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Inside Charlie’s work-from-home setup: A millennial's small office space in progress

After escaping the rental trap, Charlie takes us through her multi-purpose home office space.

Eight years ago or so, after leaving a teaching career and spending some time as a pub and comedy club manager in central London, I landed my first job as a freelance technology journalist for ZDNet. 

I've worked from home for the best part of a decade. Things have moved on from the days of shifting between different rental properties, and now, I finally have the option for a dedicated workspace, albeit a small one. 

Years of hunching over a laptop on a sofa or my bed -- combined with an old motorcycle injury -- have not proven to be kind to my back, and as ZDNet has previously cautioned in our working from home health guide, healthy working habits are key to long-term productivity and comfort. This is especially important to remember, now, with so many of us now transitioning to remote work.

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However, I'm part of the millennial generation, which is far more used to making do with broken furniture and limited space available in rental properties and HMOs, and the constant jumping from place-to-place and room-to-room means that investing in bulky office gear and the expense of moving into the next property is a daunting prospect. 

So, it was only a few years ago that I was in a position to purchase more permanent furniture, and I was able to dedicate a room to working from home. I live on the commuter belt to London, and so space is priced at a premium -- a problem that is only going to increase as London escapees, who now don't have to join the rat race five days a week, consider leaving the capital and set out on the hunt for houses that have rooms suitable for conversion into work-from-home office spaces. 

It took a string of 'colorful' landlords and flipping a hoarder's flat to manage it, but I'm one of the lucky few in my generation that managed to secure a house; but still, the size means it has to be multifunctional. 

The rooms in my house serve more than one purpose: One bedroom, one home gym/guest bedroom, and my office -- which also has become a storage area for shoes, photography equipment, and art supplies. 

I've learned you don't need to spend a fortune to have a functional office space, and reliable, budget-friendly options can serve just as well as the latest products on the market. Like most of us, I don't replace products as soon as something new, bright, and shiny hits the market; instead, my home office is a work in progress, with gradual improvements planned over time. 

Even with clutter and storage boxes, just a corner with adequate lighting and a few products can turn the smallest area into an office space that will adequately function for as long as you need to work from home. 

Below, I'm going to take you through my home office and ideas for small setups. If you happen to have more space available, check out my colleague SJVN's home office, a place where he has worked for the past 30 years. 

Now, let's take a look at some of the devices and products I have in my office. 

Gaming desk

Ikea Fredde

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While I would like to switch this for a more robust and interesting model in the future, my current desk has served me faithfully for over five years. The £150 ($200) Fredde desk from Ikea measures 140/185x74x146 cm, which was just small enough to fit against one wall. 

Made up of steel and plastic and relatively easy to assemble, this desk solution appealed to me as it has ample space for keyboards and laptops, a shelf underneath for a tower PC, and plenty of space to stash a printer, too.

$200 at Ikea

Keyboard

Razer BlackWidow

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A comfortable keyboard, preferably with wrist support, is a must in my home office. While I use a Razer DeathStalker -- an older model no longer generally available -- the mechanical Razer BlackWidow is a similar alternative, coming with backlit keys, a wrist rest, and dedicated media keys.  

$129 at Amazon

Moldable glue

Sugru

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I was introduced to Sugru moldable glue years ago as an option for tidying cables, and since then, I haven't looked back. The glue can be molded into awkward corners, and after it sets, creates hinges or hooks for wires, keeping them tidy and out of the way. I've not only used this under my desk but also under my coffee table for the times I decide to use a laptop downstairs. 

$19 at Amazon

Wireless monochrome laser printer

Samsung SLM2020W Xpress SL-M2020W

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Picking up a monochrome laser printer was an expensive investment, but considering the amount I've probably saved on color ink over the years, I think it is well worth the initial expense. 

The current printer I use is a Samsung SLM2020W Xpress SL-M2020W, a wireless laser printer that does make a racket -- but very quickly reels off anything you need to be printed quickly and well. Since I purchased this model two years ago, I've yet to have to replace the toner. 

$339 at Amazon

Curved display

Samsung LC24F390FHNXZA 24-inch display

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I've cycled through a number of PC displays throughout the years and now I've tried out a curved model, I wouldn't go back. 

