When you worked in the office, you had plenty of space for multiple monitors. But now that you’re working from home, the company laptop screen leaves a little to be desired. Fortunately, it’s easy to add more screen space to most laptops, even if it doesn’t have a built-in display output.
There are a number of ways to extend your laptop’s screen, and we’ll look for the ways that involve buying the least amount of extra hardware. If you already have an extra monitor (or even an iPad!) lying around, then you might be able to get more screen real estate with very little extra work.
Use the External Display Connectors on Your Laptop
Many laptops come with a port dedicated to connecting a second monitor built right in. In some cases, these may look like the typical ports you’re used to, such as HDMI, but more often they’re smaller versions that look unfamiliar. If there’s a port you don’t recognize, check to see if it’s something you can connect to a display.
For example, Macbooks and some Windows laptops use Thunderbolt, Mini DisplayPort, or Mini-DVI ports to connect to external monitors. You’ll need an adapter or cable that can run from your laptop’s port to the connector on your display, so take a look at which specific cables you need. My original Surface Book, for example, features a small Mini DisplayPort, but I was able to buy an adapter that turns it into a regular HDMI port that I can connect to almost any TV or monitor with a typical HDMI cable. No matter what ports you need to convert between, you can probably find an adapter or cable you need on sites like Monoprice or Amazon.
Hook Up to a USB Port
If you don’t have a dedicated display connector on your laptop, you can sometimes use a USB connection. USB-C in particular can be used to connect to monitors just as easily as they can connect to portable hard drives or your phone. Often these require only a cable running from the port to your monitor.
If you don’t have USB-C ports on your laptop, then the old familiar style of USB ports can also work. External hubs can not only add extra USB ports to your computer, but also allow you to connect displays via HDMI, and even add an ethernet connection. This is an especially useful method if you already needed extra ports to hook up all the peripherals you’re used to using in the office. Only some laptops can support video output through USB-C, and only some external dongles can add video support to a device that doesn’t already have it, so be sure to check the manual on your manufacturer’s website for details about your specific device.
Repurpose a Tablet As a Second Monitor
If you have a tablet laying around, you can repurpose it as a second, smaller monitor instead of buying an entirely separate display. Apple’s Sidecar is baked right into the Mac operating system and allows iPads to connect via USB-C or Lightning cable to extend your desktop.
If you’re not exclusively using Apple products, then third party apps can help you accomplish the same thing. DuetDisplay allows you to connect Android or iOS tablets to Mac or Windows devices. This is a more robust option to go with if you tend to mix your platforms.
Attach a Monitor Directly to Your Laptop
Believe it or not, there are monitors available that are designed specifically to be secondary laptop displays. The Duex Pro, for example, is a display that attaches to the back of your laptop’s screen. It can slide out to the side when you need to use it, then slide back and hide away when you’re done. This can save a lot of space and, best of all, you can carry this display with you when you travel.
If you’d rather not attach the monitor directly to your laptop itself, there are still portable displays designed to run off of a single connection (meaning they don’t require separate power). These are easy to store inside your laptop bag and plug in when you need a bit of extra space without being too cumbersome.
Offload Some of Your Work to Your Phone
Chances are good that you have a smartphone (or even a tablet) in your pocket or on your desk, even when you’re working from home. Depending on what you need to do at work, it might be possible to offload some of your tasks to your phone and skip the need for an entire monitor altogether. In that case, a stand (or a wireless charger) that props your phone up where you can see it can be good enough.
For example, if you receive a lot of emails throughout the day, your phone might be a better way to figure out which ones need your attention. If it’s an email you can ignore or archive, tap a button on the notification and it’s handled. On the other hand, if it’s important, you can switch to your inbox on your main computer and take a closer look. You can use this same technique to keep an eye on Slack chats, monitor news feeds, or keep an eye on dashboards or other metrics without making them so convenient that they become distractions.
Working from home might be more inconvenient than the office you’re used to, but it presents a good opportunity to rethink how you do the work that you’re used to doing. If there are ways to make that work more efficient and easier, there’s no better time to disrupt your usual habits than when they’re already disrupted.
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