In 2019 I ran a group discussion on remote work / distributed teams at ProductCamp London. We discussed challenges that are more relevant than ever right now. Little did we know…
From the insights of attendees working in the most varied distributed setups, it’s clear that good remote work is more about people and interactions than processes and tools. Alas, good tools still help a lot.
The setup I currently use is the result of many years of iterating while working under different flavours of remote work. Here’s a glimpse into all of it, from my desk setup to my on-the-go toolset, with a visit to the coffee machine.
WFH desk setup
A good desk setup must include an external keyboard and pointing device. Which specific ones is a contentious area, as a lot of it is down to personal preference (esp. keyboard). I prefer wireless (Bluetooth) options to reduce desk clutter. As a Mac user, my go-to combo is a Magic Trackpad and a Magic Keyboard. If your work involves entering a lot of numeric data (prices, salaries, ID numbers), I definitely recommend you get the version with a number pad.
If your device still has a 3.5mm jack, here’s why wired earphones are a must-have item in your desk setup:
- they’re cheap;
- they don’t run out of battery;
- they’re harder to lose than Bluetooth earpods;
- they have a stable connection to the device.
I know, I know: I said I prefer wireless to reduce desk clutter. This is the one wired thing I save my ”wires on the desk” budget for! I’m currently sporting some simple but powerful JBL Tune 205 in-ear headphones. They’re light, comfortable, and have a sturdy tangle-free wire and a powerful bass. Occasionally I’ll want a punchier sound and/or noise-cancelling capabilities. When that happens, my 5-year old Bose QC35 still do the trick awesomely.
I’m a “closed laptop” person myself — basically because I’m a “one monitor” person. For that reason, most of the time I have my laptop in an Omoton dual vertical stand.
Speaking of monitor, I’m super happy with the one my employer has provided me with. The LG 27UL850-W has USB-C input/output and a USB-A hub, allowing for a single cable experience with my MacBook Pro. I only need to plug one USB-C cable to my laptop, and it’ll:
- charge the laptop;
- output the image to the screen; and
- connect the USB peripherals plugged to the back of the monitor.
Coffee machine for remote work stimulation!
Without an office, gone are the days of free coffee. At home, I used to have a pod-based coffee machine — Nescafe Dolce Gusto. It’s a great solution if most of your coffee consumption happens outside the house, but working from home it became:
- Not the most cost-effective option;
- not the most sustainable or environmentally friendly option.
So last Christmas I successfully begged for a Krups Roma automatic coffee machine. It has an integrated automatic grinder, and lots of configuration options — grind size, temperature, intensity. Coupled with the immense variety of coffee beans there are, you can keep having novel coffee experiences every week or so if that’s your thing.
The amount of disposable plastic involved is a fraction of that with pod-based machines. As for cost-effectiveness, this is how the unit cost math goes where I am:
- an espresso at a cafeteria outside averages €0.70 (excluding places in touristic areas, or hotels/bars);
- each Dolce Gusto espresso pod costs between €0.25 and €0.33 (depending on the pack size and any promotions);
- there are a lot of good coffee grains (Delta, Sical) in the €10–€15/kg price range, often €9 with promotions. This brings the unit cost to €0.07–€0.12 per espresso cup (8g of coffee per cup).
For our specific coffee consumption pattern here at home, we did the math and estimate recouping the cost of the machine within a year.
Sometimes inspiration strikes in a random place. Sometimes you just wanna take lightweight meetings (one-on-ones, coffee chats) in a more relaxed setting, like a local park. These are examples of when my pocket workstation setup has proven handy.
Other than the smartphone I’d already carry in my pocket anyway, it just takes a few more items that can easy fit in another pocket or a small pouch:
- a foldable Bluetooth keyboard (with trackpad!);
- a wooden phone stand from IKEA; and
- a pair of in-ear Bluetooth headphones. I prefer something like the JBL Tune 215 BT over some easier to lose AirPod-style ones.
I wrote a few long stretches of my book, The Platform Business Strategy, on a phone using this pocket setup!
The nomad setup – remote work on the go
I’m not a digital nomad myself, but I have my fair share of workations enabled by the flexibility of remote work.
Ergonomics are key to my well-being, so I never travel without my foldable stand — the Nexstand K2. If you’ve heard about the Roost laptop stand before, this is a cheaper alternative. It’s perfect to achieve an ergonomic setup when you don’t have access to an external monitor.
Besides workations, this setup is also perfect for coworking spaces.
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