As social distancing measures continue to shape and alter the way we live and work, we should expect to see more companies and workers adopting work from home, telecommuting or flexi-work policies in the years to come.
I think it’s inevitable to see this work from home phenomenon becoming increasingly commonplace. Most tech companies already have extremely nimble setups that allow employees to telecommute and work from anywhere – on the beach, at Starbucks, or on the bed.
Mine has extremely flexible work from home policies because of our cloud-native setup. A lot of our business applications reside over the cloud through SaaS platforms like Slack, Zoom, Snowflake and Google Suite.
In this article, I want to share a bit about my work-from-home setup, and if you’re inspired, you should definitely build one too! It’s going to be a little bit techy, so bear with it.
For my main computer and workstation, I run a DIY custom-built mATX workstation with the following parts:
I first built my desktop when I was in secondary two, and that’s more than 12 years ago. Over time, the desktop components have been upgraded and iterated with middle-of-the-range components. Nonetheless, despite its age, this desktop is still not showing any signs of issues and it’s still going very strong for my daily grind such as surfing the web, occasional photo editing work and gaming.
Not only does the huge RAM help with cross-window switching and tabbing, it lets me run tons of tabs on my browser (I use Google Chrome), with Spotify running on the background, video-conference on Zoom with more than sufficient bandwidth for running background tasks like a disk synchronisation software to sync my files over to my cloud storage.
I would now recommend a desktop built with the AMD Ryzen 3600 chip for the best performance to price ratio.
My work laptop is a 2016 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display and touch bar, and it runs on a Core i5 2.9 GHz processor (i5-6267U), with 16GB of DDR3 RAM and 512GB of SSD storage.
I got mine refurbished from the Apple refurbished store, which offers 10%-15% discounts on Apple products that have no apparent defects. If you have a friend working in Hong Kong or if you visit there for a holiday, then ordering a refurbished Apple laptop there is even cheaper (additional 10% cheaper) than retail. I use this website to check the prices of electronics products in Hong Kong and run a simple comparison.
On the performance aspect, the laptop offers pretty smooth multi-tasking experience. I love macOS for its constant updates, seamless integration with my other Apple devices and useful apps. It’s not for gaming though, although the newer MacBooks have much better GPU performance that seem to rival entry level graphics cards from three years ago.
The new MacBook Air (2020) brings a lot of the features from my 2016 MacBook into an even slimmer and lighter device (1.2kg) with some small performance compromises because of its weaker processor. If I were to get a work laptop today, the new MacBook Air would be my first choice because it’s much lighter, and it will be brought out more often.
My monitor is a 34″ LG 21:9 4K Ultrawide with 2 HDMI ports and a mini-Displayport (mDP). The mDP is connected to my graphics card on my main workstation while one of the HDMI ports is connected to a UGREEN dongle that allows me to plug in my office Macbook to work. The monitor mode that I own is already discontinued, but you can find a 144Hz equivalent with G-sync here.
I had some difficulty in the past trying to decide between getting a dual-monitor setup like a 2x 24″ or 2x 27″ with a 144Hz display, but I eventually settled on the ultrawide one because gaming and entertainment on this display is just unparalleled.
If you’re going for a pure productivity setup, then I’d recommend stacking two identical monitors horizontally side by side with a monitor stand like this, but first check whether your monitor supports Vesa mounting before buying. I recommend Dell’s Ultrasharp or Professional series, like the U2419H or P2419H respectively – which comes with a thin bezel, flicker-free screen for eye comfort and Vesa mounting options.
Mouse and Keyboard
It comes with wireless connectivity that connects over USB dongle and bluetooth so it reduces wire clutter on my table. It also comes with Logitech Flow so I can conveniently move my mouse cursor across different computers (e.g. Windows Desktop to Macbook) and seamlessly pair one mouse that can be used with multiple devices.
For gaming, I switch it out to a Razer Deathadder Elite that comes with a 16,000 DPI optical sensor and 450 inches per second tracking and 1000 Hz polling rate. It also comes with the bling-bling Razer Chroma lighting that many gamers like. It’s affordable at around S$50, powerful, and let’s me snipe my opponents in CS:GO with precision. Super love it.
