With the Covid-19 pandemic came a new way of working: crammed in the spare room, or at the corner of the kitchen table, trying to keep several plates spinning at once. Things may have calmed a little and returned to a semblance of normal, but the hybrid working environment may be here to stay. Here are some tools to help you work better.
Noise Cancelling headphones
If you are working from home, there’s a good chance you will need to drown out the sounds of family life, unless you’ve purpose built your own sound-proofed office. As a budget option, Irish brand One Sonic’s BB-HD1 (€80) over-ear headphones are a good deal. The noise cancelling won’t rival the more expensive options, but they will certainly provide better audio and take the focus away from the background noise. If you have a large budget and are already an Apple fan, the AirPods Max (€629) are not only comfortable, thanks to the mesh headband that doesn’t pinch your head after an hour or two, but they have excellent noise-cancelling. And they come in nice colours too. One brand to consider if you are using a Windows system is Microsoft itself. The company’s Surface Buds (€219) have some special features that integrate with Office 365, such as control email and document dictation, giving you control over PowerPoint presentations, and enabling on-screen captioning and translation.
Remember when we thought we could get away with a tablet for working outside the office? A year on, and for some of us at least, that isn’t true. A good laptop, a flexible one that is powerful enough for all your tasks, will be an investment to see you through a few years of the new hybrid work environment. There are plenty of options out there, from workhorse laptops to the new sleeker high end devices. The Dell Latitude 7320 Detachable (€2275) is a lightweight device that combines the best of both worlds. It runs Windows 10 Pro, and when needed can be used as either a laptop or a touch screen device. That makes it ideal for business use, or home entertainment. The Surface Laptop 4 is Microsoft’s newest piece of hardware, and if previous versions are anything to go by, it’s built to last. More of a traditional laptop style, it has a touch screen and a range of options of chips and RAM, plus it is lightweight enough to travel back and forth to the office when needed.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good mouse, especially if you are planning on putting in a full day’s work on your computer. Picking the right one can make your work life easier and reduce any fatigue you might suffer from the endless point, click and scroll. A handy all-round mouse is the Surface Arc mouse (€90), which is slim, wireless and moulded to fit the shape of your hand. It also snaps flat so you can store it in a bag when you are on the move. If you have more advanced needs, the Logitech MX Master 3 has a fast, precision scroll wheel that can almost silently scroll at a rate of 1,000 lines a second. And for those who need an ergonomic mouse, the Logitech MX Vertical has been designed and tested according to criteria laid down by experts, to help reduce muscle strain and fatigue.
If you are buying a new laptop or desktop since the world stopped, it’s highly likely that webcams and their quality will be an important consideration. But not everyone has the budget for a new computer, so upgrading the webcam is a good compromise. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get decent video quality though. Logitech’s entry level webcam, the C270 HD webcam (€35), will cover most needs. It clips to the top of your screen and has a 720p resolution at 30 frames per second. The built in mic is noise reducing, and light correction is automatic too, so your video will always look natural. The Logitech Brio 4K (€240) brings a bit more clarity to the situation. With a higher-resolution 4K camera, you can easily use this in your home office or for a more collaborative environment in the office.
While at home, you might have noticed that the wifi network wasn’t quite as robust as you thought. There is nothing like being forced to work from home while also loading down your wifi with online classes, Netflix binge sessions and and online gaming to expose the cracks in your network’s capacity - and coverage. Upgrading your home broadband can help with the speed issues, but what if the only corner of your house where you can find five minutes peace to get some work done is in one of your home’s wifi dead zones? This is where a mesh kit comes in handy. The kit blankets your home in wifi by using a series of overlapping nodes that you place at optimal points around your home. One plugs into your existing broadband hub; the rest are up to you. Not only can it make your internet connection more consistent, it can also make it faster, making it a better option for everyone. And you can also take it with you if you need to move; all you need is access to a broadband hub with a working connection to plug it into. There are plenty of options for all budgets. At the more budget end of things is Tenda Nova MW3 (€85); TP Link’s X60 network uses the latest Wifi 6 standard and is available in three-packs for around €500. If you want something that combines smarthome capabilities with better wifi, try the Google Nest Wifi system - Google Assistant plus mesh network in one.