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Podcast transcript: How to perfect your remote working setup – IT PRO

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This automatically-generated transcript is taken from the IT Pro Podcast episode ‘How to perfect your remote working setup'. To listen to the full episode, click here. We apologise for any errors.
Hi, I'm Connor Jones.
I'm Adam Shepherd.
And I'm Sabina Weston.
And you're listening to the IT Pro Podcast. This week, we're talking about the essential tech that you need for your remote working setup. 
For many organisations, the initial shift to remote working at the start of the pandemic was sudden and unexpected, and many workers simply had to make do with technology and equipment that they had.
More than two years on, however, there's no excuse for working hunched over your laptop on the kitchen table. There's a plethora of peripherals and devices that can improve your comfort and productivity while working from home. And adding a couple of key pieces of equipment can dramatically boost your experience.
So we're all currently working from home. We've been working from home for a number of years now even before the pandemic. But I think it's fair to say that perfecting your home working setup is something that is always going to be an ongoing process. I don't know about you. But over the past several years, I've been gradually tweaking and refining what my kind of ideal workspace looks like. So what does your ideal home office setup look like for you, Connor, do you want to kick us off?
So obviously we're techies, we look at CES, although we don't cover it too often. I'm sure you received…
I think I know what you're gonna say.
I think you do too; at least, there's at least one in every single CES, where it's these like super expensive, almost robotic gaming environments where they've got like a chair on like a pneumatically driven platform. It's like one of those sort of 4D immersive experiences that has like monitors out the wazoo, it's got like, you know, it's got like a bed, it's got like a Monster energy drink supply in the back of the chair and stuff like that, you know, that kind of, that kind of thing. Like, I want a full… I want something I can just live in, I don't I don't want to, I don't have to be able to move, something's just something I'm going to be in it for so long that it's going to create a Connor-shaped hole in the chair. But I think I think a little bit more realistically. For me, I always prioritise monitors like I couldn't, I would have enough monitors to, you know, satisfy every single Chrome tab I have open if if one my budget allowed or my electricity bill allowed. But yeah, I think if, if you're gonna if you're gonna prioritise one thing in an idealistic home working set up, it's got to be displays; more the better for me.
Yeah, I massively agree with that. I'm currently working off two displays. And I don't fully understand people who can get by just with a laptop screen. 
So, like me. 
Well, that brings us neatly onto you, Sabina, then; what does your perfect home office setup look like?
Um, you know, I think I need to, like, preface this by saying that, you know, your working setup is nothing if you don't have a reliable network connection. So making sure you have a good Wi Fi router. So if you don't have that you like, you know, that's, that's basically, I think that's the most important thing. So just making sure that you have a stable internet connection. Whatever means, you know, by whatever means necessary, I think that's the most important thing. And I know what I think I just like, live with the basics. So although you know what, with especially internet connection has proven extremely important for me, because I've moved twice since the pandemic began. And whenever you start a new contract with a new internet provider, you sometimes do need to wait a few days for your new router to be shipped. So it has definitely made me more creative in, in working remotely, whether it's from cafes, or you know, using my mobile data from my phone, but back to the main question, you know, what my perfect working space I think, would be just a monitor, an additional monitor to go with my laptop and a good desk. I feel like I do sort of like I do agree with Connor with I did go to a to an event recently which previewed all these chairs and desks, which you can adjust you know, just to like, what not only like the height but also like the angle of everything and yeah, literally it's, you know, it's really something and but these things are really expensive to be fair, and you know, especially if you move around a lot like me, I don't think there's like that's I think the my main reason for not getting these things is because it's an absolute you know, hell to to do move flats with additional monitors and you know, very fancy desks. But yeah, that would probably be my, like dream setup in the future.
Yeah, and the desk question I think is one that gets often overlooked, having enough space to, to spread out, not just kind of any monitors keyboards, etc, that you might want from like a productivity perspective, but also just having the space to, for example, have you know, some notes or you know, printed documents or whatever, on the desk next to you without having to kind of cram stuff in wherever it will fit is really, really important.
