I recently started a remote-work job, which has been absolutely amazing. I love the job itself, have been impressed by the company culture and my co-workers, and generally have actually been enjoying myself at work.
The downside is that I’m spending eight hours a day at a computer, which given my Willis-Ekbom and other health issues, is Less Than A Great Thing. So like many work from home (WFH) folks, I’ve invested in a couple of capital improvements to aid in my work.
Additionally, with some family health issues and a girlfriend living two states away, it was also important that I be able to pick up and move my entire setup while still being able to work effectively.
I think I’ve achieved that; my entire setup takes about 30 minutes to set up and tear back down, has minimal requirements wherever I happen to be, and fits in my (tiny) car along with my (not-tiny) self with some room for luggage.
With the purchases outlined below, I can have the same ergonomic setup — including easily set-up networking — that I have at home, whether I’m at my parent’s house, at a significant other’s, or at a hotel.
About These Reviews
Ergonomics is one of those things that’s boring until it’s suddenly absolutely vital to think about. One of the biggest is the ability to not be in any one position for too long of a time. So while my "home" computer has a permanent home mounted on a wall (really), that’s not as feasible an option for the "work" system.
All of these links are Amazon affiliate links, for what it’s worth, but these are actual products I actually purchased and have been using for the last three to twelve months, I’m writing these reviews because I feel like it, and I have received no compensation for writing these reviews. I also attempted to remove webtracker images from Amazon as well for privacy’s sake.
Standing Desk Converter
I ended up choosing the SHW 36-Inch Height Adjustable Standing Desk Sit to Stand Riser Converter Workstation for several reasons, and I’m glad I did. I’m 5’10", and I like to have my keyboard be at a right angle to my elbow … but not have to really look down to see a monitor. Most standing desk solutions don’t work so well for that – even with a riser for the monitor. This is one of the taller — and sturdier — ones available. It’s easily adjustable via the side levers, has an amazing amount of desk area to work on — especially important with larger ergonomic keyboards — and doesn’t really move around even when I’m banging on keys full speed. The first of its two (potential) drawbacks is its weight — it’s 36 pounds and somewhat unwieldy to carry through a door or tight stairwell. The second potential drawback is that even when fully lowered, it adds approximately four inches to the height of whatever it’s sitting on top of. Neither of those is a big problem for me, but should be considered if you’re a smaller individual. Again, this fits in my car’s back seat (I have a small car), but it does mean there’s no human riding back there when this is stowed in the car.
I also purchased a wobble stool for sitting and leaning, in particular this model with the unfortunately "SEO-optimized" name Wobble Stool Standing Desk Chair Ergonomic Tall Adjustable Height sit Stand-up Office Balance Drafting bar swiveling Leaning Perch Perching high swivels 360 Computer Adults Kids Active Sitting Black. Despite that name, it’s proved to be one of my favorite sitting implements for working. The base of the stool is solid – it’s almost 20 pounds total – and will automatically resume its upright position. Despite being only officially rated for 250 pound humans, it’s dealt with my larger bum quite well. It’s easy to raise and lower the height, so I can use it to fully sit, to perch, to lean, and to match whatever height I adjust the standing desk attachment to. It can get high enough for me to be on tip-toe, though I usually don’t raise it that high. It does take getting used to, because it’s most effective with you half-sitting on it, but I’ve grown quite attached to it. And again, it’s able to be transported in my car without difficulty.
As a big guy, ergonomic mats… tend to go flat on me. The KANGAROO Thick Standing Desk Comfort Anti Fatigue Mat, Raised Terrain Relieves Pressure, Ergonomic Stretching Massaging Durable Support Cushion, Kitchen Office, Garage Foam Pad Accessories, Black is one of the few that has held up for any length of time. I genuinely enjoy the different heights, shapes, and textures under my feet, even though I was initially really skeptical. Having had plantar fasciitis once before, I have no desire to experience that again. The small nubbins can be knocked or worn off, so if you have small animals that would eat them, that’s something to keep in mind.
Fans of ergonomic keyboards are well aware of the old Microsoft keyboard which is no longer in production. Luckily, there are modern knockoff variants. I chose the X9 Performance Ergonomic Keyboard Wired with Wrist Rest. It might seem odd to choose a wired keyboard, but I chose wired accessories for two reasons: No batteries, no worries with bluetooth interference or losing a small dongle. I had to keep portability and redundancy in mind, so having to have additional things to keep charged seemed like a bad idea. My hands are large enough that I simply cannot type for any length on the company-issued laptop due to its small size, so this keyboard is an essential bit of kit.
