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What’s the Best Thing You Bought This Year to Make WFH Bearable?

Photo-Illustration: retailers

It’s hard to believe, but many of us who were sent home last March expecting to return to our offices after a few weeks have now worked from home for more than a year. In that time, we’ve bought chairs, lamps, desks, and so many other things to try to make the living room or kitchen table or home office a more efficient, pleasant place to work. With COVID-19 restrictions being relaxed across the country, some folks may be returning to the office soon, while others are gearing up to WFH for even longer. Whichever group you are a part of, if this year has taught us anything, it’s that the right equipment can improve any office space.

That’s why we asked a bunch of people a simple question: What’s the best thing you bought over the last year to make WFH more bearable? Below, some 27 working professionals share the furniture, lighting, electronics, comfort items, and even kitchen items that improved their work days during the pandemic. For even more supplies for home (or traditional) offices, be sure to check out our list of the products that folks who’ve worked from home for years use every day.

Furniture

From $539

“Getting comfortable at home was my No. 1 priority,” says Lucia Scarampi, a co-founder of clothing line Marta Scarampi. “Once I lost the chance to walk to work, I felt like I could not sit all day.” To help prevent her from staying seated for too long, Scarampi invested in this adjustable desk that she says helps her “avoid neck strain and back pain from sitting too long.” Alternating between sitting and standing has improved not only her posture, she adds, but also her energy levels. Scarampi isn’t the only fan of this desk: Three editors at the Verge told us they have the same one in their home offices. Verge deputy editor Dan Seifert, who has owned his Jarvis desk for four years, describes it as “comfortable, stable, and spacious.” To those worried about a potentially complicated setup, Verge news editor Nick Statt adds that the assembly is “far less cumbersome than I thought it would be.”

Devin McGhee, the founder of beauty brand Deon Libra, bought this standing desk from Autonomous (the maker of some of our favorite ergonomic desk chairs and stools). The fully motorized desk has a keypad that you can preprogram with your preferred heights, making it easier to raise or lower without breaking a sweat. “It allows me to move more and stay a bit more active with our new (more sedentary) Zoom work life,” she says.

While you can pay a lot less for a standing desk (as the two options above make clear), entrepreneur Kyle Cooke, a star of Summer House and the founder of beverage company Loverboy, notes that “most are ugly.” The desk he treated himself to has a minimalist silhouette that makes it more streamlined than clunkier standing desks, and is made sleeker by a hidden built-in ledge where you can keep charging cords and a power strip neatly out of sight. It is also electronic, but Cooke says, “I’m not sure I even need the electric adjustment feature because I absolutely love standing at it to work.”

As Ervina Wu, the CEO and co-founder of beauty brand YINA, points out, “the chair is just as important as the desk” when setting up an office. She describes this chair, with its ergonomic mesh backrest that can recline and move with your body, as both “beautiful and functional.” While it isn’t cheap, Wu gives three reasons why you should consider investing in it as a place to sit every day: “The mesh design keeps me cool, it rolls smoothly, and it’s low-back-friendly.”

When we talk to chiropractors and other experts about the best ergonomic office chairs, styles from Herman Miller always top the list. According to the pros, Herman Miller chairs are designed to be as comfortable and supportive of your body as possible, no matter how long you sit in it. Ben Lebowitz, the founder of pet-portrait studio West & Willow, told us he bought this Embody chair to replace another one that started causing him discomfort a few months into working from home. It checks many of the boxes chiropractors say to look for in an ergonomic chair, including a tilting mechanism and adjustable backrest. “After sitting in one in a showroom, I knew the Embody Chair (although pricey) was the one for me,” he says. Those who’d rather not spend a paycheck (or two) on a better office chair should check out our full list of chiropractor-recommended ones, some of which cost about a tenth of this price.

$100

This kneeling chair (from our list of chiropractor-approved office chairs) is not only a more affordable option but also better suited for small spaces. Our senior editor Anthony Rotunno bought it last October, “shortly after learning we might be working remotely until September 2021,” writing that “it seemed small enough not to take over my open-plan home, and, since I’m trying to take walks and get up more throughout the day, I felt I could abide by the experts’ recommendation to change positions while using it.” Six or so months later, he’s still sitting in it and “has really grown to love it.” Although his legs took a couple of days to get acclimated, he says, “now I truly never tire of the position it puts me in; in fact, it feels so natural now, I probably sit in it more than I should.”

