Creating a home office setup takes time, money and effort. For a geek like me, it also takes a lot of planning. I recently moved into a new apartment, and as someone who works from home, I wanted to create an inviting and functional professional-looking office.
This is a path I’ve been down before.
The experience taught me a lot. This time, I could build my new work-from-home setup quicker, with fewer mistakes.
I want to share the fruits of my learning with you today.
(Related: 13 Best Home Office Ideas).
How Much Should You Spend On A Home Office Setup?
Building a home office can get expensive. While you can use cheap components to cut costs in certain areas, you can’t escape the old truisms:
- You get what you pay for, and
- Poor man pays twice
With that in mind, I recommend you resist the temptation to buy your home office chairs at Ikea (4 tiers of office chairs) and buy the cheapest audiovisual equipment.
Instead, build your home office in stages, adding upgrades that increase functionality as you save more funds. Here are the 3 stages, and their ballpark costs:
- Stage 1: Home Office Essentials ($2,000-$5,000)
- Stage 2: The Podcaster Upgrade ($500-$2,000)
- Stage 3: The YouTuber Upgrade ($3,000-$6,000)
Stage 1: Home Office Essentials
Every home office setup begins with strong foundations. Don’t cut costs on any of the gear in this section, as they are critical to your comfort and productivity.
1. Standing Desk.
Your desk is the foundation for your home office setup. Flimsy foundations lead to flimsy structures, so don’t cut corners here.
Buy the best standing desk that you can afford. This means:
- Strong frame – ensure it’s rated to at least 120kg of dynamic load, weighs at least 35 kg and is made from steel. (Don’t get Ikea).
- Great desktop – choose one that’s aesthetically pleasing, strong and nice to touch. Go with hardwood or bamboo, but avoid particle board – it feels cheap, scratches easily and does not like clamps.
Must-have accessories for your electric standing desk are:
- Drawer to keep your desktop clutter-free.
- Anti-fatigue mat to make standing for prolonged periods easy.
- Monitor riser to bring your screen to eye level.
If you’re curious, I’m using one of the best standing desks on the market – the UpDown Pro with a New Messmate hardwood desktop.
(Related: Best Under-Desk Treadmills You Can Buy In 2023).
2. Ergonomic Office Chair.
Shown in photo: the ErgoTune Supreme V3 represents outstanding value for money.
Most home office chairs are ugly and uncomfortable. Even if you have a standing desk, you’ll want to sit down for at least a part of your workday, which makes a good ergonomic chair a must.
(Related: How To Choose An Office Chair).
The tilt mechanism of your office chair determines how well it moulds to your body as you move. It’s also the biggest predictor of cost.
The 5 types are:
- Centre-tilt. Cheap, nasty, uncomfortable. Locates the pivot point of your chair directly underneath the centre.
- Knee-tilt. The pivot point is just behind your knees, which makes the chair more comfortable.
- Multifunction. Similar to centre-tilt, except it gives you extra controls to lock off the chair in any position. Avoid.
- Synchro-tilt. One of the best mechanisms for people with lower back problems. A gearing mechanism reduces the lift in your seat pan as you recline, preventing your feet from lifting into the air.
- Weight-sensitive. The best mechanism for an ergonomic chair. Usually requires the least adjustment and offers the best feel of recline.
While the Aeron felt more expensive (because it is – by a factor of 5!), I prefer the seating experience of the ErgoTune.
(Related: Best Home Office Chairs In Australia).
3. Fast Laptop.
I’ve owned every MacBook Pro since it came out about 10 years ago, and I must say that the latest M1 MacBook Pro is the best by a long shot.
Apple is notorious for dressing up its new products in marketing hyperbole that doesn’t carry much technological substance, but this laptop is the real deal.
- While previous-generation 13″ MBPs were underpowered for serious processing or video editing, the 2022 M1 MBP is the perfect hybrid of practicality and power.
Great battery life, 3 USB-C ports, HDMI port, and Liquid Retina XDR 14-inch (3024 × 1964) display complete the package.
I edit Premiere Pro video footage in 4K, edit PSD files in Photoshop and often have more than 20 tabs open – without much fuss.
