Every Impression Matters – Home Office Setup

Updated May 29, 2020

This blog post started out as “maybe I’ll post a list of my home office setup” since I’m periodically asked about it and audio quality in particular – especially the orange microphone. 😉 Polishing it up to put in a blog post felt more worthwhile than regularly resending the same rough email.

If you’re looking for that list, feel free to jump down to the bullets below. However, posting this got me thinking about “why” I’ve spent so much time on this over the years.

Note: this blog post lead to a related IT Reality podcast with Vince Wood – “Unexpected challenges for the Remote IT Pro“.

“Do you think you know everything you need to be successful as a remote IT worker? Andrew and Vince discuss things you may have missed. Give this episode a listen for advice from a fellow with 12 years experience on the topic.”

At first we thought it would be more a “home office equipment” discussion since I blogged about that recently but went much more a “soft skills / productivity / working with people you don’t see everyday” direction.

Simply put, my goal is to work efficiently and communicate well….plus I’ll admit I like to tinker (something common for many of us in IT I think). Over 12 years of working from home, I’ve slowly but surely improved my setup with a recent focus on video and audio quality to up my game in WebEx/Zoom meetings, webinars, and recordings in general. Previously I’d focused on general productivity.

In particular, I’ve noticed that mediocre audio and video quality is the norm on WebEx/Zoom meetings (and that’s not meant to be insulting to anyone). There’s a ton of research on the power of first impressions as well as the power of good audio quality to help with effective communication + persuasion. Overall, I consider this to be an investment in both my personal productivity as well as my overall effectiveness. If I’m always seeking to improve myself in other professional areas, why not my equipment as well?

Ironically, most of what I’ve done isn’t all that expensive – it’s within reach financially for most people that work from home IMHO. Amazon Free Returns are your friend as well.

To be clear, I’ve paid for this myself – no sponsorships/free items from manufacturers. For evaluating Amazon review quality/fakeness (sadly Amazon reviews are NOT reliable), I like fakespot.com and camelcamelcamel.com is great for watching price trends & setting alerts when a price drops.

Here’s what the setup looks like from where I sit (although you can’t see the lighting well – details below on that as there’s a ring light above the center monitor and a light on the right and the left – cameras love lots of light after all).

Yes, I cleaned my desk. And yes, that’s a Cal Ripken baseball card in a custom Lego baseball card holder (courtesy of my son). I also highly recommend fidgetland.com fidgets.

And here’s what it looks like when I’m on calls with video on…or in this case, recording an internal, non-formal video. I’ll add a picture soon of what it looks like with the green screen and improved lighting (this was taken without ideal lighting).

Without further ado, here you go.

