My ergonomic mobile office

At home, I have a reasonably good ergonomic desk and computer setup. My laptop goes on a stand, and is connected to a big external monitor and a keyboard and mouse on a tray under a desk that’s at a comfortable height for hand writing. I have a little document clip and a big pinboard so that if there are documents I need to refer to on paper they can be at a similar height to the monitor, and everything is far enough from my face that my eyes can focus at a relaxed distance. I can work long hours on that setup quite comfortably, though eye strain can still be enough of an issue that I’m getting more and more interested in e-ink readers to give my eyes a break from the glowing screens.

The trouble is, I don’t do much of my work from home. I spent the largest number of working hours at the Hub, and after that probably do more work in total from assorted coffee shops than from home. The typical laptop setup is irredeemably unergonomic, simply because a laptop keyboard is right next to the monitor. This means there’s no way to have the monitor far enough from my eyes without reaching way too far with my hands. There’s no way to have the monitor high enough and the keyboard low enough. I end up with a noticeably curved spine, and all kinds of pains that someone younger than 80 shouldn’t be feeling. I’ve definitely been noticing the damage, and while regular tai chi helps fix it, that’s nowhere near as good as not hurting back, shoulders, neck & wrists in the first place.

Office set up

I’m not worried about coffee shops because I never spend all that long in one working on the laptop, but I do spend whole days at the Hub on a fairly regular basis. So I decided that I had better improve my desk setup there, and I think I’ve finally got this about right. Here are the criteria I’ve been working with:

  • Monitor must be physically separated from keyboard & mouse (easy)
  • Keyboard must be somewhat angled, so my wrists are in a more natural position (easy)
  • Keyboard must be quieter than the one I use at home (narrowed down options, but not too tricky)
  • Entire setup has to fit into my panniers, so I can easily take it around by bike, or my small rucksack for when I’m on foot/bus, and not weigh too much.
  • The whole thing must be very quick to set up, move around and put away (the hard part).

The keyboard and mouse were convenient and super cheap at RE:PC, though I may later replace this keyboard with one that doesn’t have a 10-key pad so it’s smaller. The quick setup was mainly achieved by having all the USB stuff permanently connected to one of these little hubs, which incorporates a convenient way to take care of all the spare cable. The really tricky part, though, has been finding a suitable laptop stand. I tried all the office supplies / computer peripherals stores in SoDo, before giving up on any of them. Every stand that wasn’t an overengineered “cooling stand” with fans that no modern laptop should need was either far too low to position the monitor right, or huge and unportable. Just as I was about to give up, I found this simple mesh riser on Newegg. It is literally the only laptop stand I’ve been able to find that both raises the monitor enough to be worthwhile and packs away small.

Here’s what it looks like before I unpack the laptop:

Ready for laptop

Here are a totally gratuitous pair of shots of the laptop case, because not only does it fit neatly in a pannier, it’s also a cooler laptop case than you have:

Most serious, professional laptop case in the worldThe laptop case gets even better

I know you want one. You can get your own from And here’s how compactly the rest of it packs away in one pannier:

Office in a pannier

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