Now What: How to plan for the next six months of remote work
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Now What: How to plan for the next six months of remote work

Tech Industry
COVID-19 pandemic forced over a third of Americans to work from home, and of course hundreds of millions more throughout the world. While many of those people were used to working remotely part of the time, it's been a different story for many of them having to do it every day. So now what Our guest today is my colleague Dan Ackerman, CNET's longtime laptop reviewer and the editor of our computing section. Today, we're gonna talk about how to get optimized for working at home. So Dan, over the past few months, a lot of people have been coming to CNET to get advice on the gear to help them be as productive at home as they are in the office. Talk a little bit about what you've been hearing from CNET readers and some of the most common advice we've been given.>> I love getting emails and Twitter messages and even Facebook messages from people who are looking for advice on what computer to buy, what laptop to buy. I really judge a lot of what the Zeitgeist is by the questions that I get because they're often very similar and they come in waves. So when this whole thing started, the questions really did start to come in fast and furious about, how can I recreate what I have at my job, at home? Can I use the stuff I already have? I have to buy something new. And then with new MacBooks came out right around the beginning in March. There were a lot of questions about it. Well which Mac books Should I buy because the MacBook Air and the 13 inch pro which both got refreshed you could configure them in very similar prices with very similar spec then that became very confusing and it remains confusing I, I usually give people what my personal choice would be out of those but then I asked questions. You know, sometimes I'll go back and forth with someone via email. A couple of times to get a better idea. I'll just very quickly tell you going back many, many years. The three questions I always ask which still makes sense now when somebody says what laptop should I buy? I always tell them the same three questions. I say How much roughly you know, you want to spend you got to start with that, you know, usually it's above $1,000 or below or it's like 500. And those are all legitimate answers, and they were good recommendations for all of those. The second one I asked was a little sneaky. It's less relevant now, but it's how many times a week are you going to carry it around with you? You know, like you used to commute to work with it every day or you take it to a coffee shop once a week. Maybe now at home, you gotta take it from upstairs to downstairs, you gotta constantly or you have a home office, you don't have to move it or you're just on the couch and then you go to the dining table, then you get kicked off. And that's my stealthy way of asking what screen size you want. If I say what screen size Do you want, people don't really know. Yeah I say how often do you carry it around? Well then I know what screen size. They may ask about special features like I'm editing photos, I'm doing CAD stuff for school. So by asking those, I get a pretty good sense, but really people are very interested in netbooks. They're interested in recreating their work environment and they're interested in in Chromebooks and really inexpensive stuff, because they have a lot of people in their house and maybe everyone needs a computer now so everyone can't get $1,000 laptop. Very cool. How about accessories Dan? You know a lot of people don't always think about all the accessories they have at work that make their setup, ergonomic. A number of people if you're sitting there typing away at a, you know, a hunched over a laptop for eight hours, 10 hours a day and you're doing that several days a week, all of a sudden you can end up with some ergonomic problems. So. How about those kinds of things? Are people asking questions about like, I need to get a laptop stand and put my laptop up and maybe an external keyboard and what's the best way to do that? And should I also get another monitor or can I use my iPad or another Tablet as a second monitor, those kinds of things do you get. Are you getting those kinds of questions too? And are there some ways that people can kind of optimize their their budget for those kinds of things without having to do everything IT does at the office. Well, that's the thing. You don't have an IT department anymore. You don't have a supply closet at the office, you can go raid and get a mouse or anything. It's like buying a car like anything else. It's the accessories that gets you that's really where That's the high margin stuff right there the ad odds. So I'm talking to you right now I've got a laptop. It's sitting on top of two thick board game boxes. I have an external mic on a tiny stand with a masking tape around it because the thread doesn't quite match the **** on the stand. I have a second Tripod behind me with a little ring light on it. And that's if I need just for that. And that's not even a mouse, or a keyboard, or heaven forbid an external webcam which is completely impossible to find right now. That's really been a high demand item. I remember I talked to Logitech early on in the COVID crisis. And they said, yeah, number one We don't have any webcams left. They're sold out everywhere. That's crazy and number two suddenly ask all your senior colleagues to stop emailing us asking for webcams because we don't have any left [LAUGH]. I still don't have a webcam. I use my phone for the best if I need the best possible video quality I put my phone sideways on a little tripod. And that is the phone as for you know, you could