Coronavirus symptoms include back pain, shoulder pain, and your right arm now hanging at a weird angle.
Of course, none of these result directly from the virus. But they do result from a crappy desk setup. The fact is that Coronavirus is forcing many of us to work from home during the pandemic, and even for the foreseeable future now that employers are convinced we won't spend our time playing xbox and doing the dishes. So now, we're working on desks that were originally picked up off a hard rubbish pile and chairs that are either plastic, or folding, or both.
Even if we do go back to work sooner rather than later, maybe like me you have come to appreciate the benefits of working from home. If you're enjoying the ten-second commute from the breakfast table to the office. If you like the distraction-free environment, or having lunch from home, or the fact that you now no longer have to share a cubicle with the office sniffler (GARY, GET A TISSUE, DAMMIT). You might want to make this situation something more permanent. In that case, you'll need a space to do it.
How do I set up a home office?
It was this situation I faced a couple of months ago- after moving out to the country and deciding I was going to give freelancing a crack, it was time to put a space together. Luckily, our second bedroom became a de-facto office of sorts and it meant I had a dedicated space to be able to do it. This is important, as not only for your mental health, but also for tax reasons it's great to be able to separate your home office from the rest of your... well, home.
From there, it's just a matter of working out your equipment needs and designing your space. For the type of work that I do, it means a desk that's comfortable for typing, as well as enough real estate to work on some audio stuff too- and maybe even break out the soldering iron every now and then. So I'd need one with a decent size, but I didn't want to spend a huge amount.
There's a bit of a subculture online of people 'hacking' IKEA furniture- that is, using it for something other than what it's designed for. That appeals to my DIY-type nature, so after browsing Ikeahacks.com for a little while, a plan started to form in my head- off I went to IKEA and after filling myself with meatballs (because, obviously) I got down to business.
My IKEA desk hack:
If you're looking for a desk, then forget the desk department. That stuff is fine if you just want something every now and then to do a little bit of work or play Fortnite. But this was going to be my home (office) away from home: I spend a considerable amount of time there so I wanted something substantial. Five hundred bucks for a proper office desk, however...
So I shot past the home office section with its pinteresty displays of perfectly organised home offices (DEFINITELY not like my home office!) and headed to the… kitchen section?
You bet. You see, we’re not looking for a tabletop. We’re looking for a benchtop.
It may sound ridiculous, but the more you think about it the more it makes sense. These laminate benchtops comprise an inch or so of MDF- exactly what your normal flat-pack desk is made out of, but this has much more strength as it’s thicker. It will contain all your typing vibrations rather nicely (especially like me if you use an annoying mechanical keyboard), and the laminate is heat-resistant, meaning that your hot cup of inspiration or your crappy soldering iron skills will leave the desk gloriously unharmed. You won’t find these on the shelf, but they do have them in stock- they're a special order item so you need to ask one of the lovely IKEA folks to put one aside for you, which will be ready for you to pick up on the way out. I picked up two EKBACKEN benchtops for myself and Kate, in a quite lovely sort of oak colour.
Benchtops acquired, I then headed back to the home office department for the rest of the stuff I needed. For my desk, I elected to build it without any drawers or storage, to keep the cost down but it’s easy enough to add as most of this furniture is exactly the same height and designed to be mixed and matched anyway. You can mix and match the ALEX drawer units with the ADILS legs to make a perfectly serviceable desk. I got four ADILS legs for each desk, plus some other odds and ends to make the home office a little more comfortable.
After straining my poor Mazda trying to get what felt like a ton of flat-pack home (we bought some other stuff as well), it was time to lay it all out and get down to business.
Putting together your new IKEA desk:
So obviously, this is going to take a little more than your average IKEA product to put together. But seriously, not much more! If you’re using an ALEX you’re going to want to put that together first, before we get cracking on the desk itself. Otherwise the first thing to do is to grab your materials and equipment:
Now as you can see, above- the benchtop comes with two extra strips of laminate, meaning you can cut to shorten it if you need to- the laminate sticks to the cut side meaning it blends in perfectly and you don't get a bare edge on your new desk. This can be handy for doing, say, an 'L' shaped desk or for fitting it into a cramped space. We used the 186cm long desk, and to be honest I wouldn't go longer than that with only four legs. Any longer and you'll want to add some support in the middle to stop sagging over time.
The first thing we want to do is determine the location of our legs- these screw into a metal plate which is in turn screwed into the desk. I opted to place these about 30cm in from the edge- most of the weight of the desk will be placed in the middle so it's good to give it some extra support. Measure and mark the spot from both the end and the edge of the benchtop so everything's nice and even the whole way round.
From there, it's just a case of marking where you want those legs to go. I used the mounting plate as a template to trace the circle for positioning, plus marking where the pilot holes for the screws will go. Although those screws will probably go in just fine on their own, I always reckon it's better to fire a pilot hole in to make sure the screws go in straight. Use a drill bit that's about the same size as the shank on the screw: you want the threads onto the screw to cut into the wood, but give the actual "shaft" of the screw enough room in the hole. Once you've navigated that minefield of double-entendre, a handy tip is to use a masking tape 'flag' on the drill bit to stop yourself drilling too deep.
From there, the next step is to install the mounts for the cable management tray. These screw on in much the same way- with a couple of mounting brackets that the actual tray screws onto. Pop this right at the back edge so your knees don't hit it, but make sure there's enough room if you plan on putting the desk against a wall.
Once that's done, it's time to attach everything and flip your new desk over. Try and avoid putting too much lateral pressure on those legs- having another person around will help. Boom! Desk!
Set up your home office:
For the type of work that I do, a good quality keyboard is a must. I went for the Cooler Master CK530, which is a mechanical keyboard and feels great to type on- considering the length of this Blog post I feel like that's a good investment! I don't care much for the flashy lights, and it's loud as heck, but bloody hell is it nice to type on! It doesn't have a numpad, but as that puts my mouse arm closer to my body that means it's more ergonomic.
The mouse upgrade will have to wait, for now, this old Logitech one will do. For audio work I usually use headphones, but it's still nice to have a decent pair of speakers for watching videos and listening to mixes. For these, I picked up a pair of bookshelf speakers from Edifier. They're a bit boomy, to be honest, and in my humble opinion don't live up to the YouTube reviews that claim these speakers to be the best things since sliced bread. But hey, these were pretty good for the price.
An Ikea TERTIAL work lamp gives me a bit more light to work with, which is nice when you're soldering or something- while the humorous mousepad makes you chuckle while you're sorting through a packed inbox. It's a moosepad, geddit?!
Now that you've got your equipment, it's important to get that set up properly, so check out this video that will help you set up your desk ergonomically. And you're done!
Chris Plumridge is a freelance audio producer, voiceover artist and writer from Leongatha in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.