Chair
You’re going to spend a lot of time sitting. You need a good chair. My favorite is the Herman Miller Aeron chair. I would say it’s the Rolls-Royce of office chairs, but it’s not about luxury. It’s about posture, comfort, and health. A cheap chair could lead to far more expensive back trouble. Besides, it looks a lot more professional than a gaming chair.
A Good Desk
You’ll want a desk with space for a dual monitor. Bonus: The ability to sit or stand. We love a good height adjustable standing desk. If you’re standing up a lot, you’ll want an anti-fatigue standing mat.
Eric Elliott is a tech product and platform advisor, author of “Composing Software”, cofounder of EricElliottJS.com and DevAnywhere.io, and dev team mentor. He has contributed to software experiences for Adobe Systems, Zumba Fitness, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, BBC, and top recording artists including Usher, Frank Ocean, Metallica, and many more.
He enjoys a remote lifestyle with the most beautiful woman in the world.