The 27 best work from home essentials for 2021

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CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

This year, as working from home became the norm, we tested a number of categories — from big purchases like standing desks to privacy-protecting password managers — that make setting up the ideal home office a bit easier.


Maybe you’ve been thinking about investing in a standing desk or desk converter to counter all those hours of sitting around, save for the occasional food or bathroom break. Not only has sitting for extended periods of time been linked to myriad health concerns, but there’s also research suggesting standing intermittently throughout the workday could help with productivity.

So which one should you get? After testing 11 top-rated desks, these are the ones we found to be the best:

The Branch Adjustable Standing Desk (starting at $699) is a near-perfect desk that can handle multiple monitors, laptops and all the other odds and ends that wind up on your desk. It’s also incredibly sturdy, with one of the best builds we’ve encountered, not to mention a buttery smooth ascent and descent.

The Uplift V2-Commercial Standing Desk (starting at $599) offers the widest breadth of customization options out of any standing desk we’ve encountered, from size to finish to keypads — in addition to being a high-quality desk that’s bound to look beautiful against any decor scheme.

The SHW Electric Height-Adjustable Computer Desk ($228.87) is a surprisingly functional, sturdy desk at an incredibly affordable price, comparatively. It comes standard with a cable management tray as well as a digital keypad featuring four memory presets, and it was a breeze to assemble.

The Flexispot Height-Adjustable Standing Desk Converter (starting at $249.99) is an excellent converter that’s available in several sizes to accommodate a range of workspaces. Both its desktop and keyboard tray provide ample space, and it adjusts with the push of a lever.

Read more from our testing of standing desks here.


Whether you’re trying to punch up an existing setup or make a temporary situation feel more permanent, one key upgrade you should make is swapping out that dining room chair for an actual office chair that won’t wreak havoc on your back.

Our testing found these to be the best chairs:

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. Starting at $396.87 at Amazon and $439 at Steelcase, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

The Alera Elusion Series Multifunction Chair, priced at $157.72 (originally $167.09), emerged as our best budget pick, standing up to (and in some cases far surpassing) office chairs that retail for more than five times its price point, particularly in the comfort and adjustability categories.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.


Screen constraint can hamper anyone’s workflow. Who hasn’t wasted precious time trying to find that one spreadsheet buried beneath 15 other open applications on an oh-so-small laptop screen? A full-size monitor lets you multitask without having to constantly scroll through different windows and allows you to neatly arrange them all right in front of you.

Here are the best options, according to our testing:

After many hours of testing with a multitude of content and workflows, the Lenovo L24q-30 monitor stood out as the best overall option. It doesn’t have the sexiest name, but the 23.8-inch QHD monitor has the chops to handle whatever you need it to, from Word docs to gaming. The Lenovo’s super-slim bezels don’t distract the eye from its vibrant panel, and its relatively small footprint will fit into any workspace. A blue-light filter also helps decrease eye strain, making it ideal for longer workdays. At $199.99, you won’t score a better option.

If you spend a lot of time doing visual tasks such as photo or video editing, or like to use your monitor for gaming or watching movies after work, investing in a 4K monitor like the Dell UltraSharp 27 is a great investment. Coming in at $559.99, this display bursts with vibrancy and detail, easily beating out other monitors we tested.

If you have enough desk real estate, Samsung’s CJ791 affords the most space with a curved, ultrawide 34-inch display. No matter how many different tasks and apps you’re juggling at once, you can neatly arrange them and spread them out in front of you. It’s an incredibly wide and sharp display that’s great for productivity and gaming alike. Plus, like the UltraSharp from Dell, there are plenty of ports on board. For all you get with it — an ultrawide 34-inch workspace, multiple ports and outstanding picture quality — you would expect to pay upward of $1,000. So for the relatively affordable price of $699, it’s a great upgrade for those looking for the most screen real estate while trying to save a few dollars.

Read more from our testing of computer monitors here.


Chances are the keyboard you’ve got in front of you is rectangular and flat — not much by way of ergonomics despite how much time you spend using it. Fortunately, plenty of companies are getting savvy to the benefits of ergonomic keyboards, particularly how they can reduce hand strain.

After testing several top-rated models, here’s what we found to be the best keyboards:

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99) to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wavelike curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably. The K860 also features some pretty handy tech: You can sync the Bluetooth keyboard with up to three devices and swap between them with a single keypress. The Logitech Options app allows you to customize your function keys and keep track of paired devices too. This keyboard’s extraordinary comfort, broad customization options and silky typing experience justify its somewhat hefty price tag.

The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard ($51.99, originally $59.99) compromises little despite its affordability. It’s built similarly to the K860: a split keyboard, curvature that brings the center of the keyboard off your desk and a palm rest along the bottom edge. Unlike the K860, this one is wired, so it isn’t nearly as easy to swap between devices. However, you’ll find a bit more customization options in the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center than those offered by Logitech Options. Not only can you customize function keys, but you can create custom macros to simplify otherwise complex tasks as well. While this keyboard isn’t as incredible as the K860, it is more than half the price and still heaps more comfortable than a traditional keyboard.

Read more from our testing of keyboards here.


Swapping out your old mouse (or trackpad) for an ergonomic model can make a world of difference. Just look at the ever-increasing number of companies offering ergonomically correct mice to combat users’ hand and wrist strain.

After weeks of testing, we found this mouse to be the best option:

The Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99) is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

The comfortable build is also remarkably customizable. Namely, there are five extra buttons (in addition to the left and right mouse buttons) within thumb’s reach, all of which can be customized. For instance, you can set the front thumb button to pause and play music and the back button to mute your audio. There’s also a horizontal scroll wheel above the thumb buttons, a feature unique to the MX Master among the mice we tested. Overall, the MX Master 3 is an ergonomic and customizable marvel, justifying its somewhat lofty price tag.

Read more from our testing of computer mice here.


Ring lights have in recent years clearly evolved past their vlogging roots. They are available in many sizes and setups and have become vital tools for budding photographers as well as the perfect addition to home office setups. You don’t have to be vying to become an overnight TikTok sensation to appreciate being cast in a better light on Zoom calls, and a high-quality ring light will definitely help.

These two models shone brightest during our testing:

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $23.99, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Since a 10-inch light isn’t the most compact pack-it-up, take-it-with-you accessory, we also recommend the Whellen Selfie Ring Light. This ultra-portable 3.5-inch light conveniently clips onto your phone, whether you’re using a case or not, and fits easily atop a laptop for video calls. The user-friendly Whellen Selfie Ring Light provided flattering lighting in all of the images we took with it, and it offers both warm and cool settings to adjust the harshness of the light being cast. It’s simply a great light, especially at $13.99.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Without the luxury of a printer available at the office, you might be looking for a reliable machine for your home that can handle all the printing, scanning and copying needs your job entails. After countless hours and pages of testing, one printer stood out as the best balance between performance and price.

At $149.99, the HP Envy Pro 6455 isn’t as pricey as some of the other printers we tested, but it isn’t exactly cheap either. However, it’s a well-rounded, feature-filled machine that stood up to all our tests and beat out the competition. With accurate colors, letter reproduction and proper alignment prints, this printer has everything you’ll need.

Read more from our testing of printers here.

Jacob Krol/CNN

One thing that’s absolutely crucial to working from home is a good laptop. We tested all the latest and greatest options for months, but only three proved to be the best.

The Apple MacBook Air now features the company’s M1 chip, which provides a welcome boost in computing power. At $999, this laptop can handle any task from web browsing to 4K video editing, and is so efficient that it can stay cool even without a fan. If you’re an Apple user, this laptop is hands down the best to get.

For Windows users, we loved the Dell XPS 13. With an immersive, full HD display and packed with Intel’s latest 11th-generation Tiger Lake processors, this laptop not only looks nice but can blast through anything and everything you throw at it. Starting at $1,019.99, the Dell XPS 13’s sleek design, powerful performance and stunning screen make it by far the best Windows laptop you can buy.

If you’re doing any sort of video editing or need tons of computing power, you won’t be able to beat the 13-inch MacBook Pro, now also equipped with an M1 chip. When we tested it, the Macbook Pro was an absolute beast, with processing power similar to the 16-inch MacBook Pro (which is still based on an older Intel chip). Exporting HD, 4K and 8K video was blazing fast, and only drops the laptop’s battery a few percent. So if you’re looking for pure processing power and you’re willing to give up the larger display of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the new 13-inch equipped with Apple’s M1 chip is definitely the laptop for you.

Read more from our testing of laptops here.

Sony WH-1000XM4

Jacob Krol/CNN

Sony WH-1000XM4

For those who need to drown out some noise — be it from neighbors, roommates or kids — a pair of quality headphones is a must. Luckily, we tested loads of options that will be the perfect addition to your work-from-home setup.

The Galaxy Buds Pro, coming in at $199.99, are a super-comfortable pair of earbuds that we had no issue wearing all day long. And with top-notch noise cancellation and excellent sound quality, they do a fantastic job of keeping you in the zone, despite all the distractions that can come with working from home.

If you don’t want to break the bank on a new set of earbuds, consider the EarFun Air, which have been one of our favorites while working at home. Through countless calls and podcasts, these $39.99 (originally $69.99) earbuds deliver a lot with only a few compromises. These buds don’t feature any noise cancellation and the built-in controls aren’t the best, but the EarFun Air earbuds will still get you through your workday — Zoom meetings and all — without a hitch.

If you prefer headphones over earbuds, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM4. Not only do the WH-1000XM4 boast class-leading sound (they top our list of best over-ear headphones to boot), but Sony also upgraded the newer generation of our previous runner-up with phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pro, in terms of active noise cancellation quality, as the over-ear XM4 better seal the ear from outside noise.

Read more from our testing of WFH headphones here.

Password manager

Instead of reusing passwords or keeping a document that stores all of your account logins, a password manager will securely store your information and even generate, then autofill complex passwords on your behalf. In our testing, 1Password stood out with its robust filling features that include integration across nearly every platform and browser extension, along with a seamless setup process and an intuitive suite of apps. 1Password is our choice for best password manager. It’s reasonably priced with a total cost of $35.88 for one user or $59.88 for up to a family of five when billed annually. There’s not much that the creators of 1Password didn’t think of adding to the service, and after our testing, it’s the clear winner.

External hard drive

Backing up your data is a must. And the best way to do so is with an external drive. Not only do they provide a tangible feel to backups, but they offer additional security and are often cheaper in the long run when compared to cloud services. Starting at $84.99 (down from $119.99) for 512GB of storage, the WD My Passport solid-state drive topped our list during testing. It’s not the cheapest external drive on the market, but that somewhat lofty price brings big returns. Files transfer quickly; we were able to back up Word documents in just a few seconds, full photo albums in less than 20 seconds and even large video files in under a minute. Those are speeds rivaling many devices’ onboard drives. My Passport has enough space to store all your files — packing close to 100,000 photo files or, in our case, two backups of our entire library. All that in a stylish yet rugged package.

Coffee makers

When you’re working right next to (or sometimes inside) your kitchen, it’s easy to pop up to make a cup of coffee at any time of the day. So if you need a bit of help staying caffeinated, we’ve tested plenty of makers from drip machines to pour-overs to help you out. If you love the ease of drip coffee machines, check out the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker. Out of all the machines we tested, the Braun produced the most consistently delicious and hot cups of coffee in an efficient manner. If you’re looking for a single-serve machine, we recommend the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus. And if you prefer a pour-over, after testing eight of the most popular options, we loved the Kalita Wave 185 the best. Finally, if you crave that afternoon pick-me-up, you’ll love the Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffee Pot, our pick for the best cold brew coffee maker.