Work from home essentials the IndyBest team can’t live without: From coffee machines to laptop risers

Struggling as we approach the one-year mark? We’ve found these products make all the difference

IndyBest Team
Friday 29 January 2021 08:25
<p>These are the buys we found ourselves returning to time and time again</p>

These are the buys we found ourselves returning to time and time again

Much like most of the nation, we’ve been working from home in various ways for almost a year now. And during those 12 months, we’ve invested in countless products to make those days at our makeshift desks more comfortable and enjoyable – some of which have proved far more beneficial than others.

Working from home is obviously a challenging enterprise when you’re not set up for it with the functional kit, but even when you’ve got the likes of ergonomic office chairs and wireless keyboards at your disposal, finding ways to stay focused and motivated without the presence of your colleagues isn’t easy. 

Nor is creating a sense of separation between work and home life, especially if they happen to collide in one room (shout out to our fellow tiny flat dwellers).

But no matter how much – or how little – space you have to play with, there are plenty of affordable buys that can help to improve the time you spend in your home office, even if that office is actually your kitchen table or bedroom, or battling for occupancy with your child’s home schooling set-up. 

So we’ve compiled an edit of the buys that we found ourselves returning to time and time again, which really have made all the difference.

Read more: 6 best ergonomic office chairs that make working from home more comfortable

Some of our picks have helped us fix common WFH problems – improving our failing posture or making dialing into Zoom calls a whole lot smoother, for instance – while others are simply pick-me-ups that have enabled us to stay positive and productive during the longest lockdown days. 

And let’s be honest, with WFH the reality for many of us until at least this coming spring, pick-me-ups are something that we could all do with a few more of at the moment.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Emma Henderson (Editor)

Ethernet LAN patch 3m cable and TP-link TL-WPA4220 2 port add-on powerline adapter: £43.97, Amazon

There’s nothing more annoying while working from home than bad internet, let me tell you. From not being able hear everyone in a meeting – and worse, not being able to properly speak – to pages not loading while screensharing to videos freezing and jittering. And as Zoom became the ultimate way for everyone to communicate, you can imagine how frustrating this very quickly became. After putting a wifi booster almost next to my make-shift desk didn’t help much, and spending too many meeting sitting in the corridor near to the router, and calls to the internet provider asking for help (obviously, none received), it was time to buy an ethernet cable. 

Not something I’m familiar with, as I’ve never needed my own office setup in my kitchen before. First, I needed a power line adapter, which sends the full strength wifi signal through the whole electrical system of the house. The ethernet cable plugs into the wall socket one end, and straight into my laptop with the other giving me a strong signal. Yes there’s ugly wires around the kitchen, but at least I can get through a Zoom meeting (touch wood). The best near £50 I’ve spent in lockdown, for sure. 

Adapter Buy now

CableBuy now

Ellie Fry (Deputy Editor)

Apple AirPods with charging case (2nd generation): £124.99, Amazon

I’d avoided giving into the wireless earbuds craze until quite recently, wondering how much more convenience they could really award me when my trusty wired pair had served me for so long. But they really do make everything so much easier. Despite not being dubbed as noise cancelling (the newer Pro models are) they do drown out most exterior sounds, which is vital when you’re sharing a makeshift office space and your new next door neighbour has a dog that barks incessantly. 

Taking Zoom calls feels far more effortless now these little buds are permanently in my ears, and I’ve also found that they help FaceTime calls with friends and family feel more natural, as you don’t even feel like you’re wearing any headphones.

Buy now

Read more: 11 best wireless earbuds: Quality sound, noise cancellation and phone calls on the move

Quay stranger unisex blue light glasses in tort: £40, Asos

Whenever my phone or laptop notified me of how many hours I’ve spent looking at my screen that day, I wince. Naturally, the figure has become even higher since working from home where all I do is move from one screen to another. I’m used to having two PC monitors in the office too, and since working on a much smaller MacBook screen, I started to get headaches. I always thought blue light glasses were a bit of a fad, and while the research on their effectiveness is mixed, they have really helped me. 

My eyes are less strained, headaches crop up less often, plus, they are great to hide behind on Zoom when you’re not feeling so fresh, which is a real bonus. I’ve tried a few pairs at different price points and would suggest spending a bit more on them, as cheaper options don’t help as much. This oversized pair from Quay are the ones I reach for most.

