Tech Tools for Working at Home

I meant to write this post shortly after I started working from home in March of 2020, but I am now glad I waited because I have tweaked my home office space quite a bit more since then. I think I’m now finally to a point where I have everything I need with a setup that is also flexible enough for gaming and other activities outside of work. So, in no particular order, here are the things I have either purchased or repurposed for my home office work.

NOTE: This is a repost from my old blog

KVM Switch (ATEN US224 2-Port USB Peripheral Sharing Device) $29.95

This was one of the first items I purchased when I started working from home and would be lost without it. Because I wanted to use the same desk I use for my home desktop computer with my work laptop, I need a KVM switch. This is a device that lets you use one mouse and keyboard and connect it to two devices, switching back and forth whenever you need to.

At first I had problems with this switch and even tried another one thinking the switch itself was the problem. I soon discovered it was not. The problem was that the first letter I typed would sometimes not appear. That is particularly annoying when you are typing passwords. It turns out that the problem was that I had it plugged into a USB 2.0 port. Switching to a USB 3.0 port completely eliminated the problem. I decided to keep this switch and not the one I bought to replace it because one of the best features this one has is that it continues to supply power on both sides. When you switch from one computer to the other, the keyboard and mouse do not completely shut off and turn back on. They essentially stay on, flashing only briefly.

Monitor (Sceptre 35 Inch Curved UltraWide 21: 9 LED Creative Monitor QHD 3440x1440) $379.97

I bought this monitor with the intention of replacing my 29 inch ultrawide (2560x1080) mainly because of the increased workspace but obviously also for enhanced gaming. Working in 1440 ultrawide provides a significant amount of extra workspace over 1080 ultrawide. Rather than just two windows side by side, I can often fit three.

This monitor has one DisplayPort at 100hz, one HDMI port at 100hz and then two HDMI ports at 60hz. I have my desktop plugged into the DisplayPort (in order to take advantage of FreeSync in gaming) and  my work laptop dock plugged into the 100hz HDMI port. It took some software tweaking and the purchase of a better HDMI cable to get the Dell laptop dock to output 3440x1440 at 100hz, but I eventually got it working. While I use the KVM switch to only switch USB peripherals, I use the monitors own input switching to manually switch displays.

This monitor also has picture-in-picture (PIP) and picture-by-picture (PBP). PBP basically makes it like you have two monitors side by side. I could use this feature with the work laptop to simulate two monitors, but I’m fine with just the ultrawide workspace. I do, however, sometimes use the PIP to display my desktop in a small viewport in the top right corner if I want to watch a YouTube video or something while I work.

I use a mounting arm for the monitor that I had for my old monitor. It’s technically for 27 inch 16:9, but it works fine for 35 inch ultrawide. It is a (VIVO Single LCD desk mount).

Work monitor

About halfway through the pandemic, I gave my old ultrawide to my daughter and decided to go to work to get at least one monitor from my office. I brought home a Dell monitor, which I believe is about 25 inches, standard 16:9, 1920x1080 resolution. I mainly use it to display things that I use for visualization like Teams meetings or ITMS support tickets rather than actually using it to work. This is because I have it mounted above the ultrawide on the wall. For that I used a wall mount.

Wall mount (Mounting Dream) (19.99)

Not much to report on this. It works perfectly and was easy to mount into a stud (always mount into a stud). It tilts down which makes the viewing angle perfect considering it is above eye level. I suppose I could get a standing desk and actually use it for that purpose if I wanted to.

Keyboard (Razer BlackWidow Elite – Orange Switch) - $99.99

Keyboarding has been an issue with me for a long time. In the office, I suffered using the plastic Dell membrane keyboard my employer supplied me. It was always hard going into work every day knowing I had a nice blue switch mechanical keyboard at home. Seriously, going back to a membrane keyboard is like going back to play with a Fisher Price toy car after driving a real car your whole life. OK, maybe I exaggerate a little. No, no, it really is like that.

I liked the blue switches and the clickiness, but the keyboard I had (the name escapes me) was a cheap one I got when I was first returning to mechanical keyboards. I say returning because I am old enough to have had one of those beige IBM mechanical keyboards long before the plastic membrane ones became standard.

The blue switch keys were just too sensitive for someone like me with fat fingers, so I was constantly hitting keys when I did not mean to. Working from home, that would have been a problem. Instead of properly investing in a great keyboard, however, I bought another good one, this time with brown switches, from Viper Gaming.

It truly is a good keyboard, but over time, I have determined that my fingers started hurting because I was banging on this keyboard. The travel is too great to fully depress the keys. And even though, you can lightly touch them and not fully depress in order to input characters, my mind needs the satisfaction of fully pressing the key all the way down, and to do that, I was slamming them. This was particularly problematic for CTRL+C and CTRL+V, which used my left index finger. Because I paste a lot of data into SQL queries, I was waking up in the morning with a stiff left index finger that was hard to bend.

My first solution to this was to get a number keypad, which I will discuss later.

A couple of days ago, however, I went ahead and bought my first $100 keyboard, the Black Widow. Although advertised as gaming, I read reviews from writers who said it was good for writing. I am typing on it now and can confirm that it has a very smooth and light travel but also the quietness and slight firmness of traditional brown switches. It also has RGB, but I truly did not get it for that.

