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Smart Home

7 ways to use Alexa around the office

You know how to use Alexa at home, but what about work? Here are 7 ways to put Alexa to work… at work.

Ian Knighton/CNET

We typically think of smart speakers as accessories for your smart home that not only let you control your smart lights or the temperature but also help around the kitchen or stream your favorite music. But Alexa is also useful elsewhere.

In fact, Amazon wants Alexa to be everywhere -- omnipresent, even. This year, you can expect to see Alexa in cars, Windows computers (alongside Cortana), glasses, mirrors and many more places.

One place Alexa isn't seen or heard from much, however, is around the office. Below is why you should take your Amazon Echo ($70 at Amazon) to work with you and X ways to put it to work.

Before you do…

One of the concerns of smart speakers, even at home, is privacy. Without taking the proper precautions, you'll be opening up your calendar, Amazon shopping carts and many other private things to anyone within earshot.

If you plan on using an Alexa speaker at work, make sure you disable voice shopping or enable a PIN for security. And set up a voice profile so Alexa will recognize your voice and distinguish it from other people around.

Still, anyone around will be able to hear what you say to Alexa. So keep in mind that your personal information and privacy are up in the air.

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Add meetings to your calendar

The most relevant Alexa feature for the office is maintaining your calendar. Whether it's a big deadline or a meeting you have to attend, add it to your calendar using Alexa.

First, add your calendar by going to alexa.amazon.com or opening the Alexa app and going to Settings > Calendar. Select your calendar of choice (Google Calendar, G Suite, Outlook, Office 365 or iCloud) and log in to your account. After your calendar is added, just say, "Alexa, add an event to my calendar."

To have Alexa read your calendar entries for the day to you, say, "Alexa, what's on my calendar?" Or you can say, "Alexa, when is my next event?" or "Alexa, what's on my calendar tomorrow at [time]?"

Make a to-do list

Alternatively, if you keep a to-do list, you can use Alexa to keep track of all the tasks you have coming up. You can use the built-in Alexa task list manager or you can two-way sync with Any.do, AnyList, Cozi Lists, Picniic or Todoist.

Connect a third-party task list manager by going to alexa.amazon.com or opening the Alexa app and going to Settings > List. Click Get Skill to the right of your task list manager, click Enable and log in to authorize the connection.

The commands for managing your to-do lists are similar to calendars. Just say, "Alexa, add 'go to the post office' to my to-do list" or "Alexa, what's on my to-do list?"

Build a shopping list

In addition to a to-do list, you can manage lists with Alexa. By default, Alexa has a shopping list and to-do list. But by going to alexa.amazon.com or opening the Alexa app and going to Lists, you can create additional lists.

Then, to add an item to the list, you can say, "Alexa, add eggs to my grocery list."

Reorder supplies

If you want to skip list making altogether, you can add items straight to your Amazon cart. Say, "Alexa, add copy paper to my cart." It will walk you through some of the top Amazon search results for copy paper and ask which one you want to add.

To finish purchasing everything you've added to your cart, just go to amazon.com and checkout as you normally would. However, if you want to purchase a single item, you can skip the cart and say, "Alexa, reorder copy paper."

Again, just remember that anyone around can order stuff with Alexa. And even if you secure voice purchasing with a PIN, anyone who hears you speak the PIN will have access to your Amazon account. That said, if you set up a voice profile and teach Alexa your voice, after you say the PIN once, it will no longer require a PIN for the recognized voice.

Still, in an office environment, you may just want to stick with adding items to your cart.

Play podcasts and audiobooks

If you're the type of person who can listen to podcasts and audiobooks as they work, Alexa is here to help you.

Out of the box, you can use TuneIn and Spotify to listen to your favorite podcasts. But you can also enable the AnyPod skill or Stitcher for better podcast listening control.

For audiobooks, Alexa obviously uses Audible, Amazon's audiobook streaming service. Your Audible account is linked by default, so any books you own can be played from Alexa. However, Alexa is also cable of reading any compatible Kindle books you own. Just say, "Alexa, read my audiobook," or "Alexa, read How to Write Short."

Listen to ambient noise or focus music

On the flip side, if you're anything like me and need background music or ambient noise to focus, you can use Alexa to stream all sorts of music.

For music streaming, Alexa supports Amazon Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Gimme Radio and SiriusXM. Alexa speakers also work as Bluetooth speakers, so you can stream virtually any music from any service you want.

That said, it also operates as a noise machine. Thanks to Amazon Prime Music, Spotify and a bevy of third-party skills, you can play anything from thunderstorm sounds to a bustling city and coffee shop noises.

Make a Pomodoro timer

One of the best ways to stay on task, especially if you often lose focus easily, is by using a Pomodoro timer -- or a periodic timer that reminds you to take a break every so often. You can set a timer to work for an hour and break for 10 minutes or any combination of intense work with periodic breaks.

You can do this with Alexa one of two ways. The first is by setting a work timer by saying, "Alexa, set a work timer for 90 minutes." Once that timer finishes, say, "Alexa, set a break timer for 15 minutes."

The other option is to create all the timers at once by saying:

  • "Alexa, create a work timer for one hour and 15 minutes."
  • "Alexa, create a break timer for one and a half hours."
  • "Alexa, create work timer for two and a half hours."
  • "Alexa, create a break timer for two hours and 45 minutes."

Continue the pattern of work and break timers for as long as you intend to work. When each timer goes off, just alternate between working and breaking, even if it's just to get up and walk a lap around the office or to go grab some coffee.