If the lockdown means you are now working from home here's what you need to do to get your home office set up with everything you need. In this article we’ll look at some of the essential things you will want to get in place and some tips that will make working from home easier.
1. A Mac for working from home
If you are lucky enough to work on a Mac at work and have a Mac at home you are in a really good position because you can share your Desktop and Documents folders across both Macs (and any other Apple devices you own). This is a great feature of iCloud, which we will discuss next.
However, for now we are concerned with the Mac you’ll be working on at home. Perhaps you have a laptop at work and you can bring it home with you. But if you work on a iMac or if you don’t fancy carting your laptop home every evening then you are going to want a Mac at home.
If you don’t already have a Mac at home it’s not too late. You could bite the bullet and buy one from Apple and have it delivered tomorrow. Or at least in theory it could be delivered tomorrow - you may experience slightly longer than usual waiting times right now because the 2020 MacBook Air only launched in March and also due to Coronavirus.
- A MacBook Air starts at £999/$999 and ships in about three weeks. Buy one here.
- A 13in MacBook Pro starts at £1,299/$1,299 and ships tomorrow. Buy one here.
- A Mac mini costs £799/$799 and ships tomorrow. Buy one here.
The Mac mini is your cheapest option but you’d need a monitor and keyboard too. We’ll discuss monitors below as having a monitor to use as a second screen is a real productivity boost.
You don’t have to spend that much though. You could shop in Apple’s Refurbished Store and save some money on a nearly-new Mac, or you could try one of our Mac deals pages for the latest discounts on a new Mac.
Your final option is that you could get an iPad or iPad Pro and use that as you would a Mac. Many of the same programs are available on an iPad as you will find on a Mac. For example, if you use Pages or Word as a word processor you’ll find the equivalent apps on the iPad. We’d just suggest that you use a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad to make typing on it easier and less frustrating!
2. An iCloud storage plan
We find being a Mac using homeworker really easy thanks to iCloud.
iCloud allows us to save all the files we are working on in the cloud, so we can access them on any of our devices.
With an iCloud storage plan in place you can have your Desktop and your Documents folder sync across all your devices. This means you can access everything you are working on in the office at home - as long as it’s located in iCloud. (It also has the benefit of saving a ton of space on your Macs!)
You will have to pay for an iCloud Storage plan though. We explain how much iCloud costs in this article, https://www.macworld.co.uk/how-to/apple/icloud-cost-pricing-3652860/ but here is the price breakdown:
- 5GB storage: Free
- 50GB storage: £0.79/$0.99 a month
- 200GB storage: £2.49/$2.99 a month
- 2TB storage: £6.99/$9.99 a month
We’re sorry to say that you are unlikely to get by with the free 5GB, but since you can cancel at any time you aren’t committing to any long-term contract.
To set up iCloud so that your files are synced and you can access them on all your devices follow these steps:
- On your work Mac: Open System Preferences
- Click on Apple ID
- Tick the box beside iCloud Drive and choose Options.
- On the next screen make sure you have Desktop & Documents Folders selected.
- Scroll down to check that other files are being stored in the cloud that you might want, such as Pages, Mail, Numbers spreadsheets, and so on.
If your Mac has limited space tick the box next to Optimise Mac Storage and files will only be stored on your Mac if you have space.
Now do the same on your home Mac.
You’ll want to make sure that everything you might need is stored on your desktop. Alternately you could make sure that you use Pages on both Macs as the files you work on should be saved straight to Pages iCloud Drive folder, the same applies to Numbers.
If you start working like this now then everything you need will be in place if you need to work from home.
If iCloud isn’t for you there are other ways to store your documents in the cloud so you can easily access them at home - for example you could save everything to DropBox, or if you use Google Docs and other apps they will be located in the cloud.
3. A display
We mentioned earlier that if you have a Mac mini at home you will need a display too. Obviously if you have a Mac laptop, or an iMac you won’t need a second display, but having the extra screen space can be a real productivity boost. And crouching over your desk working on a 13in screen is like to quickly give you aches and pains. (In fact, we have our desk set up so that our monitor and our MacBook screens are positioned at eye level so that we don't get neck pain from looking down all the time - we advise that you do the same).
We’d recommend getting a display. We have a number of displays we recommend in this article. You will also need the right cables to connect the screen to your Mac. On that latter point, you need to establish what port your Mac has and what port the display has and buy the relevant cable and adaptor - or better still a docking station for adding multiple ports (including HDMI and DisplayPort)to your laptop - see below.
We discuss how to find out what ports you have and how to set up a second display with your Mac here.
There is another option depending on the age of your Mac and the age of your iPad (assuming you have one). Sidecar - a feature in Catalina, the 2019 version of macOS - makes it possible to plug in an iPad to use as a second screen with your Mac. We discuss the compatible Macs and iPads and how to set up Sidecar here.
