What My Remote Set-Up Looks Like After Five Years

Hey everyone! I’ve been working remotely for about five years now with three different companies (CodePen, Vox Media, and Treehouse) in two different cities (DC and Seattle). I read those "how to work remotely" blog posts from time to time and the biggest thing I realize is that there's no one great setup for everyone. Many people swear to having an established routine (I really don't), or that they absolutely can't work without a large monitor (I did for mostly four years), or that they need to have a standing desk and can't work anywhere else.

All of those things are great if they work for you! However, it's important to realize that people have different working styles and habits they develop over the course of working remotely, and each of those styles have been custom-made for them. Some people work best only at a desk in an office, while some people can't possible do their best work there. I'm sort of in-between. Here's what works for me:

Our Office Our Small Office, with all the Legos.

The Desk

As you would suspect, I have a desk to work from. However, this is a recent development. Prior to two months ago, I didn’t have a dedicated desk and only worked on my sofa or at my dining table. This is mostly because I lived in two expensive cities and couldn't afford a two bedroom place on my own.

When I first started working remotely, I lived in a studio apartment in DC without space for a dedicated desk. I used my dining table for just about everything (eating, art projects, working, brewing beer, folding my clothes…), so when I moved into a space that could accommodate a desk, I was so used to using my table that it didn’t even seem necessary. What was the point when I couldn’t even close the door on my work?

To get around the problem of disconnecting myself from my work, I made sure never to do anything on my work laptop outside of working hours. Even if I ended up working on a side project, the end of the day was symbolically linked to closing one laptop and opening another for fun time. Disconnecting from work is a theme throughout all remote work strategies, and something I encourage.

Ikea desk with curved widescreen monitor and macbook pro on stand. The desk set-up I share with my boyfriend, who works in a rocket factory.

Today I’m lucky enough to have an entire room that’s an office. I only have to share it with my boyfriend (Bf) and his legos. Since bedrooms in Seattle are super small, we decided to combine our desks together. I use the desk for work during the day, and he uses the desk when he gets home from work in the evening to game.

Our Setup

My stuff mostly stays on the right side of the desk (with the exception of the dock for the Switch), while his stuff mostly stays on the left side of the desk. My keyboard, trackpad, and mouse move off under my stand when he uses the desk, and I usually push his keyboard and mouse under the monitor when I’m working.

It’s not the perfect setup. We can’t agree on a height for the desk. I want it taller to fit the chair arms underneath and get the monitor at my eye level. He usually has it set lower (idk how that works though, because he’s taller than me but somehow that’s eye level?) I also haven’t found a webcam that’s a good enough quality to allow me to take meetings. But for the most part, it works pretty well. Hell, I don’t even mind being surrounded by legos.

The desk itself

It’s the Skarsta from Ikea. Bf bought it and I had no objections. I like that it’s a nice large size and heigh adjustable. I always thought about making my own wood top for it since I’m really into woodworking, but I really like the smooth feel of it. I honestly don’t care that it’s not fancy.

The chair

It’s also from Ikea. Bf also bought this before we moved into together and I had no objections. Whatever. It’s a chair. If I don’t like it, I’ll go sit somewhere else.

The monitor

Oh boy. This is where things got tricky. Bf had a three monitor set up before. I was using a Thunderbolt Display I’ve had for six years. We were both pretty set in our ways until we finally compromised on a wide-curved monitor. We ended up with the Alienware 1900R. It doesn’t seem as crisp as my old thunderbolt, but it’s perfectly fine for designing. I hardly ever use my laptop as a second screen when I’m plugged in. We had to get a hdmi switcher for it to allow Bf to play the Switch on this monitor, since it only has one display port input and one hdmi input.

The speakers

I didn’t realize the Thunderbolt Display had basically everything in it and other monitors didn’t just because I had been using it for so long. We ended up ditching Bf’s five speaker set up before in favor of a two speaker Bose Companion 2 Series setup that takes up way less space on the desk. They sound equally good, if not better, and also have two inputs that allow both of our computers to be hooked up to them.

Maneuvering

I use an Apple keyboard and trackpad. Trackpads are really nice for doing things in Figma when you need to zoom around artboards all the time. I used to only use trackpads, and even played World of Warcraft in a top raiding guild for a while only a trackpad. Then Bf convinced me to get a mouse to play Heroes of the Storm with him and I found it to be much better for doing work in CAD programs. Now I use both. I use a Logitech MX Anywhere when I’m at the desk.

Also on my side of the desk

On Bf’s side of the desk

The sofa

Sometimes I like doing work while lounging on the sofa in our great room. There’s days where I only work for the sofa, and some days when I don’t at all. While our office has a window in it, there’s a lot more natural light on this floor which is huge bonus for me, especially during the winter months when there’s hardly any sun at all in Seattle.

Ikea desk with curved widescreen monitor and macbook pro on stand.

I know some people are like “WHAT?? You can work DAYS without an external monitor??” Well, If you’re shocked now, you’d better be sitting down for the next part. I’ve worked entire years without even setting up my external monitor. I went so long I didn’t even know I needed a new dongle to connect to it. Not being tied to working at a desk or a monitor has really trained me how to work in different settings.

Working from your parent’s place for a week? Yeah, you can’t bring your monitor on the plane with you. Want to cowork with your friends in LA, Austin, SF, or wherever? Yep, still not going to bring a monitor, and coworking spaces definitely don’t have them at the hot desks. In all those cases, you’ve still got to do the work and adapt to not having a huge monitor. I’ve become so accustomed to changing my working locations that screen size isn’t a big deal anymore.

The sofa

A Sactional from Lovesac with Grey Slub Tweed covers.

The lap desk

A LapGear desk with phone holder on Amazon. I actually have two of these in the same color, one for upstairs and one for the sofa in the office. It’s nice not having my legs burned by my computer.

The other sofa

My old Crate and Barrel Petrie sofa is also in the office. I work on it sometimes, but I mostly go upstairs if I want to be on a sofa because of the natural light.

The island

Spoiler alert: It's not what you think of when you think remote work and islands.

Ikea desk with curved widescreen monitor and macbook pro on stand.

Sometimes I work from the island in our kitchen. I like to think I’d alternate between sitting and standing, but I really don’t. I’m just here for the coffee. It’s like eight feet from the sofa.

Bonus workspace: the roof deck

Sometimes when it’s nice out and I need more vitamin D, I’ll go up to the roof to work. We’ve got a large table with an umbrella that keeps the glare on my laptop down while I soak in the Seattle skyline and watch ships go in and out of Elliott Bay (the tugboats are my favorite!).

Ikea desk with curved widescreen monitor and macbook pro on stand.

That's mostly it! Very occassionaly, I work from a coffeeshop. When I'm so tired of being at home that I just HAVE to work in another place. This is usually because I haven't talked to another human being in a few days. But most of the time, work from home means work from home: pants on, no makeup, making homemade pizza for lunch. And It's been working very well for me.

I’m always looking to connect with fellow designers and am open to speaking opportunities. Let’s grab a coffee and chat if you’re in Seattle!

Send a DM on Twitter
Two people standing on the outside deck of a Washington State Ferry.