For many parts of the world including here, school season is on the horizon too which means you want to be well-prepared for multitasking. Balancing work (at home or in office), plus new school schedules can be daunting, so it helps if your workspace or study area is productive, and choosing the right smart gear for your office can sway your efficiency in a positive direction. If you’re wondering to yourself, ‘how can i improve my home office,’ you’re not alone. Today we explore some aspects of the home office that can be improved with a little smart tech and we’ll make some recommendations about which products you might want to invest in.
Improve Your Wi-Fi with a new router
A solid Wi-Fi signal that never drops or wavers is worth its weight in gold, especially if you have a lot of Teams or Zoom meetings on your schedule. These days, mesh Wi-Fi is all the rage. Instead of a single antenna, a mesh system uses a number of pods placed throughout the home that communicate with each other to give reliable speeds and eliminate dead spots. Google WiFi which I have tested and reviewed is a great option, with a low sticker price and up to 1.2 Gbps. Depending on the size of your home, you’ll need between 1 and 3 points. Google also offers a Nest-equipped version that has a built-in speaker for music and Google’s Voice Assistant for a little more bang for your buck.
Give your back a break with a monitor arm
If you’re working from home or spending long hours in front of the computer, you need to take ergonomics seriously. While office set-ups are usually ready-made to keep you upright and minimize slouching and posture, sometimes we ignore those things at home. A great step is raising your monitors up off of your desk. Experts agree that the top of your monitor should be about 5-10 cm higher than your eye line.
Picking up a monitor arm might be the solution to your problem. My own desk pick is the Kensington space saving monitor arm which offers a number of models for either single or dual monitor setups. They clamp to the edge of your desk, raising the monitor and increasing the space on your desk in one. They also allow you to angle your monitors easily. I reviewed one and loved it.
Add a cool backdrop or ambient lighting
Just because your pre-pandemic office had harsh fluorescents and bright white lighting doesn’t mean your chic home office needs to. Funkier and less eye-strain-inducing smart lighting not only creates a more pleasant environment to be in, but it can create a cool backdrop for those zoom calls too.
A personal favourite right now is the 3D Govee Glide Hexa light panels, which you have to see for yourself in my video review. These outstanding 3D light panels stick to your wall and reflect light back into the room. The panels come in packs of seven or ten, and each individual light can display up to six colours at once. You can create light patterns and switch colours from the app and even set your lights to change with your music if you like to have a workday soundtrack.
Get a ring light for video calls
If your work requires face time and you spend a lot of time on Zoom or Teams calls, you may want to invest in a ring light. Kensington’s L1000 BiColor Ring Light will create a more flattering video environment and provide clarity and detail to your calls, making you look more professional. You can attach the Ring Light to Kensington’s A1020 Boom Arm to make the whole thing easy to pull into place for a call, then move out of the way when you’re done. Read more about these desk-saving devices here.
Hire an Assistant… a Digital Assistant
Once you have your smart home components in place, why not make it easy to control all of them with a voice assistant? Amazon’s Echo Show 10 is a quality voice assistant device that is my go-to in the home, and as a bonus, it also has a video screen for streaming video, and making audio or video calls. Plus, if you have a Ring video doorbell, you can see when something is being delivered and even shoo away a salesperson without having to leave your desk.
Small workspace? This colourful monitor doubles as a TV
If you’re spending the whole day staring at a monitor, why not splurge a bit and pick up an Ultra High Definition monitor that can double as a TV. You’ll be able to see more easily, and when the working day is done, you can enjoy a movie or show on your favorite streaming service, so this is a particularly great choice for those working in a living room, or den.
The Samsung M8 Smart UHD monitor is a great choice, offering crystal clear images and a stylish package that fits in with the office or the TV room. It comes in fun colours too so you can get away from the drab-office black and grey, and move to white, green, blue, or pink. I’ll be reviewing it shortly, so watch for more.
