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Everything You Need to Work From Home, According to People Who Do It Every Day

Photo: HBO

Work from home policies are fast becoming the new normal in the professional world, whether as the result of CEOs embracing start-up culture, a rise in workers going freelance, or a global virus outbreak with no end in sight. But for those of us who have mostly worked in offices, converting our comfort-focused homes into efficient professional workspaces isn’t always easy. To help, we sought the advice of 13 professionals who work from home a lot — many of them, every day of the week, and if not every day, for enough time each week that they’ve thought about the types of things they need to do so when they are not in the office.

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, asking our sources about essentials like desks and chairs as well as less obvious things that help them stay productive day in and day out. Below, their recommendations for stuff that can make working from home more productive and enjoyable — from coffee brewers to gel seat cushions to radiation-blocking laptop pads — which we’ve supplemented with some other Strategist-approved products we’ve found to be helpful for getting work done no matter where you may be doing it.

Desks

To start, the folks we spoke to say you’ll need a workspace (a.k.a., a dedicated desk or table). “Research like this 2017 Harvard study shows it’s better for your mental health to keep the spaces you sleep, relax, and work in separate,” says product manager Nehemiah Blackburn, who works for his New Hampshire–based tech company remotely from his New York City home five days a week. “Working from your bed and couch may seem convenient and even more comfortable,” adds finance associate Daniel Kim, whose day job often requires him to continue working once he gets home, “but in the long run it puts you in the wrong mental state to get meaningful work done.”

If you are lacking a table that can function as a dedicated workspace, Elise Yeo-Donaldson, who works from home for a London-based educational-tech start-up, recommends this desk that she says is both affordable and quite user-friendly. “It’s originally an architecture table, but I use it for normal work with a laptop and notebook,” she says. “I didn’t expect how useful being able to change the angle of the desk would be, and the glass top is incredibly easy to clean.”

When Kim needed to get a desk he could work from home at, he told us he was “drawn more to design” than solely function, especially because he was going to have to look at it even when he wasn’t working. While he landed on a simple oak desk from Muji that cost him $175 (but is currently unavailable), this equally streamlined desk from our roundup of the best affordable (but expensive-looking) desks on Amazon shares similar features: an all-wood body, and two separate drawers for organization.

This slightly less-expensive desk comes from our list of the top-reviewed home-office desks on Amazon, where buyers raved about its minimalist look, simple set-up, and surface area. One happy shopper praised its height in particular, noting that their “desk-chair arms fit underneath without getting stuck, so I can roll around freely.”

Chairs

If you’ll be using your home workspace to do more than fire off an email or two, our sources say you might also want a proper desk chair. When a reader wrote in to us about finding the best home-office chair, we spoke to a professional about it (Marc Schwartzberg, a three-decade veteran of the office-furniture industry and the owner of Office Furniture Heaven), who told us that you should think of your office chair like you would your mattress. Specifically, it needs to be comfortable, as chances are you’re going to spend around eight hours in it every day.

This reasonably priced chair comes from our list of the best-reviewed office chairs on Amazon, with commenters praising it for its soft cushion and arch support. According to one reviewer who “wanted something that looked good and functioned well, not a cheap piece of junk,” the chair achieves the magic trifecta or being “functional, aesthetically pleasing and a great price.”

Herman Miller Aeron Chair
$1,245

If your home is going to be your primary office for years to come, you might consider investing in a chair that not only looks nice, but has been designed with long-term desk working in mind. The Herman Miller Aeron Chair is the “the Ferrari of desk chairs,” according to Chris Black, and versions of it (if not the original) can be found in a wide range of offices. It’s also the chair that Boyd Steemson, the work-from-home CEO of TotalRock radio, has sat on five days a week for years. “This assemblage of poly-carbon, leather and chrome is perfectly contrived to keep its occupant poised and powerful,” says Steemson, adding that the chair feels like “a hammock you can sit in, ping forward, rock backward, and scoot effortlessly over the carpet on. It’s a triumph.”

If you’re interested in purchasing a pre-owned version of the Ferrari of desk chairs, Black pointed us to this slightly less expensive “renewed” version of the chair when a reader asked him to help find a new desk chair. According to Amazon, renewed products look like new and come with a 90-day guarantee if they do not work or arrive as expected.

Maybe you already have an office chair like those above, but would like to make it a bit more comfortable. For that, contributor Maureen O’Connor says this $15 arch support is a great way to upgrade the one you own. She explained that the attachable support borrows its design from the Aeron chair and told us that “before Easy Posture, at the end of the day, I felt as though I was two inches shorter than when I started. But like a classic before-and-after, now I’m standing taller and feeling great.”

If you don’t have the space (or the need) to invest in an entirely new office chair, but would like to make any chair that you already own a bit more comfortable, consider this seat cushion that Strategist newsletter editor Mia Leimkuhler uses when she works from her Philadelphia home instead of our New York City HQ (which she has done several days a week for the last three years). Leimkuhler wrote that the cushion is work-from-home insider secret that makes it pleasant to sit “for eight hours in a chair that is not designed to be sat in for eight hours.”

