When we were temporarily ordered to work from home in March 2020, none of us expected to still be here over a year later. What initially felt like a short-term situation soon rolled into a monthslong and now near-permanent adjustment, as our dining tables, kitchen counters, and even our beds turned into places where we worked.
But as the U.K. government rolls out a road map for returning to life pre-pandemic and our workplaces begin to open again, it’s clear that our office culture might have changed permanently. Many of us can say with confidence that we do not miss our commutes, whether they involve driving into work or being pinned into the corner of a carriage on the Northern line. And though cooking lunches at home can be taxing, the prospect of cycling through Pret, Itsu, and Leon each week sounds equally as draining (not to mention expensive). In fact, working from home might be a permanent change, as companies consider allowing more flexibility for employees, which is why it might (finally) be time to take your work-from-home setup a bit more seriously.
To help, we spoke to 15 people who have been working from home since before the pandemic to find out what they have in their WFH setup to make balancing work and life more straightforward. 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 39 things that will not only make working from home more productive and enjoyable, but will crucially help to keep burnout at bay, too.
Everyone we spoke to stressed the need to have a proper work space. This included Sam Butcher, a partnerships lead at social learning start-up Aula, who has worked from home on and off for seven years in London and, before that, at a start-up in Boston. “There was a time when I didn’t have a proper place to sit and work, and I’d just work from my laptop on the sofa (or occasionally in bed) and it caused me horrendous back pain. I would feel lethargic all the time. Spending all your time in one room can be really tough, both mentally and ergonomically.”
Butcher turned his flat’s second bedroom into an office, and has a simple white pine desk from Wayfair (the exact model is not available, but we found a similar-looking one). “I also switched out my laptop for a desktop computer. The work space and the living space are completely separate; that compartmentalisation has been so crucial to achieving a bit of balance.”
Strategist UK audience manager Rosie Percy wrote about this inexpensive desk she bought six months into the pandemic. Beaten to the punch by desks on Gumtree and priced out of John Lewis, Wayfair, and La Redoute, Rosie took to Amazon to scout out a cheap (but nice-looking) desk she might be able to get in a pinch, and came across this option by German manufacturer Vasagle.
“The Vasagle desk was surprisingly simple to unpack and put together. The four pieces (two legs, one connecting beam, and the wooden top) came with super-simple instructions, a mini screwdriver (!), and even extra bolts,” she wrote. “With the help of my housemate, we were able to put it together in the 15 minutes before our next work calls.”
Three editors at the Verge told us they rely on this Jarvis standing desk at home. It comes in seven sizes (starting at 30x24 inches) 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.”
Like Rosie, news journalist Laura Roddy struggled to find a desk in 2020 as supplies ran out at many of the usual places. Then, some frantic online searching took her to a company called Flying Elephant, whose jigsaw-like flatpack desk was so good she wrote an ode to it for the Strategist. “The company was founded in 2015 by Max Fox and Michael Keelan — a set of festival stage-makers. With festivals cancelled, they pivoted to making tables from chipboard they had already ordered,” she said.
“It slotted together like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle in minutes, requiring no nails or hammers. Light in colour, the table brightened up my dark room in an unexpected way. In fact, when paired with my Made Flynn desk chair and matching grey lamp, it looks positively Scandinavian.”
When our U.S. colleagues quizzed chiropractors on the best office chairs, they were all in agreement that a good chair would help you maintain a neutral posture — which means sitting with your feet flat on the floor, your knees slightly higher than your hips, and your hips, shoulders, and ears all lined up with each other. “Try to create 90-degree angles at the waist and knees,” recommends chiropractor Dr. Randi Jaffe. Since that position will be slightly different for each person, the best way to find a neutral posture is with an adjustable chair — one that’s as intuitive as possible. Both Dr. Jaffe and Dr. David Perna of Back and Body Medical recommended Herman Miller’s Aeron chair, noting the adjustable seat and armrests as well as the mesh material, which provides full-body support. Dr. Jaffe admits that though the price is high, if your budget allows, “it is a great investment in your health and well-being.” Dr. Perna also loves the Aeron chair, calling it “the standard” for ergonomic chairs and adding that many companies have tried to copy its design.
It also came up when we asked people with excellent taste on the best office chairs. “If you have to spend a lot of time sitting down, this is the best way to do it,” said London-based architect Thomas Bestwick. Adam Baidawi, deputy global editorial director at GQ, agreed. “This chair is a design classic. I bought mine five years ago, back when I was living in Australia, and wrote it off on tax (it’s pretty pricey). If you work from home, though, you’ve got to invest in yourself.” Sasha Perez, a manager on Vox Media’s revenue team, also urged people to get this chair. “My favorite thing is the mesh all around the chair, because I can get warm while working and it keeps me feeling a comfortable temp all day.”
