Work better from home

By now, you probably have all the basics covered for your home office. But there are plenty of gadgets and apps that can help make home working more pleasant and productive, writes CIARA O'BRIEN

Work better from home

All of a sudden in March, work became working for home for many of us. Thousands of people are set up in their spare rooms, kitchens or a corner of the living room, trying to run a business or do their job as best as they can. We are all navigating new ground. Most people, by now, should have the basics at home -- a decent broadband connection, a laptop connected to your office systems, and assorted peripherals such as keyboards, a bluetooth mouse and printer. But what else could help to minimise the stress of working from home?

Blocking out the noise


Work better from home

Working from home means a different -- and likely noisier -- environment. Ear plugs may work, such as the Flare Audio Isolate Pro, blocking out unwanted noise. But if you need to take calls and messages, that may not be the best option. Headphones or earbuds that offer noise cancelling, but also connect to your phone could be better. Samsung’s AKG N700 bluetooth headphones (€300) offer great noise cancelling and are comfortable too, important when you end up wearing them for a few hours at a time. Importantly, the microphone is loud enough to compete on a Zoom conference call. Prefer in-ear buds? The Apple AirPods Pro (€279) are a good choice and they can connect to your non-Apple bluetooth-enabled devices -- it’s just not as slick. Amazon’s Echo Buds offer Active Noise Reduction technology for £120, plus a way for you to control your smart home devices through Alexa. Another way to keep your focus: the Bear Focus Timer, a phone app that helps you combat procrastination. Using the Pomodoro method, it is designed to help you concentrate and make you more productive by breaking your time into 25-minute sessions. You turn the phone over to start the timer, and the app plays your choice of white noise to keep your attention focused.

Get some exercise


Work better from home

Working from home means your activity levels may plummet. There’s no walking to and from the bus or train, or popping out for a sandwich or coffee. There’s only the significantly shorter walk to your desk and back again. But exercise is good for your mental health as well as your physical wellbeing.

Nordic Track’s Studio bikes are available to the public, with an iFit subscription that gives you a range of workouts to take you away from your current stay-at-home scenario. The NordicTrack S221 Studio Cycle (€2,700) is a hefty bit of kit, but it will keep you occupied for hours. As with anything else, there’s an app for exercise -- actually several, depending on what you are looking for.

Centr is offering a six-week free trial of its services during the coronavirus outbreak. If you’ve never heard of Centr, it’s fronted by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. It’s not just about exercise -- although there is a variety of that available, from yoga and pilates to boxing and HIIT sessions -- there’s also a healthy eating plan.

Zombies, Run! may seem a bit dark at the moment -- it deals with a post-apocalyptic world -- but it is a good way to keep yourself entertained while you exercise, both outdoors and indoors if you have access to a treadmill. The story cuts in as radio broadcast signals around your playlists, and occasionally, you pick up a virtual zombie horde from which you must escape.

Sleep and relaxation


Work better from home

A good night’s sleep is important, but it’s not surprising many of us are struggling on that front. If you are a chronic insomnia sufferer, Modius Sleep (€450) might help. The band is designed to be worn for half an hour before you go to bed, and taps into a nerve running that acts as a control centre for your appetite, sleep and fatigue. If that’s a little out of your price range right now, there are plenty of apps to help you. Headspace and Calm are the usual go-to apps when meditation and relaxation are ordered, offering a range of guided programmes and sleep-focused routines to help you But these days, the #Selfcare app seems like a more true-to-life option. It is an AI companion of sorts, with its sole purpose to help you feel a little better through breathing techniques for relaxation, stroking a digital cat, watching bubbles and so on. Sometimes talking it out can also help with anxiety. Woebot is a self-help tool, a cognitive behavioral therapy trained bot that acts as a life coach, helps you identify patterns through mood tracking exercises and is generally designed to make your life a little better. You check in daily with the bot, who will pose a few easily answered questions at a time of your choosing, and then you are free to go about your business, hopefully feeling a little more positive about the day.