Yeah, I think the moment I stopped, you know, being in education, I sort of like, didn't think about the whole desk issue, because I sort of accepted that, like, wherever you go, wherever you work from – and bear in mind, these were pre pandemic times – you, your company will provide you with a desk at your office, so you don't need that kind of thing at home. And yeah, and I don't know whether you remember the first six months of the pandemic, I was essentially working in front of a chest of drawers. So I did have where to put my notes, but I didn't have anywhere to put my legs because it wasn't like the thing where like, you sit at it, and your legs are underneath the table. Now I sat at a 45 degree for six months. So I have any medical issues that can all be traced back to that. Yeah, I think there's just honestly the bare necessities nowadays, I think. But at that point, we all thought that the pandemic would only last 10 weeks. So….
Can I just add a top tip for people with small desks is to get a monitor arm, a desk mounted monitor arm, the amount of space that saved when I invested in one was was night and day. Because I don't know about you, I don't know about your monitors, whether they're on arms or not, but mine used to be on quite a sizable circular stand, that in terms of like the desk estate probably took up the best part of half the the length of it, not the width, the length. So that obviously impeded mobility to just like chuck notes there, put even put my keyboard away, like in front of me when I wanted to get like a notepad out or do some light stuff on another device. But yeah, get a monitor arm. It's like the difference is really, really great.
Yeah, I would love to have a monitor arm. I'm slightly banjaxed in that by the fact that the desk I've got has kind of drawers like underneath. So it doesn't have a kind of place to clip a monitor arm properly. But for just kind of flat desks, yeah, monitor arms are really handy, especially the ones that you can get, which support dual monitors simultaneously. Yeah, I've kind of coveted those for a while. So on that subject, then, I think space is something that a lot of us have had to grapple with, in terms of remote working over the course of the pandemic, you know, Sabina, as you mentioned, most of us were kind of relying on office space, to have things like you know, proper desks and chairs and monitors and whatnot. And having to adapt, you know, your home environment to that I think can be very challenging from a space perspective. So, are there any kind of tips that that we can share for making that remote working setup easier and smoother if you don't have the space for a proper kind of dedicated home office?
Yeah, don't work from your bed. Don't work from your bedroom at all. Just don't. It ruins… There's studies that were conducted, that it ruins your sleeping patterns. And then generally just just like ruins your work life… What's it called? 
Work life balance. Exactly. So, so avoid that. Also, it just makes you feel like you're constantly, it just makes you feel like you should always be working, you know, and I think but especially in big cities, where you cannot really get like a proper flat or house that has, you know, a separate office. I know that's the case for you, Adam, but like, you know, in inner city, sort of like London, it's really challenging to get like a separate office so I feel like it is still better… I know that we are criticising people who work from the kitchen table, but I feel like that is still way better than working from, from, you know, I think that's one of the best choices that people have, unfortunately, in London. Yeah.
Absolutely. And it's important to note that working from your kitchen table or dining room table or whatever, is perfectly fine and perfectly kind of sustainable. But doing it just hunched over a laptop on, you know, a standard dining chair is very much not ideal. And there are absolutely ways to to make that easier and more pleasant, you know, for yourself over a longer period.
Yeah, I mean, I think you're totally right, just if you're working from a dining table, at least get a proper gaming chair, office chair, but you can just swivel away once you're done with work, but yeah, do not work from a dining chair, that's ridiculous.
I mean, there's also a whole bunch of really interesting kind of accessories, if you like, that, that you can get to, to help with that. So for example, you know, just investing in some kind of ergonomic like supports and cushions and whatnot that you can just kind of slide in when you're doing like a full day's work, you know, from the kitchen table, or whatever, just to give you a bit more kind of support for that kind of long stretch of sitting there working. Also, portable monitors are super good for this kind of thing. You know, just connect via USB C, and you can pack them away and store them super easily when you're when you're done with them. And it gives you that extra real estate and it gives you a bit more flexibility without having to haul like a proper full monitor out of a cupboard and set it up on the kitchen table whenever you know whenever you need to use it.
