Having worked from home for years now, my desk setup has gone through many iterations over the past decade. I recently revamped it again just before the holidays, and since it's the New Year, I figured I'd give a walkthrough of my latest setup.
Since my desk was a little messy, I opted not to put a photograph of the setup in the post. Maybe next time.
Several years ago, I decided to hop on the standing desk trend, so my current desk is an inexpensive Ikea Skarsta manual sit/stand desk.
I did buy some keyboard tray rails and a shelf to add an extra wide keyboard tray, which is great.
After getting plantar fasciitis in both heels (yes, I was using a standing mat), I stopped standing. I keep my desk at standing height however, as that allows me to keep storage underneath (using some Ikea cabinets), and I use a relatively inexpensive drafting stool that is surprisingly comfortable. I did add a gel seat cushion to it, but the stool is quite comfortable even without a cushion because of its "tractor" style moulded seat design.
I have a power bar, gigabit switch and wire tray mounted to the bottom of the desk. On the legs, I mounted a bunch of headphone hooks and the amplifier for my desktop speakers.
On my desk, I am working off three computers at the same time:
- Lenovo Thinkcentre M75s Gen 2 (AMD Ryzen 7, 64GB RAM, 1.5TB NVME)
- Asus Zenbook Pro UX (6th Gen i7, 24GB RAM, 1TB NVME)
- Surface Pro (1st gen, specs too bad to be worth mentioning)
My desktop was purchased at the beginning of 2021 to replace an aging fourth gen i7 that had a motherboard that capped RAM to 16GB. I chose a Ryzen 7 4750G CPU because of its speed and relatively low power consumption. Having 64GB of RAM available now offers a lot of freedom in terms of how many concurrent applications I can run and makes running well-provisioned virtual machines a lot easier now.
Adding the laptop to the setup was actually a recent thing. I hadn't been using it much, and I wanted to start using virtual workspaces to increase my focus and productivity. The thing with virtual desktops is that new windows never get open in the workspace that I want it to, etc. So for items that I always want in the foreground, like mail and my calendar and other comms, I have them open on the laptop.
By having the apps I need to always be visible running on separate screens driven by a different computer, using virtual workspaces becomes a lot less annoying, albeit still imperfect.
The Surface Pro is mainly a monitor for my security cameras, but it does come in handy for other things like documentation.
I use a single keyboard and mouse to control all three computers - Microsoft's Mouse with Borders app works great in this scenario. For the keyboard, I use an old discontinued SteelSeries Apex gaming keyboard (not mechanical), which I love because of its many programmable macro keys. I use a Kensington track ball, because using a mouse creates hand/arm strain for me in my old age (sigh).
In terms of other peripherals, I use a Stream Deck which is like a context-sensitive macro keypad, I have some discontinued Kanto Ben passive speakers driven by an inexpensive low power audio amplifier that I mounted to my desk. Other random stuff I have are card readers and multiple hubs.
In terms of networking, I have a gigabit switch mounted under my desk, and all my computers run wired. I'm not a fan of using wireless unless I absolutely have to. My networking (wired and wireless) is mostly Ubiquiti gear (mainly because of ease of use and setup), although I use OpnSense as my firewall. Because I don't like having ports open, I don't have a VPN. I use ZeroTier instead.
I have other computers that aren't part of my desk but important to my workflow. I bought some cheap old Dell refurbs that I keep in my basement for running Docker containers, and virtual machines.
My desktop is also connected to a CyberPower UPS in case of a short power outage.
There's a direct correlation to my productivity and the amount of screen real estate I have. Unfortunately, since I hit my forties, I've needed reading glasses for my near vision, which really made thing complicated (in other words, more expensive). I can't stand using bifocals or progressives. My fix for that was to work with my optometrist to have a separate prescription for working on the computer. Basically, I have a pair of single-vision "work glasses", where everything is sharp between 21" and 27" from my eyes. The hardest part about having "work glasses" is remembering to swap them out for my normal glasses when I leave my desk.
