My Personal Home Office Upgrades
If you have found yourself on constant video calls because you're now working from home, you've likely seen a lot of setups. Let's be honest – some are horrible. Others, on the other hand, look amazing. What have they done different? Here's a list of 6 home office upgrades you might consider to help you look and sound better.
1. Stop using your computer's microphone
The worst thing about having everyone on video calls isn't the visuals. It's the audio. Audio is what makes the video worth it. Even if you can't upgrade your video yet, getting a good microphone will do wonders for how you come across on those calls.
One of my favorite benefits of a good microphone is that you stop hearing the wrong stuff. No one likes to hear the clicks and clacks of someone typing while on a call. And with some computers (and where they put their microphone), it's not just a click or clack. It's a full earthquake!
If you're ready for your first home office upgrade, consider one of these microphones:
Both can go with you, if you're working on a laptop and need mobility.
2. Shift from a webcam to a mirrorless camera
This is my Sony A7III mirrorless camera. With the right lens, this solution will give you a professional look on every call you're on. Of all the home office upgrades, this is my favorite. People who jump on a call are immediately aware that this isn't your ordinary webcam.
To do it right, you need several components beyond the camera and lens.
- You will need a way to get the HDMI video source into your computer – I recommend the Elgato Camlink 4k.
- You also probably need a way to keep your camera powered on (forever) – I recommend an AC power supply adapter.
- And lastly, you need a stand for the camera – I recommend the On-Stage microphone stand.
While I'm currently using a zoom lens, you can get away with a less expensive fixed prime lens. The depth of field is what you care about – normally the number after an F. Anything from F1.2 to F2.8 will create the bokeh (blurred background) that you want.
The one thing you will quickly learn about these home office upgrades is that they never stop. You get a good lens and the first thing you want to do is maybe try an even better one!
3. Stop letting your office define your lighting
One of the first things I did when I started turning my office into my own work from home studio was to put black out blinds on all the windows. I can't control lighting if it's always changing (based on the weather or time of day). Now the light in my office is under my control, completely. Initially I started with a smart bulb mounted above my monitors.
Then I upgraded to two Elgato Key Light Air lights. One is directly behind my camera and lights up my face. The other is at 45 degrees and helps with some contour lighting.
The one thing I'll tell you about lighting is that it's always personal. My buddy and I have very different skin tones and what works for me doesn't work for him. So your settings may have to be different than mine.
But that's the good news when it comes to Elgato Key Light Air – they have temperature and brightness controls.
4. Control everything with Stream Deck
One of my latest home office upgrades was the purchase of the Stream Deck to control everything from my ceiling fan, an external light bulb that tells my family I'm on a call (and not to rush into my office), turning on and off the Key Light Airs, and more.
This is a simple automation solution that puts a lot of buttons in front of me to turn everything into a simple click.
5. Change your background
Along with the camera change, the work I did on my background is one of the home office upgrades that gets the most comments. It's a wood panel wall that looks great on camera. But wait until I tell you how to do it.
I have a friend who told me how we could create this effect. It included pulling apart palettes, distressing them, painting them, and then installing them. Oh man, that sounded like a lot of work. Maybe you've seen kits at Home Depot that give you planks ready to cut and install? That's better but still not as easy as my approach.
I went to Stikwood.
I told them the size of the wall and picked the coloring I liked. They did the rest. And the best part – it can be installed in a day.
Why? Because it's all super thin wood planks with stickers on the back. And everyone knows how to put something on the wall when it has a sticker on the back of it. No expertise required!
6. Take your audio to the next level
My buddy Shawn Hesketh is my audio guru. His voice overs on all his videos highlight what I said before – the key to great video is audio. So when I wanted to shift to a better microphone than a USB mic, he was the guy I called. We were going to shift to professional microphones, but the work doesn't stop there. We'd also need a way to connect the XLR microphone to my computer. That meant trying a lot of gear to find the right stuff.
The gear that we selected was the Universal Audio Arrow – a simple and powerful Thunderbolt 3 device that you'll love.
This gives you physical control over all the digital software that Universal Audio has created (to replicate the audio hardware that you used to need). And with that in place, we started talking about the right microphone for me. I'm not saying this is the perfect microphone for you. There are tons of good XLR microphones – like the Rode Procaster – which I had used for a while.
But for me, I finally upgraded to the Sennheiser MKH416-P48U3 Super-Cardioid Shotgun Tube Condenser Microphone, which you saw in my camera photo (sitting right under the camera on its own desktop stand).
What's your office look like?
Just because you're working from home doesn't mean you can't invest in a few of these home office upgrades and take your game to a whole new level. Most importantly, the right audio, video, and lighting helps you communicate clearly. And that's the real upside from making these upgrades.
You've seen my gear. Hit me up on twitter to show me your office set up.