Yeah, I don't I don't think I have really that much to offer on this because I was in a way quite fortunate. Because I defected out of London about two or three months before the pandemic took hold. So I defected up north to Manchester where naturally had a bit more space for my money. And since then, I've lived in two bed flats, and we've throughout those three flats I've lived in. We've always had a dedicated office. Well, the spare room's been an office. So yeah, we have like you said, Sabina, we have had that that separation between the workspace and the living space and the sleeping space, which I think has been like really invaluable. But yeah, I think just, I was having to think about this before and trying to cast my mind back see if I've had any experience with like making the most of small spaces. And the best I could think of was some Instagram ads I've been served in the in the past where you can get like, like pieces of like artwork, this is obviously dependent on what your landlord will allow you to install but um, you can get like artwork that attaches to a wall, and then you can sort of bring it so it unfolds into a desk with like a monitor mounted inside it. So yeah, yeah, then. So they're not like, I haven't seen them in real life, but only on Instagram. But if your landlord will allow it, I imagine that would be quite the space saver.
And there's tonnes of things like that. Just clever kind of storage solutions for this, this kind of this kind of scenario where you don't have a huge amount of space to play with. But you want to kind of get a bit more of a permanent feeling office space that doesn't actually have to sit there all of the time, taking up a huge amount of space. But so for your kind of home office connor, what are the kind of the essential elements that you've kind of taken from from move to move, you know, what's your kind of minimum requirements, if you like for your home office beyond the monitors that you mentioned?
Minimum requirements, I think, other than monitors. It's got to be a comfy chair. You know, it's like you said Sabina, like feasibly you can't you can't work for long periods of time on on kitchen and dining room chairs. There's just not, they're not built for it. They're not ergonomic enough and I'm getting older and my back's getting weaker and you know…
Connor, you're 25.
Yeah, but yeah, I mean, my my, my back is waning and it deserves more. But other than that, I think one of the most one of the most valuable purchases I actually did make aside from the monitor arm was very cheap. It was like a £10 foot rest. And yes, I remember being served a foot rest back when I first started at IT Pro and thinking what what am I doing with this like, like, this just goes under and I'm just supposed to put my foot on it; what's the point? But I think comes back to I am I am ageing and my back is is getting is getting weaker. And I don't know what it is, maybe it's like an incompatibility with my non adjustable desk height with my chair or whatever. But as soon as I started using this foot rest, my lower back pain just went. So very, very quick, very easy, very cheap solution to back pain. If you're experiencing it and don't have one already. Yeah, by all means get a foot rest.
Well on the subject of kind of ergonomics and kind of preventing injury effectively. I'm a big advocate for external keyboards and mice for home working. Even if you're using a laptop, I think it's really really beneficial to have a dedicated keyboard and mouse that you can use even if it's just, you know, a cheap and cheerful Bluetooth set that you can just quickly get out and set up and work away on.
That's very interesting take. And I completely disagree with its. To me it just creates clutter. Yes, I'm creating conflict on this pod. 
Adam, I'm totally with you.
Really? Wow. 
Must be a gender thing. I'm kidding. No, I hate it is just add some more clutter. And you know, and whichever keyboard I just found, I just, I just nothing beats the MacBook keyboard for me, I'm so sorry. And mice, I haven't used a mouse since 2004. So I probably won't go back to using mice; I just cannot get, no.
I find using mice so much more effective. Compared to using a trackpad kind of while typing. I just, my my brain is just much more comfortable with using using mice. And I just, I feel like I'm quicker. I don't know if that's just kind of psychosomatic. But I feel like I'm much more productive when I have a proper mouse as opposed to a trackpad.