Invest in headphones
Headphones are great for taking video calls without disturbing other work-from-homers, but you can also listen to music, and even block out noisy neighbours or snoring dogs. If you have an Apple device and prefer listening to music at the highest fidelity, the Apple AirPods Max is the pair to get. I mainly didn’t like it because of its $549 USD ($779 CAD) asking price but with many online outlets selling it for under $500 USD or roughly $700 CAD these days, I can at least recommend this comfortable pair of luxury cans to my Apple-loving friends.
For a more down to Earth option, the Google Pixel Buds Pro is where the party is at! For just $199 USD ($259 CAD), you get a pair of terrific-sounding earbuds that has great battery life, effective noise cancellation, and an accessible transparency mode. Plus, you can expect Google to roll out an update real soon to give it spatial audio.
Manage sunlight & privacy with smart blinds
Just because the days get shorter into fall and winter doesn’t mean you won’t have glare. I recommend you treat your office space to a decent set of motorized smart blinds. Somfy Smart Blinds are the best ones I reviewed featuring nice designs and silent motors. I particularly love that RTS sun sensor included in the package which instructs the blinds to close as soon as it feels the sun’s rays. You can also set up timers in the Somfy TaHoma app so they can open and close with the sun, allowing privacy.
Control the temperature
When the electric fan or fancy Dyson heater/humidifier/air purifier just won’t make the cut for your small office and you need a chilly solution quick without worrying so much about installation, the Haier portable small room air conditioner has your back. The 8,000 BTU cooling capacity is good enough for a 150 square-foot space, which should cover most home offices. Not only is this portable air conditioner easy to use and move around, it doesn’t need so much maintenance (dumping a water tank) either thanks to the auto-evaporation feature.
Keep a supply of fuel on hand with fresh espresso
If your workday is like ours, it runs on a good supply of caffeine. Nespresso Vertuo Next by Delonghi can brew coffee and espresso for you with relative ease without taking up so much space. It doesn’t compromise either as it offers adjustable presets, one-button operation and a unique barcode scanner that can recognize any Nespresso Vertuo capsule you throw at it and make the best brew possible. If you prefer a broader coffee pod selection, consider the Nespresso Original instead. You can read here what the difference is and how to choose between Nespresso Virtuo and Nespresso Original.
Banish carpal tunnel with a vertical mouse
Carpel tunnel can be a real momentum killer for a long office day and a proven way to prevent that from happening is by getting a vertical mouse. I’ve been using a vertical mouse for years and recently upgraded from a cluttered wired version to the Kensington Pro Fit Ergo, and found all sorts of mouse actions from dragging files to doing video editing work to be far more comfortable. It only needs a single AA battery to give it a full year of battery life!
Keep documents on hand with a small printer
I know what you’re thinking; do we still need to print in the digital age? The answer is, sometimes. I reviewed the Canon Pixma Printer TR4720 and found it has all the important features I need and it works well. It can print 4×6 to 8×10 photos like a champ, spew documents in a speedy fashion and comes with duplex printing support. For a $99 printer that comes with a scanning and faxing capabilities, I’m very impressed!
Printers have been a desktop mainstay for years, but the problem with them is how much real estate they take up, sometimes requiring a bigger desk or a second surface. If you have a small or roving-around-the-home office, the HP Deskjet 3755 which I tested hands-on is a printer that gets the job done in a surprisingly small package. It offers colour inkjet printing, WiFi access, Airprint, and mobile printing. It also prints up to 19 pages per minute in black and white and 5.5 ppm colour.
Be kind to the planet with reusable paper
Printing certainly has its uses for office and school but writing never lost its charm for me. In fact, the Rocketbook and Pilot FriXion pen renewed my love for writing simply because it captures the feeling of writing on paper quite nicely while adding some nifty digital ingredients such as the syncing notes to numerous cloud storage providers and scanning a bunch of digital notes to PDF.
I want to give a special shoutout to the Pilot FriXion pen as it is not only a great companion to the Rocketbook but it can also write on real paper! Prices of the Rocketbook range from $20 to $45 USD making them fantastic options for avid notetakers.
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