How to Set Up an Office in the Garden or Backyard to Maintain Your Sanity

Illustration for article titled How to Set Up an Office in the Garden or Backyard to Maintain Your Sanity
Photo: Katarina Šikuljak (Unsplash)

If you’re lucky enough to have some outdoor space where you live, setting up shop in the garden or backyard can make working from home more bearable. You can top up your daily dose of vitamin D, get closer to the natural (or urban) world around you, escape from the rest of the family, and get all your work done all at the same time.

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When it comes to setting up a garden or backyard office, you don’t have to invest much. At the low end of the scale, you can head outside with a chair and a laptop; at the other, you can build a shed from scratch and work in there. These ideas are somewhere in the middle, and if you don’t have a garden or backyard available, then you might be able to set up shop an attic or basement instead.

Oh, and don’t forget to check your weather app, so you don’t get caught in a rainstorm with your laptop.

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Extend your wifi

A mesh networking setup like the Eero will ensure your wifi reaches you.
A mesh networking setup like the Eero will ensure your wifi reaches you.
Photo: Eero

If you can work without internet access, more power to you, but unless you’re churning out the next thousand words of your novel (or doing research...for your actual job...) using nothing but your own imagination, chances are you’re going to need a connection to the web at some stage. If your existing home network doesn’t stretch as far as your outdoor space, then you’ve got some options to try.

The first is a simple wifi extender, which takes the signal from your main router and passes it on to a wider area. You’ll usually lose some speed as this happens, but it should be enough for standard online work like web browsing, sending Slack messages, and checking emails. The $57 Netgear EX6120 can cover 1,200 square feet of space, or the cheaper $20 TP-Link N300 covers 800 square feet. Both simply plug into a spare power socket.

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If you’ve got a bigger budget, then it might be time to embrace the magic of mesh networking, which is when separate satellite nodes work together with a central router to blanket your home (and your garden or backyard) with strong wifi coverage. The $250 Eero 3-pack or the $350 Nest 3-pack should be enough to cover the whole of your home and a good deal of the outside as well.

Stay powered up

The biggest powerbanks, like the RavPower Portable Charger, can juice up laptops.
The biggest powerbanks, like the RavPower Portable Charger, can juice up laptops.
Photo: RavPower
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You don’t want your outdoor working session coming to an abrupt end, so you need to think about power, too. If you’re buying a new laptop to take outside, prioritize battery life: low-powered processors and small screens are in, discrete graphics and huge hard drives are out. Perhaps it’s time to go for that Chromebook, as long as you can do everything you need to do on the web.

Portable battery packs that are powerful enough to charge up laptops are nowhere near as common as their smartphone equivalents, but you do have some choices. The $60 RavPower Portable Charger goes all the way up to 60W, while the $140 Anker PowerCore+ tops out at 45W but has more capacity (both will be fine for the majority of 13-inch laptops).

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A device like the $150 Powkey Portable Power Bank is worth a look as well. It’s designed for charging your gadgets while you’re away camping, with 200W total charging power and a 42,000 mAh capacity, but it’ll get the job done for your outdoor office, too. Or, if you don’t mind trailing wires, you could just invest in an extension cable.

Get comfortable chairs

If you’ve got the room, the Seville Classics Sit-Stand Computer Desk can adapt to your preferred position.
If you’ve got the room, the Seville Classics Sit-Stand Computer Desk can adapt to your preferred position.
Photo: Seville Classics
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You’ll want to be comfortable while you’re working outdoors, so a suitable chair and the right cushion setup is important. If you don’t already have garden furniture taking up your outdoor space, then you’ve got a ton of options to pick from. Think about furniture that will double up well for dining and entertainment as well as work.

If you’re not using a table, get a sturdy and reliable laptop desk that keeps your body well positioned and your posture as straight as it should be. The $18 LapGear Sidekick will keep your portable computer propped up on your lap, and it has room for your phone, too. If you want to go all out with something that has space for a mouse, the $60 Huanuo Lap Desk fits the bill.

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Of course, you don’t want to be dragging a full-sized desk in and out of your home every day, so there are a few compact, portable options that almost do the job of a full desk. Take a look at the $45 Seville Classics Sit-Stand Computer Desk, for example, which you can wheel anywhere and can be used as a standing desk. If you’ve got room to store it overnight, it might be the best pick.

Don’t miss a call

Keep an eye on the front door with a video doorbell like this Arlo one.
Keep an eye on the front door with a video doorbell like this Arlo one.
Photo: Arlo
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Working outside doesn’t have to mean that you miss out on whatever’s going on inside your home or outside your front door. Keep an eye on deliveries, pets, and even kids with the plethora of connected camera kits on the market.

Most of the big security camera makers also have video doorbells to consider. The $230 Nest Hello Doorbell, the $200 Ring Video Doorbell 3, and the $150 Arlo Video Doorbell are all popular options. Each device will ping your phone and show you a live video feed when someone rings. Make sure to look at the ease of installation and specs like the viewing angle when deciding which one makes sense for your home.

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Google, Ring, and Arlo make indoor and outdoor security cameras, too, for keeping an eye on any room or any of your pets or kids while you’re outside. But there are several good cheap options on the market now, like the $20 Wyze Cam or the $35 Blink Mini from Amazon, which are both perfect for keeping an eye on the indoors while you’re outdoors.

Work into the evening

Take a coffee break and stream some tunes on the Sonos.
Take a coffee break and stream some tunes on the Sonos.
Photo: Sonos
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If you’re working outside, the temperature is going to be relatively mild and the daylight is probably gonna last awhile. But if you want to keep working after sunset, setting up some smart lighting means you won’t need to take a break from the keyboard to flip the switch.

Philips Hue has an outdoor range, complete with extension cables and everything you need to illuminate the garden or backyard. The $130 Lily XL Outdoor Spotlight offers millions of colors to pick from. Lifx has bulbs suitable for use in outdoor lights, too, such as the $80 Lifx BR30+ (and you won’t need to connect it to a hub first, which is the case with Philips Hue lights).

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And just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you have to go without music, podcasts, white noise, or whatever it is that helps you work. Plenty of battery-powered portable speakers can head outdoors with you, from the $400 Sonos Move (Bluetooth and wifi) to the $150 Ultimate Ears Boom 3 (Bluetooth only).

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DISCUSSION

My biggest problem with working outside is screen glare. Any tips? (Other than covering myself in a blanket)