First off, working remotely is awesome!!
It’s a common myth that remote work is isolating, that if you’re sociable you wouldn’t like it, and that if you really enjoy face-to-face time with others, maybe remote work isn’t for you.
All of this is false.
I’m happier and more sociable *because* I work remotely. I have more energy for my friends after work, I love being able to choose where to work each day, and there are so many more benefits- even for the employer! Remote work allows people to be in the environments that are best for them- happy staff generally means better output.
But I digress- I’m doing this post because I wanted to share my remote work setup, so let’s get started! This post is inspired by the site Uses This. I’ve always enjoyed reading about how people work and it’s time to share my own version:
I’ve organized this post into three categories:
I’m going to start and end this by saying none of these items are objectively necessary. First, things build over time- when I started working remotely, I worked from a Chromebook, not a $1000+ laptop. Second, a big part of working well, remotely or not, is figuring out what works best for you- some things you need won’t be on this list and some things I use here you won’t need. Sometimes lists like this can feel discouraging, especially if you have a tight budget or feel like you need to acquire a lot before really getting started- don’t wait, start! Things will build as you go.
Laptop: Dell Developer Edition XPS 9360, 8GB RAM, Intel® Core™ i7-7560U CPU @ 2.40GHz × 4, Intel® Iris Plus Graphics 640 (Kaby Lake GT3e), SSD, backlit keyboard. Matte screen.
I love my laptop. I saved up a long time for it and it’s a champ. It’s weirdly hard to find on Dell’s website- In the event they change their site structure and the link no longer works, typing ‘Ubuntu XPS” in Dell’s search bar at the top should get you there.
Laptop camera cover– Was being given out at a conference. Mine is from Thoughtworks. Be careful- some of them are transparent, defeats the purpose a little bit! These Cimkiz Sleek Metal covers look nice- definitely opaque!
Keyboard cover– Casebuy
Laptop case– mCover
Additional charger– Dell USB-C In addition to the proprietary charging port, the Dell XPS can be charged by its USB-C port. This is great because in the future (hopefully many years in the future) when I need to replace this laptop, I might be able to still use this charger with another machine.
Yes, headphones plural. In making this list I thought back to my early years in Philadelphia- I would buy the cheapest pair of headphones, less than $10…. and they would break about 4 months later. I’d buy another pair, they’d break too. At some point I splurged on a pair of headphones that was more than $20- this pair of Sennheiser MM30is. At the time I bought them, they cost $22. Many years later, they are still working and great. If I had kept rebuying the cheapest headphones each time they broke, say, 3X a year, that would have been more than $240 on repeatedly buying headphones that break at the worst times and don’t actually sound good.
Now I have so many headphones! I use them for different things and hope one day to find the Ultimate pair that has everything I would like. Until then, I have:
Best audio– after trying some terrrrrible Bluetooth headphones, I bought this pair: Audio-Technica ATH-M40x They live at home, and when I find a song I like, one way I can tell is if I’m excited to go home and listen to the song again on the “good headphones” (none of the others are bad, this is the one with the best audio quality in my opinion). These came with really good cables- all detachable. Really happy about that.
For calls– Mpow 071-Upgraded Durability Version Does the job well. Audio quality is not the best, but not terrible. Hurts my ears if I wear them for more than three hours. The two main elements I want here are the mic and reliability, and this pair has both- thumbs up.
Noise-cancelling over-ear– Sennheiser PXC350 Noise-cancelling headphones are fantastic for remote work and studying, but they can be realllllly pricey. One thing I recommend (and do myself) is to look for a pair a couple years back. Especially look for wired noise-cancelling headphones. Often an older-model, wired pair of noise-cancelling headphones is hundreds of dollars cheaper than its Bluetooth counterpart. Sometimes the build quality is better in the older ones too- I’ve been hearing bad things about the latest Bose in terms of breakage; sometimes newer isn’t better. Specifically what I’ve been hearing about the newer Bose headphones is that the wires inside aren’t protected enough, so folding and unfolding the headphone frame contributes to the wires breaking down. Companies cutting corners on wires is something I’d expect with the $10 pairs I used to buy, not Bose, but that’s what I’m hearing, and the pairs I looked at in person also seemed flimsy- thin plastic.
But back to this pair- the Sennheiser PXC350. I looked at Sennheiser because I’ve been happy with the Sennheiser MM30is for years and wondered what else the brand made. Reviews are really good, and by the time I bought these, they were definitely cheaper than the Sennheiser 450s. The pair I bought was brand-new in box, never used. Because it was a couple years old, the foam around the ear pads had degraded, but that was a quick update- I searched by model number and bought replacement earpads. I found a YouTube video about how to make the swap without destroying the frame, and voila! Super comfy, (comparatively) cheap, noise-cancelling headphones. Ear cups a bit big for me, great sound quality, great noise-cancelling ability.