Lighting

Once you’ve got your desk and chair figured out, several of our experts say you might consider getting a lamp. 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. And Blackburn, who lives with roommates and can’t “work from public parts of the house,” says he likes having a desk lamp at the workspace in his bedroom because “it helps me create a different light than the one I associate with relaxing.” He recommends this desk lamp, which has five brightness levels that can be easily adjusted using the touchpad on its base. “When I’m working, I put it on the whitest lighting for an office feeling, then turn to a softer tone for when I’m chilling at the end of the day,” Blackburn says. “It also has a USB plug in the back which is how I charge my phone while working.”

If, like Kim, you want office accessories that look less corporate and more like home décor, you could spring for the classic (but pricey) Anglepoise desk lamp recommended by Yeo-Donaldson. Or, you could go for this far more affordable Anglepoise-esque desk lamp that Strategist editor Alexis Swerdloff uses, which she says folks have mistaken for the real thing. (When we asked architects about their favorite desk lamps, Reykjavik-based Páll Hjaltason told us that he installed Forsa lamps at every desk in his office.)

Another architect-recommended desk lamp, this is the one that New York City–based Scott Oliver told us he’s used while working at home since the days he was in grad school. “I bought a version of this halogen model 30-plus years ago,” he says, “and lo and behold, it is still around.” While it’s a bit more expensive, based on Oliver’s experience, it could very well last until you retire.

Tea and coffee makers

Because free office coffee isn’t a luxury work-from-homers can take advantage of, many of our sources say having an at home coffee maker is essential to jolt themselves awake in the morning and throughout the day. Arsenault told us she uses a fancy Le Creuset French press to start her morning, calling it her “go-to French press for everyday use,” but if you’re just looking for something that gets the job done, this less expensive option (that’s still fun to look at) comes from our list of the best French press coffee makers (for all budgets).

When it comes to brewing coffee at home, Jamie McCormick, the co-owner of East Village coffee shop Abraço, let us in on a little secret: You really don’t need more than a simple Mr. Coffee drip machine. “People make a big ‘to do’ over a lot of nothing” when it comes to brewing equipment, McCormick told us when we asked him and other baristas about the best coffee machines to use at home, adding that the Mr. Coffee is a great choice for any “amateur coffee roaster who wants to flatter their grounds.”

There are, of course, fancier options. Film and television producer Steve Abbott (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda) — who has worked from a home office for the last three years — likes a top of the line De’Longhi bean-to-cup machine, which he reports does “everything from grind your beans to foam your cappucino and steam your milk,” and says it hasn’t broken down in the more than seven years he’s owned it. Arsenault also has a fancier at-home coffee maker she uses when she doesn’t want to futz with her French press, and while hers is not bean-to-cup one like Abbott’s, it is a De’Longhi (for Nespresso) and just as convenient, she says. “I know these aren’t particularly environmentally sound,” she admits of her pod-based Inissia, “but I can’t function without coffee and this is so easy and efficient to use. It lives on my counter all year round.”

Bodum Glass Teapot
$38

According to Leimkuhler, “it’s tempting to guzzle coffee after coffee when you work from home, but that all too easily leads to caffeine headaches and dehydration.” To battle the 3 p.m. slump, she instead makes herself a pot of tea with “this lovely infuser and whichever loose-leaf tea I’m feeling at the moment.” Leimkuhler adds that a personal pot of tea is a “nice little ritual” that feels like a self-care perk of working from home.

$39

“It’s important to me to have a cool, classy mug that I can fill to the brim,” Arsenault adds. Her go-to cool mug is one of these from Matte Mavis, which come in a set of four — and having extras can come in handy, Arsenault notes, should any impromptu (or scheduled) visitors show up. “I love having a set if someone comes by for a coffee, and I also feel calmer when surrounded by things I find aesthetically pleasing.” For more design-y mugs (recommended by creative directors) head here.

Headphones and speakers

If your home is on a busy street — or filled with busy roommates — you’ll likely be after some headphones soon enough, say many of our people who work from home. For a relatively affordable (if not fully noise-cancelling) corded option, Arsenault recommended these basic in-ear headphones from Master & Dynamic, a brand we’ve written about before (Chris Black, Michael Strahan, and hotelier Marie Louise Scio are also fans.) “My boyfriend and I both work from home,” Arsenault told us, “in a one-bedroom flat (yes, I am convinced that is the very definition of true love). If I need to watch something or if I am transcribing an interview, then I just pop in these headphones.”

For a truly noise-canceling pair of headphones, two of our panelists — fashion photographer Jacqueline Harriet, who conducts her entire business from home, and Blackburn — recommend Apple’s AirPods Pro. Strategist writer Sarah Wexler also praised these larger AirPods, which she says stay in place better than any wireless headphones she’s used before. And, according to Harriet, their Bluetooth connectivity gives them an added benefit while working from home: “I like them because you can dance and do your chores while making conference calls with clients.”

For an over-ear option, these noise-cancelling Sony headphones have established themselves as the cans to beat, at least according to former tech columnist and Strategist contributor David Pogue, who called them the “best wireless headphones he’s over owned.” Pogue says these have “pillowy ear-cup padding and just the right amount of head-grip,” as well as impeccable sound quality and a 30-hour battery life. For more noise-cancelling headphones at a range of prices, check out our list of the top-reviewed pairs on Amazon.