Photo: retailer

McGhee purchased this under-desk treadmill to slip beneath her Autonomous standing desk, calling it “one of the best decisions I ever made.” She adds that “work-life balance is nonexistent sometimes, so being able to walk a few miles while working is a blessing to my time management. After Strategist contributor Brittany Brown tested out the WalkingPad treadmill, she wrote that it “felt good and sturdy, with enough room for me to jog without feeling like I was going to fall.” When not in use, the treadmill can fold in half and be stored upright to save space.

“It took four months to be delivered but it is glorious,” says sommelier and writer Belinda Chang of this Transformer Table. The extendable minimalist piece can stretch from 18 to 118 inches wide, making it super versatile — if used at home, you could theoretically keep it compact while working and then expand it before guests arrive for a dinner party. This versatility, according to Chang, has led more people than her to invest in one: “The delivery driver told me that he is delivering four a day to my neighborhood,” she says.

Perhaps, like Khalea Underwood, the global editorial manager for M.A.C Cosmetics, you often work from your couch. If so, she recommends this folding table that she bought after discovering that her “vintage coffee table is a bit too low to use as a workstation.” Underwood says she now uses it every day in any number of ways: “as a desk, table, and workstation.”

Even if you don’t have roommates, working from home is an additional challenge when you have to use the same place as an office and a living space and a restaurant. Chang says, “Now that my 700-square-foot studio has become a prep kitchen, livestream-event set, and where I sleep, I have purchased these screens to partition and compartmentalize the chaos,” adding that, at last count, she owns three.

Lighting

Ring lights are another thing you can find at various prices, but Chang says that anyone who is on-camera for eight to ten hours a day like she is should consider “leveling up their ring light.” That’s what she did when investing in this one and, according to her, it made a noticeable difference right away. “Everyone asks me what kind of lights I am using on a daily basis, so it is nice that this splurge paid off,” she says.

“Spending more and more time inside than ever before requires some serious assistance to boost your mood,” says Amazon Live’s style host Katie Sands, who told us that using this light-therapy lamp for ten minutes a day before starting work has made a big difference in her productivity. As she explains, “The lamp helps you combat gloomy mood, sleep disorders, and rainy days” by delivering a “strong, bright” white light that “simulates sunlight anywhere in your house.”

Murphy Bishop, a co-founder of The Better Skin Co., says he bought these color-changing bulbs to bring a bit of mood lighting to his office. You can easily change the color they cast via a remote control, something he does often to help set the tone for his colleagues during virtual meetings. “My associates always know if it’s a good day or a ‘stay-away’ day” based on the color, he says.

Electronics

Two of the people we spoke to bought this microphone and highly recommend it. According to Jon Lincoln, the founder of online retailer goimagine, “It has worked great as an inexpensive solution to make sure everyone is heard clearly during our virtual meetings.” Laura Fenton, a Strategist contributor and the author of The Little Book of Living Small, adds that she bought hers after “one too many tinny-sounding interviews,” noting that the device is “easy enough for a non-techie person like myself to use.”

Soundance Laptop Stand
From $15
From $15

After months of working from home on her laptop, Sweats and the City co-founder Elizabeth Endres purchased this stand, which she calls “a total wrist saver.” The simple but sturdy accessory elevates a laptop by six inches so you can maintain better posture while you type away. It’s also available in eight colors, so you can likely find one that matches your space’s décor.

Endres’s Sweats and the City co-founder Dale Borchiver also works from a laptop and told us she bought this wireless keyboard-and-mouse set, which “made it easier to work more efficiently and quickly.” In addition to pink, the keyboard is available in a more muted black-and-gray palette as well as a snazzy mint green.

