Furniture and office equipment are table stakes, but as we’ve discovered working from home can blur the lines between work and life. Creating boundaries to declare an end to the work day while making sure you have the environment to rest and recharge are critical.
The staple of any office is a desk which you can find with a wide ranging budget. My personal desk is the Jarvis mechanical sit and stand desk from Fully. If your preference is a sitting, Artifox’s White Oak desk is aesthetically pleasing and it’s designed to last for years. I think of their desks at the intersection of modern and minimalistic design, and quality sourced materials. They also have a number of unique accessories that complement the desk. At nearly $2,000 it’s on the high end, but you pay for what you get.
The most overlooked utility is the chair. If not ergonomically designed, your body will compensate which can lead to long-term strain. My initial benchmark was a chair that looked similar to one in the office because I assumed those were good enough. The market is also flooded with chairs that look deceivingly ergonomic, but in reality are not up to standards. I spoke to Teresa Bellingar, who holds a PhD in industrial engineering and is an expert in ergonomics and occupational safety at Haworth, one of the leading designers and manufacturers of office furniture in the world. Their designs are science-backed with university partnerships including Michigan State and Texas A&M.
“When you’re searching for the right chair, there are a number of things to keep in mind. First and foremost, find a chair with a comfortable seat that works for you. Good back and lumbar support will help keep the spine in the right shape. A recline mechanism will help with backrest tension. Adjustable seat depth and arm rests are also very important.”
While their flagship chair, Fern, hits the mark on all of those elements, Teresa explained that different chairs fit people differently. I’ve found the Fern to be incredibly comfortable and those in the market for a new chair can customize color and material for their preference. I really like how you can easily adjust the back tension which allows you to lean back in a controlled manner. The arm rests also move forward and inward which is convenient. It’s by far the most comfortable chair I’ve ever sat in. If you want to see it in action, YouTuber Marshall Fox published a great demonstration video.
I’m not an audio engineer, but hosting a podcast has helped me learn about sound quality. When on a Zoom call, the worst sound quality is when someone uses their external microphone from their computer — meaning they just have their laptop. The next best option is to use a wired headset or Airpods because of the direct microphone. However, if you’re on meaningful calls it’s worth the investment to improve your audio quality. If you’re working from home with kids like me, you also want to strike the balance between background noise reduction (for your own focus) and call quality.
To address the Airpods — the reason I don’t recommend them for use all day is because it drains the life of the battery significantly. So unless you don’t mind purchasing new Airpods every 3-6 months I’d shelve that idea and use them sparingly. There’s also the controversial issue of Bluetooth radiation. While I do have Airpods, I don’t want to rely on them all day, everyday.
This is why I love Shure’s over the ear, noise-cancelling headphones called the AONIC 50. If you can imagine, my kids homeschool in the room behind me. Without these headphones I would be unable to focus because with regular headphones I’d constantly hear the sound in the other room. On the other end, I’ve tested the call quality and people can hear me clearly. In addition, you use them wirelessly or plug them in (3.5mm) directly into your laptop or docking station. If you want to take the audio quality a step further — you can use them in conjunction with a USB microphone. Shure is widely known for being one of the most renowned brands in the music industry as it relates to sound quality and microphones for musicians. They’ve packaged that sound quality into an affordable home office microphone called the MV5C. It should be a prerequisite for anyone in a management position to lead by example in terms of communication quality.
Senior Director at Shure, Matt Engstrom, reiterated, “According to an Illuminas survey commissioned by Shure, poor audio impacts a third of all virtual meetings. In fact, four out of five video conferencing frustrations stem from poor audio quality—including background noise, echo, audio cutting out and being unable to hear other meeting participants. Given this, it’s important to equip your home office with audio technology that prioritizes your voice and helps eliminate background noise.”
Outside of these home office essentials — one of my recent favorite accessories when I’m on the go is the Tech Folio from Bellroy. It houses my 13” MacBook Pro along with a notepad, my phone, cables, phone, and other work tools. If I’m just going to a nearby coffee shop, this has replaced the need to lug my backpack and it conveniently fits everything I need. I also like the fact that it zips up and the leather feels like great quality. I’ve received several compliments because it looks sleek (I have the caramel color). If you’re searching for something that can double to protect your laptop and house other items (besides just a laptop cover) it’s definitely worth checking out.
When you’re spending 8 or more hours in your office, it’s important to take into consideration the air you breathe. Both from an air quality perspective and humidity.