Yeah, I went, I went to a mouse and keyboard set up mid pandemic; used to be I used to have a laptop in directly in front of me sat on the desk with the external monitor above it. But then I got the monitor arm which holds a laptop and one monitor. So I had to get an external keyboard and mouse. And it was a bit of an adjustment because in a way that you probably wouldn't expect because if you have like a laptop with a trackpad, then I think your shoulders are kind of like they remain. They remain sort of in a fixed neutral equal position. Because they're sort of they're just sort of working in front of you. But when you switch to a keyboard and mouse, the right shoulder, depend on what hand you are. I'm right handed. So my right shoulder took it. It was a very, I was noticing very, very much that my right shoulder was being extended more out to the side. So in order to reach my reach my mouse. 
See, I don't think my shoulder extends that far anymore.
Now who's getting old?
Like just often not using mice for so many years. I just I just don't think it's possible, you know, like, yeah, no, but maybe I should try it. Maybe Maybe it's it's a it's a posture thing. You're right. But keyboards, I just I just I just cannot like it's, it just seems like I already have a keyboard. Why would I want another keyboards? Like I'm sure
That's fair. 
What MacBook keyboard are you running? Because I'm running the 2017 Butterfly switches. And I think half of them don't work.
One of the arrow keys keeps falling off. 
But otherwise, otherwise, it's from scrolling up and down the page. But no, it's literally like the 2015 like MacBook Pro. Isn't it Adam; I think it's 2015 or 2016. 
I believe so, yes. 
Because it's the extremely heavy MacBook Pro. Yeah, so I you know what, I just been always a fan of MacBook keyboards. And I just for me, I never found anything which was quite as comfortable as that. Maybe I'm just too used to it at this point. I know that Apple does do separate keyboards, but to me I'd just rather invest in like a monitor or you know, a better chair or a better desk. There's so many other things that you could spend your money on when you're working remotely in this setup. To me, to me personally, the keyboard isn't on the top of my priority list, but of course, you know, we have different opinions.
So, speaking of investment, then, how much of this kind of equipment do you think businesses should reasonably be expected to pay for for their remote workers? Personally, I think that every remote worker, if your business is going to offer remote working as an option, employees should have access to a monitor for home working, they should have access to a laptop. And ideally, they should have access to a proper desk and a decent chair. Now, that doesn't need to be, you know, a fancy high priced, you know, Herman Miller Aeron £3,000, you know, piece of loveliness.
I disagree; I think it has to be exactly that.
Don't get me wrong, if, if my employer wants to, wants to pay for a £3,000 Herman Miller office chair for me, I'm not gonna say no. But equally, I think, you know, on a, on a practical level, a, a fairly basic chair is fine, as long as you're, you know, as long as you're giving employees something, so they're not having to kind of, you know, work from the sofa or work from their dining room or whatever, you're giving them the option of like a dedicated desk that they can have, even if it's just a little personal one.
Yeah, I think I don't think, for me, I don't think it's a checklist thing, I don't think it's like a case of you have to have a desktop, you don't have to have a monitor or anything like that. I think the simple one liner should be anything you can get in the office, you should have access to at home, be that an office chair, be that a desk, it should be it should be the same; you can't expect, because a business is going to invest in an office in the equipment that they feel is necessary for you to get the job done. And I don't think that rule, or the principle should be different any different for remote workers either.
To me, I know that businesses, it's very well wish you know, it's it comes only from like, trying to help the remote workers, you know, deliver, you know, have a better working experience. But I think instead of instead of offering just standardised desks or standardised chairs, I think we should bear in mind that people just have different setups and sometimes the colour of the desk they're offering which looks like a desk from, that you had in school doesn't really fit with someone's interior design plans. Even though and then and it's awful when you have to choose between, you know, your back pain and your eye pain from staring at this weird desk in your room. So I think businesses I think businesses should basically give employees a budget. I think we've reported about companies, I'm pretty sure it was Google but I cannot say I'm it was it was some big tech giant. They gave their staff workers 400 quid to choose remote working equipment. And I think this is the best thing like maybe maybe don't give them 400 quid, you know, to their hands if you don't trust their employees. But I mean, obviously that would be great. But you know, just give them like a voucher or, you know, just make sure that they are allowed to expense like, like to this amount for for stuff because you know, ultimately, you just want people to choose stuff which is suited for them best and not be stuck with you know, yet another piece of furniture that they're just going to resent just offering your employees have standardised equipment is just not the way to go. I really hate that. And I'm trying not to sound ungrateful.