Buy now

Tal Dekel Daks (Audience Lead)

Dellonda single motor height-adjustable electric sit and stand desk with black desktop: £299.98, Amazon

It took me almost a year of working from home to finally bite the bullet and upgrade my tiny square Ikea desk (you know the one) for a motorised standing desk that comfortably holds a monitor, laptop and everything else I need. After being used to sitting all day, it’s been nice to break up my time hunching over a laptop with a half hour standing here or there. If you're also in the market for a standing desk it's worth knowing that they can vary quite a bit in how they operate. 

This pretty average-priced option from Amazon comes with a little control panel attached to the front, underside of the desk and with it you can control the height directly, pressing down the button for a few seconds to go either up or down. It’s got quite the range too if you’re blessed with height, going from 710-1210mm. Overall if you’re looking to improve your posture and upgrade your desk, it’s a good quality no nonsense option that’s easy to use and pretty easy to assemble.

Buy now

Read more: 8 best standing desks that can make working from home a breeze

Eleanor Jones (Executive Editor)

Laptop stand: £33.99, Amazon

During the first lockdown, I optimistically avoided investing in any kind of proper desk set-up, telling myself that we’d probably all be back in the office soon enough. The result of this was three months spent on my sofa (not even in a proper chair!) hunched over a laptop that I’d balanced on the arm. When my state of denial finally lifted and I realised enough was enough, I still didn’t want to splash a huge amount of cash, so opted for this affordable Amazon riser, which has more than 1,000 positive reviews, to give more structure to my seating arrangement. 

I’ve now joined the ranks of those who’d give it the full five stars – it’s absolutely idiot-proof to build (the two pieces just slot together), can support all of the various laptop sizes I’ve tried it with, and even has slots in the back you can use to tidy your cables. If you don’t already have one, it’s well worth the spend.

Buy now

Notebook: £19.99, Papier

Could you just write your notes on a sheet of A4 grabbed from the printer? Of course. Would I recommend spending this much on a fancy notebook anyway? If budget allows, absolutely. Not only is the quality of the collection lovely – sturdy hardback cover, lined pages, even personalisation, if you wish - the fun choice of designs make Papier’s offering a really consistent mood lifter. I find myself looking forward to reviewing my to-do list, and making notes in meetings in this beauty is a pleasure, not a chore – I’ve gone through a couple of these already and when my current one is full, I know I’ll place another order.

Buy now

Sarah Young (Writer)

Motivational water bottle: £9.95, Amazon

We all know that drinking more water is good for us but, while it might seem like a simple task, most of us fail to have a sip of anything other than coffee before lunchtime. If, like me, you struggle to meet your daily quota of H20, I highly recommend investing in a motivational water bottle. Since purchasing mine, staying sufficiently hydrated has felt like less of a chore and more of a triumph, as the bottle marks every one-hour time period with a goal line and various affirmations, such as “you’ve got it” and “keep going”. And the results are noticeable. After drinking two litres every day for a few weeks my concentration has improved, I feel less tired and my skin looks better – just be prepared for more toilet breaks.

Buy now

Rapunzel devil’s ivy: £15, Patch Plants

The kind of environment we work in can have a major impact on not only productivity but also our mental health and making even the smallest of changes can make a big difference. One easy way I’ve found to make my workspace feel more zen (and look seriously chic) is to add plants, like this devil’s ivy from Patch Plants, which hangs gracefully from a bookcase by my desk. 

Aside from adding a nice pop of colour to the room, studies have shown that plants help us better manage anxiety and refocus our energy and, while I can’t say I’ve noticed it having much impact on daily stresses, it certainly brightens the space. A word of warning to any fellow owners of plant-guzzling cats, this particular one isn’t pet friendly so be sure to keep it out of reach from pesky paws.

Buy now

Read more: 7 best house plants that will boost your mood and indoor space

Eva Waite-Taylor (Writer)

Nespresso vertuo plus coffee machine: £72, Currys PC World

Having been working from home since March 2020, I’ve saved myself so much money by not visiting Pret for a coffee on my way into the office. Instead of forgoing my morning caffeine fix, I’ve fallen back in love with my Nespresso machine. It’s meant I’ve been able to create barista-style (well nearly) coffee at-home, with each one setting me back a mere 60p.

This model, unlike the OG machines that only produce espresso shots, caters for five different cup sizes, ranging from espresso (40ml) up to alto (414ml), making it ideal if you like a longer coffee in the morning, but also enjoy a shot to get you over the mid-afternoon slump. If you’re tempted, I’d also suggest investing in a milk frother , I don’t think I could get through lockdown life without this duo.