My screen setup has five screens:
- 2 x 27" 4K monitors running at 100% scaling
- 1 x 15.6" 1080p Portable USB monitor
- 1 x 15.6" Laptop Screen
- 1 x 10.6" Original Surface Pro
The two 4K screens are my main screens, and are driven by my desktop computer. I use a gas spring dual arm mount for these two monitors. The dual mount ended up being a mistake in that it is much more limiting in terms of positioning the screens. Having two discrete arms at different mount points is much more flexible. I'll probably change over on my next major desk overhaul.
The three small screens sit on my desk below my main screens. The two 15.6 screens are driven by my laptop computer.
That I run my 4K screens at 100% scaling allows me to have a lot of screen real estate compared to using 125%, 150% or 200% (which translates to 1080p in terms of real estate).
While my laptop has an integrated webcam, it's pretty much garbage in terms of image quality.
I have tried all sorts of things as a webcam - using an old Android Phone via USB or Wifi (great image quality but a little fussy), connecting an actual camera (great image quality but very fussy), some cheap webcams (when name brand cams were unavailable or being scalped due to pandemic pricing) and document cameras (great quality but sometimes hard to position).
In the end, I use a document camera when I can. While document cameras are primarily used for education for showing documents, they're still just cameras at their core (Windows recognizes it as a webcam, so the experience is seamless). The resolution and color balance tend to be a lot better, and many have built in lighting.
In terms of microphones, I've bounced back and forth between a Shure MV7 and a Logitech/Blue Yeti X, but I always come back to the Shure, because it's more directional and smaller. I use either microphone with desktop stands as opposed to a boom arm (no room). Both are connected via USB. Both the Shure MV7 and Yeti X Pro have software that can tweak the profile of how your voice sounds, giving you a more radio announcer sound.
When I can't do calls over speaker, I do have a headset that i use for comms as well. For that, I use a Bose QuietComfort 35 II Gaming Headset. It's basically a normal Bose QC35 II except that it has a desktop controller and a removable boom microphone. It's one of the most comfortable headsets I've ever used.
In spite of having speakers on my desktop, my two microphones have been pretty good in terms of echo cancellation so I don't often have to resort to using earbuds or a headset.
Other Random Stuff
To prevent accidental keypresses on my laptop computer, I use an acrylic keyboard cover over the keyboard and a small acrylic box lid that I had lying around to cover its numeric keypad. The covers also let me put stuff on the keyboard cover to make up for lost space on my desktop.
I use removable magnetic tip USB cables for charging and peripheral connections. I have two types of these cables, some cheaper charge-only tips and some data-capable tips. I use the data-capable tips with peripherals like my microphones and smartphones (for charging or in the case that I want to use one as a webcam).
In terms of gear, I have found that devices marked as "gaming" devices tend to be the best possible options, which sucks, because they have a tacky gamer esthetic, while often being the best option for work use. It's slowly starting to change in terms of esthetics, but there's still a long way to go.
I recently picked up a pair of RGB LED bars for the desk, not because I like tacky RGB, but because I thought they might be good supplemental lighting for video calls. Whether they last will depend on how effective they are.
For cable management, the best solution I found were no-name clips that came with 3M adhesive. I had tried using some 3M Command cable clips, but that didn't take. While the 3M Command removable adhesive is great, the clips were made of brittle plastic that breaks easily. I do still buy 3M Command strips without any clips, as they work well with no-name clips and for mounting lightweight items in general.
I also display a few toys on my desk. Believe it or not, they're not there for a frivolous reason. They remind me to stay focused. I have a duck figurine, so that I can Ask The Duck. A squirrel figurine is present to remind me to avoid distractions (inspired by Dug's "Squirrel!" tag line in the Pixar movie Up), and the Homer, a toy car inspired by an episode of the Simpsons, reminds me that perfect is the enemy of good.
I tweak my desk setup every few months in an attempt to optimize it for my work habits (or because I bought a new peripheral, etc.), but those tweaks usually aren't very significant. If I do another major desk revamp, I'll create a new post.