In the same manner, I’ve been using vertical mice for approximately a decade, and I’m not going to stop any time soon. The current ones I’m using are these Wired Vertical Mouse, Optical Ergonomic Mouse for a few reasons. They’re inexpensive, they are pretty robust at working on any surface, and they’re large enough that my large hands are not cramping to press the buttons. If you’ve never used a vertical mouse before, it takes a little bit — maybe an hour or three — of use before it feels "natural", and then you’ll wonder why you did it any other way. The one big drawback with vertical mice — particularly in combination with a large ergonomic keyboard — is that it’s slightly more difficult to move your hands back and forth, but that’s what keyboard shortcuts are for.
Optional: Ergonomic (Gaming) Chair
As a side note, I also got myself a nice ergonomic chair. I discovered quickly that if I searched for "ergonomic office chair for large people," I quickly found myself looking at products aimed at people with a corporate expense account. I noticed that at the price levels I was looking for — below $200 — I would end up getting a flimsy looking screen-backed office chair… or a significantly more robust gaming chair. The particular model I purchased — the NOKAXUS Gaming Chair Large Size High-back Ergonomic Racing Seat with Massager Lumbar Support and Retractible Footrest — just barely exceeded my price point, but in general, if you’re looking for a chair with good support, look at gaming chairs before office chairs. However, this is not part of my "portable" setup.
USB Switcher Box/Hub
One surprisingly useful bit of kit has been this USB 3.0 Switch Selector,ABLEWE KVM Switcher Adapter 4 Port USB Peripheral Switcher Box Hub. Not only is it a useful four-port USB 3.0 hub on its own, it can also serve as a USB switcher – that is, I can hook one end to my personal laptop, one end to my work laptop, and with the switch of a button, transfer the peripherals like a keyboard, mouse, and so on, to work with one computer and the other. That’s not a function you may use very often, but when it’s useful, it’s super useful, and it’s only a few dollars more than a regular 4-port USB hub anyway.
I also picked up an actual monitor to use. While my personal setup has a monitor off to the side in a vertical setup, I simply needed more screen real estate than the small work laptop monitor has to effectively manage the multiple tabs, windows, and so on for my new job. I’ve had good luck with the SCEPTRE brand, so I chose this lightweight Sceptre 24" Professional Thin 75Hz 1080p LED Monitor 2x HDMI VGA Build-in Speakers, Machine Black (E248W-19203R Series). This monitor is great for those wanting portability and enough screen real estate to be able to see what you’re doing. It’s also really lightweight, so it’s perfect for quickly packing back into the box. The stand is held on (firmly) by two screws; I’ve put the screwdriver that came with the monitor in my overnight bag; the stand itself goes into my large duffel bag along with the keyboard, the monitor goes back into the styrofoam and box it came in.
While traveling, your wifi connection may be spotty, unsecure, or both. That’s why I have a TP-Link N300 Wireless Portable Nano Travel Router(TL-WR802N). I wrote about how to use this little marvel to secure all your devices when you’re staying in a hotel, or to share a single internet access point with multiple devices. Not only does this make it an essential bit of kit, but it makes setup a lot easier. I take my personal laptop with me when I travel as well — I’m a nerd, but also for redundancy reasons — so I can access any access point with that system, and then everything else, including the work computer, connects up to that network that they’re already configured to use, making setup a lot easier. In a worst-case scenario, I can tether my personal laptop to my phone, then share that connection via the travel router, ensuring that I am able to continue working.
Low Profile Extension Cords
Finally, extension cords. I have found it crucial when traveling to get something like these Low Profile 1Ft Extension Cords in addition to a power strip of a size that works for you. (My current setup — including my personal laptop — actually only requires a three-outlet strip, somehow.) These are useful for two situations — when the hotel only has limited plugs behind some bit of furniture, and when you need to have a wall wart attached to a power strip. The three-pack gives you enough to meet both situations with ease.
You may want to include some other bits of kit, such as a webcam and microphone if you do a lot of videoconferencing (I don’t), USB powered illuminated lights or fans, or headphones to listen to audio, but with the purchases above I can have the same ergonomic setup — including easily set-up networking — that I have at home, whether I’m at my parent’s house, at a significant other’s, or at a hotel.
Featured Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash