PJ’s Small Space Desk Setup in the Philippines

PJ’s Small Space Desk Setup in the Philippines

“I took inspiration from my neighbourhood of high rise condominiums. I built vertically with as few compromises as possible”

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Name: PJ Manalo

Location: Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines

Occupation: Human Resources Consultant

Room size: 12,3 m² (132,4 ft²). Desktop space: 1,8 m² (19,3 ft²).

Cost of the setup: ~$6K, including the PC and monitors

Hey, PJ! Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m a Human Resources Consultant and manager for an international HR Consulting and Solutions company.

I get to collaborate with HR practitioners from all over the world. I help them so they could help their own organisations. I provide advice, training, designing and putting in place HR systems & frameworks.

Before the pandemic, my job involved a lot of travel — with upwards of 100 days of business travel in a year. I’ve been to 33 countries (as of December 2021) since I started working for the company in 2006.

I’m a lucky husband of an awesome woman. We both share a quiet lifestyle. We enjoy food, books, occasional travel, and watching streaming shows.

A small home office setup in the Philippines
PJ and his partner live in a small (52 m²) 1-bedroom condominium in the city centre. “It’s super convenient — lots of restaurants and bars in the neighbourhood, two malls within walking distance, and a 20-minute walk to the office”

I enjoy learning, building things, and tinkering. Cooking new recipes and trying different techniques make me happy, too.

Also, I love Lego, especially Technic and space-themed sets. I got into PC building (kinda like adult Lego) and gaming during the pandemic.

Since August 2020, I’ve built six PCs.

My current gaming/work PC has had two versions. I built one for my wife, one home theatre PC, another work PC, and a budget gaming build for a nephew.

Can you describe your home setup?

Item Model
Monitor Samsung Odyssey G7 32in, AOC 22B2HN 22in + Eyoyo 13.3in 1440p
Monitor mount FlexiSpot MA8
Monitor light bar BlitzWolf BW-CML3
Speakers Razer Leviathan
Headphones beyerdynamic DT 880 PRO 250 Ohm + EPOS H6Pro
Keyboard Royal Kludge RK61
Mouse Delux M618XSU
Desk mat MD Custom Felt and Cork Mousepad, 800×300mm
Mouse mat MD Custom Aluminum Mousepad, 240×300mm
Chair HandO Gain Executive Mesh Chair
Desk shelf Generic steel shelves
Web camera Center Cam
DAC/Amp iFi Zen DAC v.2 + Topping A50s
DAC EPOS GSX 300
Clock Lenovo Smart Clock

Lack of space is the main challenge of a 52 m² apartment for two people.

There isn’t really space for a home office. My first setup was in a nook in the bedroom. The nook must’ve been used for a dressing table before.

I could only fit an IKEA Micke Personal desk — it was 73 cm wide and 50 cm deep.

The whole space was a little less than 1 m².

It wasn’t ideal because I couldn’t slide my chair back much. I would’ve collided with the bed behind me.

There was little natural light and no view.

And my spouse couldn’t get to her closet or the bed without people seeing her if I was on a video call.

I grew tired of that setup after over a year in quarantine. I did some measuring and moved furniture around the bedroom.

This gave me tons of space (1,8 m²; 80% more) that had more natural light, and a view of the city past the balcony.

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Better yet, my new space is angled so that my wife has free reign of the rest of the room even while I’m on camera.

I still have a relatively small space.

I took inspiration from my neighbourhood of high rise condominiums.

I built vertically with as few compromises as possible.

With more space, I replaced the Micke with a custom-made desk (80 cm wide, 70 cm deep) by AvMake Furniture, a local custom furniture maker.

I also added a steel shelving unit behind it. This unit houses my PC tower. The rest of the shelves are for storage — something I didn’t have in my original space.

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Next challenge: monitors. I needed several. My job requires me to share screens often, manage Zoom and Teams meetings, and juggle lots of windows.

Even with a custom table, the tabletop couldn’t fit two 27-inch monitors in a landscape mode.

As a compromise, I oriented a 21-inch 1080p monitor on portrait and cantilevered it off the table with an arm. I added a 13,3-inch 1440p portable monitor, and as a centrepiece, a 32-inch Samsung Odyssey G7.

The main monitor supports Picture-by-Picture (PBP) and Picture-in-Picture (PIP) modes. So I technically can have four monitors.

A small home office desk setup with a curved monitor
PJ has a curved monitor light bar. It’s useful when working late — now he’s able to turn off the lights so his wife can sleep. “This is a huge change from my 2020 workspace which was one 27-inch screen and a laptop!”

My tabletop has three audio channels.

One for work and gaming (an EPOS GSX 300 DAC/amp + H6Pro closed headset) that requires a microphone.

One budget hi-fi audio stack (iFi Zen Dac v.2 + Topping A50s + beyerdynamic DT880 Pro 250 ohm) for music listening.

And if I grow tired of headsets, there’s a Razer Leviathan soundbar under the monitor and the subwoofer under the table.

A small home office setup with a curved monitor and 60% mechanical gaming keyboard
Because of the desk size, PJ went for a 60% keyboard. “Not only does it save space but, unlike TKL or full keyboards, it doesn’t end up off-centre with either of my arms having to reach out too much”

I type a lot for work. So I needed a keyboard that I would enjoy typing on for hours. For me, that means a solid mechanical keyboard.

Even when I did a lot of travel I would have a Keychron K1 Slim with me. So that I didn’t have to type on the mushy laptop keyboard.

