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5 surprising Alexa features that make working from home easier

5 surprising Alexa features that make working from home easier


Chris Monroe/CNET

It’s been almost a year since COVID-19 reordered life on a global scale, and many of us are still muddling through working from home and the unusual stresses that come with it. While we can hope for a speedy rollout of vaccines, many of us still are facing an uncertain near future, in which we could be working remotely or semiremotely for much of 2021.

Luckily, a lot of technology released over the past year — not to mention some older technology finding new life in these new times — is helping WFH setups to be more, well, workable. I use Amazon’s Echo speakers and displays daily, and I’ve found a few features, new and old, to be extremely helpful day to day.

Here are five of the best Alexa features to make working from home easier this year.

Let Alexa remind you to drink water, take a lap around the house or do anything else

Chris Monroe/CNET

Losing track of time is easy during lockdown life. With many of our external time markers removed (from traveling for the holidays to seeing a movie over weekends), things seem to move at strange, fluid speeds. Even during the day, the boundaries between work and life are prone to blurring, and I’ve found myself working past lunch, missing meetings and more while working from home.

It sounds simple, but asking Alexa to remind you to drink water, stretch your legs, log in to that rescheduled Zoom call or any number of other things really can make a difference as you try to keep track of time. Routines are helpful, and Alexa is pretty good at helping you keep them.

Here are more tips to make your home a healthier workspace this year.

Use Alexa as an intercom to avoid disrupting the rest of the family

Chris Monroe/CNET

While I’m working remotely, my 3- and 4-year old sons are doing homeschooling with their mom in the living room. Each time I have to ask my wife a question, or run out to grab a snack or a glass of water, my kids seize the opportunity to jump down from their work table and grab onto my legs.

I love that I get to be around family more during lockdown life (even if my wife and I haven’t gotten relief from parenting for nearly a year straight now), but these little moments midday can be seriously disruptive with easily distractible children.

Thus, using my office Echo’s Drop In feature on the living room Echo Show helps avoid this disruption, allowing me to ask quick questions or see if it’s a good time to come out, or if I should wait for the kiddos to finish one last worksheet or book before making an appearance.

Here’s how to use your Echo as an intercom.

Occupy your pets with Alexa

Chris Monroe/CNET

Many of us are working at home without friends or family, but rather with pets. The pandemic has affected domesticated animals in unexpected ways, making many of them clingier, moodier and often harder to care for.

While it won’t solve the larger problem, Alexa can help occupy your pets during the day, giving them a little more independence. Skills like Meow! and Woof!, for instance, are designed to interact with cats and dogs. Others like the Comfort My Dog skill play music to help your pet sleep more soundly.

Here are even more pet-friendly tips for your smart home.

Play music during the day

Chris Monroe/CNET

If you’re not sharing a space with your family or persnickety pets, Alexa is also great for playing music throughout the day. Whether you use Amazon Music, Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music or most other streaming services, Alexa’s got you covered.

You can play soothing music to help you ease into the workday, upbeat music to get you amped to hit that deadline by noon and some favorites to celebrate reaching the end of a long day. I often use music as a timer for myself, too: A long song like Sufjan Stevens’ Impossible Soul gives me just enough time to make a big push on an article that needs to get written. Then I stretch, move around, distract myself for a few minutes by chatting with coworkers on Slack and finally get back to writing with a short album, like Earl Sweatshirt’s (appropriately-titled-for-pandemic-life) I Don’t Like S—, I Don’t Go Outside.

Here’s CNET’s review of the best-sounding smart speaker for the price, the 2020 Amazon Echo.

Use Alexa to keep yourself healthy

Chris Monroe/CNET

If losing track of time is easy during lockdown, losing track of our health (or simply neglecting it) is even easier. I personally discovered I’d gained nearly 10 pounds in the early months of covid, simply because I was leading a more sedentary daily life (not to mention the easy, all-day accessibility of chips). The higher-stress realities of the past year, even setting aside COVID-19, certainly haven’t made fostering a healthy lifestyle easier.

But using Alexa (along with a few other strategies), I caught my slippage early and have actually lost weight on the whole during the pandemic. I’ve used the 7-Minute Workout skill, or just done my own workouts using Alexa’s timers and music skills. Either way, squeezing a little physical activity into your midday routine is just a little easier with a tool like Alexa.

Here are 50 Alexa skills actually worth using.

Have you found other Alexa features that help make working from home easier for you? Share them in the comments below.

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