Chromebooks are the heroes we need right now. But they can’t stand alone in the race for an efficient makeshift home office.
With the pandemic as an accelerant, the remote work (along with the remote learning and the remote social visit) revolution is upon us.
The issue is the uncertainty and pace. We, the royal we, weren’t ready for this. We have been thrust into cobbling together a makeshift home office sooner than we would have liked.
Lockdown and quarantine mean that everyone is at home. Prime productivity workspace is triaged and snatched up, leaving kitchen tables and generally anything flat to pull double duty.
It’s in this second tier that Chromebooks, with the right accessories, shine. They’re cheap, increasingly capable, and secure. For remote work, there is no beating a Chromebook.
Let’s take a look at the accessories that take Chromebooks from cheap bit players and afterthoughts to A list starring roles in the makeshift home office.
Assess Your Makeshift Home Office Situation
Everyone’s situation is going to differ a bit right now. That’s okay. We’re all still learning how to adapt to what’s being referred to as “the new normal.” Normal implies that there’s some stability.
But when you are relegated to the kitchen table because your significant other has taken over the home office space and the kids have all the bedrooms occupied, stability probably isn’t on your radar.
That’s okay. Ask yourself a few questions to suss out what your needs truly are and what wants would make your workday a little bit easier.
- Do I need to pack up at the end of the day?
If you’re working on the kitchen table then packing up at the end of the day, putting work physically away can help create a mental break between work and home. And give you somewhere to eat as a family.
- Am I going to be making a lot of calls or taking a lot of zoom meetings?
If the answer is yes, pay special attention to the microphone and headphone set up that you settle on. As well as your lighting. Is your makeshift home office going to be something relatively stable, or are you going to be getting up and moving away from the screen a lot?
- Will I need access to a lot of files remotely?
Chromebooks were originally built for the cloud so the stigma that they’re only a web-browser remains. But the offline capabilities of Chromebooks have skyrocketed in recent years meaning that serious remote work can be done. One area that lags behind their windows and mac counterparts is storage… so how important is it to have local storage?
Once you know the environment you’re going to be working in, it’s time to ask a few questions to settle on your device.
Assess Your Chromebook Device
If you’ve already got a Chromebook, great. Then you can slot these accessories into your remote work, make it flow, and get right to work. If you haven’t decided on a device yet, there are two basic schools of thought to consider.
How much portability do I need for remote work?
As mentioned above, if you’re going to be taking down your main remote work station at the end of each day and setting it back up in the morning, then portability is going to be pretty important.
For instance, in my previous life of working at coffee shops and co-working spaces, portability was paramount. For that purpose, I settled on a Chromebook Duet by Lenovo. For the price and versatility, this little 2 – 1 device can’t be bested.
It’s basically everything I ever wanted in a netbook 15 years ago. Long battery life, it’s cheap, a great screen, a very nice tablet… I gush, I gush. But it really has been a great little device when portability is the threshold question.
And it has stepped up when, through a series of tech calamaties, it became my main makeshift home office driver. Which means you need to ask…
How much power do I need?
On the other side of the spectrum, if you’re not going to be going anywhere, then you can lean more on the power side of the Chromebook equation. If portability isn’t a concern at all, you could even end up with a Chromebox, a diminutive set-top that is about the size of a Mac mini.
But generally speaking, if you’re looking for power, you’re going to likely end up with a premium flagship Chromebook like the Acer Chromebook Spin 713.
Once you’ve decided on your device, let’s get it kitted out.
The Best Makeshift Home Office Accessories for Chromebooks to Consider
While these accessories will get you set up nicely in your makeshift home office, they will also serve you beyond, when you’re, you know, able to venture out into the real world again.
Now, let’s embrace that remote work dongle life.
VAVA 9-1 USB-C HUB – $59.99
Your #DongleLife begins with the USB-C hub. If you’re buying a device in 2020 that doesn’t have USB capability you’re going to be at a serious disadvantage.