When we looked at the best-rated office chairs on Amazon, this gaming chair came out as the best option. At the time, it had over 2,300 reviews, 78 percent of which were five stars, and its fans include gamers, pensioners, and teens. One customer said they could work a ten-hour day without any aches or pains.
Angelica Malin, editor-in-chief of About Time magazine, told us that an ergonomic pillow or cushion was also essential when working from home — even if you have an ergonomic chair. She swears by this orthopaedic coccyx pillow, which helps ease strain on the back, hips, and tailbone.
We also found a similar one that has over 3,600 reviews on Amazon. It’s made from memory foam and has plenty of five-star reviews. Customers wrote that it really improved lower-back and coccyx pain, and the nonslip dots on the underside meant it stayed in place (though it was most commonly used on desk chairs, many customers also used it in the car).
“If you need to rearrange your whole house just so that you can work next to the largest source of natural light, just do it,” urged Vox’s Sasha Perez. However, if that isn’t an option, then a lamp is your next best bet. 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.
The Strategist’s Jordan Bowman wrote an ode to his TaoTronics lamp after experts recommended it to him. “The seven brightness settings and five color modes seem to solve pretty much every lighting problem you might have. If I’m feeling a bit sluggish, I can bump up the brightness and feel like I just downed a cup of coffee. During cloudy winter days — which we’ve had many of lately — I can tap the touch-sensitive controls and illuminate my space instantly. I’ve even used my lamp as a construction light when I was installing my monitor, tilting and swiveling the head of the lamp so I could actually see all the plugs and cables.”
His endorsement was so strong that Strategist UK staff writer Chris Mandle bought one after reading it. “It can get really dark at my dining room table — this light has some sharp settings which really help me focus, as well as gentler hues if I’m on a Zoom call. I have it in black, and like how minimalist it is, with very straight lines and a simple touch pad. When my work space becomes my dinner table again on the weekends, we often leave the lamp out — one setting could be described as ‘restaurant candlelight,’ which helps on date night.”
When we asked experts to recommend the best ring lights, they told us to look out for the products’ CRI (or colour-rendering index), which cinematographer Will Dorrien-Smith says is basically a measure of colour accuracy. As filmmaker David Tan explains, “You want your light to have a CRI as high as possible, because the higher it is, the closer it is to natural light.” A CRI that’s as close to 100 is best, as natural light has a CRI rating of 100. This well-reviewed ring light has a CRI of over 90, and it comes with a desktop stand.
Reporter Chris Stokel-Walker, who has worked from home for most of his career, says a ring light is particularly helpful when doing TV appearances (and would be helpful for Zooms, too). “This inexpensive Amazon option prevents dull room-itis,” he says. “And stops you looking as if you’ve had one too many glasses of red wine the night before.”
However, if you’re looking for a more subtle change to your work-from-home lighting options, contributor Chelsey Pippin wrote about her inexpensive clip-on light, which can be used for reading at night or, helpfully, can double up as a ring light.
“What I needed was a decently priced lamp that would work in my small space, run on battery power, and illuminate with warm yellow or orange light (as opposed to most inexpensive options, which use that dreaded, abrasive blue or white),” she wrote. “With some digging and clever keyword searches, I found a rechargeable light by Semlos, which ticked all my boxes and then some. It was inexpensive (£14), it was USB-powered with a weeklong battery life, it offered a spectrum of light — from white to the warm yellow I was looking for — and had a dimming option.”
Pippin says she has owned the lamp for over six months now, and, relocating to her family’s home between lockdowns, took it with her. “You never know what you’re getting in a guest bedroom, you know.”
“I’ve found having an espresso machine to be vital to working from home,” admits Kevin Coletta, a full stack engineer at Vox. “Being able to pull shots of espresso as needed is vital (and also very dangerous).”
Sam Butcher agreed. “This is really, really bougie, but my Rocket coffee maker is possibly the best thing I’ve ever purchased. Rocket normally makes these beautiful coffee-shop machines, the kind you’d see in a little Italian bistro. But their ‘Appartamento’ line is designed for the home. They still take up a bit of space, but it’s a beautiful, polished piece of old-school equipment. It has an appealing sturdiness to it, and it’s completely mechanical. It takes 15 minutes to be ready once you switch it on, but the big switch has a very satisfying clunk when you press it in the morning, so I don’t mind that. It pumps hot water through the filter head, so the part where your coffee grounds go in are always at the perfect temperature. Everything is just so balanced, the detailing is meticulous, and this is the kind of coffee machine that will last … well, forever.”
