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

Work from home: Essential gadgets and gear for productivity and good health

With the scale of the coronavirus pandemic growing daily, companies, organizations, and individuals are coming up with plans to make working from home easier. A 30-year work from home veteran discusses the tools and gadgets for productivity and good health when working away from the office.

I realized the other day that I've been primarily working from home for almost 30 years. Sure, I've spent some time in offices, and also working from cafes, hotel rooms, trains, tents, and yurts, but the vast amount of my working day has been spent in my home office. And over those three decades, I've made a lot of mistakes. Hoo-boy, have I made mistakes.

I thought that working on a laptop on the soft in front of the TV was a long-term strategy (spoilers: it wasn't). I thought that an old door propped between two filing cabinets made for an ergonomic desk (spoilers: it didn't). I also thought that "I'm popping into the office for five minutes" in my dressing gown first thing in the morning would actually only be for five minutes (spoiler: it was a longer than five minutes -- a lot longer). So, I've made a lot of mistakes. And learned a lot from these mistakes.

One thing that I've learned to do is to make technology work for me, and with that in mind, here's a list of what I believe to be essential gadgets and gear if you find yourself working from home because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Disclosure: ZDNet may earn an affiliate commission from some of the products featured on this page. ZDNet and the author were not compensated for this independent review. 

1: Good, comfortable chair and desk

Good, comfortable chair and desk

I tried skimping here, and it didn't work. You might think that because you've been using the kitchen table and chair for occasionally working from home that this will be a long-term solution, or that you can lounge on the couch in front of Netflix and work away while binge-watching your favorite box set.

It'll be hell. Your low back or shoulders will start to complain, and it will be all downhill from there.

I'm not recommending that you need to spend the money and get a Herman Miller Aeron chair and a fancy oak desk (although the Aeron chair I bought back in 2000 is still probably the best investment I made) but get good stuff. If possible, get to try out the chair and desk before you buy.

Don't skimp here. Your back and shoulders will thank me (but your physiotherapist will hate me!).

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2: A fast (probably unlimited bandwidth) internet connection

A fast (probably unlimited bandwidth) internet connection

Working from home you are likely to burn through your internet bandwidth, doubly so if you use video conferencing. 

If you are currently on a limited plan, then you might want to consider upgrading this (it might be a good time to find a better deal too), because you don't want limits or extra charges to start kicking in when you least expect them.

3: Robust Wi-Fi

Robust Wi-Fi

Another thing to bear in mind is your internet connection in your office. Likely you're going to be relying on Wi-Fi, so make sure that you have the best coverage possible. If your existing coverage sucks, then invest in a mesh system such as the eero Pro or Netgear Orbi Pro. This way you can bring a reliable, rock-solid internet connection to your home office.

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4: Backup internet connection

Backup internet connection

Remember the old adage: "Two is one, and one is none." If your internet connection fails then you're productivity will take a nosedive, which is why I like to have a backup. While turning your smartphone into a mobile hotspot works as a short term solution, I much prefer to have a mobile hotspot device. 

I've had fantastic success with the Netgear Nighthawk M1 (and also the M2, but that's not available in the US). It's fast, reliable, has a super-long battery life, and the interface is easy to use, and the Wi-Fi signal can be tuned from low-power to high-power when that extra boost is needed.

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5: Conference speaker

Conference speaker

I don't know about you, but I hate holding up a phone to my ear for more than a few minutes. I just find myself drifting off and resenting being tied to the phone. While modern smartphones do have speakerphone facility, let's be honest, most are pretty terrible.

The Anker PowerConf Bluetooth Speakerphone has actually made me love phone calls again!

The PowerConf is a conference speaker that sits in the middle of your desk or conference room and uses its six built-in microphones and powerful speaker to make phone calls and conference calls more pleasurable and productive. It has a built-in battery, and can also act as a power bank for your gadgets.

Call quality is amazing, and it sounds really professional. On top of that, it allows you to move freely around the room while making and taking calls,.

This normally retails for $129, but currently, on Amazon, there's a $20 on-page coupon you can use.

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6: Webcam

Webcam

Unless you're using a laptop (which, long-term, I don't recommend without a separate keyboard and monitor), or your desktop has one, you'll likely need a webcam.

Something cheap and cheerful isn, in my experience, just as good as something that costs four times the price. This Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 is perfect, and costs a little over $20.

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7: Monitor, mouse, and keyboard if you are using a laptop

Monitor, mouse, and keyboard if you are using a laptop

If you are using a laptop, do yourself a favor and get a keyboard, mouse, and monitor for yourself. The ergonomics work out much better in the long term. I really don't recommend spending hours a day hunched over a laptop. In the long term, your health will suffer.

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8: Firewalla

Firewall

If you are working from home I strongly recommend you harden your network with a hardware firewall. I've been testing the Firewalla Blue for some time now and this tiny box that fits into the palm of your hand can do so much, from protecting you from cyberattacks to filtering ads.

A great bit of kit that's super easy to use and set up.

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9: Headphones or earbuds

Headphones or earbuds

Get yourself a decent pair of headphones or earphones. I'm a big fan of the AirPods Pro, but you should pick something that fits for you, is comfortable, and that sound good to you.

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10: Charger for all your gadgets

Charger for all your gadgets

Get, if possible, a single charger that will charge most of your devices. It's OK to still use your existing laptop charger or whatever, but too many chargers will either mean that you'll constantly be switching things in and out of wall sockets, or you'll end up with a horrible mash of wiring, and your desk will begin to look like a power station.

I also recommend getting cables that live on your desk, so you're not carrying them about with you the whole time.

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11: Ample lighting

Ample lighting

Don't struggle with a dimly-lit office. Invest in decent lighting that you can control. I'm a big fan of the Philips Hue stuff, but I recognise that it's expensive, and a gateway drug to swapping every lightbulb in your home to a smart lightbulb.

That said, Philips Hue bulbs are, without doubt, the best I have tested.

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