Independence Day: The best tools for working safely from anywhere
It looks like the home office is here to stay for some time to come, so setting up a work area where you can be effective, efficient, and productive is a must if you are to get the job done without working more hours.
Also, having an effective work from home setup also means that, when travel reopens and you need to work on the move, you can set up an effective workspace wherever in the world you happen to be.
I’ve been working from home — and on the road — for most of my working life, and I’ve learned to make tech work for me. At the end of 2019, I spent six weeks going from country to country and Airbnb to Airbnb by planes, trains, and automobiles, and during that time, not only did I manage to stay working, I honed down my kit to the essentials that gave me the best bang for the buck. And now in these times of pandemic, I’m finding that the same kit is allowing me to be at my most productive in my home office.
So, what do you need to be able to work safely, effectively, and efficiently, no matter where you are?
Here’s what worked for me. Now my kit revolves around the Apple ecosystem a lot, but I’ll offer alternatives for those who use Android or Windows kit.
The world is a noisy place, and these make it right to the top of the list. I’ve tested a lot of different noise-canceling earbuds and without a doubt, the best are Apple’s AirPods Pro.
They are small, sleek, comfortable, have great audio output while at the same time doing a magical job of shutting out the rest of the world, and are insanely easy to use.
Everything from the initial set up to operating the buds is just mind-blowingly miraculous.
The clicker for operating different modes is also a brilliant touch, and lightyears better than the touchpad that other companies seem to be using. It offers all the tactile feedback of a button, without being a button.
Up to 4.5 hours of listening time with a single charge (up to five hours with Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency off), with the case taking this up to 24 hours.
If you don’t want to go Apple, the next best noise-canceling earbuds are Sony WF-1000XM3. While the experience isn’t as smooth as the AirPods Pro experience, and the microphone could be better, they are great for keeping the world out.
Don’t want to block out the world with noise-canceling earbuds, but want to be able to make and receive calls and listen to music and audiobooks? Go for the Soundcore Liberty Air 2.
At $99, these are the cheapest earbuds in the list, but don’t let that fool you. The audio quality of the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 is great; they offer a fantastic battery life, and are so comfortable you can wear them all day.
A single charge gives you a full seven hours of listening, while the charging case extends it to 28 hours of playtime.
While a lot of people are into smart speakers such as Amazon’s Echo or Echo Dot, they have two limitations that I don’t like. First, they need power, and the second is they don’t like being exposed to water and the elements.
The Soundcore Flare + has become my go-to speaker for indoor and outdoor use (my previous favorite was the smaller Soundcore Flare).
Why do I like it? What’s not to like! It has powerful speakers capable of rich, deep, 360-degree, room-filling sound. It’s got cool LED lighting that changes to the music, can run for 20 hours, and it has a USB port to keep smartphones and other devices charged up.
It’s also waterproof, making it a perfect choice for pool parties or camping.
Printers are probably the most annoying tech. But there are some good all-in-one printer/copiers out there, with one of my favorites being the Canon PIXMA G6020. This is one of Canon’s Megatank printers and can output up to 6,000 pages of black text and up to 7,700 vivid color pages on a single set of cartridges.
It’s intuitive to use, doesn’t take up too much space in the office, and doesn’t require you to take out a second mortgage to refill it with ink every few weeks.
One charger to rule them all!
The Zendure SuperPort 4 has four ports. It has two USB-A ports (5V/3A, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A, 18W max) ideal for legacy gear, a single Power Delivery-rated USB-C port (5V/3A, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A, 18W max), and a USB-C port (5-20V, up to 5A, 100W) perfect for high-power laptops.
The Zendure SuperTank is an absolute beast and is my go-to powerbank.
It measures 4.7- by 2.9- by 1.6-inches and weighs in at a hefty 17.6 ounces. This is not a power bank that you can slip into a pocket, but since this thing is perfectly capable of powering a 15-inch MacBook Pro, you don’t expect ultra-portability. If that’s what you want, there are plenty of power banks out there that fit the bill (such as the Zendure SuperMini).
The SuperTank has a rated capacity of 27,000mAh, or 99.9Wh, which means that it’s the biggest that you can take onto an airplane. It features a single button switch, an LCD display, two USB ports, and two USB-C ports.
Unless you’re using a laptop (which, long-term, I don’t recommend without a separate keyboard and monitor), or your desktop has one, you’ll likely need a webcam.
Something cheap and cheerful is, in my experience, just as good as something that costs four times the price. The Logitech C270 is perfect and costs under $50.
Remember the old adage: « Two is one, and one is none. » If your internet connection fails, then your productivity will take a nosedive, which is why I like to have a backup.
While turning your smartphone into a mobile hotspot works as a short-term solution, I much prefer to have a mobile hotspot device. Also, a mobile hotspot is great when traveling because you’re not burning through your phone’s battery as fast using it as a hotspot.
I’ve had fantastic success with the Netgear Nighthawk M1 (and the M2, but that’s not available in the US). It’s fast, reliable, robust (it lived in a backpack for six weeks), has a super-long battery life, and the interface is easy to use, and the Wi-Fi signal can be tuned from low-power to high-power when that extra boost is needed.
I don’t know about you, but I hate holding up a phone to my ear for more than a few minutes. I just find myself drifting off and resenting being tied to the phone. While modern smartphones do have speakerphone facility, let’s be honest, most are pretty terrible.
The Anker PowerConf Bluetooth Speakerphone has actually made me love phone calls again!
The PowerConf is a conference speaker that sits in the middle of your desk or conference room and uses its six built-in microphones and powerful speaker to make phone calls and conference calls more pleasurable and productive. It has a built-in battery, and can also act as a power bank for your gadgets.
Call quality is amazing, and it sounds really professional. On top of that, it allows you to move freely around the room while making and taking calls.
I’ve used a lot of tablets, and without a doubt, my favorite is the iPad Pro. It’s powerful, runs a wide array of apps, fits in well with my other gear (I’m an Apple user), and acts as a replacement laptop for those times when I don’t want to be wielding a laptop or using a desktop.
Not drawn to the iPad Pro? I suggest you take a look at the Microsoft Surface range. It’s good hardware.
If you are using a laptop, do yourself a favor and get a keyboard, mouse, and monitor for yourself. The ergonomics work out much better in the long term. I really don’t recommend spending hours a day hunched over a laptop. In the long term, your health will suffer.