Everyone should have an air purifier on hand, but especially if you have asthma, allergies, pets, exposed to secondhand smoke or wildfires in your surrounding area. Check nearly all those boxes for me, and operate under the assumption that your HVAC unit doesn’t filter air quality like you may think.
It may feel like there are thousands of air purifiers to choose from, because there are. Most consumers look for brand reputation, cost, square foot coverage, and whether or not it uses a HEPA filter. Don’t overlook brand reputation because if you run into issues, a reputable brand will likely help you solve the problem. I’ve been using the 200M from Coway which is convenient specifically for an office sized space covering up to about 360 square feet. I also like the fact that it has an air quality indicator so I know when the air is clean or polluted. It has a timer I often set for 8 hours so when my workday is done I don’t have to remember to turn it off. Another convenient feature is that when it doesn’t detect indoor pollution for 30 minutes it will go into Eco Mode to save energy. Between my asthma, my dog (who sleeps in my home office all day), allergy season, and wildfire smoke in Oregon, it’s been a great defense mechanism to have the air purifier on during the day.
As parents with two young kids, we’ve gone through our share of humidifiers from Walgreens. They’re difficult to clean and smell like mold half the time. In terms of air quality, having the proper level of moisture in the air inside your home is essential (ideally between 40-60%). You can purchase a hygrometer from Amazon for $7 to keep track of the humidity levels. Having optimal humidity can benefit everything from allergies, dry skin, and asthma. The best humidifier I’ve ever used is from Canopy. In the daytime it sits in my office and in the evenings I have one in my son’s room. He has an issue with nighttime nosebleeds and while I can’t scientifically prove this — he’s never had a nosebleed with a Canopy in his room. If you’re a parent who’s experienced 2am nosebleeds, you know that entails a bath, sheet changes, sleep deprivation and everything in-between so it’s been an absolute game-changer.
One of my colleagues recently said that she lights a candle at the start of her workday and she declares the end by blowing it out. For me, I use the Canopy diffuser which sits on my desk (it’s tiny). I turn it on during the day and switch it off to declare the end to my workday. It’s easy to use and my office smells like a cool breeze.
Sleep expert, Dr. Michael Breus, said the number one indicator of good sleep is consistency of the time that you go to bed (not 8 hours of sleep). I do believe it’s wise to invest in a good mattress and a great pillow. If you’re not in love with your current mattress I’d recommend checking out Purple — the comfort and support is out of this world. They also design seat cushions that you can use for your office chair.
If you’ve followed bio-hacker Tim Ferris, you may recall how he recommended the Chilipad to improve the quality of his sleep. The idea is that optimal sleep is actually when the temperature is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit, and most people sleep hot. Some may not even know it. If you’re not sleeping well or are not getting enough deep sleep, it may be worth a try before considering melatonin or sleep medications. By measuring my sleep stages using a Whoop fitness tracker, I noticed 10-20% improved deep sleep across the span of 30 days.
The setup is simple — you fill the control unit with water (thankfully is has an auto cleaning function built-in), you lay the mesh hydronic pad on top of your mattress (under the sheet), and you can control the temperature with their app. Now called the OOLER Sleep System with Chilipad — one of my favorite features is that you can opt for it to cover only half the bed if your partner doesn’t want to use it. You can also have piece of mind knowing Consumer Reports rated it the best mattress cooling pad.
Lastly, getting to bed essential. My sister raved about her Brooklinen linen bed sheets and how they’d get softer after every wash. I was accustomed to cotton without regard to texture. The washed linen sheets are cozy and feels like sheets that would be at The Four Seasons. Uniquely, they have heathered cashmere sheets which in theory sound itchy and sweaty — but they actually sleep cool and have just right softness.
Katie Elks, their director of design and product development, shared her best tip to find general comfort while working from home.
“I like the ability to move to different areas depending on what kind of work I’m doing that part of the day. If it’s research, my couch and a wool blanket make for the best productivity. If I’m in meetings I’ll bounce between my office and my balcony to get some fresh air and not get too settled in one place. If I’m ever feeling a creative block it helps me to be in a new environment, even if it is only a few feet away.”
Katie mentioned wool and Merino wool has been fabric I’ve gravitated to most over the last two years. It comes from a breed of sheep called Merino which is better quality than regular sheep’s wool. What people love about wool is that it regulates to your body temperature, resists odors, and you don’t feel clammy because wool transports sweat away from the skin. Smartwool is widely known for making high quality wool clothing you can find at retailers like REI. I’ve found their Fleece Hoodie comfortable enough to wear all day inside or out. The hood helps with the Oregon winds and it’s the kind of hoody that’s cozy enough to wear around a camp fire.