Noise-cancelling in-ear– Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling In-Ear Headphones Amazing noise-cancelling properties in a small package. In my bag daily and definitely with me if I’m on a plane. This is the pair I recommend to people the most. Excellent price point ($37 as of Oct 2018), excellent sound quality, noise-cancelling ability, and portability- these headphones are great.
Notebook– Not brand specific. I prefer spiral bound with hard covers.
Post-its– Super important! I really like that post-its allow me to both collate information and move the pieces around- connections building and coming apart, orders being built and reconfigured, plus origami.
Pen– Freebie or Le Pen– When working on a project I go over the same page multiple times with notes. It’s the same for reading computer science papers and longform articles. I like to use different colors so I can see which notes are from which passthough.
Tea/vitamins/food/coffee/exercise/EmergenC– Treating my body well helps me work well, sleep well, and see the city- all of these and more are absolutely a part of my remote work setup! I like variety, so I’m often taking an exercise class that’s a new studio, a new thing, or a new iteration on an old thing. (Side note, if you have the chance to take a yoga class in a different country as you travel, I highly recommend it). Pretty much always an energy bar in my bag.
Surge protector travel– Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger! It’s small but not fragile, it has a high amount of protection (918 Joules), many outlets, and the plug swivels so it can accommodate a variety of outlet configurations. It has a visual indicator that lets you know it’s working, and there are thousands of high reviews over several years, which is an indicator that the manufacturing quality is consistent.
As much as I like it, there are things I would change- I like that the plug swivels, but it takes considerable strength to do so. I’m fairly healthy and I have to use both hands. This means someone with arthritis, less strength, and/or the use of a a single hand will experience difficulty using this feature. I would adapt it to decrease the friction needed to turn the plug. A second thing I would change is communication/design based. I would add the phrase “No data transfer” onto the case. This could help educate the public that “No data transfer” is a feature to want and look for when choosing something with ports. USB ports that allow data transfer when it’s not needed are a security risk- and that’s not especially well-known. Using the surface of this travel surge protector to normalize a security feature people would benefit from knowing about and looking for would be a good update.
Surge protector home– APC Essential SurgeArrest, 3 Outlets, 3 USB Charging Ports, 120V In case you couldn’t tell from the paragraphs above, I have OPINIONS about surge protectors, and my main opinion is that most of them are NOT GREAT. At home I use APC. A future side-project is to do surge protector teardowns, for now, just don’t buy cheap surge protectors.
External hard drive: Latest is Western Digital 1TB White My Passport Portable External Hard Drive.
Screwdriver kit– Stanley 6 pc. Precision Screwdriver Set Assorted in. Alloy Steel. Handy.
Holding the things:
Osprey Packs Daylite Plus– This bag worked great for a two week trip around the Pacific Northwest. So far has fit under every airplane seat. Not completely waterproof. Okay in a bit of rain.
RiutBag X25 For longer trips, this is what I use. It sits really well on my shoulders- when a backpack fits you well, it feels lighter. Waterproof.
Related– RiutBag Crush I bought my Riutbag as a two-item package deal, so I also got this one. I don’t always use it, but it has been nice in crowded spaces. Looks small, does fit my laptop, cables, external batteries, portable surge protector, notebook, pen, sunglasses, wallet, and a thin sweater. Not totally waterproof. Okay in a bit of rain.
Ambient noise: I use myNoise and Ambient-Mixer
Two different browsers- usually Chrome and Firefox
VPN- options abound, including NordVPN, Encrypt.me, TunnelBear and PrivateInternetAccess
Overcast for podcasts. If it’s not a podcast, it’s most likely wordless
System76 laptop– they look so awesome!
A really nice multimeter
Finding the One True Pair of headphones- A pair that can take calls, has a slim, removable mic, detachable wires, high quality wiring overall, closed back cups, excellent build quality, great sound quality, adaptive noise cancelling, fits my ears, repairable, and indicator lights that can be configured.
Note: None of this is objectively necessary. This post has 48 links and mentions 35 items and companies in the “Physical” and “Future thoughts” sections. I had very few of these items right off the bat when I started working remotely- I definitely didn’t go out and buy 35 things on day 1! There are things I still don’t have now- needs and tools are iterative. These items are things that I’ve looked for to solve problems, to do my work well, and to make my remote working environment comfortable and excellent. My hope is that this writeup is useful, that maybe you’ll discover some new things, and at the same time I very much want to end this post by saying you don’t need an expensive item to be awesome <3