  • Microphone ($60) – ATR2100-USB
    • Excellent sound quality for the price – this does require your mouth to be within 1-2 inches for good sound quality. For me this is a net benefit as insures noise from kids at home won’t be heard on work calls. I can also play Zoom audio through my computer speakers and this won’t pick it up at all.
    • I’ve looked a LOT at alternatives (Rode Podcaster, Blue Yeti, Shure SM58, etc.) but keep coming back to this. The directional audio pickup and warm tone is a real positive for me.
    • Pro-Tip: make sure your microphone is set as the default system input vs. the input in individual applications. There’s nothing worse than having a good setup, the microphone input defaulting to the laptop or webcam microphone on a new platform/app, and only finding out later.
    • Review that convinced me with audio samples – https://marco.org/podcasting-microphones
    • https://amzn.to/2ucGCJ1
    • Microphone Update – 3/18/2020
      • The model above has been replaced with a USB-C version which is now $100. Can find it here – https://amzn.to/2IW4ogp
      • Alternate option – the Samson Q2U is almost the same as the ATR (maybe exactly the same based on reviews). Can find it here for $60 – https://amzn.to/2wlnE49
  • Microphone Arm ($15) – basic but works just fine. Mounted on the side of my desk so can swing the microphone out of the way when not in use and spent a little while winding the USB cable around it.
  • Windscreen ($2-6) – pretty much whatever you want – matching the color to my company’s color (Pure likes orange) is fun to do.
  • Webcam ($50) – Logitech for 1080P and general higher lens quality. I’ve had comments that this is noticeably sharper than built-in webcams and it especially does better the more light I have in the environment. See below.
    • There’s even a cool “Camera Settings” Mac app that lets you “RightSight automatically moves the camera and adjusts the zoom to comfortably frame meeting participants.”
  • Lighting Part 1 ($10 each) – super important for video. I replaced the previous BR30 70-watt equivalent bulbs with these for better and more light. 1800 Lumen (120W equivalent) BR40 LED. Since I got the lights below, I’ll turn this down to 50% (it’s on a dimmer) when on video to reduce forehead glare. If I wear a hat, I can leave this at 100%.
  • Lighting Part 2 ($25) – Selfie Ring Light (USB-powered) to improve flesh tones and remove shadows due to overhead lighting. I have this on a tripod behind my main monitor facing me directly – call it a center light.
  • Lighting Part 3 ($40) – Neewer 2-Pack Dimmable 5600K USB LED Video Light with Adjustable Tripod Stand (USB-powered). I have these on the left and right sides to crank up the light. I found that the Logitech camera loves more light (all cameras do really).
  • Monitors – (2) Acer 24” monitor – that I mount the webcam on ($199 each) – “2K monitor”. Not needed but it’s the right height and 2560×1440 is a good value for the money. These were $199 when I bought them and make it quite wonderful to have 3 monitors at home.
    • https://amzn.to/2F97fka
    • I know some folks really like 4k, 5k, or ultra wide monitors. I’ve found that having a laptop screen + monitors is really helpful when presenting – share the laptop screen via Zoom/WebEx, 1st monitor is for PowerPoint presenter view, 2nd monitor is for Slack/iMessage backchannel, browser, etc.
  • Backup Sennheiser USB headset ($40) – almost as good audio quality for travel or alternate use. Also used by some podcasters.
  • Anker Wireless Charging Stand ($15) – supports 7.5W iPhone charging. Much more convenient than a cable and the low profile fits well.
  • MPOW Headphones ($30) – very cheap, very good for listening to music. They fit tightly yet comfortably to block out sound when need to focus.
  • Under-Desk Headphone Mount ($12) – goes perfectly under the side of the desk to hold the Sennheiser and MPow headsets
  • Laptop Stand ($25) – inexpensive but works well.
  • Input Devices – when at home, I use an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and Magic Trackpad 2 (both chargeable via Lightning). I procured both as Refurb on Amazon – still working well.
  • iPad Stand ($15) – iPad used as alternate device, for Zoom, for white boarding remotely.
  • Reflector 3 – not hardware I realize but software to allow your Mac to be an Airplay receiver. This allows sharing an iPad screen to a Mac for easy whiteboarding (sometimes preferable to joining WebEx/Zoom on an iPad).
  • Logitech Crayon ($50-60) – less expensive than an Apple Pencil but has same tech for drawing on an iPad minus the pressure sensitivity. I used carpenter pencils a lot in the past so prefer the shape – this is how I whiteboard on an iPad.
  • Backup Hard Drives – used for Time Machine since the laptop has a 1 TB SSD. I have (2) hard drives that Time Machine rotates between – no links as this is a commodity item. Pick whatever you like.
  • Airpods (gen1) – great for listening to webinars, calls when need to wander around the house but don’t have to say much (no real noise cancellation).
  • Plantronics Voyager 5200 – best headset I’ve used of many over the years. This is what I use when don’t want to be tethered to a wire at home (I pace while taking) or when traveling (airports, hotel rooms, airport lounges, outside meetings, etc.). Great noise cancellation and battery life – I’ve had good success with buying these and others from Amazon as “Used – Like New” to save a few dollars. I also recommend the charging case.
  • Metal Whiteboard – 3×3 foot metal whiteboard from Ollie’s IIRC. Being metal with white paint it always wipes off easily. Good for quick sketches or ad hoc to do lists.
    • I can’t find a link but could put a couple in a grid to get the same effect. Or buy whatever whiteboard you like – metal is a priority IMHO though. https://amzn.to/33kUGNW
  • Printer – simple black and white duplex wireless Brother printer that was under $100 when I got it. Model = HL-2270DW although there are newer models. I’ve had great success with Brother printers over the years both for longevity and cheap 3rd-party toner.
  • Chair – thanks to the FlashStack team at Pure (thanks!) I now have a SecretLab Titan 2020 Softweave chair – highly, highly recommended.

Things I’ve considered but haven’t done yet are…

  • Standing Desk – I’ve got a desk set from when I was in college that is really solid. Disassembling it would be a major task – maybe some day.
  • Super-wide monitor – right now for Zoom meetings it’s really nice to have video full screen on one monitor, shared documents on another, and the third for notes/other use. Having a single superwide and closing the cover on my MacBook Pro is tempting.
    • For now I’ve decided against this per the note above.
  • Other Microphones – I’ve spent more time than I should reading up on other podcast/amateur quality microphones (Yeti Blue, Rode Podcaster, etc.). So far I keep coming back to the ATR2100.

I’d love feedback from anyone reading this (comments below or @andriven on Twitter). While I’m fairly happy with my home office setup right now, I’m also continuing to iterate. 😉

2 thoughts on “Every Impression Matters – Home Office Setup

  1. Pingback: Random Short Take #29 | PenguinPunk.net

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s