Like many folks, Julianne Fraser, the founder and CEO of digital-marketing agency Dialogue New York, says her biggest challenge with working from home was finding ways to set boundaries between home and work life. “As we’re unable to break up our days in the same way we used to with drinks, dinner parties, and weekend travels, it can feel like the workday never ends,” she says. Then she discovered Loftie, a brand whose clock you might have seen in an Instagram ad. Fraser says the clock’s alarm function has gone a long way toward separating her from work because she no longer wakes up to her phone beeping and, in turn, isn’t compelled to immediately check emails on it. But an alarm is just one of its many functions: The clock is also a night-light and speaker that can play music, sound baths, guided meditations, and breath-work sessions to help you relax before bed or at any time of day. “It has greatly improved my sleep quality,” Fraser says. “I fall asleep to the sound baths and use the breath-work and meditation features instead of scrolling through my Instagram feed.”

Lin Chen, the CEO and founder of wellness brand Pink Moon, is the latest person to rave about Apple’s AirPods Pro to us, calling them a “savior.” Noise-canceling headphones are a must for Chen, who lives on a busy street and shares a space with a partner who is on calls all day. With these in their ear, Chen says they can take “calls, attend webinars, and listen to music while packing orders and making Pink Moon products” without disruption.

$400

“After years of wearing headphones in an office, listening to music out loud was the creature comfort I didn’t know I needed,” says Barrett Brynestad, the creative director of art studio Artifact Uprising. To take advantage of this newfound ability, Brynestad invested in Sonos’s newish portable Move speaker, which he notes “can be carried around the house and outside.” (Strategist writer Lauren Ro also owns and endorses the Move.) No matter where he’s played it, Brynestad says the speaker has “impressively lived up to its name, providing all sorts of soundtracks — from ambient classical music when I want to focus, to bass-laden tunes when I want to pump up — wherever I am working.”

If your office or home office is full of Apple products, Michelle Cordeiro Grant, the founder and CEO of Lively, says that splurging on this three-in-one charger that can charge Apple phones, headphones, and watches at once has “surprisingly done wonders for my efficiency.” With it, she has never again “had to worry about my AirPods or phone being charged,” adding that “this tiny product has completely transformed my life since I bought it.”

With temperatures rising, you might be starting to think about ways to keep your workplace cool. Teen Vogue’s visual editor Louisiana Mei Gelpi says that, “after years of contemplation,” she finally decided to invest in this Dyson fan after working from home with an ugly standing fan that she just couldn’t bear any longer. She says the fan is not only “more visually appealing,” but also purifies the air in addition to cooling it down. If you’re in the market for something that’s just as cooling (and cool-looking) but costs a lot less, we suggest checking out this designer-approved purple box fan.

Comfort items

Apothékary founder Shizu Okusa told us her mother bought one of these posture correctors for each member of her family because they were all working from home with less-than-ideal ergonomic setups. “This strap holds your shoulders back for you, which ultimately makes it difficult to sit with a curved spine, and over time your muscles are conditioned to support better posture (even if you’re not wearing the strap),” she explains. Strategist contributor Frances Dodds, a freelance writer, picked up a similar device in 2019 (well before the pandemic began) and spoke to a chiropractor to ensure continued wear wouldn’t unknowingly cause more harm than good. “Slumping — whether you’re sitting or standing — can misalign certain areas of the back, he explained, and the brace helps activate muscles that aren’t engaged by imperfect posture,” she writes. “He also said the brace should be slightly uncomfortable, even after months of wear — but never painful — and noted that anyone who has had surgery or has a history of spinal issues should see a chiropractor before slipping into one.”

$199

“I use my Theragun to give myself a soothing shoulder massage between meetings or to just relieve sore muscles,” says Merav Mor, the co-founder of Lumen. Our beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton is another fan of the device, particularly its miniature version, which she has called “my wisest investment” of 2020. According to her, the Mini is “only a touch bigger than my hand and a lot lighter than my MacBook Air.” But once powered up, Viera-Newton says she was “taken aback by its might,” adding that other reviewers felt similarly.

By November of 2020, Lindsay Lingle, a co-founder of accessories brand Holly & Tanager, found that her eyes were getting “very tired” by the end of each day. She decided to try blue-light glasses, which doctors say won’t really do much to combat eye strain, but nevertheless seem to help many folks we’ve talked to who spend their days staring at screens. After picking up a pair of these stylish blue-light-blocking frames (that come in five different colors), Lingle says she “noticed a significant improvement in my eyes not being as fatigued by the end of the day.”