shoot 4k video on the phone and really great light sensing. It's really the best camera you probably have the webcam in your laptop, even if it's a MacBook Pro, which I happen to be using right here. You know what it looks okay. But it's not great. In fact, almost no. [LAUGH] Gun we have buttons on it. Okay, go ask your mother. I gotta finish this thing we live in Yeah. You know why? Because it's raining today in New York and camp Half Blood was moved online for today. So the weird camp counselor as dm media, mythical Greek mythology roleplay and that they're gonna watch Percy Jackson. [LAUGH] A webcam. So I'm talking- Yes. To you right now from this MacBook Pro. And the webcam on that is okay, but it's not great. It's not super high resolution, almost no laptops have really great webcams. We were we're doing webcaming Once a week or so, or occasionally from Hawick, it's okay but now that we're doing it all the time every day for every meeting, we very quickly find out that laptop webcams generally suck and we have some articles on how to make it look better. I have it up, raise it up a certain level, I have good lighting, I have natural light coming in. But it's not the same as having a dedicated webcam. And forget about finding one of those 4K Logitech webcams, it's impossible right now. Cuz that's what I would buy if I found one in the store. And use your phone as a back up And that's that's the big thing that people are finding that they didn't know that they needed before. You could probably dig up an old keyboard or mouse somewhere, you know and hit that up. If you don't want to type all day I find the mouse is going to be more important to have than a separate keyboard. You can still use a laptop keyboard, but I like pairing a mouse with it. And Dan, we do have lists on CNET. We have lists of best mice, we have lists of best keyboards that you can get Monitors you can get a decent monitor for under $200 right now yeah, we've got lists of those kinds of things. We even do have a how to, I believe on how to use your phone, which like you said often has a much better camera in it than your computer webcam, how to use that as your webcam, your phone as your webcam, so A lot of those resources CNET has to help people out. And yeah, to find the way to do that they can if you have a tablet around to get a second monitor to, there are a number of these apps that you can get with a simple cable and an app. You can use a lot of times a tablet as a second monitor. That's another decent hack, as well. Yeah. People thought they were out of the business of being have a separate computer monitor at home laptop screens are great now. Everybody's got either a nice big Chromebook or a laptop or an iPad and you're like, I don't need other, I don't need the three monitor setup. I used to have it work and even in offices, people are already getting rid of those. Over the last couple years now, again, the all day thing that 13 inch old MacBook Air that maybe you've been using. It's great as a computer, but it's tough to stare at that small screen every day especially if it's on your desk at home, which may not be as ergonomic as your office desk where it's at just the right level for you're looking down on it. Half the meetings I'm in people our people have their their laptops way down and they're, you know, get the up the nose shot like that. Yeah. Because they're their laptops or like on like a coffee table or something like that. Very good. I wish Yeah, I wish it was easier. One thing I do wish I do wish it was easier to hook your phone up to your computer and use it as a webcam. You have to use third party apps to basically hack that in. That would be a problem solver for so many people. I've even gone through all my decades of junk here at my house to try to find some old webcams that would be better. I found an old Samsung 360 cam. I was like maybe I can use this. I look it up everyone on line has been asking the same question over the last four months. And the answer is no, you can't use the Samsung 360 cameras like you're really good. Can not use it as a PC webcam. I pick up my old like, Playstation camera like Connect it is all a gigantic pain to even try to use any of those. So this point yeah, agreed it is so hacky you can do it and like we said we have a how to for unseen out of how you can hook up your Webcam, sorry your phone and use it as a webcam, but it is very hacky. It'd be great if Microsoft built it into Windows and Apple built it into The next version of Mac OS. Of course, we've been testing that Big Sur, and it's not in there. But boy, that would be terrific if they could build that in. All right, let's switch from that to a companion topic. One that's very appropriate for today. And that's a lot of people have kids at home. [LAUGH] And those kids need to be educated and so parents, a lot of people who are writing to us and asking us for help and coming for our advice. They're also trying to help their kids with their education and dealing with the things that they have to do. And you mentioned earlier Chromebooks, but what are some of the things you're hearing from parents about the ways that they want some help with technology and what are the things not just buying computers but if there's any other things that they're asking and they're wanting to do as well? The key problem parents are running into is that before if their kid needed to do something for school and let's say it's not a high let's say the grade school or elementary or middle school student, they could just borrow your laptop or a family laptop or use the family all in one desktop. Now with school happening online full time as it has been all throughout the spring Kids need their own laptops. Now they need their own systems