My keyboard is this mechanical keyboard from iKBC that comes in the 108 key configuration and the numpad at the right side for my mathematical calculations. iBKC makes enthusiast-level mechanical keyboards that’s pretty sturdy in my opinion. Unlike the 87 key configuration which saves space, the numpad on the right is very useful when typing things like numeric passwords.
The keyboard also comes with individual key backlighting, so working at night is a pleasure as I don’t have to squint or play night hide-and-seek with my keycaps. I actually dislike keyboards that are overly flashy with all the RGB bling-bling because they don’t really look professional. I prefer a balance between functionality and aesthetics, so this iBKC one really turned out really well.
The other mechanical keyboard you can consider is the popular Keychron K4 that’s well-regarded by many folks for its affordability and functionality. I try to stay away from Razer keyboards because they have reliability issues in my experience, and I had two keyboards from them breaking down just after the warranty period ends.
For switches, I like Cherry MX brown switches for the tactile rebound and not too clicky sound. I’d prefer it if there is less travel in the typing (like the Macbook’s butterfly keyboard) so it reduces typing strain during extended periods of use.
I have the Audioengine A5+ bookshelf speakers for my workstation. It comes with analogue inputs and a subwoofer output for serious sound enthusiasts. The sound output from it is beautiful, even better than the Harman Kardon Soundsticks III that I previously owned.
Apart from the incredible sound (it’s very hard to describe the sound here), the speakers are huge and heavy. They are not ideal for small desk setups. But if you can fit a pair of them on your desk, I really recommend you hear them out in stores.
In the distant future, I’ll be adding a S8 subwoofer to the setup to boost the bass output. It’s not a needed upgrade, but it’s difficult to go back after hearing such an incredible sound output from computer speakers.
I have a UGREEN USB-C adapter that connects to my monitor, allowing me to plug in the Macbook’s power cable, HDMI cable and also add one USB port for other peripherals such as my mouse dongle.
It comes with 4K resolution support on the HDMI connection while charging my USB-C device (i.e. my Macbook) while plugged in.
It’s durable and high in quality, it has lasted me for more than two years and still going strong, so I’d definitely recommend their products.
If you’re looking for even more connectivity options, then consider this one with 6 ports or this one with 9 ports, including SD card slot, USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA and RJ45 (internet) connectivity options.
When working at night, I use the Xiaomi Mijia LED smart desk lamp that’s not only slim in its profile, but also incredible in its lighting output.
It has very pleasant lighting options with brightness and temperature adjustments (stepless using a knob) and I can control it via my smartphone. I got mine when I was in China at a cheap price.
On the left side of my setup you will also find a Xiaomi 20W vertical wireless charging pad that I received as a gift from an ex-colleague. He bought it from China and it’s difficult to find it locally in Singapore. I like how it stacks my phone vertically and charges it, so I can use while it’s charging to retrieve OTP codes and check my messages. It connects via a reversible USB-C port at the back and takes up very little space on my desk too.
I also have an Ikea Signum wire rack that I install underneath my table that holds my multi-plug adapter and power plugs all within one place. The cables are also managed with cable ties that bundle the wires together for a neat and tidy workspace which I prefer. By keeping the cables above ground, it also allows my Xiaomi Roborock S5 vacuum to suck the dirt and dust from the floor without messing with my wiring.
Finally, let’s talk about headsets and webcams that are essential video-conferencing tools. I like using the AirPods Pro as my primary wireless headset, but I also recommend the Jabra Pro 930 wireless headset if you’re a business user and take video calls seriously. Another popular one is the Sony WF-1000XM3 that’s very well regarded by the community as well.
What you want is a headset that can do noise cancelling and filters away your background noises (e.g. children, your mum gossiping, aeroplane flying) while making your speech crystal clear. Professional impressions count, so I don’t like to skimp on this.
As for webcams, Logitech has always been a leader in their webcam solutions and I recommend the Logitech C922 for its wide field of view (makes you look slimmer), full 1080p recording and omnidirectional microphone built in. A cheaper alternative is the Logitech C615, if you can accept a poorer image quality for half the price.
Alright, I think that’s it for my work from home setup. There’s a lot of hardware that I just walked through, not all of them are absolutely essential to a proper work-from-home setup. For instance, a 27″ monitor might suffice and most people can do just fine with their laptop webcam. I actually wrote this post because I shared my setup on Instagram and lots of people asked.
Maybe this work-from-home thing might be a more permanent fixture.