Internet privacy matters, especially when you work remotely. Hackers can steal your passwords and log into your company CRM, ERP and HR systems. Always use a premium Australian VPN to prevent data breaches.
4. Monitor Riser.
Shown in photo: a monitor riser improves the usability of your desktop by increasing the amount of available desktop space.
The name is misleading.
Yes, it improves the ergonomics of your home office setup by lifting your monitor to your eye level, but the main reason you need to buy one is the gain in desktop space.
A monitor riser creates a very useful void underneath your monitor that you can use for storing books, hard drives, and trays full of small items.
Because I’m planning to add an external monitor very soon. The monitor will sit on the monitor riser, while the Magic Arm will locate the laptop on the same horizontal plane, right next to it. Ergonomic setup, baby!
5. Desk Mat.
You can add contrast and visual structure to your standing desk with a leather or a wool desk pad. Which one is best?
- Leather looks smarter.
- Wool feels nicer under your hands.
A good desk mat is one of the most “bang for your buck” items you can get for your home office.
It creates a nice accent that breaks up all the wood surfaces, prevents your keyboard from moving and makes the mouse nicer to use. Win Win Win.
I got mine from Minimal Desk Setups and have no complaints.
6. Cable Management System.
Shown in photo: a cable management spine houses all your power cables running to the ground.
A sloppy home office setup leads to sloppy ideas and sloppy execution.
Loose cables cause the majority of sloppiness and make your workspace look like it belongs to a teenager rather than an astute professional. Use:
- Cable ties and velcro straps to manage your desktop cables.
- Cable spine to run power cables from your standing desk to the ground.
Manage your cables as a last step after all your devices have been plugged in. Also, ensure that your standing desk is in the highest position – otherwise, you’ll break things as soon as you press the “up” button.
7. Wireless Mouse & Keyboard.
I use an Apple Magic wireless keyboard and mouse. There’s nothing magic about them, but they work reliably and look great.
Some people prefer the chunkier look of Logitech peripherals, but it’s not my cup of tea. Each to their own.
Stage 2: The Podcaster Upgrade.
Great audio is important for any creator – not just for podcasters.
Did you know that audio contributes 50% to your audience’s visual experience? In other words, if you produce video, but your audio is rubbish, people won’t watch your stuff.
Of course, audio contributes 100% of your audience’s experience if you produce audio content like tutorials, podcasts, voiceovers and audiobooks.
The moral of the story – pay a lot of attention to audio when building your office setup.
Before you go out and buy any audio gear, improve the acoustics of your home office by reducing reverb. Even the most expensive sound equipment will sound cheap in an untreated, acoustically live room.
Shown in photo: Sennheiser 416 shotgun microphone mounted on a Rycote pistol grip and a Manfrotto Magic Arm.
Which microphone is best for your home office?
Whoa, tiger, you’ve opened a can of worms.
Entire YouTube channels have been dedicated to choosing the best microphone, and the debate is far from settled.
- My pick is the Sennheiser MKH416 shotgun microphone. With origins in Hollywood film-making, it provides outstanding sound quality and ambient noise rejection.
- It is expensive (about $1000) and requires an audio interface to work (more on these in a moment), but holds its value extremely well.
If you don’t mind looking like a Joe Rogan wannabe, the best alternative is the Shure SM7B. It has a more chunky appearance and even stronger ambient noise rejection.
The main difference between the two microphones is that you can use the MKH417 close-up or on a boom, the SM7B demands that you stay very close to it at all times.
2. Microphone Arm.
Precise microphone placement is essential. You need a microphone arm that is:
- Strong enough to hold up your microphone, and
- Long enough to place it exactly where you need it.
Prices range from reasonable to ridiculous, but the Rode PSA1+ provides the best balance of cost and quality. It’s almost perfectly balanced, quiet, attractive and, at $199, not very expensive. I used it for years and was very happy with it.
These days, I use a Manfrotto Magic Arm instead.
If it seems like an odd choice for a microphone arm, it’s because it is. You won’t see it in many setups, but I like it because it’s compact and a bit unusual.