At the office, I replaced the standard-issue cheapo membrane keyboard with a Das Keyboard 4 Professional with Cherry MX blue switches.

In my home workspace, I use a Royal Kludge RK61 with blue-type (no brand) switches.

I’ve tried cherry red and brown equivalents on other keyboards but I keep coming back to blue ones for the tactility and clickiness.

For me, they’re the epitome of mechanical switches.

Something I do miss from my full-size Das are the multimedia keys. The Royal Kludge RK61 has key combos for media control but I can’t be bothered to remember them.

So I got myself a Vaydeer 4-key macro keyboard. I can programme it to do more but I just use it for media/music playback control: mute, previous/restart, play/pause, and next.

A tiny home office desk setup
PJ’s working space area is only 1.8 m². His previous desk setup was less than 1 m²

Then there’s the mouse. At the office, I have a Logitech MX Ergo trackball — which I love — because my wrist gets easily strained using conventional mice.

But because this is both a work and gaming setup I had to switch to a vertical mouse — Delux M618XS. (Trackball gaming is torture.)

It’s still more ergonomic than normal mice so my wrist doesn’t ache.

Wired peripherals
“Delux M618XS is wired, has a high polling rate, DPI adjustments, and separate vertical and horizontal scrolling wheels. This mouse is great to play games with”

One thing people might notice about my setup is that my peripherals — the headsets and soundbar, the mouse, and the keyboard — are all wired. I use the Xbox controller wired even though I have a wireless receiver.

Yes, it’s less tidy than a wireless setup.

But I’m not fond of forgetting to charge and then having the peripheral die in the middle of something, work or play.

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What’s your favourite item on your desk?

The Center Cam! I backed this Kickstarter product in April 2021 for $95.

It’s a small unobtrusive webcam that solves several problems for me.

I can’t use webcams pointed down from the top of the monitors because of the light bar.

I don’t like webcams below the monitor because of the unflattering angle. They’re tilted straight up your nose!

I don’t have space for a separate webcam stand on the tabletop. Even if I did, conventional webcams are bulky.

Positioning them at the right height and centred would obstruct content on the monitor (like PowerPoint presenter view or documents).

Putting a webcam on the side would’ve been an option. But that makes it seem like I’m not talking to the other person or that I’m doing something else during a call.

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I can set The Center Cam at the correct orientation for it to frame me head-on. It’s also small enough not to block stuff on the screen.

It’s a huge quality of life upgrade, given that I could be on conference calls for 6-7 hours in a day.

What does your typical day look like?

Since March 2020, our Manila office has been closed. Everyone has been working from home.

It’s a setup we were prepared for. Even before the pandemic, employees were allowed to work 2-3 days from home each week.

Our workday is super flexible because it’s based on output-based work culture. Work when you’re most effective, work however you want as long as you deliver. And we’re a global team with clients all over the world.

A typical workday means starting work at 9/9:30 am. I’d power through emails and simple work.

I’ll have a break at noon for 1,5 hours for lunch and a nap.

After the mid-day break and up to 5:30/6 pm, I’ll do substantive work like writing reports and preparing presentations.

My second big break of the day is for dinner (whether cooking or ordering in), TV time, and maybe another nap up to 8/9 pm.

Small home office setup
Despite having a comfortable WFH setup, PJ looks forward to going back to the office. Even for just a couple of days a week

Any remaining work and meetings will last until 10/11 pm. All in all, it’s about 9-10 hours at my desk sprinkled in with 5/10-minute breaks in between the big breaks.

Some days I might have up to 6-7 hours worth of internal and external meetings, and/or have to facilitate training or deliver demonstrations.

On those days I take more frequent breaks in between each call to rest and recharge.

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To relax, whether during my breaks or during the weekend, I play PC games.

I enjoy third-person shooters and adventure games. I only got back into gaming late in 2020 with Starcraft II and Tom Clancy’s Division 2.

Now I’m enjoying the Tomb Raider trilogy, Metro Exodus, and currently having fun with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

On the weekends, I play Deep Rock Galactic and other co-op games with friends.

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And yes, I’m hoping to get back on business travel.

While we’ve all been able to work effectively virtually, it isn’t as effective at building rapport as sitting across the table from a client.

Your tips for working from home?

I have to admit, I’m a procrastinator.

I work best close to the deadline.

It’s definitely not the best approach and it doesn’t work for everyone. But it helps put me into a flow state that is great for more substantive, problem-solving, creative work.

It requires three things, though.

Really knowing what you need to get done, being confident in your ability and focus to pull it off, and being comfortable delivering in a situation with a narrow margin of error.

My tip is if you can’t tick off all those three things, procrastination won’t be the best approach for you.

Otherwise, to put me in the mood to work, I would get up at 7:30 am, have breakfast, get a bit of gaming or reading in, and take a shower to wake up.

A tip for people working from home for the first time. Don’t assume that you can just port over your workflow from your usual day at the office.

Meaning if you used to be able to plough through a 9-5 day with an hour lunch and separate work from life, it likely won’t be the same working from home.

Some are able to do so but it’s best to reorganise your day and recalibrate your expectations.

Have a nap when you’re tired.

Take advantage of the time you save from not commuting by doing chores.

Do something personal when you don’t feel like working.

Take a shower to wake you up, but then work when you’re most effective. Even if it means spreading out your workflow throughout a long day or a long workweek.

Ultimately, it’s not about work-life balance but work-life integration.

We’re a reader-supported publication. This article might contain affiliate links. It means we may receive a commission if you click a link and buy a product that our maker has recommended. The interview was done independently.

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