While I would love to sort out a wider display setup one day, at present, the Samsung LC24F390FHNXZA 24-inch display serves me well enough for basic daily tasks. It is far from perfect and only has a 60Hz refresh rate, but until I get my hands on an LG ultrawide monitor, Samsung's budget option will do. 

$129 at Amazon

Powered USB splitter

Atolla

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Atolla's powered USB splitter is a gadget I find incredibly useful at my desk. You need to plug the device into an outlet, as it does require a separate power supply, but in return, you exchange one standard USB port for four USB 3.0 ports and a smart charger. 

$18 at Amazon

A comfortable desk chair

Respawn

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You can have cats or nice things -- not both -- and so while I would love to trade my rather worn and battered gaming chair for a more stylish leather alternative, the creature in the image above will ensure it won't last five minutes. 

For now, then, a simple and comfortable chair does the trick, such as the one on offer by Respawn. As long as you choose a model with back support, you're good to go. 

$159 at Amazon

Windows gaming PC for Steam

Overclocker PC

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Under my desk, you will find a Windows gaming PC I purchased from Overclockers, which I use for Steam, general work tasks, and as a media library. While the exact model I have is no longer available, after a number of upgrades, it is closest to the Katana, a PC tower sporting an Intel Core i7 processor, up to 64GB RAM, and Nvidia RTX graphics. Overclocking PC CPUs can be done manually or set when you order a custom PC, and for gamers, this option is worth considering. 

$2,300 at Overclockers UK

Laptop

MacBook Pro

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While my overclocked PC is used frequently, the system I rely on the most is my MacBook Pro, which has proven to be a decent workhorse for everyday tasks. 

The particular model I use is a 13-inch MacBook Pro, sporting a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus graphics, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD storage, and a Retina display. 

$1,799 at Apple

Windows gaming PC dual-booted with Linux

Acer Predator Helios 300

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On my desk, you will also find an Acer Predator Helios 300, a Windows gaming PC that is dual-booted with Kali Linux.

Manufactured by Acer, the Predator Helios 300 is a 15.6-inch Full HD model equipped with an Intel i7 processor, Windows 10, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD storage.

$1,390 at Amazon

Photo- and video-editing console

Loupedeck+

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Hidden at the back of my desk is the Loupedeck+, a form of keyboard tailored for photo editing. 

The £219 ($291) Loupedeck+ photo and video editing console works well with Lightroom in my experience, as you can program the device to cut workflow times for changing image properties including brightness, contrast, exposure, clarity, and other fine-tuning. 

Loupedeck+ is compatible with Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop CC, Premiere Pro, Final Cut, and more on Windows and Mac machines.

$291 at Amazon

Camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

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On a shelf in my office, you will find my camera equipment, which sadly has not been used much this year with event cancellations and few social gatherings. I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark III together with a variety of L-Series lenses, and my last purchase -- which turned out to be my favorite lens for street photography so far -- is the Sigma Art 35mm F/1.4.

View Now at Amazon (Canon) Amazon (Sigma)

A closer look at Charlie's office

It may be small, but I picked this room as the office due to the light and central position of the windows. The wall on the left is packed with family photos and odd bits of memorabilia -- travel and plane tickets, music gig stubs, and gaming posters. The main 'feature' wall had a decal Catbus from the My Neighbor Totoro anime plastered across it when I first moved in, but I used spray paint to change this to a world map as a more acceptable backdrop for videoconferencing sessions. 

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In the corner, you can see industrial-style shelving which has proven invaluable in providing somewhere to store the variety of gadgets and accessories I tend to accumulate over time. 

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This is it -- the heart of operations. Aside from a few knick-knacks acquired on my travels, I try to keep this space as decluttered as possible, limiting my desk to a tower PC, a laptop or two, speakers, and my display. 

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It's worth mentioning a travel drawer by the side of my desk where I keep all of the items I need for going abroad on trips and to conferences. As events were canceled across 2020 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, this drawer now looks sadly empty. 

However, a handheld gaming console to stay entertained on long-haul flights, a wristband money holder, an underwater smartphone protective case, my Kindle Paperwhite, an Anker power pack, a WD Elements portable hard drive, and at least two international plug adapters are usually stashed in here, ready to be thrown into a bag on my way out of the door.