4. A mouse and keyboard
These are also essential and easily overlooked especially if you have a laptop. While the trackpad on a Mac laptop has some great functionality if you are using a laptop without a keyboard and mouse for a long period of time RSI could follow as you are constantly looking down at the screen and keyboard.
Make sure to grab yourself a mouse and a separate keyboard. That way you can set up your Mac ergonomically, so that the display is at eye level and you aren’t constantly stooping to read what’s on the screen. You can then keep your mouse and keyboard set back from the screens and use them comfortably.
5. A hub, docking station or an adapter
Speaking of mice and keyboards, and other peripherals... If you are working on a modern Apple laptop chances you are likely to have four USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports at most, one at least. If the spare keyboard and mouse you have at home don’t have a USB C connector then you might be feeling a bit frustrated. Other older Mac laptops might also have a USB-A port, even a HDMI port if you are really lucky but you may still be feeling somewhat restricted by the ports available to you.
Luckily there is a solution. You can grab a USB hub and plug in multiple devices using the multiple connections. Or you could get a USB-C to USB-A adaptor. We have a round up of USB adapters and hubs here.
For example, this UGREEN USB-C Hub has four ports allowing you to connect bunch of older USB-A devices to your MacBook and it costs from £12.99.
If you want a larger array of ports and maybe connect a couple of external displays to your MacBook, then a docking station is what you need. We tested the best docks for MacBooks to reveal the right one for your setup.
6. Software for working from home
We’ve mentioned some of the software we used to make working from home easier already. For example, we use Pages and Numbers at work and at home just for simplicity. The biggest benefit of using Pages and Numbers (and Keynote if you need a PowerPoint equivalent) is that the software is completely free.
If you use Microsoft Office apps at work you may well want to continue to use them at home (although you can still use Pages to open and edit Word document, Numbers for Excel spreadsheets, and Keynote for PowerPoint presentations and all of those options are free.)
If you would prefer to continue to use the Office apps we have details of how to get your hands on them here: Office for Mac buying guide.
If you want to get a copy of the Microsoft apps to use on your Mac at home you have a few options:
- If you have Office 365 at work you should be able to access the apps on your different devices including five different Macs, you will just need to log on and you should be able to download the apps.
- Alternatively you could sign up for Office 365 Personal for £5.99 a month (you could always cancel it if you no longer need to work from home).
- Alternatively you can get the individual Office 2019 apps for £109.99 each (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or the Home and Student version of Office (including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) for £119.99.
- There is also a free version of Office (details here) that you can access online via a web browser. The free version won’t give you much in the way of editing functionality though, and you will need to sign up for a Microsoft Account.
One useful tip would be to make a list of any websites you frequently visit when you are at work, that will avoid any panic when you are at home and can’t remember what the url is. Although, if you use Safari, you might be able to find get a list of the urls open on your Mac at work if you check Safari on your iPhone.
If you use Mail on your Mac it’s pretty easy to fed your work email into it. We cover how to set up email on your Mac here.
It may also be possible to access your work email via a web browser.
Alternative ways to communicate
We use Slack to communicate with our colleagues in the office. You can get a free version where your team can set up various channels to chat about projects in, or just what the weather is like where they are, or whatever.
It’s a great way to keep in touch and discuss things with the people you are working with. Sometimes it’s even better than chatting face to face because everyone gets heard and you have a record of what’s been said.
Meetings and conferencing software
When it comes to meetings your team might want to try Google Hangouts. One of the best things about setting up a meeting this way is that you don’t have to pay to call in, it’s all done over the internet.
To set up a Google Hangout Meet follow these steps:
- Go to a Google Calendar.
- Create an event.
- Add your guests.
- Click on Add conferencing.
- Click on Save. This will automatically send out the invite - you might need to confirm that you want to invite your guests.
- Now all you need to do is go to the calendar entry and click on Join Hangouts Meet.
- This meeting can include microphone and video feeds, if you prefer not to be on video when you see the
- Allow meet.googe.com to use your camera and microphone choose Don’t Allow. You will be able to turn on the mic or camera on the next screen if you want to.
Another popular choice is Zoom which can be used to set up calls with up to 100 participants, or as many as 500 if you subscribe to one of the plans (from £11.99 a month here). You can download the Zoom app here
Of course you could always use Apple's FaceTime to communicate with your colleagues, as long as they have Macs, iPads or iPhones. If you want to know how to use Group FaceTime to make a call to 30 people read this.
A VPN could also be a useful addition to your software especially if you work with sensitive information as the VPN will encrypt the data you are accessing and sharing with colleagues. This means that your classified data can’t be read by anyone else. A VPN also allows you to access websites that are ordinarily blocked in your country - it could allow you to access US Netflix from the UK in order to access its expanded catalogue for example, which might help you entertain yourself when you aren’t working.
VPN apps are mostly very easy to install and use, but for a step-by-step guide, read how to set up a VPN on a Mac.