Many of us are now working from home for the time being, which can be both challenging and invigorating. But it can also be a pain when you have multiple devices.
This isn’t a scenario that’s going to apply to everyone—some of you will simply be able to pick up your work laptop and take it home—but if you are jumping between two different laptops or desktops, then we’ve got some pointers for you.
The good news is that picking up work from your office machine on a home computer is much, much easier than it used to be. Many apps and platforms are now designed to be used simultaneously across multiple devices. If you have one computer for home and another at the office, here’s how to sync the information you need.
If you’re not already using an app to sync your files between home and the office, pick one that works for you. Some of the best options include Dropbox (2GB of free space), Google Drive (15GB free), iCloud (5GB free), OneDrive (5GB free), and Box (10GB free).
All those services will charge you a few dollars a month if you need room to store more documents in the cloud, but in addition to storing them online, each service will also sync your files to all the devices where you’ve got the client app installed. Changes you make on one machine are instantly synced to your other machines.
Take your pick based on the platforms you’re using—iCloud makes sense for Macs, OneDrive for Windows machines—but for a comprehensive, platform-agnostic option, we like Dropbox. It’s one of the pricier options, but it has some cool tricks in terms of choosing which files get synced where, and its web interface is polished and intuitive.
With one (or more) of these apps set up at home and work, you never need to put a USB drive in your bag again. These services are also useful if you’re working from a phone or tablet on the go, because you’ll have access to your files on those devices, too.
Web apps are actually very good now, so spend as much time in them as you can to make working from home easier. For instance, compare loading time for Google Docs in a browser tab to the interminable wait for Microsoft Word to get itself together. The Google option is faster, free, and available from any computer with a web connection.
Many of the desktop applications you might use in a typical office setting have decent online equivalents or alternatives. Even Microsoft has gotten around to developing decent web versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (and you can use them for free whether or not you’ve paid for the desktop software).
Workplace chat app Slack is available on the web, so you can keep in touch with your colleagues, and so is streaming music platform Spotify, to help the work day go that much quicker. But it’s the office apps from Apple, Google, and Microsoft you should be using in the browser, as all your files will automatically come along too.
This isn’t going to be possible in every case, and heavy duty programs like the Creative Cloud suite from Adobe still require a proper desktop installation, as might many proprietary applications set up by your employer.
If you need access to your work machine from home, you can install remote connection software (usually via your IT department, so check there first). You can even do this through Google Chrome with the Chrome Remote Desktop app. Once you’ve set up the app on your work computer, you can access it from any device running Chrome with the right login details.
Another program that allows for unattended remote access—i.e. where there’s no one at the other end of the connection—is TeamViewer. It’s free to use for individuals, and with the software set up at both home and work, you can connect to your work machine with just a few clicks.
Tools like Chrome Remote Desktop and TeamViewer allow you to operate your work computer as if you were sitting in front of it: You can run whatever software is installed on it, access all your work files, and so on. You might need to install some sort of VPN for this to work, but your friendly IT help desk can advise you on this.
If keeping your work computer switched on around the clock isn’t an option—or your workplace network isn’t set up to allow remote access—then you’ll have to fall back on the file syncing and web apps we mentioned earlier.
Remember that setting up remote access software and using a company VPN on your home machine isn’t a great idea if you care about maintaining a firewall between your personal life and work.
You might need access to your work logins while you’re at home—any modern day browser or password manager can take care of this for you. Just make sure that you’ve set up some kind of sync before you leave the office (and that you’re using the same software in the two different locations).
If you don’t want your personal browsing data getting mixed up with your professional browsing data, you can set up separate user profiles in your browser in Chrome, Firefox, or Edge. Here’s a full guide on how to do this, and you can always delete the work profile when you’re heading back to the office full time.
You can sync some data just by signing in with the same Google, Microsoft, or Apple account at home and at work, depending on which platforms you’re using in both locations (and how relaxed the IT policy is at your place of work). If you haven’t done this before, it might be worth trying.
If you need your work computer to stay on, you might have to disable automatic updates so it doesn’t suddenly reboot overnight. On Windows, this can be done under Windows Update and Advanced options in the Update & Security part of Settings; on macOS, open the Apple menu, choose About This Mac and Software Update, and untick Automatically keep my Mac up to date.