For anyone who likes to work while sitting on the floor, Gelpi recommends this pillow. “It’s the perfect size and looks cute in the corner when not in use,” she says of the handmade quilted cushion that’s stuffed with latex foam. “You could say this purchase quite literally saved my ass.”

Kara Smith, an activist and social-media and community manager, decorated her home office with this sculptural diffuser that she says helps freshen stale air and, as a result, her mood. It’s relatively simple to use: All you need to do is fill up the water reservoir, add 20 to 25 drops of any of the brand’s essential-oil blends, set the timer, and turn it on. “During the day, I love to use Boost and Basil” for an energizing effect, while “at night I use Sleep or Lavender” for a calming smell, Smith says. If you don’t like the black color shown, the Vitruvi comes in seven other matte shades.

It could be said that a good day’s work always starts with a good night’s sleep, which is exactly what this weighted blanket comes recommended for. Mary Pryor, a co-founder of advocacy groups Cannaclusive, Fit for Us, Breaking Bread NYC, and Cannabis for Black Lives, decided to buy her blanket after the pandemic hit and she found that her stress and anxiety were keeping her up all night. “This is like sleeping under a giant, lingering hug,” she says. “But be warned: Using this for a nap might put you into a deeper sleep than you asked for, so use at your own risk.” The blanket comes in three colors and four different weights, including 15, 20, 25, and 35 pounds.

Kitchen items

One of the hardest parts of working from home is replicating an office kitchen — and the steady supply of free coffee found there. (Even if you’re returning to an office with one, it may not be fully stocked given how long some places have been closed.) Rahama Wright, the CEO of Shea Yeleen Beauty, purchased this French press that she says led her to develop a routine that helps ground each morning. Using it “relaxes me and makes me feel like I am starting the day right,” she explains.

While some espresso machines can run you hundreds or even thousands of dollars, this one clocks in at a more reasonable $100 price point. Strategist contributor Siraad Dirshe bought it after tiring of her Chemex, telling us the affordable machine has been “a game changer” when it comes to making coffee at home. “I love trying new flavor combinations and trying to get the perfect foam for my cappuccinos,” she says.

VeRosky Coffee Mug Warmer
$10
$10

To keep your coffee warm, Borchiver recommends this mug warmer, which can be used with any cup of your choosing. All you need to do is plug the warmer in and set it to your preferred temperature. Now, instead of rushing to finish her coffee while it’s piping hot, this “basically gives me the first-sip experience the entire time,” she says.

“WFH has inspired me to savor the breaks in my day through mealtime,” says freelance writer Shanika Hillocks, who also works in influencer marketing. She’s been relying on these “flavorful and thoughtfully sourced” finishing oils to top everything from salads to roasted chicken and fish. “No sad desk lunches found here,” she promises. The California-based Brightland uses nothing but cold-pressed, single-origin, heirloom olives to produce its oils, which took the title of best status-y olive oils in our roundup of chef-recommended bottles.

Jennifer Tsay, the CEO and co-founder of photography studio Shoott, decided to buy the Dash electric egg cooker during quarantine after seeing it all over the internet. She calls it “a convenient, handy, and quick little appliance that makes eggs exactly the way you want: It’s perfect for quick breakfasts in a pinch, a much-needed protein-based afternoon snack, or to cook eggs to incorporate into salads or other dishes.” Plus, “it plays a cute little song when your eggs are ready,” she adds.

If you desperately miss your office’s free La Croix supply (or got hooked on seltzer while WFH and are returning to an office that doesn’t stock it), esthetician Lesley Thornton, the founder of beauty brand KLUR, told us the best thing she bought for WFH was this SodaStream machine. After Strategist editor Maxine Builder tested out a range of seltzer machines, she wrote she was “quickly charmed” by the SodaStream One-Touch and concluded that “if you’re looking for maximum fizz with minimal effort, this is the machine to buy.” Thornton adds that it’s not only helped her stay hydrated, but also cut down on waste thanks to its reusable bottles.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

What’s the Best Thing You Bought to WFH This Year?