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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

Best home office equipment: Top three things I couldn't live without

Working from home is a whole new thing for many people. Even if you've worked at home on nights and weekends, you may not realize what a full week of working at home can do to you. We make three simple recommendations that can reduce strain and physical stress.

The last four weeks have changed the entire concept of office work. While, before, those of us who worked from homes were outliers, working from home has become mandatory for a large number of office workers who are fortunate enough to retain employment.

Over the past few weeks, I've posted three guides on the gear you can get to start working from home, ranging from under $300 for basics, to under $1,000 for a more fitted-out workspace, to over $1,000 for those who are building out a very serious office space.

While those lists have been helpful, a bunch of you have told me you can't buy a ton of stuff to set up a home office. You asked me to narrow it down to the most important things you could do to make yourself more productive at home, the best investments that will help you work from home for the long haul.

After some thought, I realized that there are three things I couldn't live without. When I had to evacuate from Hurricane Irma with just my wife, my puppy, and my laptop, the three things I bought for our stay in a rental house were a bigger screen, an office chair, and noise protection earmuffs.

In this article, I'll explain my choices. I'm also going to bring in my recommendations for monitors, chairs, and ear protection from the previous articles so you have them all here in one place.

Noise protection earmuffs

These may be the least expensive, and by far the most important, upgrade you can make. During the week-plus that we were driving across the country during our evacuation, I drove all day and then had to set up camp in our motel's lobby to do a full day's work in the evening. The noise was considerable. And while noise-canceling headphones might have worked, I didn't need music. I needed quiet to be able to think and write. This noise protection saved my ability to bring home the bacon.

Although you're more likely to be sheltering-in-place than traveling, you may be sharing your space with your entire family. It might not be realistic to ask everyone to keep "library silence" for a full workday, especially if you have school-age children, a spouse who is also working from home, multiple roommates, or a small, wonderful, adorable yappy dog.

3M PELTOR X5A Noise Protection for $32

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3M

This is the set of earmuffs I have and they are incredibly useful. I use them when the laser cutter is operating and when I'm operating power tools. But that's not why I recommend them.

When you work at home, unexpected things happen and uncontrollable events occur. If you're on a deadline and the house is filled with noise (and trust me, this will happen whether you want it to or not), having a pair of earmuffs like these can save your deadline. There are cheaper models, but these have been battle-tested in my life, and I can recommend them solidly.

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Bigger screen

A laptop screen is great for travel but can be difficult on the eyes in the long term. If you used a bigger screen at work, you'll want one at home. Below, I recommend three varieties ranging from a surprisingly popular $85 24-inch TV up to a $550 curved ultra-wide monitor.

When I landed in my temporary rental, I bought a $349 49-inch TCL Roku that doubled as our TV. But I found a great deal on Amazon that you might want to snap up. It's a 43-inch 4K Toshiba Roku TV, for only $249. That's amazing. Here's that item, plus the three others I recommended:

TCL 43S425 43-inch 4K Roku TV for $229

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TCL

I've found Roku TVs so convenient to use that as our older TVs died, we've been adding Roku TVs. They also work well as monitors, because it's just so easy to switch into a computer feed and then back to a streaming feed. 

At $229, this might just hit the sweet spot. Not only do you get a very large monitor for your desk, but you also get a very nice TV. It's a win-win.

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Sceptre 24-inch LED TV for $85

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Sceptre

Next up is a 24-inch 1080p LED TV, which can serve as both a monitor and a pair of speakers. This is an important investment. Spending hours a day staring at a tiny screen can hurt your eyes and your head.

We chose this model because it's big enough to help your eyes but small enough to fit on a compact desk, has an HDMI input for both sound and video, and is affordable enough to be a no-brainer purchase when equipping a budget office. Plus, it has nearly a thousand reviews with a four-star average. For a bottom-priced TV, that's a really great track record.

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Dell S-Series 27-Inch Monitor for $275

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Dell

Dell has always made excellent monitors and this is no exception. It's a QHD (which means it supports up to 2560x1440), has excellent response time, all the ports you might need, and a very nice adjustable stand. Let's talk about those ports for a minute. There are extra USB ports, so we're configuring this build to use your monitor as a USB hub and docking station, thereby saving you a few bucks.

I'm only including one of these in my recommendation to keep you within the thousand dollar budget. But if you can afford it, I strongly recommend you get two. Dual-monitor setups will substantially increase your productivity.

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LG Curved UltraWide WQHD IPS Monitor for $554

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LG

I bought a whole new computer and updated my entire desk set up just so I could run this monitor's 2018 predecessor. It's what I'm using now, and without a doubt, it has been a huge productivity booster. The ultra-wide screen gives me room for three full-sized windows without a bezel or having to twist my head. Right now, I'm typing in the middle window, I have a web browser in my left window, and my notes for this article in the right window.

The slight curve makes it. It took about a week to get used to at first, but it makes the screen easier to read and reduces eye strain. I still use additional monitors, but they're good for secondary information and work. I can use this main curved screen and see what I need without straining my neck. My ultrawide monitor was probably the most useful and valuable tech purchase I've made in the past few years.

View Now at Amazon

Better chair

When I landed in that rental house, I bought some cheap, horrid, back-breaking disaster from Costco. It wasn't their fault. I just snapped up the first thing I could find and it was a mistake. If anything, it showcases why getting a chair that's a step up from your kitchen or dining room chairs is essential if you're going to be putting in any real-time in a home office. Here are the three highly-reviewed, well-loved, popular chairs:

Flash Furniture Mesh Chair for $53

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Walmart

If you're working on a quick email over the weekend, any old chair will do. But when you're at home and sitting for eight to 10 hours a day, you need something with back and arm support. Just be careful: When you work at home, the puppy might want to cuddle under your feet. When you move, make sure the little sweetie isn't underfoot.

We like this chair because it's inexpensive, everything is adjustable, plus it's got a mesh back that can help you remain comfortable for the whole day. It's also got casters, so you can easily move around without scuffing the floor. 

View Now at Walmart Amazon

AmazonBasics Executive Swivel Chair for $111

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Amazon

I've had this chair for a couple of years and if it survived my football player-sized body, it'll probably work for you, too. It's reasonably comfortable and has all the features you'd expect in an office chair.

Also: Best office chairs

I like this style because I'm a big fan of a headrest in my office chairs. I find that after hours of working, the ability to lean back and rest my head is a boon to productivity. It's also attractive and easy enough to put together.

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Herman Miller Aeron Chair for $1,395

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Herman Miller

If there is an iconic symbol of the ergonomic office, it's the Aeron chair. A piece of office-acana since 1994, Herman Miller tweaked the design a few years ago to bring it up to modern standards.

Also: Best office chairs in 2020

Besides being a design icon, the Aeron is the chair many professionals swear by because of its spine and posture support, support of the pelvis, adjustable lumbar support, and breathable back mesh. If you're like me and insist your office chairs have a headrest, you can add one of many available on Amazon. This one, by Atlas, is also a classic design.

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Make ergonomics a priority

If there's any theme in these recommendations, it's choosing to upgrade things that can help your body. I recommended earmuffs so you can have quiet and concentrate. I recommended a monitor to help reduce eye strain. And I recommended a better chair to reduce back strain.

Right now, it's hard to get to a prescribing doctor or chiropractor, so do what you can to stay healthy. Protecting your eyes and your back are a big part of that when it comes to traditional office work.

Oh, and if you were to ask me what my next three recommendations would be, it'd be a separate keyboard, a mouse, and carving out a space of your own.

What about you? What have you done to make working at home easier, healthier, and more productive? Let us know in the comments below.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.