because they got to be on them all day. It used to be maybe if you were in high school, you need your own computer if you're in college you need now if you're in a third grade, you need your own computer. [LAUGH] Second grade even. It's so you have to invest in either a new device Where find or borrow an older device. The nice thing is, here's the good news. From what I have seen as the parent of a school aged child and talking to other parents. You can get away with something very simple and inexpensive as your kids school computer because the tool is that a lot of school systems and it changes district by district, city by city, state by state. The tools that most schools however using our Google Classroom, Khan Academy things, they things that are all very browser based and will work fine in a Chromebook, or an old laptop where you just have the Chrome browser running and you use that essentially as a kind of Chromebook. Here in New York, the do he was offering to lend students iPads, which I think is a little less optimal for learning, but that's what they were offering. I think a Chromebook or a regular laptop would be much better. It's just more flexible and you can, you know, handle the better file structure. You can, you know, save stuff on the desktop more easily. And then using an iPad then you'd have to get like a keyboard and everything and you just have all these iOS limitations that a lot of education stuff doesn't always work great with. But the good news is inexpensive Chromebook will work Worked fine for most of the grade and Middle School applications that I've seen you can repurpose an old one. Or if you're gonna buy a new one, I would get something that is less expensive and less fancy but with a bigger screen because frankly Kids in homework need a certain amount of real estate. So I would get a 15 inch Chromebook, even if it's not the most powerful, fanciest one for somebody who's in grade school, and we do have lists of those as well, best Chromebooks for education all of those there's plenty of those lists on CNET for people as well. And when you move up to being a college student or or a higher and high school student, you know your needs change, frankly and that's why we cover those topics a little bit differently. A college student, that list is more like a MacBook Pro or a Dell XPS 13 something that's, Portable and normally you would take it around campus but you may need a certain amount of process you may be doing you know, putting together more elaborate presentations. You may be working with big data documents you may be doing some CAD stuff. So there it's a little more involved for a younger students You can get away with a less powerful computer. And that's why it's student laptops. It's not an all in one answer. You got to really decide whether you're shopping for grade school kids, high school kids or college kids. The answer is different. Different for all of them. Yep, so true. So a lot of people on zoom meetings, both kids and adults, so we have some tips. As you mentioned, there's a video from Brian Cooley on how to optimize your. Video on zoom calls. So we'll put a link to that in the article that this video will live in. But how about, are there any in any final tips or, ideas to help people out especially on a budget, we are in the middle of a Global economic downturn, people are more budget conscious, any final tips for people in terms of what they can do to optimize their their home setup their work from home setup or their kids, or both? The key thing is, so many of the tools that we use now, whether it's corporate Gmail, which so many companies use or things like zoom They're all online based. They're all cloud based. Very few of them require heavy lifting on the part of your PC in terms of running native programs. So the nice thing is, you can do a lot of that work, whether it's email through Gmail, whether it's Google Docs, or even the online version of Microsoft Office. From an older machine, a lower end machine. Hopefully the company you work for if you're working from home maybe you know they can provide some IT support they could send hardware home to you but frankly, you can use your home computer for most of them. What a lot of knowledge workers do. If you're in a more high end, high power end of the business, if you're a photo editor, if you're doing design, you're doing CAD, you're working with huge amounts of data and databases Then you have a different set of needs, then you need, a more serious business laptop, or more serious even a gaming laptop works really well for a lot of these tasks. I think the one thing that people are learning that they didn't really think about too much before is IT security issues. For your company may insist that you use, you know their VPN, or they may insist that you use, you know, a laptop with V pro on it or something like that. That is not a consumer level stuff. You're going to have to dig a little bit deeper talk to your company. Look at some of the articles we've written about it. To make sure that you are following the recommendations of your employer if you're working from home but at the same time I say it's the company's responsibility to hook you up with what you need for that if you need special equipment, otherwise, that that mix of consumer the station for many, many years. Commercial computers and consumer computers have been merging together. When people are using consumer level devices at work, they're using work level devices at home. They look the same now they largely act the same. We're just seeing an acceleration of that. So if you have a computer, you're happy with it. I bet you can use it for almost anything you need for work. [MUSIC]

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