Another week and more bad news. Most of the world’s technology relies on several key chip manufacturers that are located in Asia, and in case you hadn’t heard, they were rocked by the Pandemic fairly early on in 2020. This has created a massive shortfall in semiconductor production which, when coupled with the spike in demand for technology to move a large chunk of the world’s workforce and students home, has manifested as a serious supply-chain choke-point that is resulting in empty shelves and shipping delays for just about anything with a computer chip in it.
What this means for you
Depending on what you are shopping for, you might be thinking, “What shortage? I can walk into my neighborhood big box and buy a computer right now!” Absolutely this is true, but even those supplies are dwindling. For anyone looking purchase what we call “business-class” or “enterprise-grade” equipment, we are seeing backorders between three to four weeks and certain models are out of stock through the end of the year as wholesalers and manufactures sell out of their standing, domestic stock. Computers aren’t the only thing impacted: this shortage is affecting everything from videogame consoles to new cars to medical equipment to smart phones
Industry analysts are predicting this supply-chain shortage will last well into 2022, and it will likely make the upcoming holidays a little challenging if you were planning to make up for last year’s sober shortages in the usually red-hot electronics and videogame markets. Scalpers are still showing no mercy, and the chip shortages won’t be helping us battle their profiteering. Long story short – make sure to include a multi-week delay in shipping if need new technology. Take good care of your existing equipment as it may hard to replace or repair for the next 6-8 months, minimum.
Image by Dan Williams from Pixabay
In case you haven’t already figured it out, the pandemic isn’t going anywhere, and as infections and deaths continue to rise in the US, you can probably count on having to work from home for at least another month, possibly longer. If you’ve been thinking about your home office situation as temporary, it may benefit you (and whoever you are living with at the moment) to instead think of it as a worthwhile investment to improve your well being and productivity.
Equipping your home office
We are working at home specifically for health reasons, so we should not be ignoring other facets of our well being especially when it’s relatively easy to maintain. Here are some products that I am confident will improve your home office setup, especially in the ergonomics department. Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to provide you Amazon links to these items, but I’m doing so now with the caveat that if you purchase anything from them that you spend at least a few minutes providing some feedback to them on treating their workers better.
Note: I don’t receive any compensation from any of the links I provide below.
- If you had a standing desk at work, or are looking to try one out, there are a lot of options out there, but if you’d rather not spend an arm and a leg, take a look at Autonomous.ai. I use the SmartDesk 2 Premium model all day long. Putting one together might take two people, but I love it, and it’s inexpensive enough that if you decide standing isn’t for you, it’s still a great sitting desk. Ikea sells a cheaper, hand-cranked version if you don’t mind applying elbow grease to move it up and down. If you’ve already got a desk that’s not going anywhere, but still want to give standing a try, have a look at something like a desktop version of the standing desk. Keep in mind that most traditional desks aren’t suited for modern day keyboard ergonomics to start, so these types of solutions, when in “sit mode,” raise your keyboard and mouse an additional inch, which may result in aggravating any existing discomfort or injuries.
- Thanks to mass adoption of computers in the work place and monitors continuing to become lighter, bigger and cheaper, monitor arms have become very popular and affordable. I’ve used a number of different models, but the Amazon Basics models are dependable, sturdy and priced modestly for their quality. Keep in mind that your monitors must have VESA-compatible mounting holes on the back for most monitor arms to work properly. Make sure you pay attention to the mounting requirements – most models require some sort of lip to clamp onto, or a hole through the desk itself, and make sure your actual desk construction can withstand the concentrated weight of the stand and monitor. Hollow or lightweight desks may bend or even crack from the force. You can get stands that use a heavy base instead of clamps or holes, but they don’t offer as much stability or flexibility in placement.
- If you are using a laptop and the built-in screen as your primary home office computer, you can (literally) elevate your whole computing experience by standing the laptop up on one of these devices. If you regularly move around, get a folding, portable one like this. Bringing your laptop screen closer to eye level is critical for proper ergonomics, but if you go this route, you should NOT be using the built-in keyboard and mouse, so make sure you account for that in your decision. See the next item for a solution to that problem.
- Most laptop keyboards and trackpads aren’t built for long-term use, at least for most normal-sized humans. The keys are typically smaller and spaced closer together, and trackpad will give you RSI if you rely on mousing at all throughout your day. Treat yourself to a full-sized keyboard and separate mouse. Logitech’s wireless entry-level combo is surprisingly affordable, and will leave you money to get a decent wrist-rest. I use a full-length model like this all day long, and you know how much time I spend at my keyboard.