Buy now

Read more: 9 best espresso machines for barista quality coffee at home

Tara Breathnach (Writer)

Dell SE2216H 21.5 Inch Full HD Monitor: £89.99, Amazon

I was struggling to lots of screenwork using my laptop, so needed a monitor but didn't want to pay over the odds.

This Dell one is just what I need for homeworking: the screen is 21.5in which is perfect for my desk which is fairly small, and the display is nice and clear and you can adjust the tilt of the screen. I know the brand's a good one as many of the offices I've worked in are kitted out with Dell screens.

Do note it doesn't come with an HDMI lead, which is probably what you'll need to connect your laptop to it, but you can get these on Amazon for around £4.99: just make sure you order one at the same time if you know you'll need it and don't already have a spare one at home.

Buy now

Autofull gaming chair: £259.99, Amazon

As I sit in a chair for long lengths of time while working from home, as lots of us do, I was happy to spend a fair bit of money to get something that would be comfortable. I've worked in low-backed chairs before which has led to neck and shoulder pain, so I was keen to make sure I bought a high-backed one which this is. It has a removable cushion to so you can get extra support to your head, or remove it if that's too much.

The chair was easy to assemble, and looks great too: my office doubles up as a reading/chill out room for me so I didn't want anything that looked to work-like or formal, which is why I'm very happy with the pink rather than a regular black or grey one.It's not the roomiest chair: I'm fairly petite and fit into this snuggly. I like the fact it sits quite cosily around me but this might not work for everyone. Added fun features are the removable bunny ears in the headrest (which you may want to take off of you've got a very important Zoom meeting coming up) and the bunny tail at the back. My nine-year-old daughter loves it for these alone.

Buy now

Daisy Lester (Production Journalist)

H&M cotton seat cushion: £3.99, H&M

While some may have the WFH luxury of a cushioned office chair, others have endured three lockdowns sat at the kitchen table, tapping away at the keyboard as our derrière slowly numbs. Without the living space for any kind of ergonomic desk chair; in comes the seat cushion. For just £3.99, I get through the nine-hour day in (relative) comfort with this circular seat cushion from H&M. Coming in muted black, light beige and my favourite yellow-beige, it even looks nice thrown on the sofa at the end of the working day.

Buy now

Bush classic mini DAB radio: £29.99, Argos

There’s been no better sanity saviour for me while working from home than a radio and this Bush mini DAB model is a steal at just £29.99. Groundhog Day seems less monotonous when listening to one of my favourite radio stations and often just hearing a voice in the background can be cheering while in the home office. Coming in a stylish retro cream, it even ups my decor game. Other features include an alarm clock and the option for batteries so you can listen while on the move, albeit just into the kitchen. 

Buy now

Read more: 10 best DAB radios

Evie Breese (freelance)

i-box bedside alarm clock: £34.99, Amazon

It takes a while for my brain to join my body in being alert to the world most mornings, so waking up to the radio really helps. My first alarm at 7am wakes me up to the gentle but informative Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, and the second beeping alarm at 7.30 nudges me to actually get up. The i-box doubles as a speaker for playing background music while "in the zone" and the four different light strengths of the display mean it's not too bright at night. You'll never scramble to find a charging cable again, too, as it has wireless charging on top.

Buy now

Read more: 7 best alarm clocks for students that get them out of bed on time

Elle Magill (freelance)

Salter 60 minute mechanical kitchen timer: £13.05, Amazon

Without all the distractions of a busy office, chatty co-workers and coffee trips, it's easy to get lost in your work. Then, before you know it, it's been three hours and you haven't looked up from your laptop. This is a great kitchen timer, but it has now become a staple in my home office. Its ringer is a very loud traditional bell sound ring, a welcome break from my panic-inducing iPhone wake up alarm and can easily be heard over my headphones. It is also completely clockwork which means no scrambling for batteries, hooray! I set it to an hour to check in with myself, to remind me to take a breath, take a sip of water or give my shoulders and neck a little stretch. It's a simple trick that is good for the mind, body and soul.

Buy now

M&S Collection sumptuously soft thermal socks: £10, M&S

If you are like me and suffer from appalling circulation and perpetually cold feet, then slipper/fluffy socks are a life-saver. Not usually work attire, but these from M&S are so cute and keep your feet toasty under your desk all day. I've loved wearing these every day and I'll be sad to give them up when we all go back to work. These are so soft, and the cable-knit design is not obnoxiously fluffy so can even be worn out of the house under my Chelsea boots. A must-have for working from home.

Buy now 

For more working from home tips, read our guide to re-vamping your set-up, according to an interior designer

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.