Having spent the last ten years working all over the world in Cafes, Airports, Airbnbs, birding lodges in the middle of the Amazon, dive shops, bamboo huts, mobile homes and a vehicle or two, I’ve realized that location-independent work, remote work and especially permanent digital nomadom is romantic so long as you can work comfortably.
If you don’t want to develop chronic “tech neck,” want to stay in your employer, coworkers, and clients’ good graces while not in the office, and want to make as much of the world your office as effortlessly as possible, below are 7 things you need for comfortable, effective remote work and job seeking.
Table of Contents
Laptop stand: Roost Portable Laptop Stand
This is something I spent far too long without. I finally realized I was being stupid, but not before having to start going to the chiropractor for the first time in my life.
A laptop stand is important for me (and you) for a couple of reasons.
The first is that there is an ideal angle for your head and neck while looking at a screen.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (my home country’s authority):
Working with one’s chin tilted upwards and the head and upper body bent forwards or sideways is common wherever the monitor is improperly situated.
Such forced working body positions significantly contribute to the operator’s discomfort and can potentially lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD). Other adverse effects of a poorly located monitor are eye irritation, blurred vision, dry, burning eyes and headaches, collectively called eyestrain.
I can personally attest to all of this, having spent so many uninformed and uncomfortable years working in bed or in crappy hotel chairs.
The second reason (and this one applies mostly to guys) is that having your laptop in your lap is frying your balls. The Journal of Biomedical Physics and Engineering has this to say:
Our own studies, as well as the studies performed by other researchers, indicate that using laptop computers on the lap adversely affects the male reproductive health
I travel with a laptop stand now, and it’s been a game changer.
I like something like the Roost Portable Laptop Stand.
It’s lightweight (so fewer worries about going over checked baggage allotments), weighing just 5.8 ounces, and does take up a lot of space (1.2 x 13 x 1.3 inches).
I also really like the four-legged design because it’s more structurally sound. Less of a chance of a worn-out hinge or screw giving up the ghost and your laptop falling off.
A lot of other stands are built so that the entire weight of your computer rests on a single hinge point.
Noise cancelling headphones: Anker Life P3 by Soundcore
As I write this, I am sitting at a table in the dining area of a diving and snorkeling resort in Pulau Weh, Indonesia, and it’s the off-season, so there are three dudes building a bungalow not 20 feet from me.
I’d lose my mind if I wasn’t able to drown out most of the noise with noise-cancelling headphones.
If you’re one of those people for whom it doesn’t really matter whether you’re on a deserted beach or the moshpit of a Ramstein concert, you get work done regardless, then maybe you don’t need to be so picky about headphones.
But, for me, and I suspect most people, they are essential for being able to join and participate in meetings and concentrate. They also help me sleep much better on airplanes and buses and in airports.
Something like the the Anker Life P3 by Soundcore are great noise cancelling earbuds that will give you 10 hours of battery life (out of the box), have great base and, most importantly, actually cancel noise.
Plus, they also come with a really nice case.
When I first started location-independent work, one of the things I didn’t think I’d need was a good quality standalone webcam. I was doing predominantly freelance research and ghostwriting, and all of my clients seemed happy with just email and WhatsApp communication with the occasional phone call.
Once I started working with teams of people and being part of their meetings, however, I realized that one of the things you need for effective and professional remote work is a good quality webcam.
Whether you’re working outside the office or looking for a job while living remotely, a good quality image of yourself when appearing in front of other people gets them to take you more seriously.
I don’t think you need a 4K webcam (knock yourself out if you want that), but anything less than 1080p is seen as kind of unprofessional these days.
Something like the NexiGo N60 is a good compromise between quality and price. For under 40USD, you get 1080p, an adjustable FOV, zoom, and a built-in mic that will have you coming through nice and clear.
It’s also got a camera cover, which I think is a must-have in our cybercrime-rampant era.
Wi-Fi extender: WiFi Extender 1.2Gb/s Signal Booster – Dual Band 5GHz & 2.4GHz
A Wi-Fi Extender is another one of those things you need for safe, effective remote work. It is something that has come through for me in a big way many times, especially when I’ve been living and working out of Airbnbs.
I travel with my girlfriend, who also works remotely, and we typically look for Airbnbs with two bedrooms so that we can each have an “office.” The problem is that, in a lot of places, especially in countries without amazing fibre networks, being close to the router can make a huge difference.
Something like the Macard WiFi Extender, can add serious mbps to your upload and download speeds if you are a fair distance from the router and stuck in a dead zone–behind a huge concrete wall, for instance, as I was in the hotel I recently lived out of.
Really quick setup (some of these things are a bit annoying to set up) with great customer support.
Before I picked up one of these, I was actually disqualified from a recruitment process because a room I was staying in didn’t receive a strong enough signal for me to complete one of the aptitude tests.
Universal adapter: LENCENT International Travel Adapter
Despite being raised in a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, I was a bit of a country bumpkin the first time I travelled to a country that used different outlets and plugs.
Of course, it’s one of those things that most people just learn by pop-cultural osmosis, even if they don’t travel, but it had skipped my mind that all of my electronics were manufactured for the American (as in all the Americas) market and I’d need some way to plug them in while in Asia.
If your remote work takes you internationally, then a universal adapter is definitely something you are going to want to have with you everywhere.
There really isn’t much difference in the travel adapters out there. All of them are made to fit all outlets internationally; some have more USB charging ports than others, but there is one big difference that I’ve learned about over time: weight.
I like the LENCENT International Travel Adapter because it it lighter than a lot of the other ones out there (only 3.17 ounces). This makes a big difference because (especially in the case of the Asian and European outlets) the two-pronged plug can be too thin for the outlet, which means it doens’t fit properly and will sag.
Check out how I had to jerry-rig the last one I had.
This is the cheapo generic one that you see in almost every convenience store and airport, and while it does the trick, it’s not ideal. Weighing in at 7.1 ounces, I’ve had to do what you see in the above image on multiple occasions–either with a shoelace (as in the above example), or electrician tape.
Bottom line, if you can get something that has USB ports and all the plug types for under $20, and it’s lightweight (like the Lencent one), go for it.
Lumbar support pillow: SAMSONITE Lumbar Support Pillow For Office Chair and Car Seat
Everyone who travels a lot probably has (or has had) a neck pillow. But I’ve seen far fewer lumbar support pillows.
One thing I’ve learned and come to accept after so many years of remote work and travel is that you are very rarely going to get a decent chair for working when you stay in Airbnbs and other short-term rentals. By and large, these are investment properties whose purpose is to make as much money as possible for the owner with as little investment as possible.
Sometimes places explicitly advertise they are setup for remote work with a workstation etc., but very often, you’re working at a kitchen table.
For this reason, one of my essential things for remote workers to always have with them is a lumbar support pillow. Something like the Samsonite Lumbar Support PIllow.
I like this lumbar pillow because despite being made out of memory foam, it’s made not to flatten so much that it stops being useful. I’ve had that in past with other memory support pillow and it defeats the purpose.
They’re also great for cars (if you’re renting a car while working remote), I’ve used mine extensively on plane rides and it makes a world of difference, and the elastic straps are great for making sure the pillow does move around on you.
So there you go: My 7 things you need for comfortable, effective remote work
People like to romanticize remote work because of the obvious perks–travel, no commute, more time with family–but often fail to consider that trying to earn a living outside the structure of the office requires a bit of a setup.
Luckily, all of the things you need (aside from good internet) can be purchased quite inexpensively and will make a massive difference in your comfort and productivity. I know they have in mine.
Thanks for reading, and safe travels.