- If you are using an older, smaller monitor, consider something newer and larger, especially if the bulk of your day is spent working on screen. The minimum I recommend is 20″ and it should have a resolution of at least 1920 X 1080. You don’t need to go 4K unless you have the eyes of a hawk or job functions that require that level of resolution, and buying something with a diagonal larger than 27″ may not work ergonomically with your home office setup, especially if space is at a premium. Not all monitors are created equal, and generally cheaper monitors may not be as crisp or as bright as you might want, so check the reviews carefully. Generally, my clients have been served well by Acers’ moderately priced monitors, like this 20″ model, but if your budget is more robust, the Dell Ultrasharp 24″ monitor is eye-poppingly gorgeous and highly recommended.
When discussing investments in your home office technology, I like to remind folks that equipping your home office should hold a similar level of consideration to that of choosing a mattress. You are going to be spending a lot of time on it, so why not spend accordingly?
Image by thedarknut from Pixabay
The majority of our clients are now in the midst of the third week of California’s shelter at home mandate. For the most part everyone seems to be settling into a semblance of routine, and our residential internet services seem to be holding up better than I expected – I’m happy to be wrong about my predictions in that regard. However, not all of you are comfortable or as productive as you would like to be. In case you haven’t heard this from someone else already, let me be the 38th person to reiterate: “It’s OK to be less productive than you were in the office.” However, let me tack on my own special slant: Take advantage of your new home office and specifically, one of its core technologies to regain some joy during these stressful times.
The overlooked benefits of videoconferencing
Though I find no small amount of professional satisfaction in solving your technology issues on a daily basis, a recent experience reminded me just how important and powerful something like videoconferencing can be to everyone, not just business professionals. One my older clients was struggling with getting a popular videoconferencing platform running on his PC. Once we had discovered where his webcam was (it had fallen down behind the desk but, fortunately, was still attached) and got it re-situated properly at his desk, I was delighted to discover why he was so desperate to get it working – he was scheduled to attend a Sunday dinner with his family. When he logged into the meeting, he was greeted with cheers and celebration from literally dozens of family members, arrayed on his screen like the opening credits of the Brady Bunch. He was so overwhelmed he completely forgot about me on the phone, and if there is ever a time when I am glad to be forgotten, it would be for moments like these.
The following day, while meeting with some fellow consultants and business owners for our monthly networking meeting (via videoconference, of course!), one of our members who works with clients primarily via videoconferencing shared how she has also been using that same platform to socialize with family and friends by playing a trivia game together, like you might at a bar. This was both ridiculously obvious and revelatory, and it occurred to all of us that our clients might be missing this overlooked usage of videoconferencing.
Obviously, if you aren’t the bill-payer for your work videconferencing account, please make sure it’s OK to use it for non-work related activities. If the account is shared, this may affect your co-workers ability to conduct business, or you might have an unexpected guest show up in your recreational meeting. Most services like Zoom, Join.Me and GotoMeeting offer free accounts if you need or want to keep it separate, but there are limitations in the free offerings, usually in meeting duration and number of people that can attend. That being said, the costs for a paid account are relatively modest, and once you get a taste for what’s possible, you may ask why you hadn’t done it sooner.
Thing you might consider trying over videoconferencing:
- Sunday Dinner – this one is surprisingly popular and actually pretty common, even before the pandemic. Set up a laptop at one end of the table, hopefully positioned so everyone can see and be seen. Turn up the volume and pass the mashed potatoes!
- Virtual Coffee/Lunch/Drinks – get together with your co-workers or clients, but here’s the catch: talk about anything except work!
- Virtual Exercise – my wife just did yoga with her friends over the weekend, and we also took a walk around our neighborhood while videoconferencing with a friend in San Diego.
- Take Music/Dance /Art Lessons – there are a ton of folks out there who make their living exclusively by teaching other via the internet. Why not spend a few hours each week learning something new!
- Go through your photos together – I know you’re thinking, “Ugh, virtual vacation slideshow? No thanks!” but how about spending some time sifting through family photos with distant relatives and sharing stories and memories that the photos evoke.
- Play a videogame together – if you haven’t played a game with or against someone via the internet, you are missing out on something really fun. It doesn’t have to be Fortnite or Call of Duty or something requiring the reflexes of a teenager – why not virtual Mahjong or Bridge or a 6-hour marathon of Dungeons & Dragons!
Keep in mind some of your less, tech-savvy family members or friends may be challenged the first time around, but it will be worth the effort in the end. Don’t let physical isolation and some solvable technology issues keep you from connecting with most important people in your life.
Image by thedarknut from Pixabay