They stay at their desks for hours at a time, communicate with the world, and look great in the process. Here’s what they can teach us.
LIKE MANY AMERICANS in office jobs, I started working from home in March due to Covid-19, and I haven’t been back to the office since. As a proud Zoomer, or member of Generation Z, I grew up with video calling and instant messaging as academic tools, and I have worked with remote employees during all of my internships. Still, I quickly realized that I was out of my depth and turned to the true professionals: YouTubers and streamers.
Hear me out: This is a group of people who have worked from their bedrooms or home offices by choice for years. Whether they are sharing video games or hobbies, or just hanging out and chatting, their work is based on sharing themselves and/or a digital presentation with an audience that they must keep engaged.
With that in mind, here are four things I’ve learned about working from home from streamers:
Be Aware of Your Stamina
We’ve likely all heard about Zoom fatigue and our limited ability to watch a bunch of little faces on screen, but stamina is about a lot more than the length of the meetings. In a time when a lot of people are dealing with more distractions during the work day, the first question should be, Does this even need to be a meeting?
A lot of streamers also have YouTube channels, and certain types of games and projects will always be uploaded to that platform instead of being streamed. Some things have a lot of dead time that can be edited out, or aren’t dynamic enough to keep a live chat engaged. The same principle can be applied to your office-based work. Is this a topic where it’d be helpful for people to prepare and process their contributions? Is there a benefit to having a live discussion about this?
If it’s going to be a meeting, make a goal that is clearly defined at the beginning and stick to it. And mostly importantly, know when to call a meeting even if you haven’t accomplished what you wanted. If you’ve hit a wall on the issue at hand, you are not going to come up with the answer in the 118th minute of an hour-long meeting. I have attended many streams titled “Finishing the game today!” in which the game is not finished. Probably because it’s been almost seven hours, the streamer is hungry, two of the moderators are in a time zone where it’s 3 am, and everyone’s focus is waning. That means it’s time to wrap up for today, and you should do your coworkers the same favor when you’re facilitating.
Your Furniture Is As Important As Your Tech
I’m biased because I was diagnosed with a serious nerve issue while I was working on this article, but your office furniture is very important. More important than your headphones and your microphone and all the stuff you were expecting in this article. If you don’t have a dedicated desk and office chair, it’s time.
I just bought an Uplift automated standing desk, a portion of which my job paid for, and it’s amazing. I had one of these at a past internship, so it’s not actually something I was introduced to by streamers, but as someone who also spends 12-plus hours at my desk each day, I understand why they’re so popular. I keep it at 25.3 inches for sitting, a solid 5 inches lower than a standard desk, and it has been life-changing for my wrists. Also, it has a huge whiteboard top, which is one of the only things I’ve missed from the office.
I’ve been on the Logitech universal system for peripherals since high school, when a friend bought me a wireless mouse for Christmas after I expressed an interest in 3D modeling. Now I have the futuristic MX Vertical Mouse and the MX Keys keyboard. I honestly don’t know why we’ve ever made computer mice any other way—it’s so much easier on your wrists to use the “handshake” position.
And then there are desk chairs. I had a DXRacer knockoff with Purple cushions attached for a while, but after being told point-blank by a neurosurgeon that ergonomics were especially important for me, I decided to upgrade.
It’s arguably the most cringey thing I’ve ever done in relation to someone I follow online, and definitely the most expensive, but I did my research, and of the brands recommended, Herman Miller is the only one with a local showroom. I went, and I sat in all of the chairs, and the aggressively supportive Embody was the best choice for me. I did the YouTube stan thing for a year, and it will haunt me forever, so I tried to buy a slightly different configuration just for the sake of my dignity, but it was much more expensive.
So now I have literally the same desk chair as Jacksepticeye, even though it cost more than a paycheck for me. I don’t recommend that unless you also have a weirdly shaped spine, but I do recommend investing in a high-quality chair that you try out before you buy it. You deserve it.
(It’s a really good chair. The most supportive thing in my life.)
Upgrade Your Space—in Order
As quarantine drags on, I’ve seen a lot of Facebook ads for small pieces of equipment to improve your video calls. If the number one goal is that you can contribute to meetings and be understood by your coworkers, clip-on lights and mini webcams shouldn’t be the first thing to buy. Consider upgrading your setup in this order.
1. Wear Headphones
If you’re not wearing headphones to every single call, that’s the first thing to fix. Headphones prevent echo. Some video programs have digital echo cancellation, but it works inconsistently, and if you are having an echo problem you probably can’t hear it. But your coworkers can, and they want to end you. So wear headphones.
2. Your Microphone Ensures People Hear You Clearly
By now most headphones have a microphone built in, but the quality can be questionable. Next time you have a free moment, connect your headphones to your phone and record yourself talking while you move around at your desk. Does your voice stay clear throughout? If not, this could be the time to invest in a USB microphone.
I just upgraded to the Elgato Wave:3, which was highly recommended if you want to sound nice, but not enough to spend more than $200. I can mute directly on the mic with visual confirmation, which is game-changing as someone who is always multitasking, and therefore unable to use application-specific keyboard shortcuts. Also it’s built-in limiter means my coworkers can’t hear me chewing, which was a serious insecurity of mine with my cheaper Blue Snowball iCE, so I’m happy.
3. Add Cool, Diffused Lighting in Front of You
The lighting in your home is likely going to look warm on camera, so a cooler light will cancel it out to give you decent looking color. If you’re looking at tech specs, something between 4,500 and 6,500 Kelvin will mimic natural light.
The most straightforward option is a small key light. Companies like Elgato and Neweer make low-profile lights designed to fit into any space, and recently mini key lights that clamp directly onto your laptop have become popular.
You could also go for a smart light—I have a LIFX Beam and a floor lamp with the LIFX A19 pointed at my desk. There are infinite ways to optimize smart lights for your own work habits starting at only $50, and I highly recommend them. Whatever you choose, make sure the light is dimmable. The amount of light you need will depend on your setup, how you’re sitting, and sometimes even the clothing you’re wearing.
4. Get Better Headphones
If you’re in the position to get a pair of over-ear Bluetooth headphones with digital noise cancellation, it’s worth it. I have the Sony WH-100MX3, and I love them a lot. I also realized that they are a pretty popular choice for content creators after buying them, which may or may not have caused a small existential crisis.
Bluetooth allows you to leave your desk and still hear what’s going on, while digital noise cancellation helps isolate you from distractions. One thing to note is that if you have bulky plastic glasses like I do, this will impact the comfort of over-ear headphones.
5. Get Your Aesthetic(TM)
The ideal aesthetic depends a lot on the culture of your workplace and personal preference. If you’re familiar with Room Rater, you’ll have seen how strongly people can feel about these sorts of things, but for most environments you can keep it relatively simple.Most Popular
If you worked somewhere where you dressed in business casual, or formal in the olden days, go for clean lines and a few key personal items. I have limited options in my bedroom, but I try to turn my camera toward the only decent-looking wall in the room.
In a more casual environment, you can have a space that looks a bit more lived in. There are a bunch of streamers that have many more personal effects in their stream spaces, but still keep a cohesive aesthetic. Gab Smolders, KickThePJ and Ludwig all come to mind as good examples of this. These setups feel like being on FaceTime with a friend in a very good way.