The process to create my perfect home office

Prelude

By March 2020, I was far from thinking about what was about to happen, but it happened and we all had to adapt and carry on.

The path to the present

I am a front-end developer living in Portugal and I’ve been working at Hi Interactive for about 6 years and since the beginning my work place was in a client’s office. I mean, until March this year I never actually worked directly with any of my company colleagues.

It’s not that I was unhappy or any of that, fortunately the client’s office was a great place to work and everybody was really fun, but I started to miss something different and missing to get closer to my company.

Officially I’ve been working as a Front-End developer since 2008 but I’ve been a Front-end passionate all my life. Even before having an internet connection at home, I was making websites.

So going back to the beginning of 2019, an opportunity was presented to me to make a step forward and become more of a tech lead rather than a developer. It was finally the perfect chance to get away from the client’s office and join forces with my company team members.

Skipping one year forward and arriving in March 2020, I moved my bags to Hi Hinteractive headquarters at Alcantara (Lisbon). I set my desk, my toys paraphernalia, my chair, my laptop, my screen, I mean… everything was looking promising. Except not.

A little disappointment

4 days after starting in my new place, we were all sent home under the government rules for quarantine because of COVID-19. So for recapping, I waited almost 5 years to start working in my company’s office and when I finally accomplished that, a virus outbreak happened and we were all sent home. To work from home.

Don’t get me wrong, working from home has always been a life goal for me and I shared that wish with my boss a lot of times but I was expecting for that to happen within a year or two but not right now.

So there I was, in a room stuffed with boxes and toys from my two children. Packed with old books, old stuff and a broken microwave.

Planning

After a few days I started planning what I want this space to be, what I needed to make this “new” place more “office like” and how to transform this very unproductive room to a more productive one.

The first thing that came to my mind was that I needed a bigger screen because a small laptop clearly wasn’t enough. So I go back to my company’s office and grab one wider screen.

Then, I realized that I had an unused 1024px old screen and connected it to my laptop but a new challenge appeared upon me. The size of my desk. I realized that with one laptop and two screens I barely had space for a mouse and a keyboard and also a stand for my phone, tablet and space for a small notebook and cable management.

I had to give up my old VGA screen, put it away and work with the laptop and second screen.

I could just buy a new desk but it wont fit inside the room.

Small investments

Just to inform you that my assumption for all my investment was that I would be able to spend as little as possible and have the best quality possible. I didn’t want to spend lots of money on having the best tech because by then I didn’t know until when I would be working from home.

That being said, the first thing that soon I realized it was very important to invest was a microphone. In the first days I was using my laptop microphone but since the fan is always on max rotation, it’s noise interferes with the calls at the point that one of my team members thought it was the sound of my child loudly playing a race game on my PlayStation.

So the second problem I needed to address was the microphone and speaker problem and I can assure you that even the best Apple earbuds weren’t able to capture the sound of my voice clearly and loudly enough to my teammates to hear my well. It was just when I got a real headset with a microphone (like the ones we see in the call centers, costs about 8€) that my team started to hear me well.

After being well heard, I started to deal with another problem. Not having a decent keyboard and mouse. And boy if having a decent keyboard and mouse makes a great difference in your productivity. You get a lot of time when you have a keyboard and mouse that allows you to type and interact as quickly as possible and since I’m a front end developer that is a very important part of being productive.

Since we were at a time that it was very risky to get out of my house almost all stores were closed, I had to buy a keyboard and mouse online and for those of you that think this is an easy task, it isn’t.

Regarding the mouse part, I was lucky to buy a good one at first try. It’s a Bluetooth one and it’s been working great since (costs about 7€). Next, for the keyboard part of the story, that was very different. I tried 2 keyboards (spent about 20€) before getting to the one I’m using now to type these letters. It’s not a fancy and expensive one (it costs about 11€) and it’s a wired mechanic one (a little bit too noisy) with low profile keys.

