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These 5 work-from-home essentials seriously upgraded my desk

I outfitted my desk at home with these handy tech items and they upped my productivity, too.
Written by Kayla Solino, Associate Editor
Ember Mug 2
ember mug 2
Ember Mug 2
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Journey Alti Ultra Fast Wireless Desk Charging Mat
Journey Alti Ultra Fast Wireless Desk Charging Mat
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Omoton Laptop Stand
Omoton Laptop Stand
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HP 925 Vertical Wireless Mouse
HP 925 Vertical Wireless Mouse
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Jelens 2-in-1 Walking Pad and Under Desk Treadmill
Jelens 2-in-1 Walking Pad and Under Desk Treadmill
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Working from home is certainly en vogue in 2024, thanks to the flexible lifestyle it can offer. But that doesn't mean it can't still be grueling or uncomfortable. For those who spend extensive time in their home offices (like me), creating a customized, optimized, and functional desk space is key to taking control of your workspace, crushing your goals, and maybe occasionally enjoying your time at your desk. I work from home most of the week, and I've been able to put my job reviewing tech gadgets like wireless mice, handy gadgets, and more to good use during my daily work grind to find out which products are the most helpful in daily life. 

Also: These 4 tech gadgets are essentials for long commutes

These are the top five products I'd recommend to anyone who wants to transform their work-from-home setup from lame to luxury. These gadgets have helped keep me locked into my work, boosted my movement, reduced pain from stagnation, and, most importantly, leveled up my desk situation from drab to fab. 

My favorite work-from-home essentials 

ember mug 2
June Wan/ZDNET

The hill I will die on is that if you are an avid coffee drinker, a slow sipper, or someone who enjoys little luxuries, you will not be disappointed with the Ember Mug 2. I purchased an Ember Mug 2 over October Prime Day 2023 and have used it close to daily. While it's undoubtedly expensive at face value, it's worth it when I break down the daily cost of using it since I purchased it. It keeps my tea or coffee at a perfect temperature that is customizable and easily controlled via the Ember app. I usually get up to three hours of perfectly toasted coffee on one charge, and the mug is easy to clean and stow on its included charging coaster when not in use. 

This cup has seriously upgraded my workflow and delivers my own cafe-like experience to my desk daily. Now, I can sit in Zoom meetings and sip my coffee without it getting cold, and I never have to commit the crime of microwaving coffee. I've had my mug for several months and have had no issues with charging, warming, or battery life, and I love it so much that I have recommended it to several ZDNET team members who are now proud Ember Mug owners (including editor Sabrina Ortiz) and have gifted an additional mug to my mom for Mother's Day. The Ember Mug 2 is available in 10- and 14-ounce models and comes in various colors depending on where you buy.

Redditors said they liked the Ember Mug 2's practicality, function, and easy heating capabilities. One Redditor even called their experience with the mug "delightful." Some reported issues with heating elements but said that Ember replaced their mug or they chose to purchase a newer model mug after repeated use over several years. 

Also: Ember's newest tumbler solved my biggest problem with my morning coffee

Also: This smart temperature mug is the hottest gift of the winter season

This product makes the biggest impact if you want to upgrade your at-home desk from drab to fab. I had never had one before using the Alti Ultra wireless charging desk mat from Journey. My world has seriously changed since testing this over the last several months. This mat is nearly the perfect size for my smaller standing desk (there's just a bit of overhang), and it upgrades the plain, plastic-like top to a functional, luxurious-feeling, and cushioned face. 

This mat provides the perfect base for my wireless mouse and keyboard, and it doesn't slide or move around, which is key while using a walking pad and standing desk. It also features certified 15W MagSafe charging for my iPhone and AirPods Pro (2nd Gen). The charging pad is detachable from the desk mat, too, so if I want to use it separately, I can, and the double-layered, reversible mat with vegan leather creates a nifty spot to slip post-its, papers, or other incidentals. This mat upgraded my cheap standing desk into a functional workspace, keeping all my essentials easily handy, organized, and even charged in one place. 

Journey customers gave the Alti wireless desk mat 5/5 stars on the Journey website. Customers said they liked the size, detachability, and sleek, luxurious look and feel of the Alti wireless mat. Several customers also said that this mat transformed their desk space, and one customer even called the Alti mat one of "genius convenience." 