Butcher says that while the machine might need to be serviced every ten years or so, the heat from the pipes ensures little to no limescale buildup inside the machine, so it never needs to be descaled. “It won’t get chalked up, like cheaper models,” he says.
Contributor Sirin Kale agrees that a good coffee maker is crucial to working from home. “When I quit my secure[-ish] staff job last year, my first thought was not, What about my pension, but, How will I caffeinate myself in the morning without the Pret by the office?” She bought a De’Longhi espresso maker after seeing one at a friend’s house and figured the investment would pay off. “A year and approximately 1,095 oat lattes on, I can truly say that I love my De’Longhi like a child.” She said it is chic and minimalist on her worktop and, unlike some of the larger models out there, it takes up relatively little room. “The whole process takes around four minutes: approximately the same amount of time as an AeroPress, but more hands-on than a cafetiere. But the result is a perfect-for-me latte that I drink three times a day (or more), from the comfort of my own home. There is some maintenance involved, but it’s not too onerous.”
However, there are more affordable alternatives, which might be good if you want a coffee maker for your home office but are anticipating going back to your actual office in the near future. When we looked at the best-rated coffee makers on Amazon, Russell Hobbs’ Buckingham model was highly reviewed. It is currently sold out, but their Legacy model has all the same features — such as a keep-warm plate, a timer function, and a sleek design that won’t take up too much room.
However, if space is truly at a premium in your kitchen, or you’re at home by yourself, you could pick up an AeroPress, our best-rated at-home coffee maker. Five experts told us they use it near-religiously, including Colin Harmon, owner of Dublin’s 3fe Coffee; Ewelina Kania, general manager of London’s Prufrock Coffee; and Anthony West, singer in Oh Wonder (who, along with his partner and bandmate, Josephine Vander Gucht, launched a coffee shop, Nola, in late 2020). The syringelike mechanism produces coffee quickly, and, per West, “The brewing outcome is somewhere between a filter coffee and a long black, and it’s pretty hard to mess up — unless you either overpressurise (i.e., force it down too hard) or don’t screw the filter on properly.”
Headphones and Speakers
Nearly every expert we consulted told us that headphones were an essential component of working from home. Some, like Sam Butcher, said AirPods were the way forward: “The newest ones, the Pros, have noise-cancelling properties which makes them super valuable.” But on the other end of the spectrum, Vox’s director of internal communications, Ashley Twaddell, just has a basic pair she bought online.
For a cheaper alternative to Apple’s wireless headphones, consider a pair from Taotronics. We’ve featured the brand before on the Strategist – their Liberty 79 model came recommended by experts when we asked them for their suggestions on the best pairs out there.
The 79s are largely sold out online, but the more advanced Liberty 94s are still available and feature many of the same details that Yaniv Fridel, head producer and composer any Soho Sonic Studios, told us about – such as a sleek design, excellent Bluetooth capabilities, and an impressive charging case.
For some over-ear headphones, these came recommended by Strategist contributor Jill Chuah Masters. She bought them after she began working from home last year, as, in her words, “It became clear that my earbuds no longer passed muster. I would crank them up to ear-splitting volume and sit down to work, but all I would hear was my next-door neighbours nattering and my upstairs neighbour learning to play Star Wars themes on the trumpet.”
She did some snooping online, with her criteria being “a reputable brand with a well-reviewed model weighing in at less than £50.” These headphones’ battery lasts for four full days of desk work (“Or a weekend of nonstop streaming,” Jill writes), and she goes on to say the battery life is doubled if the noise-cancelling feature is turned off. She was also impressed by the strength of the Bluetooth signal, which stretched right across her three-bedroom flat. “I can charge my phone in the kitchen, flick on a playlist, and tidy the whole place without the signal dropping out.”
In addition to hosting his own podcast, Arman Naféei, who’s been a DJ for 15 years, is music director at the Chateau Marmont. So when he told us about his go-to “work” headphones, we were intrigued. “They were originally studio headphones that got adopted by DJs because they were so good, so now they’re known as typical DJ headphones,” he explained. “They sound great, they’re very light, and they have adjustable ears so you can have one ear open. A good example of classic German engineering — simple and not overdesigned.” He says that while they aren’t noise-cancelling, they’re versatile and of “excellent quality for the price.”
