Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Being work-from-home tech geeks, we at How-to Geek have made tweaks to our workstations over the years to work comfortably and maximize our productivity. Here are some top tips that you might consider when working from home.

Tenkeyless Keyboards for Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain can be a common repetitive stress injury for people whose jobs mean they sit at a desk and constantly reach for their keyboard and mouse—a phenomenon known as “mouse shoulder.” Many factors can contribute to this condition, like the height of your desk or even bad posture. Jason Fitzpatrick found himself in this situation, suffering from a nagging and persistent pain in the tendon that passes under the deltoid (the front of the shoulder).

After trying a trackball mouse, an adjustable keyboard tray, and an adjustable chair—solutions which helped with the pain but didn’t kill it—Jason stumbled upon a solution almost by accident. He moved the keyboard to the left side of his desk (he’s right-handed), causing him to naturally use his mouse closer to the centerline of his body, and noticed that the sharp pain in his shoulder subsided almost instantly.

Wanting to make this improvement a permanent one, Jason considered ways to be able to have his mouse in the center more often, but his large 104-key computer keyboard—which includes the arrow cluster and number pad on the right—dominated the space directly in front of his body.

“The solution,” he says, “is to ditch the number pad and swap your bulky 104-key full-size keyboard for a shortened model, known as a tenkeyless keyboard or 87-key keyboard.” Even though it’s around 80% the width of the standard keyboard, it’s pretty much the same design except for the missing number pad. Jason recommends the WASD Code Keyboard, and swears by it every time, but there are many cheaper alternatives, such as the HyperX Alloy Origins or the Redragon K552.

Ultrawide Monitors for Multitasking

Image of the INNOCN Ultrawide 40-Inch Monitor and other items on a desk top
Bill Loguidice / How-To Geek

Multitasking is the order of modern-day computer work, so many people choose to have two screens to save having to continually press Alt+Tab to switch between windows. But have you considered using an ultrawide monitor, like Joe Fedewa does?

Regular monitors have an aspect ratio of 16:9—such as 1920 high by 1080 pixels wide (also known as 1080p)—whereas an ultrawide monitor might be 21:9—such as 2560 high by 1080 pixels wide. The height is the same, but the width is much greater.

So, why bother with an ultrawide screen when you can have two screens? Well, when you have two screens, the edges of each screen essentially decide where things must go. You might have one window on the left screen and one on the right. But if you have an ultrawide screen, you could have three windows (rather than two) spread across your view. And, as Joe explains, while you can also do this with dual monitors, “even monitors with tiny bezels placed together as close as possible will have physical gaps between them.”

What’s more, if you want to immerse yourself in whatever you’re doing on your computer—whether that be work or pleasure—ultrawide screens are the answer. They also allow for a cleaner, tidier desktop with fewer cords and just one screen stand.

Joe uses the LG 34WK650-W, which offers the ultrawide experience without emptying your bank account. You could opt for a 4K resolution ultrawide screen, but they are much costlier. Alternatively, to spend even less than Joe did but still feel the same benefits, you could opt for LG’s 26-inch model.

Having a Stylus to Hand

As we mentioned above, changing your keyboard-mouse setup can help to avoid pain injuries linked to sitting in the same position all day, every day. Similarly, having a stylus can help you work more flexibly, giving you an alternative way to make notes while letting you adjust your seated position and posture.

Bertel King uses his foldable phone as his computer, and finds many benefits of using a stylus to help him with his work. Whether quickly jotting down some notes or signing or marking up documents, using a stylus gives his limbs and fingers a break. “On a PC,” he says, “interactions are spread out between your keyboard and your mouse or touchpad. On our phones, everything is reduced down to our thumbs and a single point finger, and a stylus presents you with another option.”

Also, our handheld devices are increasingly equipped to accommodate this option. Many modern-day phones, such as the latest Samsung devices or the Moto G Stylus, let you type by simply swiping your stylus to the right letters on your on-screen keyboard, and you can even convert your handwriting into text if needed.

Standing Desks for Variable Posture

Secretlab MAGNUS Pro desk with dual monitor mount and PC undermount
Mark LoProto / How-to Geek

I didn’t even know these were a thing until I spoke to Jason Fitzpatrick and Dibakar Ghosh about their workspace setups, and I’m definitely going to order one soon.

Sitting down all day can cause severe pain, so you might consider transferring to a permanent standing desk. But, as with a permanent sitting desks, it gets old and causes new pains in other areas of your body, such as your feet or your hips, ultimately affecting your work efficiency.

“The ability to switch back and forth,” claims Jason, “is where it’s at.” And Dibakar says that having a standing desk has “helped with overall productivity and improved back pain.”

It’s also better for your general health, as standing up is better for your circulation than sitting down, and a study in the UK revealed that standing up for an extra three hours a day for a year can burn off 3.6 kg of fat!

Standing desks are more expensive than your traditional desks, but, as Jason says, it’s “totally worth it.”.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

Padded ear cups on Sony Wear headphones
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

Kids running around? Dishwasher ticking away in the background? Neighbor mowing the lawn? Sometimes, distractions out of your control can be frustrating, and you want a way to blank out everything other than your screen. Even if you don’t want to listen to music (I’m terrible at working with any noise in the background!), noise-canceling headphones are great for muffling out those annoying disturbances.

I (Tony Phillips) first bought the Sony WH-XB900N noise-canceling headphones during the pandemic when I was forced to work from home, and I haven’t looked back since. No doubt, I’ll upgrade at some point in the future, but with their extra bass, ergonomic feel, and great battery life, I have no reason to fork out for anything else just yet.

Webcam Light (Not a New Camera)

Since the pandemic, videoconferencing has become the norm, saving people travel time, adding convenience to people’s workday, and letting people from all four corners of the globe liaise in an instant. But you don’t want to be that person with poor video quality on your next Zoom call.

But before you rush off to buy a new webcam, first try using a webcam light.

As Corbin Davenport explains, “Most webcams are bad. Even higher-end models are still limited compared to most smartphone cameras. They typically have limited aperture and ISO ranges, so webcams can’t adjust to complex light situations.” So, buying a new webcam might not solve your poor video quality.

Thus, Corbin recommends that you buy a webcam light that sits on top of a computer monitor tripod. “You will have to do some experimentation to match your environment and skin tone,” he continues, “by opening a camera preview on your computer while adjusting the settings on your light.”

Corbin started with a Logitech Litra Glow, while other options include the NexiGo Glow Light or a standard generic ring light.

And while adding another cable to your desk might add another annoyance, buying a webcam light is fixing a problem that a new webcam wouldn’t. Also, when you do upgrade your webcam in the future, you can keep the same light.

Trackball Mouse

Kensington SlimBlade Pro Trackball on a How-To Geek Mat
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

Ergonomic mice are essential when you’re working at your computer all day, but they still require you to move your wrist and arm, which can lead to repetitive strains. Sydney Butler recommends you try a trackball mouse, as you merely have to use a finger—rather than your whole arm—to move your cursor.

As well as being ergonomic, you can use trackball mice anywhere, they’ll save you space, and some are even ambidextrous. As Sydney explains, “It’s much easier to make precise mouse movements than with a traditional mouse, and a trackball mouse only needs as much room as the size as the mouse itself. Jason Fitzpatrick agrees: “I’ve been using trackballs for 30 years and I will never give them up.”

So, if you think trackball mice might also be for you, why not try out this reasonably-priced thumb-operated trackball mouse as a starting point?

While you might find some of these ideas might not work for you, we really hope that you can take something from our suggestions to make your work-from-home experience at least a little more pleasant.

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By John P.

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