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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

How to Set Up a Home Office That Can Survive a Power Outage

There's a lot to be said for working from home, if you're able to. No time wasted commuting, fewer distractions from colleagues (in theory, at least), and easy access to home comforts (from pets to the refrigerator to your record player).

It does mean, however, that more of the onus is on you to get the right equipment in place to stay productive. Your company might help out with this, but if you're freelancing, then you're likely to be solely responsible. We've written before about all the gear you need for a successful home office setup, and it's a lot.

Something else to consider is the possibility of a power outage. If you've got deadlines stacked up and tasks to complete, then you don't want a blackout to put you out of action. It means letting down colleagues and clients while you wait for the power to come back on.

There are ways to guard against this, and here are some precautions to take in advance. It may require spending some money, but if you find yourself without power for a day or two, you'll be glad that you were prepared.

Stay Portable

Having a laptop at hand (and fully charged) is clearly going to be of more use in a power cut than a desktop computer. The 15-inch MacBook Air, for example, can go a full working day and beyond, assuming its battery is at 100 percent when you lose power.

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And there are ways to eke out more life from a laptop battery too. On macOS, you can head to Battery from System Settings to enable a special low-power mode that reduces strain on the battery. On Windows, choose Power & battery from Settings to find a similar battery saver feature. Turning down the display brightness can help too.

Depending on your circumstances and budget, you might want to add a tablet to the mix too. Slates including the iPad, the Amazon Fire, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S series can all be repurposed as makeshift laptops with the addition of a keyboard cover, so they're a useful backup to have if your main computer is out of action.

Portable Power

Buy a power bank and you can keep laptops, tablets, and phones going for even longer in a blackout, because you'll be able to recharge them too. We have a guide to the best ones here. There are plenty of smaller devices in this category, like the $24 Anker PowerCore 10000, which has enough juice to recharge your phone three or four times, but for a laptop you'll need something bigger.

The Jackery Explorer 2000 Plus will set you back a not insignificant $2,200, but it does give you enough stored battery power to recharge the average laptop around 11 or 12 times—so it's going to be able to keep you going for days. It'll power other larger devices too. You could keep your coffee machine going as well, for example, though clearly the more equipment you connect, the faster the battery will drain.

Even better, the Jackery Explorer 2000 Plus (and most of the other products in the Jackery lineup) can be powered by an attached solar panel. If you get enough sunlight in your part of the world, you could keep your laptop going indefinitely while you wait for the power grid to come back online. Anker and Jackery offer some of the best options in this category, but there are lots of other choices too if you shop around.

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For those folks working from desktops, or who want to power more gear, consider an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. We talk a bit more about them in this guide to prepping your whole home for power outages, but they're essentially big batteries you plug all of your gear into. When the power goes out, the battery takes over, giving you enough time to save your work and shut down, switch to an external battery pack, or keep working through short outages and brownouts.

Keep Connected

A power cut will also take out your internet router of course, which means you're going to be left without a web connection. The simplest solution here is to use the cellular connection on your phone to get online—though whether or not this is an option will depend on your carrier, the data plan you've signed up to, and the strength of the signal you get at home. It'll also drain your phone's battery faster.

From Settings on Android, tap Network and Internet, then Hotspot and tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot to create and configure your hot spot. Over on iOS, from Settings it's Personal Hotspot. With a hot spot live, you'll be able to see the new Wi-Fi connection from your laptop and get online—to send a few emails and write a few documents at least, if not to stream 4K video.

A more permanent option would be to invest in a 5G modem like the $1,000 Netgear Nighthawk M6 Pro. Clearly, that's a lot of money (cheaper options are available), and you need a data SIM on top of that—but it supports Wi-Fi 6E and 5G, offers an impressive amount of range, and runs on battery power for around 13 hours between charges. It's a great connectivity companion for when you're traveling too.

Have a Plan C

The options we've outlined above should give you some ideas about how you can keep on working during a power cut, but it doesn't hurt to have a plan C. For example, is there a family member or friend you can call on to use their power and their internet? Assuming, of course, that their power hasn't gone out as well—it might have to be someone who's a few minutes drive away rather than a neighbor.

You can find power and Wi-Fi in more places than you might realize: An app such as Wi-Fi Map can help you find spots in your area, but you can also do some researching of your own. Coffee shops, hotel lobbies, even public spaces often have Wi-Fi available and will let you get on with your work in return for buying a coffee and a cake.

If there are shared workspaces in your part of the world, then this is another option—again, it depends on your location, and how widespread the power cut is, but you might find that a subscription to something like WeWork is useful for you. These spaces can also be used when traveling as well, or just to get out of the house.

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