While many of us moved to home offices when companies sought to avoid COVID-19 infection, for some people, working at home is the norm. One of those people is Sam Byford, Asia editor for The Verge, who works out of a home office in Tokyo, Japan.
We talked to Sam to find out how he has equipped his own home office and to see whether it matters these days if your remote desk is five miles away or about 6,700 miles away from your organization’s main office.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at The Verge.
I’m from the UK, and I’ve been based in Japan since 2008 — first in Osaka, now in Tokyo, where I live with my wife and our dog and our bunny. I came on board The Verge just as the site launched in 2011.
I am now The Verge’s Asia editor, which means two things really. I handle much of our Asia-specific coverage, of course, but I’m also an editor who happens to be in Asia, which is helpful from a time zone perspective. If critical news breaks after the US signs off and before Europe wakes up, or if someone needs an edit on a piece that we’re timing for the morning in the US, that’s often me.
That’s a great space you have. Was that an existing setup, or did you put it together once you knew you’d be working at home?
I’ve been working from home for as long as I’ve been with The Verge, but this is still quite a new setup. My wife and I moved into a bigger place at the end of last year, and it turned out to be good timing since we now both have our own offices and are both at home all day. I didn’t bring any furniture in the move and essentially started from scratch.
I didn’t expect to see two desks! It looks like one is for gaming and the other for working.
That is exactly what they’re for! In our last place, I had a giant integrated setup on a single L-shaped glass desk. But I found it impossible to keep things organized, and I never really felt like I was off work. With this room, I decided to abandon the idea of coherent, tasteful interior design and went for an unassuming wooden desk for my Mac with an ostentatious gaming setup on the left.
Tell me about the desks themselves. Where did you get them, and how did you decide which ones to get?
They’re both from Rakuten, which often has a bunch of third-party sellers offering near-identical products of unclear origin. The wooden one is simple, but it has convenient storage and a shelf to raise the monitors. The gaming desk came from a seller called PandaTech, and it has RGB lighting, a cup holder, cable management, a USB hub, a controller rack, a headphone hanger, and a fitted mouse mat. I’m not usually into the RGB-heavy gamer aesthetic, but I thought it’d be fun to lean into it as a way to create distinct spaces in the same room.
Did you choose your chair especially, or is that just something you had available?
It’s a Herman Miller Sayl, which is a common chair — Vox Media’s NYC office has hundreds of them. I bought one without arms, though, because it works a little better for my posture. I’m tall, and it’s hard to find chairs that don’t encourage me to slouch. Also, I like the red.
This is obviously going to take a while, but could you tell me about your tech setup?
*deep breath* Okay, so my main work machine is a 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro. I basically never use it as a laptop unless I’m going to trade shows, which, for obvious reasons, I haven’t done since CES 2020, so I like this Brydge vertical dock that turns it into a skinny desktop computer and saves a ton of space. I go through quite a lot of mechanical keyboards, but right now, I’m using a Keychron K2, which is working out great. It’s comfortable to type on, looks good, and works seamlessly with macOS.
The MacBook is hooked up to two LG UltraFine 4K monitors, the discontinued 21-inch model and the current 24 inch. Below them, there’s an Apple HomePod for music and Mac audio, and next to that is one of three original Google Wifi routers we have around the apartment. The camera is a Nikon Df, which I use for most of my personal photography, and I also keep my Nintendo Switch Lite charging on this desk. There are a bunch of dongles, power cables, and wireless chargers in easy reach, plus my two current personal phones: an iPhone SE and a Pixel 4A.
My gaming PC lives under the other desk, and it’s a custom build from 2016. The monitor is an Asus PG279Q, and the speakers are Harman Kardon Soundsticks, which are also hooked up to my Sony record player across the room over Bluetooth. (I’m not an analog purist.) There’s an Oculus Quest VR headset, a Thrustmaster Airbus flight stick, and a Neo Geo Arcade Pro fight stick. There is a dedicated button on my gaming desk to cycle through the colored lighting.
And the Google Nest Hub?
The Google Nest Hub is a recent addition that I got for two specific reasons: to control my Hue smart lights and to keep an eye on Pascal, our unhinged Shiba puppy who spends most of the day upstairs and occasionally tries to destroy our living room. I have a cheap TP-Link Kasa camera hooked up, which does the job.
That’s a great toy collection. Do you have any favorites?
I would say the cacti, which come from an amazing cactus-themed zoo (yes) near Mt. Fuji that my wife and I went to this summer. You can pick the cacti yourself and choose the pots to plant them in, and I like bears and dinosaurs, so.
Okay, I need to know about those polar bear basketball players hanging around your computer.
The bear is, for reasons I’m not sure I understand, the mascot character of a Japanese cosmetics brand called Smelly. There’s a store in Harajuku with a gacha machine featuring it in various poses, and I liked the basketball one, so I gave it a shot. Thankfully, it came out quickly.
Do you do game playing on both desks? (I see controllers on the right-hand desk.)
Not unless it’s work-related. The Switch just lives there on its charging dock, and those little handheld consoles are Game Gear Micros that I was in the process of reviewing. There aren’t really any situations where I’d play a game on a Mac when there’s a PC right next to it.
How do you keep the world out while you’re working — or do you need to?
I get locked in pretty easily. The outside light is super bright in the mornings here, even on cloudy days, so I just close the curtains for a few hours and settle in. We live in a mostly quiet neighborhood, so the biggest distraction is our dog, really.
I see you like basketball. (That may be putting it mildly.) Is there anything special about that poster?
My Torontonian wife got me into the Toronto Raptors soon after we met, and now I’m a big fan. This is a print of Kawhi Leonard scoring his iconic Game 7 buzzer-beater over the Sixers to send the Raptors to last year’s Eastern Conference finals on their way to the NBA championship. It’s a great, inspiring image that has taken on new meaning after Kawhi bounced to LA only to see his Clippers collapse embarrassingly in the playoffs this year. I should maybe get it framed or something, but honestly, I kind of like just having sports posters on my wall.
How about the small print on your wall?
That’s an OK Computer CD cover signed by Thom Yorke from Radiohead. My dad used to be an obsessive autograph hunter, and back when I lived in the UK, we’d often go to gigs together, and he’d wait around for hours afterward to get things signed. Radiohead was one of my favorite bands as a kid, so it’s a neat thing to have that reminds me of home.
Is there anything you’d like to change about or add to the current setup?
I’m mostly good, but I don’t think my gaming PC is going to last very long once next-generation consoles with much better CPUs are on the market. So I’ll probably be looking to rebuild in a year or so. I would also love for Apple to make a version of its 6K pro monitor that doesn’t cost $6,000.
Also, I recently bought Belkin’s ridiculously named Boost↑Charge Pro 3-in-1 Wireless Charger with MagSafe. Charging Apple devices has gotten more complicated recently, at least for me. Now that the Apple Watch tracks sleep, I’ve been charging it with a messy cable at my desk for an hour or so when I start the day instead of overnight. And the iPhone 12 mini turns out to be too small for most stands — the charging coil isn’t high enough on the back of the phone. Belkin’s new charger solves both of those problems.
Update February 11th, 2021, 5:15PM ET: This article was originally published on October 21st, 2020. Several links and prices have been updated, and the Belkin Wireless Charger has been added.