Some of the tech you need to work effectively from home is pretty obvious. Powerful laptop: check. Reliable printer: check. Fast broadband: check. But there are other gadgets that, while you can get the job done without them, will make a difference to how effortlessly you breeze through your to-do list.
We’ve gone hands-on in the Which? test lab with noise-cancelling headphones and smart displays that can help you upgrade your workspace.
Plus, with the help of our expert coffee machine reviews, you can enjoy a tasty drink as you sift through your inbox in the morning.
Read on for more on these and other gadgets that will help you get the job done.
Working from home – from choosing an office chair to upgrading a creaking computer, read our detailed advice on creating a home office, whatever space you have.
Nine tech products to help you work from home
1. A second computer monitor
If your job involves multitasking on a computer, a second monitor can help you stay organised and work more efficiently. For example, you could have one screen dedicated to managing emails and another running Microsoft Word.
Most people will be happy enough with a second screen measuring around 22 inches, which shouldn’t set you back more than £100.
You don’t necessarily have to head to the shops to grab a brand new monitor, either. If your PC or laptop has a spare HDMI port, try connecting it to your TV with an HDMI cable. In most cases, you can choose to ‘duplicate’ or ‘extend’ your laptop screen.
For more advice on buying a second computer screen to pair with your laptop or an existing screen, see our guide on how to choose a computer monitor.
2. Headphones with a built-in microphone
During the coronavirus pandemic, you may have found yourself attending seemingly endless video conferences (we feel your pain). Making sure you’re heard (and can hear others) loud and clear in those busy group chats isn’t always easy.
While most modern tablets and laptops already have a built-in microphone, the sound quality or volume isn’t always great. Consider a pair of mic-equipped headphones to hear better and project your voice. Headsets designed for a work environment often have a microphopne stem that sits in front of your mouth, or you can try in-ear headphones that have a microphone built into the cable.
3. A smart speaker or smart display
This may not be essential, but it definitely falls under the ‘nice to have’ category. A smart speaker will let you use voice commands to schedule reminders, run web searches and control your other smart products.
Smart speakers use Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Apple’s Siri to communicate. Each can cope with all sorts of queries, but before you invest, think about which apps you use most. If you’re already using Google services, such as Google Calendar or Google Duo, on a regular basis, a smart speaker with Google Assistant support might make sense as it integrates well with Google services
You can also opt for a smart display that supports video calling. Here are three smart displays for less than £100 that have been subjected to our rigorous lab tests:
- Amazon Echo Show 5 (£60) – the Echo Show 5 has a 5.5-inch touchscreen and uses Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. You can choose to mute the microphone at any time.
- Google Nest Hub (£80) – this smart display has a 7-inch touchscreen and includes Google Assistant. You can use it to make hands-free phone calls via Bluetooth from your smartphone.
- Amazon Echo Show 8 (£90) – with an 8-inch screen, this is the bigger alternative to the Amazon Echo Show 5. Physical buttons let you change the volume and there’s a slider over the front-facing camera for privacy.
For more tips on finding the perfect smart speaker for your home office, see our expert guide on how to buy the best smart speaker.
4. An external hard drive
An external hard drive is a sound investment if your PC is running low on storage space, or if you think it would be beneficial to locally back up your important files. Simply plug the drive into your desktop PC or laptop (via USB) and copy your files across.
External hard drives come in many sizes:
- 200GB or less – more than enough space if you’re just using your drive to store Word documents.
- 200GB – 500GB – a sensible option if you’re storing a large number of Word documents and pictures.
- More than 500GB – worth getting if you plan on storing lots of video files or graphic design materials (such as Photoshop renders).
Alternatively, you may want to sign up for a cloud storage service, such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. That way, your files are stored securely online without the need for a physical hard drive.
Here’s a look at how the prices of popular cloud storage services compare at the time of writing:
|Free storage allowance||Price (per month)|
|Apple iCloud||5GB||79p (50GB)
|Google One||15GB||£1.59 (100GB)
|Microsoft OneDrive||5GB||£1.99 (100GB)
Whether you opt for a hard drive or cloud storage is down to personal preference. We’ve not tested the cloud storage services above, but we’ve outlined some of the key considerations in our guide on how to choose the best cloud storage service.
5. An ergonomic mouse and keyboard
Working at a desk for hours at a time can put strain on your body, particularly if your so-called ‘desk’ doubles as a dining table or a lap tray.
Investing in a proper desk and a supportive chair is a good idea (take a look at our guide to choosing the best home office chair), and ergonomic mice and keyboards – designed to encourage a healthy posture – can also help.
Try a trackball mouse (which lets you scroll with your thumb) or a vertical mouse (which prevents you having to twist your wrist).
Meanwhile, ergonomic keyboards are usually split into two sections, conforming better to the natural position of your arms and hands.
6. Noise-cancelling headphones
Whether it’s your kids running amok in the background, or your other half making the tenth cuppa of the day as you try to knuckle down at the kitchen table, trying to stay focused on your work in a busy household can be tricky. A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help block out distractions.
Most headphones with noise-cancelling technology completely cover your ears to form an acoustic seal (known as ‘over-ear’ headphones). They’re generally quite bulky but offer the best sound quality and comfort. You can also get noise-cancelling in-ear headphones, although they might not be quite as good at blocking out the background.
We’ve tested noise-cancelling headphones in the Which? test lab from brands including Apple, Bose, JBL and Sony. See the results with our expert headphone reviews.
7. Desktop speakers
If you’re using a laptop, you’ll get far more punch from a pair of plug-in desktop speakers than you will from the computer’s own tiny speakers. An improved audio setup is something you’ll want to consider if your work requires you to edit videos or audio files.
They may also be useful if you struggle to hear others clearly on video calls or webinars.
8. Wi-fi extenders
Patchy home wi-fi networks can be a major source of frustration, causing your internet connection to cut out at the most inopportune moments (part way through giving an important virtual PowerPoint presentation, for example).
If your working space is in a separate room from your internet router, and the signal sometimes lets you down, try using wi-fi extenders to boost and extend your wireless signal. Wi-fi extenders can be grouped together to cover ‘black spots’ in your home that were previously out of reach for your router.
Take a look at our expert wi-fi router and extender reviews to make sure you get the best wireless speed throughout your home.
9. A Which? Best Buy coffee machine
It’s important to take regular breaks from your computer screen, and what better excuse than to whip up a delicious cappuccino or espresso.
There are three main types of coffee machine for you to pick from. While certain models will do most of the work for you, others are better suited if you prefer a hands-on approach. Click on the links below to head straight to our reviews of each type.
- Capsule or pod coffee machines – quick and easy to use. These machines use pre-prepared coffee pods.
- Ground coffee machines – wouldn’t look out of place in a high street coffee shop. Ideal if you want to be involved with every step of the process.
- Bean-to-cup coffee machines – perfect if you want the freshest coffee. These machines automatically grind beans from scratch every time you make your drink.
Still setting up the basics of your home office? Find the best tech with our guide to setting up your home office tech.