I think that's a very valid point, though, like, having a standardised set of kind of remote working, sort of tools and peripherals and whatnot, I think can be, you know, can be good, and it's certainly better than nothing. But I do agree that giving employees the freedom to sort of customise their their setup is a much more flexible and more productive approach to doing it.
Especially now that I'm thinking a lot of people will say that this is gonna be expensive, but like if you think about it, if you're not actually using the equipment that you already have in the office, if you are going to spend that money anyway, on buying new equipment for your workers, you might as well let them choose because maybe they'll even be able to find something cheaper than what you found.
But it gives people the flexibility to say like for example, okay, I've already got a you know, an office chair in my flat that I'm perfectly happy with, but what would be really helpful for me personally, is, you know, a giant, enormous monitor that I can fit, you know, 18 spreadsheets on at once. Yes. So I'm just gonna pump all of that money,
Job roles vary; there are people who use spreadsheets on Excel every day. And there are people who haven't seen an Excel spreadsheet in years. So you know, I think it really everyone like it really varies like on, you know, depending on like job role. And I think services, I think that's another good case of a good good argument for allowing, you know, workers to basically to essentially be given that kind of voucher and being able to choose for equipment themselves.
So we've talked about remote working a lot from the context of home working, but it's worth bearing in mind that remote working offers a lot more flexibility beyond that, Sabina, you mentioned earlier that you were doing a lot of work from coffee shops and cafes and whatnot. When you'd just moved and were waiting for your internet to be hooked up. 
So for remote working away from home, what are the kind of essential items that you would pack to kind of help you stay as productive as possible while out of the office; be that the office office or the home office?
A laptop that doesn't weigh 60 kilogrammes would be great. Anything, anything, there's so many great lightweight options on the market nowadays, if you're going to, that applies to I think working from the office as well, if you're taking your equipment in honestly, just don't go for the heaviest laptop. That's an advice to myself as well. Yeah, because it's just a pain, you know, and I think you should also, that's just probably more when it comes to software, but probably take considerations for protecting your equipment from the evils of, of potential malware. Yeah, I wonder like, what do you do with all the spare keyboards and mice when you go and work from a coffee shop?
So I generally don't take, and I'm going to expose myself as a slight hypocrite here, I generally don't pack a portable keyboard when I'm travelling, or when I'm working remotely, mostly because I can't be bothered. But you know, portable mice and Bluetooth mice and, and whatnot, are something that I've been meaning to, to take with me more often, particularly when I'm going to conferences and things things like that. This The only slight problem with that is that does rely on you being able to work at a table of some kind, you know, it's quite hard to use a mouse when you have your laptop, you know, on your knees. That's not always ideal. But I think just on your point about lightweight laptops, I think battery life is also a really key consideration. You want to have a laptop that is going to last a good long amount of time without constantly having to run around looking for a power point, looking for somewhere to plug it in to stop it from dying.
And if you're not one of those people who and I don't understand; these people do exist and I don't understand how they manage it. But if you're not one of those people like me who can work with undue background noise… 
Noise cancelling headphones.
Yeah, and I did invest in my first pair this year. Some Sony XM4s and yeah, I just don't know how I don't know how I've gone without it to be honest. And just any any any level of noise any I don't even have anything playing most of the time. It's just the slight the the active noise cancellation, just blocking out just enough is fantastic. And I have a couple of colleagues I've got at IT Pro will know that I do take it a step further sometimes and listen to white noise. So if anyone is like me, and it does kind of make you go a bit insane after a little while. But if you really cannot stand if you cannot stand background noise then I do I do recommend the combination of a good set of AnC headphones and a good long white noise track.
