Question

What are your favorite remote work tools?

A laptop's all you need to work from anywhere, but you likely need a few more tools to work at your best performance and not end the work day with an aching back and wrists.

Whether you've worked remotely for years, or have only just built a home office in the past few months, have you added anything to your office that made it a nicer place to work? Anything to improve your desk and workspace, or make your Zoom calls look and sound better?

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sowenjub's avatar
a year ago

I've been working from home since 2009, and I'm a bit of a contrarian:
* I sit on a wooden chair, all day long: I've had various sorts of higher-end chairs, all caused me back problems. After I threw out the last one, I considered buying a Vitra Pacific. But instead, I started using a wooden chair I had. After a couple of weeks, my back problems disappeared! I think that's because it forces me to have a better posture since there's no comfy cushion to compensate for my position, so it strengthened my back.
* I don't have a standing desk: I have a dog instead, which means I have to get out at least 30 minutes every day (and I do a brisk walk). Also, I can't stand for long periods anyway because of an injury (the dog's partially responsible for that as well :))
* I don't have external monitors: I put my MacBook Pro 16" on a Targus Portable Lightweight Chill Mat Lap, which makes the screen a bit higher
* I don't use a mouse: I used to. Around 2008 I had an aching wrist. I switched the left/right buttons, which makes you hold the mouse slightly more naturally. It worked, but then the new large touchpads appeared with a new generation of MBP, and it was even better to have it just below the keyboard.

I don't have many tricks up my sleeves, except maybe:
* don't face the wall, it's oppressing. I have my back against the wall and face the room. I consider that a tool because it's good for the mind.
* I use Hue lightbulbs for my desktop lamp, with one automation to turn off the light when I leave the house, and another one to turn it off past 1 am to remind me that it's late (sometimes I get caught in things…)

The only thing I changed recently: I use a good old ethernet cable instead of the wifi. It was frustrating to have optical fiber cable and be limited by the wifi speed. Now anytime I'm on a call, and the connection is bad, I'm quite certain it's not because of me!

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @sowenjub )
a year ago

Fascinating, thank you for sharing your experience!

That’s very interesting to hear on your experience with office chairs. Reminds me of how they say American football became more dangerous as uniforms and helmets got better—the padding made people take more risks and play more aggressively.

Are you using the built-in trackpad, even while having your MacBook raised, or are you using Apple’s external Magic Trackpad? I’ve used the latter for years while working at a desk, and love it.

I may have to try your trick on not facing the wall. I currently face a window which means I’m constantly adjusting blinds so the outside light isn’t brighter than my monitor.

I’ve considered switching to ethernet for video calls. Did you find the latency improved enough to notice?

2 points
sowenjub's avatar
@sowenjub (replying to @maguay )
a year ago

Oh right, I remember reading about that football study. What's also interesting about that wooden chair story is that for about a year, my wife kept telling me to buy a new chair. And I was in this weird state of cognitive dissonance where my mind would tell me she was right, but at the same time, at no point during the day would I feel the need for a different chair.

I'm using the built-in trackpad because it minimizes the amplitude of my movements and the tension wrist/arm tension (arm at 11 o clock and wrist directly aligned with the arm).
Where do you place the trackpad? Is it next to your keyboard or below?

I have a window in front of me, on the other side of the room, but it's facing north, so there's no direct light that would disturb me. Behind me is another window facing south, and I have a partially blackout curtain (it's thick enough to absorb the hardest lights but creamy and transparent enough to still let light in).

Regarding video calls, I'd say I noticed fewer occurrences of "adjusting because people don't see me," but that's about as far as it goes. I did notice an overall improvement, especially when it comes to uploading or downloading stupidly large things (hello Xcode beta).
One little trick: open your Network Preferences from the wifi icon and at the bottom of the connections, click the settings wheel and pick "Set Service Order…". Make sure your ethernet connection comes first: this will tell macOS to prioritize ethernet over wifi when both are available.

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @sowenjub )
a year ago

I finally got a decent office chair after my legs kept going to sleep after sitting for too long—but I went cheap, got a display model, and the pneumatic cylinder has gone out so it now sinks as you sit. It's still under warranty, but waiting on it to get repaired. Some lesson there about the potential of failure increasing with more moving parts.

Trackpad: Typically to the right, as you would a mouse, though lately I've taken to moving it around after I noticed some wrist pain. I can use it better than a real mouse with my left hand, though still that's not great, but underneath you can basically move around less and still move the cursor. Though the best option still typically is just using keyboard shortcuts.

Ah clever trick on Network Preferences!

2 points
iCanAutomate's avatar
a year ago

Oh yeah. I use an HD camera by Logitech and a Samson Meteor Mic instead of using the built-in ones on the Mac. It makes a huge difference -- so much so that people have actually commended me on the video and sound quality during regular networking calls or interviews.

I also put in a great deal of effort to reduce the echo in my room and to make my background look nice (instead of defaulting to a virtual background) -- one more thing that is often steers the conversation into a new direction.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @iCanAutomate )
a year ago

Interesting, which Logitech camera did you settle on? I’ve seen people recommended the Logitech Brio but it seems a bit overkill.

What’d you do to reduce echo?

1 point
iCanAutomate's avatar
@iCanAutomate (replying to @maguay )
a year ago

I think it's the C920 which comes with a mic and stuff but I don't use the mic.

To reduce echo, I put up faux grass sheets on the walls and that helped a lot!

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @iCanAutomate )
a year ago

That’s genius. One friend had bought the black soundproofing foam, but that made his office look more like a recording studio and was quite expensive. Another had just wrapped furniture foam in colored canvas which looked ok. Faux grass may be the most creative solution I’ve heard yet!

1 point
iCanAutomate's avatar
@iCanAutomate (replying to @maguay )
a year ago

Haha yeah and it looks good too! The soundproofing foam is ugly and expensive -- was so close to buying it when I suddenly thought about faux grass! :D

2 points
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