The VAVA 9-1 hub has just about everything you could possibly need in both travel and desktop experiences. Since Chromebooks are notoriously lacking in the port department, this VAVA pickup will set that right.
With pass through power, enough USB connections to power any peripheral, networking and AV connections, you can’t go wrong with this VAVA hub. It may even be overkill, but again, we don’t know how long this makeshift office has to last.
Vogek Dual Connectivity Slim Rechargeable Mouse – $9.98
It doesn’t matter if you have the best trackpad in the world (which you probably don’t on a Chromebook), you’re going to want a mouse from time to time.
At under $10, the nearly silent Vogek slim mouse is difficult to beat. It’s cheap, you can leave the 2.4ghz dongle plugged into one system and connect another to Bluetooth. So… that’s like $5 a mouse.
The battery life is exceptional and did I mention the mouse is nearly silent in the “click” department? That will come in handy when you’re working in close quarters with everyone else in your home.
Lasitu 15.6″ Portable Monitor – $125
Working on a Chromebook, like any laptop, for an extended period of time can be a drag. If nothing else, an ergonomic drag. Getting an external monitor to work with is paramount.
The issue is that you’re creating a makeshift home office. Not a full fledged permanent workstation. There ahve to be tradeoffs. The Lasitu 15.6″ monitor trades a bit of size, but gives more than it takes. It gives more than enough to get comfortable remote work done.
The monitor can be powered by a single USB-C input if your Chromebook has that capability. It can also be powered by USB-A and display an HDMI signal if you don’t have the spare USB-C port.
Then, at the end of the day, when you close your Chromebook’s lid for the evening, you close your monitor as well into its handsomly appointed, self-contained, portfolio. Easy peasy.
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Samsung Evo Plus 512gb microSD card – $89
If Chromebooks have an achillies heel for remote work beyond their lack of ports, it’s their paltry storage. “High capacity” storage on a top line Chromebook is likely going to max out at 128gb.
Which is fine if you’re tethered to the office, but if you’re on your own, out in the wilderness that is the makeshift home office, 128gb can start to feel like you’re relying on AOL floppy disks for critical documents.
Especially when you start loading up your boot drive with Android and Linux programs to augment the cloud.
But now that you’ve taken care of your port issues, you can remedy your storage woes with the built in microsd card reader. To date, the 512gb card hasn’t left my reader.
Get whatever size you feel appropriate, but unless you’re working with a lot of video, 512gb should be more than enough.
Penoval USI Stylus Pen for Chromebook – $49.90
USI… the Universal Stylus Initative… This is where Chromebooks have really come into their own for remote work.
Before this protocol, a stylus for any Chromebook was hit or miss. With Google going so far as to make the PixelBook Pen for their flagship device because the aftermarket was so awful.
No more. For $50 you have a pen that is a serious contender to Apple’s pencil responsiveness. Signing documents on-screen drew a “Wow… that’s fancy” from Mrs. Smartest Dad during our recent home refinance.
Why some documents still require a “wet” signature in 2020 is beyond me, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. The USI stylus has made the printer obsolete. When your makeshift home office can trade in a bulky printer with toner for a single pen… that’s a win.
Are there more accessories that will help flesh out a makeshift home office? Of course. This list isn’t exhaustive.
A USB-C hard drive and a nice mechanical keyboard are top of mind. But remember, we’re creating a functional remote work space, not recreating your corporate office.
If you need help with finding some real estate, I can help you with that too, but for right now, we’re maximzing your Chromebook powered remote work makeshift home office. That’s a mouthful… But… those are the times we’re living in.
Everything on this list will stowe neatly away in your messenger bag at night waiting to get back into the field with you.
Hopefully, this pandemic ends soon. But COVID has, without question, left an indelible mark on how we collectively work. Remote work is here to stay.
Our makeshift home office will evolve into something more permanent and likely a bit more elegant. but, in the meantime, Chromebooks, along with the right accessories, are there to step in and fill the gap.