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Four monitors later, the sense of work-at-home dread is subsiding

My manager is only reductive malaise now.

monitors on desk
Image: Unsplash

Working at home can be a challenge. Some of the finer points of setting up your home workstation are deciding how you want to spend your days, in the sense of available technology.

A lot of us are going to be doing this for a while, so there are a couple of approaches. You can either set it up to mimic the pit of cubicle-despair you had at the office, or you can set it up to be a freaking control center; a cockpit of resolute productivity and technology. Obviously, since no manager is looking over my shoulder, I chose the latter.

I have four monitors, plus a laptop screen that is hidden behind one of the monitors. So you can either count that as four or five. Whatever helps you sleep at night. The large monitor is in the center, with one on either side and a floater up top. Each monitor has a purpose. I drew a picture.

Monitors

Monitors

The number four monitor is mounted to a freestanding single monitor stand, while the number one and number three monitors are mounted on a dual monitor stand with adjustable, hydraulic arms. So they don’t touch the desk. This clears up space for speakers, a power strip, and a much needed powered USB hub. I used to have a KVM switch in the mix, I’ll come back to that. Monitor two is on a standard monitor stand riser you can steal from any office building. The laptop is on a laptop stand behind monitor three.

The only problem with the monitor above all my other monitors is that the cursor has to be directed to go up to that monitor, rather than across one of the other monitors. Which can be annoying when I’m trying to select a browser tab on the number one monitor. I know, it’s such a minute, ridiculously specific detail slathered in the hot butter of technological privilege and having enough ports to handle four monitors.

Speaking of ports, my now six-year-old Maingear Potenza PC has many ports and dual graphic cards, but for some reason cannot handle more than one type of incoming connection in total. That is, in order to get four monitors to work simultaneously, I had to connect one via HDMI, one via HDMI-to-USB adapter, one via HDMI-to-DisplayPort adapter and the last one via DVI (that monitor also has a VGA output, which I also have an adapter for).

More about ports. With a laptop assigned to me by [redacted organization], I needed to be able to access both it and my PC during the day. One would think, balancing two very different worlds (that of writing this schlock and that of working a full-time job) I would want to keep them as separate as possible. That held true for a moment, as peripherals (including the powered USB hub) were routed through a KVM switch. But that required my laptop monitor to be present and messed with my audio. So I ditched that.

IT organizations either lock down a laptop so tight you can’t fit an SD card in there without a can of motor oil at the ready, or they don’t. Thankfully this laptop was locked down in all the places I don’t give a shit about so I was able to make it a remote desktop (because using the VPN to access the company’s intranet is essential to the job). Which enabled me to ditch the KVM and free up some clutter of cables from the desk (KVM switch added two HDMI cables, three USB cables, and a power cable to the tangled pile of cables that I could have organized better).

Rounding out the set up is a Razer Deathstalker keyboard (which Razer doesn’t make any longer, and isn’t a mechanical keyboard, which are all the rage right now) and a Razer Deathadder V2 gaming mouse. I actually have two of each, since I used to go to an office and I like to have backups in case one breaks. There are some old Logitech speakers that still sound great and a Blue Yeti X microphone on a basic scissor arm. All of this sits on a standing desk in front of my Kinn office chair because ergonomics is important.

The point of all this is to create a sense of comfort and calm; everything in its place

The remote desktop is on monitor three. Email on monitor two. Monitor four is basically just Microsoft Sticky Notes and cartoons for when I need a break from music or meetings. Obviously monitor one is the main work screen, where the magic happens. This might be too much for most people, who prefer one screen or possibly two including their laptop. But I need to see everything at once in order to keep my brain steady and working at pace. I have no closet doors in my house. It’s an anxiety thing.

I want to feel like I’m at work, like there is work to be done, but I still want to feel like I have freedom in front of the computer. Not necessarily so I can peruse porn during the day without a co-worker walking by in disgust, but so that I can have everything I need in personal and professional work in one place. So that I can drift between both worlds, so that I can securely manage my ADHD with plenty of stimulation. So I’m not stuck on one monitor in a meeting on the screen, unable to travel back and forth to Trello or email or the development server. It’s as close to 5th dimensional as I can get, tempering the general malaise of not sitting outside with an iced tea, watching the world fade.

Why does any of this matter? Well, to you it might not, at least, not in the specific hardware setup. But what you should take away from this is that you don’t have to stick to the cubicle-dwelling mindset when it comes to your set up at home.

You can either integrate it with your current setup, or build something completely new. You don’t have to sit plainly with your work laptop at the kitchen table, that just isn’t sustainable for how long we’re going to be working remotely. Now is the time to build something (within budget, of course). Get some slick monitors. Mount them. Stop hunching over your laptop and freaking relax. You’re in the cockpit now.

What do you think? Have you been reevaluating your work setup now that you are at home? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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