With Melbourne currently grappling its 3rd lockdown and having just emerged from similar in Brisbane, Perth and even Adelaide’s whole two days in December one thing has become crystal clear and that’s remote working isn’t going away anytime soon.
Originally many of us weren’t setup for remote working and whilst the majority of employers have come to the party, there are some key gadgets that I’ve found through the past 12 months of remote working that have been key to my productivity at home.
I can’t stress this enough. Stop fucking around with stupid USB-C dongles, they’re all garbage! With a dedicated workspace you want your laptop to just work and not to spend the first ten minutes of your day waggling cables to make your external display light up. God forbid you have something plugged into the USB ports as well! There are so many cheap, unpowered dongles out there that simply aren’t up to the task of being reliable, efficient and functional when you simply just need shit to work.
First thing you’re going to say is “But this thing is ten times the price” and you’d be 100% correct, but it also works. Every. Damn. Time! And it has every possible connector you’d including an SD card slot, 3x USB 3.1 Type As, 1x USB 3.1 Type C, Digital audio S/PDIF, Gigabit ethernet, DisplayPort 1.2 and 2x Thunderbolt 3 ports. It’s a beast and for anyone living in a Mac or USB-C world you will thank me later for the investment.
It was pure accident that I found out useful a Stream Deck is. Dismissed as being something for those young kids and their streaming antics I always felt I had no need for anything with the word “stream” in it. When we decided to give live-streamed versions of the Reckoner podcast a crack I invested, envisioning it to be a key bit of kit, but in turn fell in love with it for increasing my day job’s productivity ten fold.
Really the Stream Deck is nothing more than a shortcut system where you can have it launch apps or run scripts. There are hundreds if not thousands of apps available that have been doing that for years, but they’re instigated through hot keys or clicks or gestures or hellish touchbars which are frankly too clunky to remember. All Elgato have done is taken that away by giving you a physical device with configurable display built into its keys so you can put pretty pictures there and know when you press the Spotify icon up comes Spotify on my desktop.
For those of you interested I have keys in place that launch Gmail, my calendar and the bajillion meetings I’m now in each day, a mute button for my mic, Spotify controls, my blood glucose level (I have diabetes) and one to jump to my wonderfully allocated JIRA tickets.
This one may surprise you a little, but the Nintendo Switch has become one of my most important work gadgets to date. My work day largely consists of meetings. From 8am to 6pm it’s not uncommon for me to spend every waking moment staring at a tiled wall of faces pretending they’re not on their phones or fighting the urge to yell at their kids who are quietly murdering one another in the room next door.
My point is opportunities for a break are few and far between and when they do arise I need to switch off for the sake of my own sanity. The best and easiest way for me to do that is by tapping the on button and picking up whatever game I’ve been playing exactly where I left off. The Switch’s incredible suspend functionality means I can jump straight back in with zero load times and no other hardware needs like a monitor that takes up valuable real estate in my tiny little workspace.
For those interested, the game at the moment is Hades. Get on board!
I’m going to tell you this because all of your colleagues are shit-scared of calling you out, but your AirPods are shit-house and the only thing more annoying that the buzz from your wireless headphones on low battery is your significant other walking through your background half-naked.
Most buying guides will be pushing your top of the line noise-cancelling headphones like Sony’s incredible WH-1000XM4 headset, but I’ll tell you what, sink a solid A$55 into a wired pair of earbuds with an inline mic like the Sennheiser CX 300’s and you might even get a smile the next time you’re in a meeting. Not to mention you’ll never have to worry about batteries being charged ever again!
When in comes to microphones if you want to go a little more upmarket or you decide to start a podcast as a means of coping with another day staring at the same walls then you can’t go past Rode’s Podcaster USB. A$298 is a lot of dough, but your workmates will think you’ve been living a secret life as a radio presenter, just be sure you have a free USB port or the aforementioned CalDigit TS3 Plus Hub to connect this bad boy up!
Another catch-all item I know, but do yourself a favour and get some real furniture to make an actual workspace in your home. Employers were scrambling to doll this stuff out to employees before July 2020 because they got a tax break, but if you missed out it’s really worth the investment to set yourself up right. The Aussie government is giving you a kickback this year too so if you spend $300 on any equipment like a chair or desk you’ll be able to claim it.
I was fairly lucky in that I’d invested in a standing desk that I reviewed back in 2019, but even then had to go out and buy a real office chair instead of one of those knock-off Herman Miller ones you see in every boardroom in Australia. Both items set me back upwards of A$400 each, but as someone in their 40s who’s spent their entire career sitting at a desk they’re easily the best investment I’ve ever made.
If you want to go super deluxe (which I’ve had the good fortunate of enjoying in my offices over the years) splash out on the real deal from Herman Miller and get yourself an Aeron. At well over A$1k they quite often appear on eBay and Gumtree and given our unfortunate economic times there are likely to be a bunch being sold off about now.
In addition to desks and chairs I’m also going to lop in laptop risers, monitor arms and actual keyboards and mice. If you were previously a laptop carrying road-warrior your frequent flyer miles are no good here. Pop the laptop down, set yourself up ergonomically and have your back send me a thank you card in 10 years.