Room Organization

After this I was at a good place, nice screen, headset, keyboard and mouse but the “desk space” problem was still there and I wasn’t sure yet on how to solve it but before I got there, I had the need to address another problem called “room organization”.

Has I said before, my home office room was really messy and it wasn’t ready for having me working 8 hours a day and also something I realize when having to make a lot of video calls a day is that having a clean wall in your back is better than showing a messy room in your back. So I took some of my vacations time to improve and organize the space around me.

I got rid of all junk and old stuff and rearranged all the furniture in order to have more mobility inside the room and have a wall in my back. After 2 days of heavy lifting, I was able to change my desk to a different place and I was happy with the result. But there was a small thing I didn’t take into account when moving my desk, which was having as much natural sunlight as possible is very very important.

So after 2 weeks I again moved the closets to the other side of the room, moved my desk closer to the window, got rid of more junk and old stuff and that was it. Finally I had space to walk, natural sunlight and a clean wall behind me.

Bigger Improvements

After a few months working in simple but good conditions, I started to think about what could I improve and my old VGA screen came back into my mind with one question, “how can I use this as a secondary screen if I have no space left in my desk?”.

My first approach was buying a small desk stand at IKEA (costs about 19€) so I was able to lift my main screen and gain some space to save stuff like papers and cables. Then I stacked some of my old college books and put the VGA screen at the top. For two weeks it worked fine but the space was still a huge problem mainly because I still had to have my laptop open so I had no exit but to remove the screen again.

My second approach was to buy a single arm to hold my 2 screens without having to use any base. After some Google search I found a very good one from Ewent with a discount and decided to buy it (costs around 35€ and I bought it for 25€). After installing the screen arm I removed the IKEA stand and the space in my desk started to flow. Finally I was able to have things on my desk without them being on top of each other. I can assure you this arm was one of my best buys EVER and more importantly, alongside with a nice chair, helps me maintain a good posture while sitting.

Final Objectives

After all this moving forward and backwards, I was almost happy with my personal space organization but one thing was left for me to deal with, and that was I still having my laptop open over my desk taking up unnecessary space, since I practically no longer needed to use its screen and I was no longer using either the mouse nor the keyboard. That being said, only one thing was preventing me from closing and putting aside the laptop and that was the web camera (something I use frequently).

But, before getting to the camera let me refer a few more 3 or 4 improvements addressed: I but a desk rug (it cost me about 8€ and it makes a lot of difference), some cable management and hooks paraphernalia to hang the headset and some other stuff (so they were no longer over the tablet, saving me some space), a chair, something so important to have and invest (you can find reasonable ones starting about 60€), and I connect my computer via a network cable so I would be able to reach a higher internet speed connection (100mb). For this I bought a switch (around 8€).

Going back to the final touches, buying a 720p camera (about 30€) allows me to close the laptop and save a lot of unused space. Alongside with that, I bought a vertical stand (about 5€) and parked the laptop at the end of the desk ending up with a cleaner space. Finally, I bought a monitor stand with built in USB ports (around 22€) reducing the number of cables connected to the laptop to only one and allowing me to get rid of the electrical extension and my device’s chargers.

After a while of using the headset, I changed to a small Bluetooth sound bar (around 40€) and both a more powerful microphone with noise canceling from (around 23€).

A small ending tip…

Something that I found to be very useful is to have a ring light instead of a regular lightbulb. It doesn’t arm your eyes even if you look at it directly and has a more natural light and can greatly improve the quality of your video calls with low light situations (like during winter).

Recap

  • Get a space of your own;
  • Don’t forget sunlight;
  • Plan what you’ll need that fits the type of work you do (if you make a lot of video calls during day);
  • Have in your desk only what you need in a daily basis;
  • Maintain your desk clean of unnecessary junk;
  • Don’t spend to much money if you don’t need to;
  • A good screen is very important;
  • Find a setup that allows you to maintain a good sitting position;

Born and raised in Lisbon, I started making websites in FrontPage even before having internet at home and for the last 6years I’ve been developing in OutSystems