It should be pretty clear now that the new normal involves working from home for much longer than most originally anticipated, so it makes sense to invest in optimizing the experience.
Managing the new normal
We’ve moved from phase one of COVID-19 response. It’s no longer about making the best of what we have or rushing to put something – anything – in place to enable us to work remotely.
Phase two is about optimizing that process, making better technology and software decisions, and identifying the right tools. It means learning from mistakes and fostering a culture of open communication to help socially distanced teams stay connected.
In some cases, it means providing employees currently quarantined in poor/cramped living conditions with extra help and health support, and better tools, such as higher-quality broadband.
We know that 15% of U.S. homes lack broadband access, and many, particularly in rural areas, endure expensive or unreliable connectivity. The pandemic has exposed both the social and economic need for such access.
The following HomeKit solutions may help with some of these issues – in this case, optimizing the work-from-home experience. I’ve included links to manufacturer sites from which you’ll find local availability and pricing.
How HomeKit works
Apple’s HomeKit works with Siri to automate your home. The HomeKit app can be accessed from any Apple device, and lets you group connected accessories and create smart settings: Work, TV and sleep modes, for example.
Once it’s set up, HomeKit lets devices from different manufacturers work together. It makes use of iCloud and lets you share controls with everyone in your home.
Usually, you get the item, enable it with the device manufacturer’s own app, and then connect it to HomeKit, which then takes control. Apple hosts a comprehensive user guide to the system here. So, what HomeKit systems may help remote workers?
Get a HomeKit router
If your home has patchy Wi-Fi coverage, an investment in a mesh-based Wi-Fi system should help deliver better connectivity wherever you are in your home. This is particularly useful if you share your home, as it gives everyone more options to get online while giving each other a little more space.
When it comes to getting smart homes online, security also matters. To help with this, Apple has introduced its HomeKit-secured router program, which provides additional protection to smart devices on your home network. This effectively makes your smart HomeKit devices unavailable to those outside of your network, which helps prevent various kinds of attack.
Both eero and Linksys now offer mesh routers that support both better Wi-Fi coverage and security in the form of HomeKit-secured routers: the Linksys Velop Mesh Wi-Fi system, eero and eero Pro. These will help maximize both your home network availability and HomeKit device security. The latter is particularly important in the remote working era – and HomeKit-secured routers provide a high degree of endpoint security.
Make dumb things smarter
You can put a little HomeKit intelligence inside older devices in your home using HomeKit-connected power strips and plugs. The Eve Energy Strip, for example, has built-in surge protection and offers three smart-plug sockets, each of which can be controlled remotely. This is a useful way to safely power up and automate your printer(s) and other work-related equipment.
Supplement this with smart plugs, such as the iHome iSP6, which let you add some intelligence to standing lamps and other electrical items in your home office.
Think about a smart lighting system
There’s more to smart lighting than Philips Hue lightbulbs. Philips makes a range of additional HomeKit-compatible lighting systems, but iPhone users may also want to take a look at the Santala Smart LED Desk Lamp.
This is an iMore-recommended foldable desk lamp featuring a Qi wireless charging area at its base, so you can use the HomeKit/Siri-controlled light at your desk while keeping your iPhone charged up. It has four brightness levels and 10 color temperatures, so it should help you create the right “vibe” for home working and provide additional light so you can look better than your artfully placed books on the shelf behind you while engaged in a video conference.
The great thing about HomeKit is you can create a Siri shortcut to set the light to appropriate settings for video conferencing, automate this, and then tie the alert to your Zoom diary. That way you don’t even need to think about the lighting set-up.
Make your energy a little smarter
While the lockdown triggered a 50% to 75% reduction in global road traffic, residential electricity use surged. What this means is that when we work from home, the use of home lighting and heating systems increases, potentially exposing already stressed remote workers to energy bill shocks.
One way to mitigate against such shocks would be to install smart energy meters and HomeKit thermostats. Another is to install HomeKit-connected power outlets and light switches in order to protect against accidentally leaving the power on. Numerous companies including ecobee, Emerson, Eve, Honeywell and others offer HomeKit-compatible smart thermostats. The beauty of this is that if your home is empty, HomeKit will let the thermostat know to turn your heating down.
When you install these systems, you should also be able to use individual device apps to piece together better information about which of your devices are consuming the most energy as you work from home. One missing component is some form of Health app for energy use in HomeKit: Given many of these solutions offer energy use information via their individual manufacturer’s apps, it makes sense to combine this data in a comprehensive energy consumption monitoring tool.
Motion detectors and alarms
Once you’ve invested in HomeKit solutions for your work-from-home environment, you may want to automate it more with a motion sensor. Set this up so that all your devices are automatically enabled when you walk into that space – the lights go on, your choice of focusing music plays, and the thermostat sets the heating to your perfect temperature. It’s a simple convenience that may help you start your day feeling a little more in control.
There are numerous HomeKit motion sensors available, but I think one of the most interesting is the Ecobee Switch+, an in-wall light switch that also provides motion, temperature, light-sensing, and occupancy sensors.
Of course, you can automate such systems to notify you if anyone enters your workspace when you’re not there, which might be useful if you’re trying to keep others away from your workspace when you’re away.
One positive outcome of lockdown has been a decline in crime rates, particularly in residential burglaries (though theft from commercial premises increased). With people at home, burglars went elsewhere. However, as we settle down for the long haul, HomeKit compatible window and door opening sensors and intruder alarm systems will likely become more important – as will Apple’s looming AirTags/Find My solution, video surveillance systems and innovative security software tools such as Security Spy.
Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.