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6 tech habits to upgrade your work from home set-up in 2021

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Working from home is the new normal. Here are 6 tips from our productivity experts to improve your home set-up in 2021.

COVID-19 has permanently altered the way we work. According to a 2020 Gartner survey, over 40% of employees will continue to work from home at least some of the time after all pandemic restrictions are lifted.

In other words, a decent home workplace set-up is more important than ever. If you've been struggling to get by with a work laptop and a makeshift desk, now is the time to upgrade. Here are our top working from home (WFH) tips for 2021.

1. Shut your laptop/mute Slack

In a recent Swinburne survey, the continued blurring of work/home boundaries was cited as the biggest challenge facing employees.

The things that would normally mark the end of a workday – saying goodbye to colleagues, shutting off your office computer and the daily commute home – are no longer part of your schedule. It's therefore very easy to develop bad work/life habits, where you continue to work on projects, respond to out-of-hours emails and simply lose track of time. Before you know it, it's past 10pm and you're still beavering away on your laptop.

To avoid possible burnout, it's important to get your work/life balance back on track. Start by setting a timetable that roughly mirrors whatever your work hours were in the office and make sure you stick to it. Then, after you've officially clocked off for the day, mute your work communications, such as Slack. Those messages will still be there in the morning (plus, co-workers are a lot less likely to message you out-of-hours if they see you're offline).

In short, try sticking to an 8 to 9-hour workday when working from home. This is arguably the most important "upgrade" you need to make.

2. Fix your Wi-Fi

A choppy home Internet connection is a surefire way to hamper productivity while raising your blood pressure to dangerous levels. While your location obviously plays a large part in network reliability, there are various upgrades you can employ to improve the situation.

For example, setting up a Wi-Fi extender or mesh system near your WFH set-up should result in a smoother, faster connection. Check out our guide to the best Wi-Fi extenders in Australia.

Alternatively, you may need to bite the bullet and get a premium home Internet plan with more download bandwidth and faster upload speeds. This is especially important if you regularly use video conferencing software, upload multimedia files or collaborate on large spreadsheets.

If you're in a shared house, there are some amazing mobile data offers going around right now that are great tethering backup options for when you have that important video call that you don't want to freeze up on.

3. Get a dedicated monitor (or TV)

More screen space is a surefire way to improve efficiency while working from home. A decent-sized quality monitor will provide a much more detailed and user-friendly viewing experience than your laptop screen. Naturally, you can also combine it with your existing display for a multi-screen set-up.

You can read up on how to choose the right monitor in our guide. Things to consider include screen size (24 inches at a minimum), refresh rate (important if you also want to use your monitor for gaming), contrast ratio (the higher, the better), aspect ratio (is 16:9 wide enough?), and resolution.

At CES 2021, Samsung showed off its new Smart Monitor M7, available in Australia from February 2021. Specifically designed for at-home workers, the model is billed as a "do-it-all" screen that is equally well suited to work, entertainment and education thanks to a huge array of in-built features.

The Smart Monitor M7 comes with a roomy 32-inch UHD 4K display and embedded Wi-Fi, which allows it to run Microsoft Office 365 applications without a PC connection. It can be connected to either a laptop/PC or a compatible mobile device via Samsung DeX, which can turn your Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet into a mini-computer (Tap View, App Casting and Apple AirPlay are also supported).

In addition to its business credentials, the monitor also comes with an entertainment hub based on Samsung's Smart TV platform, with a range of streaming apps built directly into the monitor including Netflix and YouTube.

Don't need 4K? There's also a Full HD version dubbed the Smart Monitor M5, which comes in 32-inch and 27-inch variants.

4. Improve your video conferencing set-up

We've all grown pretty desensitised to crappy video calls due to everyone working from home. However, you've now had the better part of a year to get your act together. There's no longer an excuse to look like a state witness silhouette in your Zoom chat.

Upgrading the quality in your video calls is surprisingly easy and shouldn't cost too much money. Simply positioning yourself near a window can make a huge amount of difference. You can also use dedicated lighting gadgets such as an LED ring light. These will help brighten your video calls and remove ugly looking shadows from the picture, resulting in a more professional look. Ring lights are also surprisingly affordable – you can find good models on Amazon for under $20.

Alternatively, a dedicated webcam will provide much better performance than your laptop's in-built camera. In addition to having a higher native resolution (up to 8K), dedicated webcams usually come with their own bespoke software that allows you to adjust things like white balance and exposure. Most dedicated webcams also have wide-angle lenses. Here are the 5 best webcams in Australia, with an option for every budget.

5. Cushioned lap desks and laptop stands

There are times when working from the couch is unavoidable – either because another family member needs to use your desk, or you simply need a change of scenery.

This is where lap desks come in handy. These gadgets come with a padded underside similar to a bed tray, but are ergonomically designed for laptop use. Many models also come with integrated mouse mats and other extra features, such as phone slots and in-built cooling. We've frequently sung the praises of ergonomic desk chairs, but a lap desk could be just as important to your health and posture, especially if you frequently work from the couch.

The LapGear Home Office Lap Desk ($45) has an average Amazon rating of 4.8 out of 5 based on over 11,000 customer reviews. It comes with an in-built mouse pad, a phone slot and a secure base for 15-inch laptops.

A height adjustable laptop stand should be part of your WFH setup too. These will allow you to turn nearly any desk, counter or table into a standing desk. You can also adjust the height while sitting for vastly improved posture.

Purchasing both of these items will give you the freedom to "hot desk" around the house at will. It's also significantly less expensive than forking out for a dedicated home office with an ergonomic desk and chair.

6. Did someone say coffee?

Working from home has been especially tough on coffee connoisseurs (I speak from bitter experience). If you've been sorely missing the office espresso maker or local barista, it might be time to bite the bullet and purchase a machine of your own. You can then get back to the morning ritual of imbibing a fresh cup of high-quality caffeine before a hard day's work.

There are several types of coffee machines available. Some of the main options are pod and capsule, fully automatic, manual and high-end espresso machines. You can find out more about each machine type and our favourite models in our guides linked above.

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