Contributor Shahed Ezaydi calls this Bluetooth radio “the perfect work-from-home co-worker” (actor Russell Tovey is also a fan). “Working from home has meant that I’ve been quite lonely. I’m not a big fan of the quiet at the best of times — and I missed chatting to colleagues about clients or the latest celeb news,” she admitted.
“The sound quality is incomparable. I could be downstairs making my morning brew, and I’d still be able to hear the clear, and very distinguishable, sounds of Radio 1 coming all the way from my upstairs room,” she says. “I can turn the radio on with one button or connect it to my Spotify with Bluetooth and use it as a speaker. You can have it either plugged in at the wall, or, with four AA batteries, it becomes portable. It even has a foldable handle, so that clumsy people like me don’t just drop it down the stairs.”
However, if you’re in the market for speakers, the Sonos One comes highly recommended from a number of experts. ‘This is the classic starter speaker for your multiroom collection,” says Jade Baker, partner and assistant buyer at John Lewis. “With the ability to link up to all other Sonos speakers in the range, you can kit out your whole house with room-filling sound.”
Interior design studio Taylor Howes, which outfits some of London’s most expensive homes and businesses, praised its stripped-back aesthetic. “It’s a small, tidy unit which still produces great sound,” says Georgina Wood, the firm’s design director.
Our guide to the best expert-recommended speakers also includes affordable, portable, and gaming-optimised options, too.
Computer and Laptop Accessories
A laptop stand is useful for ensuring the fan in your laptop doesn’t get overheated, which can be a particular concern if you run lots of applications simultaneously. The Strategist UK team all use this inexpensive option by Boyata, which you can find on Amazon. While it doesn’t have an adjustable setting, staff writer Chris Mandle says the height is particularly good for Zoom calls, whether with his colleagues or his friends. “When your laptop is flat on a surface, the way your screen is angled to your face is quite unflattering,” he says. “But on this angled stand, you can look quite presentable. I’ve filmed podcast appearances on this and I was quite impressed at how professional it made me look.”
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 weren’t there.
For something more simple, this Ikea tablet stand comes recommended by Hugh Smithson-Wright, a food and hospitality PR. “My angled laptop stand from Ikea has done wonders for my posture,” he says.
If you find the world of printers suddenly daunting now that you’re working from home, you’re not alone. Contributor Vicky Spratt swears by this inexpensive wireless option by Argos, which she bought after her office closed last year. “Like a slow-motion dragonfly, it buzzes and hums gently before periodically emitting a reassuring click, letting me know that it is working away (But not once has it disturbed me or interrupted a Zoom call by eating print-outs). In fact, its subtle sounds almost simulate being in an actual office, which I find weirdly comforting.”
Nell Block, an editor at Who What Wear, told us how helpful her smartwatch had been when she started working from home. “It reminds me that I’ve been inactive. Obviously it’s useful for other stuff, too, like fitness tracking, but that small nudge that tells me I’ve not moved in an hour is a helpful reminder to not be completely sedentary.”
Tech writer Becca Caddy says this Fitbit 2 is a great option for syncing with existing tech. “It tracks more than 15 different types of exercise and has 24/7 heart-rate tracking. It may be a lot pricier than other options, but that’s because it’s not technically just a fitness tracker but doubles up as a smartwatch. This means you can download apps, set timers, see notifications on the screen, and even play (admittedly simple) games on it.”
She says she can set timers when she’s exercising or to use the Pomodoro technique when she’s working at her desk. “The big screen on the tracker also means you can watch mini workouts on it to check your form.”
Candles were also a popular choice; Angelica Malin told us she had different scents for different times of the day to help her differentiate between work and leisure time. “Daytime is fruity, while in the evening I switch to more calming scents, like jasmine or lavender.” Her other scent hack: coffee candles. “If you’re trying to cut down on coffee when working from home (people often don’t like feeling buzzed when there’s nowhere to go), then the Espresso Anthropologie candle is so good for giving that coffee vibe without actually drinking it.” [Editor’s note: The Anthropologie candle is sold out, but we found some similar coffee-scented options].
Whatever your candle preference, we have a bevy of options from the Strategist archives. British photographer Rankin, when telling us about the things he can’t live without, said his extensive sniff test of almost every candle out there resulted in this Diptyque scent being his favourite. “They’re the most long-lasting, and they stay fragrant in the room for the longest too. They also do these really lovely matte-black candleholders as well, and I love black, so it goes really well with my own space.”
Speaking of celebrity shopping, Zara Larsson (who admitted to sometimes burning multiple candles at once) is a fan of Swedish brand Byredo. “I love the cotton one for that really fresh, clean scent, but I also like leather, musky smells too. I just try and avoid the sickly sweet ones.”
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