Magic Arms aren’t cheap (about $360 each), but are highly versatile. While you can use a microphone arm for one thing only, a Magic Arm can be used to hold a camera, a light or even a laptop. In fact, my entire home office is built using Magic Arms (more on that later).
3. Audio Interface.
Shown in photo: the Rode AI-1 tucks nicely underneath the monitor riser, held in place by double-sided tape.
You cannot plug a professional-grade microphone directly into your laptop or desktop computer.
Instead, you’ll need an in-between conduit, an audio interface.
Its main downside is its single microphone input, which makes it unsuitable for having a live guest on your podcast.
You’ll need an audio interface with two XLR inputs to solve that problem, like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
Stage 3: The YouTuber Upgrade.
Great lighting is essential for creating great video. While you can use natural light to begin with, you’ll get to a point where the ability to shape the direction, quality and amount of light is essential.
- I have a background in professional photography, so this is a topic that I’m very at home with.
I assume you’re building a home office with a semi-professional video production capability. This means spending a decent amount of money.
That said, video is an area where costs get out of control very quickly, so I’m doing my best to give you a premium, and a budget option every time.
1. Key Light.
Shown in photo: the key light should be quite close to your face. A bigger light modifier will create a softer light, creating a more pleasant image.
If you’re tight on space, get the Light Dome Mini instead. You’ll trade off some of the light’s softness for increased portability.
Truth be told, there are plenty of other offerings, but I personally chose Aputure because a few YouTubers who I trust use it – and I haven’t regretted my choice.
Here’s what you need to look for:
- Quiet fan to help you achieve very clean audio.
- Bowens mount to make the light compatible with all light fittings.
- Remote control with brightness control.
Professional studio lighting isn’t just for YouTubers. Your video calls will also benefit from a big, soft key light.
2. Edge Light.
Prevent your image from falling flat by using an edge light.
Position it diagonally opposite your key light to create separation from your background.
Don’t use softening modifiers on your edge light. While your key light should be very soft, the edge light looks best when it’s contrasty and harsh.
Shown in photo: my background is nowhere near finished, but it’s a step in the right direction. The edge light is visible, and is mounted to the bookshelf using – you guessed it – a Magic Arm.
Your background is part of the visual story. Make sure that it supports the overall narrative you’re aiming to convey.
- Place books in the background to convey authority.
- Remove any items that are unrelated to your personal brand.
Improve the appearance of your visual image by choosing colours that contrast and complement each other. The most commonly used pair involves orange and blue. For example, you could wear a blue shirt and place something orange into your background.
Home offices are usually tight on space, so use a wide-aperture prime lens at its near-fastest setting to create a background blur.
This will increase your spend, but will add a cinematic, high-budget, pleasant feel to your videos.
Which lens is best and how much will it cost?
This depends on your choice of camera, but a good fast primes start at about $600-1100 and go up from there. Sigma and Tamron offer the best bang for your buck while Camera manufacturers charge you an arm and a leg.
Regardless of brand, look for a medium-wide (35mm or equivalent) lens with apertures of:
Do not use the zoom kit lens that your camera probably came with. In fact, don’t buy cameras that come with kit lens!
Which camera is best for your home office setup? Oh my. This is a deep conversation.
You can spend days (or weeks) on YouTube trying to answer this question. If you don’t have the time, here are my picks:
- Sony ZV-E10. Budget option for about $1,000. Its only downside is the cropped sensor, which will make your backgrounds less blurry).
- Sony A7C. Sony’s workhorse full-frame camera, tweaked for use in home office setups. At about $2,500, it’s basically a rebadged Sony A7S.
A Few Final Tips About Home Office Setups.
A well-designed home office will help you mentally leave “home mode” and enter “work mode”, which is difficult for many people working from home.
That said, buying the right office furniture and gear and then putting them together into a home office setup that’s aesthetically pleasing, inviting, practical and ergonomically sound can take quite a bit of time.
It also involves quite a bit of trial and error.
Building, and then tweaking your home home office is part of the process. You won’t get it right the first time, so don’t feel disappointed if something doesn’t quite look, feel, or work right.
P.S. Do you have any home office setup ideas that you want to share? Let us know your tips and recommendations in the comments below.