Kayla Solino/ZDNET

A laptop stand is a great way to free up space at your home desk and a good option for changing your viewing angle and alleviating back and neck pain. I purchased this Omoton laptop stand for my work laptop, a MacBook Pro, to elevate my walking pad and standing desk setup. Since I am 5'10, I needed to raise my laptop to accompany a standing desk arrangement that allowed me to walk on my under-desk treadmill. This stand is lightweight yet sturdy and was under $20. It easily supports my MacBook and doesn't budge at all while I work and walk -- even though my standing desk is on wheels. It's the perfect amount of lift for my needs and frees up space for my wireless keyboard and mouse. 

Verified Amazon customers rated this an average of 4.8/5 stars overall and said they liked the sturdy build, ergonomic, simple design, and portability of this Omoton stand. 

As a tech editor, I spend a lot of time writing, editing, researching, product testing, and more from my desk and tandem with a laptop. While I've always preferred to work on my laptop without using add-ons like monitors, keyboards, or wireless mice, I realized quickly that I couldn't build a standing desk setup that I could use as an under-desk treadmill without them. When I upgraded to a standing desk earlier this year, I needed to upgrade my accessories, including my wireless mouse. Switching to a vertical mouse like this HP 925 has helped my hand sit comfortably while I walk and work, minimizing cramping in my right hand. 

HP says this mouse is designed to "keep your shoulder, neck, and forearm more relaxed throughout the day" by reducing muscle activity by 12%, and while I cannot say if my muscle activity has actually decreased by 12%, I can say I have less pain when I work with this mouse. The mouse feels like a joystick, is easy to connect, and glides over my desk mat for maximum control of my laptop. It also comes with a removable wrist rest for even more comfort, but I enjoy it on its own. 

Redditors said they were impressed with the HP 925's overall function, button placement, and comfort, with several users comparing it to Logitech's MX Vertical mouse. One Redditor called the placement of the HP's thumb buttons "genius."

I upgraded my home office with a walking pad in November 2023, and my only regret was not doing it sooner. While walking pads were all the rage during COVID, I'm here to tell you that it's one of the easiest changes you can make to your work-from-home environment to see positive results. This Jelens walking pad was under $150, has held up great over the last 6 months, is easy to set up and care for, and is slim enough to fit under a small standing desk and store under my bed when needed. It has wheels for easy maneuvering and can reach a speed of 3.8 mph, which is a perfect range for keeping a pace while working on my laptop. 

Walking while I work at my standing desk reduces back and neck pain from long stints of sitting, and it's also increased my movement tremendously. I now easily exceed 10,000 steps or more every day, and I can always have a way to get moving even when the weather is poor, too. I also find I can focus on my work more while walking constantly. I have increased my step count, V02, and stand hours in the last few months and lowered my resting heart rate, according to my Apple Watch, and I believe this walking pad has contributed greatly to these metrics. 

Verified customers on Amazon rated the Jelens walking pad an average of 4.3/5 stars online. Many customers said they liked how quick and easy it is to use while doing everyday tasks like working, watching TV, or lightly exercising. Some customers said the Jelens pushes an error code if you weigh near the pad's max capacity of 265 lbs, so consider weight limits when selecting an under-desk treadmill. 

Why should you trust me?

I test, review, and scout the best deals on tech for a living, from MagSafe accessories and iPhone battery packs to iPad gear and beyond. I have the unique opportunity to try out new tech accessories every day and incorporate them into my daily routine and lifestyle. 

For this particular article, every item listed has a home at my desk and is something that I have used routinely, if not daily, in my work. These are the actual items that helped me achieve my tasks, boost my productivity, and maintain a balanced work-from-home lifestyle, pictured inside my own space. 

I considered price, quality, function, practicality, and more to curate this list. While my office is full of interesting knickknacks and gadgets, these five items are consistently used at my desk when I work from home. 

While there are tons of other tech products I could've convincingly written about and recommended you buy for your own desk setup, these are truly the top five things that I would recommend to my closest friends, and I have already recommended them tons of times over -- both at ZDNET and in my personal life. 

What other work-from-home essentials may I need?

What you'll need to be comfortable in your work-from-home environment will differ from industry to industry, company to company, and person to person. These five items are all add-ons to upgrade my home desk setup but are not necessities for everyone. Other essential items could include a VPN, cloud storage, an adjustable height desk, an ergonomic desk chair, and more. 

What is a hybrid work schedule?

Since the onset of the pandemic, many workers have returned to the office after working from home. Many companies are now moving towards a hybrid work schedule, which means that workers are required to go into an office two or three days a week and can work from home the remaining days.

Some companies have even begun enforcing full return-to-office orders for current employees, which means many workers may be back to a traditional five-day in-person work week. 

Also: Hybrid working or back to the office, here's how to keep everyone engaged

Other work-from-home tech we think you'd love

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