At the time of writing, the UK is under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Travel is severely restricted and people are being urged to work from home wherever possible.
While the UK and many other countries make their first tentative steps back to normality, working from home is still encouraging wherever possible.
For some, like freelancers, working from home is a way of life. For others, the last few months might have been their first experience of working within the confines of the house. If the latter applies to you, this article should help.
With the help of these tips and a handful of tech gadgets, hopefully you can now be productive wherever you are.
How to work from home effectively
It can be difficult for anyone to concentrate at home, with the surrounding noise and temptation to multitask, not to mention children that are home from school!
In order to optimise your time and stay professional, we'd recommend doing the following things:
- Get up at your normal time.
- Get dressed - it's essential your brain understands that you're about to work. Feeling too relaxed in an outfit (like your pyjamas) doesn't help with concentration and focus.
- Create an office space as best you can, and leave it to take regular breaks.
- Prepare your meals in advance, so you don't find yourself eating while working or having to cook during your lunch break.
- Stay in touch with your colleagues (think email, Slack, Microsoft Teams or whatever you already use).
In addition to this new routine, here are the gadgets that will help transform your corner of the house into a proper work space.
Get a PC or laptop that's up to the task
As millions of people have been forced to work from home, many will realise their personal devices simply aren't up to scratch.
If you're used to a powerful PC in the office, an old laptop you had lying may quickly become frustrating.
It's likely you'll want something that's affordable but still powerful enough to cope with word processing, multitasking and perhaps some light video editing. In that case, we'd recommend taking a look at our best budget laptop chart.
It does however come with Windows 10 S, so if that bothers you pick up the equally impressive Honor MagicBook 14 for £549.99.
Get a setup like in the office
If you're going to spend 8 hours a day looking at a laptop instead of your regular PC, you'll want the screen to be well positioned at eye level. This will save you physical and eye strain, although you might also want to use a laptop as a second monitor.
Assuming you've already got a laptop you're happy to work on, there are plenty of great laptop stands which raise your device and tilt it to a more ergonomic angle. This can also help to prevent overheating, particularly if there are fans on the bottom.
Also, take a look at our Flexispot MonitorStand Workstation review.
An external screen
In order to see the big picture and easily view your files and programs, you will need an external screen.
It would be best if this is a similar size to the one you use in the office, but that may not be possible.
However, having a monitor of 17in or more is particularly effective as it allows you to easily switch between tabs and windows. Why wouldn't you have multiple screens?
Dell always produces solid monitors, and they have a great range on Amazon starting from as little as £93.60/US$164.98. However, some don't come with built-in speakers so it's worth checking before you buy.
If you're looking for more inspiration, check out our guide to the best monitors.
Also see how to connect your laptop to a monitor.
A keyboard and mouse
Once you've connected your laptop to an external screen for convenience, your next step is to consider your built-in touchpad and keyboard.
While it may be fine for occasional use, a Bluetooth or wired mouse will allow you to move between files and applications more quickly.
To find the one you need, check out our best mouse round-up.
A wireless keyboard can also aid with typing a lot. It will also help you to be more comfortable and sit a bit further away from your screen, reducing eye strain.
We recommend the Novodio Touch keyboard and mouse kit, which is plenty large and thin. It also has a numeric keypad and allows you to connect four devices at the same time. Buy it now for £34.80 (+7.05 delivery).
If you're in the US, the Logitech MK550 is an excellent alternative. It comes with a separate mouse and is on sale for just $51.99.
Both these keyboards work just as well on macOS as they do on Windows.
For more options, check out our guide to the best keyboards.
High quality audio
If you don't want to be disturbed by the surrounding noise (including children who are now at home), why not isolate yourself with earplugs or music?
Many earbuds and headphones can help you stay focused by blocking outside noise and ensuring you can focus on what you need to. It's worth looking for something which also has great sound quality and battery life, and Nuraphone (pictured) is a great example.
If you can do without noise cancellation, our top pick is the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ (pictured). The microphones, sound quality and comfort have all improved over the originals, while the buds themselves have a staggering 11 hours of batter life.
You’ll definitely need a good network connection if you’re going to spend 8+ hours of your day working from home. There’s nothing more frustrating than a network that cuts out a lot, and you particularly don’t want that happening during meetings.
The purpose of mesh Wi-Fi is to connect to your existing broadband router or modem, then deliver a strong Wi-Fi all around your home. So if you normally get weak signal at home, then a mesh Wi-Fi will help make it stronger.
To save and access all your folders, files and applications from your new workspace, there's nothing better than an external hard drive.
HDD drives are usually cheaper, while an SSD will offer faster data transfer speeds but also cost a bit more.
We'd recommend something like the Samsung 860, but if you're looking for something more affordable try the Sandisk SSD Plus. Depending on the capacity you're looking for, you could get something as cheap as £38.40.
Any external hard drive allows you to make space on your personal or professional computer, as well as providing the ability to access files without first having to load them onto your PC.
If you're looking to connect multiple devices to a laptop without many ports, nothing beats a USB hub. Amazon offers something for all budgets, but be sure to check how many and what type of ports you need before buying.
The speed of your internet connection also becomes crucially important when working from home. If it's flickering, sluggish or a lot of the bandwidth is being taken up, consider getting a Wi-Fi extender. This will ensure you get a much better signal wherever you are, and TP-Link's selection offers a good balance between price and performance.
Of course you’ll need a desk to set up all of the appliances. Many might think making do with working from the sofa or dining table will be just fine, but not for the long term. After all, we don’t know how long we’ll be working from home and anything could happen.
So it’s best to have a comfortable office-style set up to give you the comfortability and support needed.
Ideally, you want a desk that can stand level to your chair so you don’t have to make too many adjustments to work comfortably. But depending on your style of work, a standing desk might just be what you’re after. These types of desks don’t need a chair at all and the levelling is mostly in a safe and comfortable position that you won’t have to bend to see your PC screen.
Our top pick of standing desks is the Flexispot ED2W Home Office Standing Desk. Take a look at our review to find out more.
Last, but very much not least, what about the chair you spend hours each day sitting in? Many people might have to make do with an uncomfortable dining chair if they're not used to working from home, but it doesn't have to be that way.
Ideally, you're looking for an adjustable office-style chair which provides cushioned support without breaking the bank.
Our top pick is the Cherry Tree chair (pictured), which you can get for just £57.99
Alternatively, you can wait until the excellent Langria chair is available once more. Check out office chairs to improve your remote working setup for more alternatives.
Software that can boost your productivity
We all know how difficult it can be to stay organised and focused while working from home, but fortunately there's plenty of software that can help.
CocoFax has compiled a great list of work from home tools across six categories - Project Management, Communication & Collaboration, Productivity, Time Management, Security and Others. Here are our favourites:
- Trello - collaboration tool, featuring boards, lists and charts for managing work across a team
- Notion - a great place for organising your and your colleagues thoughts, with built-in collaboration tools
- Canva - free graphic design tool, allowing you to customise dozens of templates or create your own
- Todoist - an excellent, cross-platform to-do list, with syncing across all your devices and the ability to share with friends
- Doodle - a great tool for managing time and scheduling meetings
- 1Password - a password manager has become an essential part of modern online life, and 1Password is among the best
See the full list on the CocoFax website.
Note: The original version of this article was published in French on our sister site, Tech Advisor France.