Number Keypad (Perixx PERIPAD-303B) 24.99

This solution is a bit odd, but I love it. I did not need a number pad as I always buy full-size keyboards. I not only do touch typing with letter keys but can also hack away at the number pad like an accountant. This has actually helped me a lot in my IT work. The reason I actually got this separate number pad is for the health issue I mentioned above. This little keypad has dedicated keys for Copy, Paste, Cut and Backspace. It means I can do some work without touching my keyboard at all and without having to do two-finger keystrokes to copy and paste.

It uses low-profile brown switches and is nicely back lit. My Razer keyboard has a USB passthrough, so I can plug the keypad directly into it. You might ask why I do not just use a keyboard with macro keys. Well, with this keypad it is portable, meaning I can connect it to my laptop on the go when I am finally actually on the go again.

Ergonomic Chair (Autonomous ErgoChair 2) - $379

This has been one of my most important additions to my home office as I had an old “gaming chair” I bought from Overstock.com years ago and which was literally falling apart. Going into this, I knew I would need a new chair and also needed one with good support from someone as hefty as I am and also on the short side.

The Ergo Chair 2 does what it promises very well. It gives you the ultimate back support and has a nice head rest to boot. I have zero complaints in that regard. The seat cushion is just OK. I would not want to sit in it for 8 hours straight, but that is probably a good thing since no one should be sitting for 8 hours straight. For an hour at a time though, it is comfortable and soft. It also has a sliding mechanism that lets you slide it forward or back depending on how big your rear end is.

The back lets you lean back as far as you can go with tightening adjustments to make it a firmer. It also has two adjustments for the position, one for where the leaning back starts and one to lock it to a lean-backed position of your choice, which I have found is great for gaming.

One thing to note is that the chair has a little wobble (very slight) when in a leaned back position that is no present when you sit up straight. I have not figured out if that is because I need to tighten something or if that is just how it is.

Speaking of “just how it is” the arms are by far the worst part of this chair. In fact it seems to be a common thing for chair arms to suck. Unfortunately, the only arms I have ever liked are the ones on my old “gaming chair” that were more like executive chair arms than the standard “gaming” ones. But I digress. The ErgoChair’s arms are hard. That was easy to fix with some memory foam and arm rest covers. They also are adjustable. You can slide them forward, backward and side to side, which is great, but they do not lock. That means the slightest bump of your elbow will move the arm rests. This is a horrible design that Autonomous calls a “feature.” Finally, when you raise the arm rests, which I must do on account of being short and having a high desk, they have a noticeable wobble.

Overall, it is a good chair for back support and the many positional features with lousy arm rests that you might find yourself modding to get locked into position and comfortable.

iPad (10.2 inch) 309.99

This is totally not for work, but I am including it because I often use it during work or break times. The tendency of work from home is to feel like you always have to be working, but that is absurd and will send you down a dark hole of despair. When you are in the office, you get up, walk around, chat with coworkers, visit the break room, kick the copy machine for not working, take a walk outside, etc. Working from home should not suddenly remove all ability to do anything else.

The main reason I wanted an iPad is because my daughter took my beloved Samsung Chromebook that converts into a tablet because it has pen support, and she is into drawing. She never gave it back, so I needed a new device to read my digital graphic novels on. I have a Kindle Fire, but I have never been satisfied with it, and the Android tablet market is kind of a mine field right now. Mind you, I would never buy an iPhone, but I figured an iPad couldn’t hurt. I knew I could also connect it to my speakers and use it for music, podcasts, TV shows, etc. while I am doing technical work that does not require much concentration, just as I would use headphones to listen to music or lectures in the office.

It works well for its purpose, which is minimal for me.

Headphones (HyperX Cloud Stinger)  $40

I have bluetooth noise canceling headphones that I use at work and sometimes when I watch TV from bed, but they are overkill for working at my home desk. I wanted something lighter that I could plug into the desktop or iPad, and these work perfectly. It is actually a headset, although I will never use the microphone because I hate talking (or eating) with my ears completely enclosed.

Work Headset (Logitech H110 19.99)

While the above headset is primarily for entertainment purposes, I wanted something even lighter for meetings and phone calls. My headset from work is a one-ear headset that connects to a Cisco phone, so it was not an option for home. Anyway, it was not great to begin with. This Logitech headset checks many boxes for me: 1) It does not completely enclose my ears 2) It is a two-ear stereo headset and 3) the sound is good enough.

I has connectors for single jacks, which my laptop and phone have and also dual mic/headphone) jacks like my desktop computer. I actually use a USB adapter that has a volume and mute button on it and connect it to my work laptop dock.

Work-Life Balance

As I mentioned, when working from home, it is important to not feel trapped in your work space. I have plenty of things to entertain me, such as the iPad, a soft squishy toy for stress relief and good quality shelf speakers that I use for both the iPad and desktop computer (it has two inputs).

As of now, my job is scheduled to continue working from home until at least June, although there are talks of extending that indefinitely or in some type of hybrid situation even after the pandemic. Even if I started going back to work full time, I would definitely take some of these things, such as one of my mechanical keyboards, with me and do not regret some of the upgrades, such as my monitor, that I can use for personal activities as well. I hope this helps some of you who might be looking for solutions to your work-from-home issues.

Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton

IT worker with a master's in Library and Information Science currently working in the healthcare industry. Passionate about Free and Open Source software.
USA