How to turn your iPhone or Android phone into the ultimate work from home device

If you're like millions of people who are working from home for the first time, here's how to turn your phone from a time sucker into a productivity tool.

Credit: Christopher Hebert/IDG

If you’re a worker in the U.S., Europe, or basically anywhere right now, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be working from home for a while. The coronavirus has affected businesses and workers all over the world, and many people are suddenly forced to transition from their offices to their bedrooms and still get work done.

We know, it’s not easy. We already published a full guide to setting up your home workspace for optimum productivity, but there’s still the pesky business of that ultimate time killer: your phone. While it can be tucked away in your bag or a pocket during work hours, your phone can become the most pivotal piece of your workflow—if you take the right steps.

Set up reminders

When you’re in the office, you don’t need to remind yourself to stand, take bathroom breaks, eat lunch, or end your shift. But at home, it’s easy to completely lose track of time. That’s where Siri and Google Assistant can help.

Make a list of the breaks you want to take and ask your phone’s assistant to remind you every day, by saying “Hey Siri” (or “OK Google”), remind me to take lunch at noon,” or a” bathroom break at 11 a.m.,” or “standing at 3 p.m.,” whatever you need. It might sound silly, but without an office of people around, your normal routine will be severely disrupted.

Keep your eyes bright

Not only are you going to be using your phone more often than you would at work, but without a set time to leave the office, you’re probably going to be working longer hours too. And that means staring at your screen more. But your eyes don’t have to suffer as a result.

During the day, you can turn on dark mode and auto-brightness to keep your screen at a comfortable level, and if you’re working after hours, use your phone’s night mode to filter out blue light and limit eye strain. You can find these options in your display settings.

iphone android display settings IDG

The display settings for Galaxy phones (left), Pixel phones (center), and iPhones (right) have all sorts of toggles and sliders to keep your eyes from getting too strained.

Stop staring at a tiny screen

If you’re getting tired of typing on such a tiny screen, you can always mirror your phone’s screen to a TV or a monitor with the right cable. If you’re using an iPhone, you can also mirror your screen to a TV using Airplay. That said, mirroring admittedly isn’t an ideal solution for anything other than video streaming, since all it does is project an image of your phone on the screen—virtual keyboard and all.

If you’re using a Samsung Galaxy S8 or later, however, your options are far more robust. Samsung offers a desktop solution called DeX, which lets you plug in your phone to a monitor using a USB-C-to-HDMI cable to work as if you were using a PC. Once plugged in, you’ll get a full desktop environment, with floating windows, keyboard and mouse support, and of course, everything will save back to your phone once you disconnect. You can even use your phone’s screen as a trackpad if you’d like.

Get a wireless charging stand

Since nearly every phone released in the past two years has wireless charging built-in, you probably already have a wireless charging pad at your desk. But what your work-from-home setup really needs is a wireless charging stand. That way you’ll be able to see incoming notifications, take calls, video conference, and anything else you need to see your screen to do. Wireless charging stands like our editor’s choice, the Anker PowerWave 7.5, will keep your phone charged and let you use it.

anker powerwave 7.5 stand Anker

A wireless charging stand will let you see your phone’s screen while it’s charging.

Keep your phone clean

You’ve read a lot of articles about how dirty your phone is, and well, it’s true. Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, it’s a good idea to keep your phone clean, especially when smudgy fingerprints make it hard to read. It’s very easy to do. All you need is to wipe it down with a Clorox or Lysol disinfecting wipe and then discard the used wipe. Just don’t forget to wash your hands after you’re done.

Use a stylus

After your phone is nice and clean, the best way to keep it that way is to not touch it, naturally. So invest in a stylus. Of course, if you’re using a Samsung Galaxy Note you have one built in, but you can use any number of “dumb” styli on any touch-screen phone that will mimic your taps and swipes. You probably won’t be able to work as quickly as you would with your fingers, but it’ll be great for answering calls and swiping away notifications.

Block time-sucking apps

Your phone is a fantastic tool for productivity at home, but it can also be a serious time suck. So if you need a little help staying away from Twitter, Facebook, and Candy Crush, your phone can give you an assist.

On iPhones with iOS 12 and Android phones running version 9 or later, you’ll find Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing, respectively, in the settings. In each you’ll find an array of toggles and dials that let you set usage timers or shut down access to apps that are zapping your focus. So when you try to sneak a quick game during your next teleconference, your phone won’t let you.

digital wellbeing screen time app limits IDG

Android’s Digital Wellbeing (left) and iOS’ Screen Time (right) can help keep your focus from shifting to apps that aren’t work-related.

Get a Bluetooth headset

Even if you’ll be using a PC for most of your work, you’ll still need to use your phone for the thing it was made for: taking calls. And since you probably don’t want to hold a slab of glass up to your face during a lengthy conference call, you should invest in a Bluetooth headset or a pair of wireless headphones. Basically any pair to our buy will work with either an iPhone or Android phone (even AirPods), though some features might get dropped depending on your phone.

Keep an eye on your data

Since you’re going to be home a lot more, you’re going to be using a lot more of your personal data. Thankfully, some of the major broadband suppliers and wireless carriers have already agreed to lift data caps while the U.S. figures out the next steps in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, but those measures are temporary. For example, AT&TT-Mobile, and Comcast have suspended data caps for 60 days, so you won’t see extra charges or slower speeds if you go over your allotted data. (Verizon has made no such promise, though it is waiving late fees for unpaid bills.)

But those unlimited limits won’t be forever, so if your work-from-home stint lasts longer than a couple of months, you’ll need to keep a close watch on how much data you use in your account. Video streaming and file downloads can eat up a ton of your allotted data and overage fees can get pricey (for example, Comcast charges $10 for every 50GB), so you may need to up your plan accordingly.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Michael Simon

Michael Simon

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?