As workplaces reopen, more of us are splitting our time between home and office—with some third places, like the local coffee shop or co-working space, thrown into the mix. Even if you were one of the lucky people who got equipment and support from your employer’s IT team when you set up your home office, it’s now time to rethink that setup to address the particular challenges of dividing your workweek (or workday) between different locations.
Here are five things that every hybrid worker might want in their tech tool kit to ensure their work is as seamless—and productive—as possible.
Mobile brainstorming software
Much of the reason for going into the office is to take advantage of the spark that you only get when you’re face-to-face with your colleagues. The ideas and innovations that come out of those meetings typically get reinforced by continuing the conversation over lunch, or scheduling a follow-up meeting for the next day.
It’s trickier to sustain the momentum when you all walk out of the meeting and head home for a couple of days of remote work. That’s why it’s crucial to have brainstorming and note-taking tools that make it easier for you to continue your in-person work when you get back home.
Instead of a physical whiteboard, use a cloud-based mind-mapping or virtual whiteboard tool like MindMeister or Miro to capture suggestions from the room, and project them onto the board as the conversation unfolds. These apps let you capture each idea with a word or phrase, and then link them together as a tree or flow chart.
If you can’t wean the group off their dry-erase boards, take a snapshot of the board when the meeting wraps, and import the photo into a digital notebook app that offers optical character recognition. That way your whiteboard photos will be text-searchable, so you don’t have to go scrolling through your photo roll to find the board that included that note about “new product strategy.“
An on-the-go bag
In my long years of remote work I’ve found that I’m more focused and productive if I get out of the house, even on an at-home day—which is why I keep a bag packed that makes it easy for me to walk out the door and resettle in a coffee shop. (I recently started doing it again!)
When you’re spending some of your workweek in a third place, you can’t depend on any gear except what’s in your backpack. That means you need an extra—and extra-small—version of all your essentials, permanently stored in your go bag. (If they come out of your bag at home, you might not have them when you get to the coffee shop.)
My backpack always contains the smallest laptop charger I could find—with the longest power cable I could buy, since I can’t always get a table near an outlet. I also carry a USB keychain with a double-ended plug (so it can plug into USB-A or USB-C ports), a fully charged phone battery, a set of corded headphones in case my Bluetooth earbuds run out of power, and a dongle that lets me plug in headphones and power at the same time.
One more thing: I maintain a subscription to a VPN service, which passes all my internet traffic through a private network. This is a crucial security measure for protecting my privacy and data when I’m on a public Wi-Fi network, like the one at my favorite coffee shop.
Tablets for the train
If you drive to work on your office days, you can listen to podcasts, audiobooks or articles you’ve saved (if you use a text-to-speech app). Or you can relax with music.
If you commute by train or bus, however, you have a few more options to help you make a seamless transition between the commute and the office, and then between transit and home. The most crucial ingredient: a small laptop or a tablet with a keyboard or stylus, so you can handle email or even draft documents. It also pays to use applications that make it easy to get up and running when you arrive at your destination. I use a small utility program that stores my open apps and windows as a group: When I commuted, I had it set to launch Word, Excel and Outlook when I arrived at the office, and browser windows with Facebook and Netflix when I got home. If you use different computers at home and at the office, use the same browser in both locations and keep it synced so you have the same extensions and bookmarks available in both places.
One of the hazards of hybrid work is that you get out of the rhythm that most of us have when we’re either full time at home, or full time at the office: When each day of the week has its own location and schedule, it’s hard to get into a consistent routine and pace.
To protect my precious at-home work time from the perils of the internet, I use a time-tracking app that runs in the background and tells me where all my time went. Once you know where you tend to waste time or lose focus, you can use parental controls to block your access to problem apps or sites during the workday. If you have a similar challenge at the office, you can use time-tracking software there, too—or use your time-tracking report to show how hard it is to get uninterrupted time at the office, and use that to build a case for spending more days at home.
More and bigger screens
Many workers have traditionally lived a double life when it comes to their screen experience: They use a laptop when at home and a large work-provided monitor—or monitors—in the office.
Maybe that works when you’re home a few days a month. But if you’re truly hybrid, and working several days a week at home, that just won’t do. You need to have multiple large screens wherever you’re working.
I say that as someone who spent much of the past decade working on laptop screens. Once the pandemic forced me to start writing from home instead of in coffee shops and on airplanes, however, I discovered the joy of working with large screens—as many of them as possible. Even one large external monitor can dramatically increase your productivity on your days at home. Suddenly you’re able to see that entire spreadsheet, or keep half an eye on the Slack messages popping up on your laptop while you draft that report on your large, main screen.
Adding a second full-size monitor to the setup gives you a virtual portal for co-working. Dedicate that monitor to your videoconferencing software, and you can chat with colleagues (and actually see them!) while you work together on a shared document, or plan a marketing campaign using a cloud-based project-management tool.
The downside of all this, of course, is the expense. And it’s why electronics manufacturers and retailers potentially will win big from the spread of hybrid work.
But employers and employees stand to win big as well. The key is to have the tools to minimize the friction of a fractured work life—and maximize the benefits.
Dr. Samuel is a technology researcher and co-author of “Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are.”
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