When your living room is your office: Five ways to spruce up the work from home life

Or why a big monitor and a mechanical keyboard might make the WFH experience outright enjoyable.

ByVinay Aravind
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When your living room is your office: Five ways to spruce up the work from home life
Kartik Kakar
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A year and a half into the Covid pandemic and it doesn’t look like the days of working from home are about to end any time soon, for those of us privileged to have that option. There are a few gadgets and accessories that you can buy (if you’re fortunate enough to bill it to your employer, even better) that can make the WFH experience a bit more comfortable, if not outright enjoyable.

In this column, I’ll set out a few categories and some options that you could consider, with the additional benefit that you can scratch your consumerist itch while blaming it on “work.”

A big monitor

It sucks to work on your laptop’s 13- or 15-inch screen, especially if you work with big documents or Excel sheets, and you can dramatically improve that aspect of your work if you can invest in a bigger monitor. For proper impact, I’d suggest you go straight to the 24-inch models, and skip the 21-inch models. At the 24-inch size, look for models that have at least a Full HD (1080p) resolution, HDMI connectivity, and an IPS panel. A model like this this BenQ would tick all the boxes for Rs 12,000.

If you want a higher resolution at this price, the options are fewer (or far more expensive). One decent choice that stands out is this Lenovo, which for Rs 18,000 offers a WQHD resolution.

If you want to splash out a bit, you can of course get a 27-inch monitor where you should look for a minimum of a QHD resolution. This BenQ monitor for Rs 25,000 offers a wide colour gamut and good colour accuracy in case you do work with images and graphics. If those aspects are not so important, but you’d rather have more resolution, you can pick up this other BenQ for Rs 23,000, which gives you 4K at a moderate price.

You can, of course, go even bigger (or even put together a dual or triple monitor setup), but honestly, that would just be overkill for most people.

A nice chair

As much as I believe the discourse around “posture” is a bit of a scam, and that you should sit/lie/sprawl in whatever way you like that is comfortable and pain-free (but also not stay in one position, and be active, etc), if you have to sit at a desk, a comfortable chair is something that’s likely to make the experience more enjoyable.

Now, chairs are incredibly subjective and what one person finds comfortable may not work for another person. For this reason, I mainly have one piece of advice: which is to go to a shop and try out the chair before you buy it. Right now, I use a chair called the Featherlite Amaze – with a mesh back, adjustable lumbar support, and height-adjustable arms – which costs Rs 9,000. Another option is worth considering is the Transteel Suit for Rs 17,000 which ticks all of these boxes, and looks good to boot.

If you want to look at the international brands, Steelcase’s Personality SE is the cheapest entry point at Rs 20,000. And if you can afford the legendary (and extremely comfortable) Herman Miller Aeron for Rs 1 lakh, you probably don’t need my advice on the topic.

A headset with a good mic

An inescapable part of the WFH life is video calls. And while using the built-in microphone and speakers on your laptop is always an option, you’re likely to get sub-optimal sound quality from these. For an entry level option, I’ve always been a fan of the Panasonic ErgoFit wired earphones. For Rs 739, they sound great and the mic works quite well too, cutting out a little bit of the background noise and letting your voice come through clearly.

If you want to go up in quality, you could consider the Plantronics C3220 USB wired headset. For Rs 4,500, you get an excellent noise cancelling mic (cutting out your ceiling fan and other background noise) and a comfortable headset as well.

If you’d rather go wireless, the Jabra Elite 65t bluetooth earphones have some of the best rated microphones in the sub-5k category and offer good audio quality to boot.

You could also, of course, consider the over-ear noise cancelling headphones from stalwarts like Sony (the WH-1000XM3 at Rs 20,000 is better value than the Rs 26,000 XM4) and Bose (the soon to be updated QC 35 II sells for Rs 30,000 currently) but those would cost a fair bit of money and are perhaps hard to justify purely from a video call perspective.

A webcam

Now, 99 percent of you reading this probably use a laptop with a built-in webcam and consider that adequate for your video meeting appearances. But if you wish to look nicer and less grainy in your little Zoom window, a new webcam could be one option to explore.

But before you invest in a camera, remember that small-sensor cameras like webcams generally need a lot of light to perform at their best. So, even without buying new hardware, you can do simple things like repositioning your computer so that the light (or window) is facing you rather than behind you, or turning on a few lights in front of you in the room, to extract the best possible performance from your existing sensor.

If you still want to do better, you can invest in a separate webcam. Unless you want to splash out on a Rs 24,500 Logitech Brio, the options can be quite confusing. I use a Rs 3,000 Logitech C270. While it does the job okay, it’s not a big leap from standard laptop webcams (I work at a desktop, so I don’t have a built-in webcam). For a little more cash, you can get the Rs 5,000 Logitech C615 which offers an upgrade to a 1080p resolution and gives you autofocus.

A better keyboard and mouse

We’re firmly in the “nice-to-have” territory now, because the built-in keyboard and trackpad on your laptop are probably adequate for most requirements. That said, you could do worse than treat yourself by getting yourself a good external mouse and keyboard.

As far as mice are concerned, the first port of call would be a basic wired mouse, because personally I am not a fan of trackpads. If you’re like me, it’s totally worth investing in an inexpensive wired mouse from a reputed manufacturer, such as this Rs 299 option from Lenovo.

Wireless mice tend to be a bit more fiddly to use (connectivity drops, tracking errors, random unresponsiveness are all things I've encountered with virtually every wireless mouse I've used, even if not often). That said, I am overall very happy with the Rs 6,000 Logitech MX Master 2S that I am using currently. There is also an upgraded MX Master 3 for Rs 8,000.

If you don’t need bluetooth and don’t mind sacrificing a USB port for the purpose, inexpensive wireless mice like the Logitech M331 (for Rs 1,100) are also good options.

As far as keyboards are concerned, the real upgrade lies in moving to a mechanical keyboard. No one really needs a mechanical keyboard, but it brings an element of satisfaction to typing that regular laptop keyboards (and other membrane keyboards) simply cannot match. The stalwart of mechanical keyboards in India is, of course, the Rs 2,700 TVS Gold, having been in continuous production since the time mechanical keyboards were the mainstream and not merely a niche enthusiast product. These are solidly built, sober looking, and get the job done very well. If you don’t mind a splash of colour, the Redgear Shadow is a well reviewed mechanical keyboard for a little less money.

There’s a whole world of other gadgets you could explore to make your WFH life more comfortable, from USB microphones (for that vlogger/podcaster look) to fancy mousepads (for a ‘90s throwback) but what I’ve listed above are some of the more impactful purchases. If there are other categories and other gadgets that you think I’ve missed out, please tweet them out to me.

Contact the author on Twitter @vinayaravind.

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