Yeah. Honestly, noise cancelling headphones are, I think an essential purchase for anyone who is working from an office or who is working while travelling. I have had a pair of Sennheiser MB 660s for several years now and they are without exaggeration. I think probably my most cherished possession. They are just I never leave home without them. I am wearing them probably conservatively speaking about 80% of my working life.
Yeah this is why you ignore what I whenever I'm speaking to you in the office you never hear me.
Yes, that's why…
It's the thing this is the thing, when I when I first joined IT Pro like it Adam would peek his head out over the over the monitor I'd be like saying something and I'd look at him dumbfounded after like for about like two seconds. We were like, can you hear me? And there's there must be some sort of setting you've got on your headphones because you like you always had them on but you could always just hold a conversation or just until I got my XM4s I was so confused about it.
Hold a conversation with you maybe. I think Adam pretends that he cannot hear me. Yeah, just just based on what we've discussed in this episode, and maybe haven't discussed yet. What is the one one thing one piece of equipment that you would take with yourself take with you on a remote working remote island?
Remote working remote island; that sounds terrible.
I mean, obviously you do work remote work remotely if you're stuck on an island, right like that is that takes remote working to an nother level.
The ultimate in remote working? Yeah. So one, one piece of essential remote working equipment that I genuinely don't think I could do without is an external monitor, whether that's a kind of portable monitor, or whether it's full on like, you know, 34 inch behemoth of a thing. It's just improves my productivity exponentially. And kind of I find it actively difficult to work without having that kind of real estate. So yeah, if I could, if I could keep one piece of remote working kind of technology. It's gonna be an external monitor every time.
Yeah, I'm torn. Whether because yeah, like you Adam. I've got my external monitor holds a dear dear place in my heart, and I don't it does pain me whenever I go on international press trips and stuff working from hotels and I am just like, like we said just hunched over on on the desk of off this 13 inch inbuilt laptop display. But I think for me as much as much as it does benefit my my productivity, I think my back is more important than then then all productivity. I'm sorry, my employer, if you're listening, it just is. So I'm gonna I'm gonna say a really comfortable, ergonomic desk chair for me.
Yeah, I was debating between a desk and a chair. And to me, I think I think the chair wins. Definitely, like, out of all the tech and stuff. It's just, you know, like, even if you have the best laptop, even if you have the best monitors and the best noise cancelling headphones, if you're sitting on the cheapest IKEA dining chair, which I was sitting on for the first six months of lockdown. You're not gonna get any work done. 
No, absolutely.
And I'm talking about plastic, you know, the foldable…
Yeah. Oh, those ones. Wow. Yeah.
And I will I literally will never touch one ever again.
I managed two weeks at the start of lockdown on one of those. Two weeks. And I was like, No, I'm I'm done. I'm getting a proper proper swivel chair with actual armrests. And just a little bit of cushioning. Yeah, at the very least.
Yeah, yeah, so definitely, I think I'm gonna be boring. I'm gonna agree with Connor. Desk chair. Yeah. So much for being tech specialists!
Well, I think I think I think we've hit upon a very, a very valid point here, which is that, in a lot of cases, the things that make remote working viable, you know, for all we talked about, you know, hyper mobile laptops, and, you know, high speed connectivity, and, you know, webcams and microphones to make video conferencing really, really slick and really, you know, enjoyable. For all we talk about the tech side of things, really, it's the creature comforts that you get in an office, you know, good size desks, chairs with decent support, all of this kind of stuff. 
A monitor.
Well, exactly, that actually go the biggest distance to making remote working fun and sustainable over over the long term. And it's very easy to overlook, I think.
Sadly, that's all we've got time for today.
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We'll be back next week with more analysis from the world of IT but until then, goodbye.
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