Many of us have been working from home for months now—long enough that you’ve probably suffered at least one internet outage, or had to call your internet service provider to find out what’s wrong with your connection. ISP outages aren’t the only thing to worry about when working remotely: Blackouts, more common in warm temperatures, and even spilled coffee can strike without warning and leave you without your precious Wi-Fi.
While you can’t fully protect yourself from any of these, you can at least put in the prep work to survive it, or even work through it. You may be thinking of your home office hardware, and that’s fine, but you should also consider the software you use. Many of your most often-used programs will happily carry on working offline without any tweaking. Here’s how to make sure they’re set up to keep you going.
Gmail, surprisingly, works fairly well offline. It can’t actually send and receive emails without an internet connection, but it will let you search through old messages and compose new ones (which can then be sent as soon as connectivity returns).
In your web browser, click the cog icon (on the right), then Settings and Offline—check the box marked Enable offline mail, and choose how many days of messages you want to sync to your computer (7, 30 or 90).
In offline mode, Google Drive lets you create, view and edit Docs, Sheets and Slides, with changes synced back to the cloud when an internet connection returns.
You need to put in some preparation first though. On Google Drive on the web, click the cog icon (top right), then choose Settings and General—make sure the Offline box is ticked, and Drive will start syncing files to the local computer.
Google doesn’t make it clear exactly how many files get synced, but in our experience it’s at least a month’s worth, starting with the most recent. To make absolutely sure a specific file is available without an internet connection, right-click on it and turn the Available offline toggle switch on. Also, if you find you’re running out of space in Gmail, we have some tips to help trim back to the stuff you really need.
Apple’s iCloud platform will move older, less frequently used files off your Mac if you start running out of space on your computer, keeping copies in the cloud and downloading them as and when you need them. If you want to make sure this offloading doesn’t happen, open System Preferences, then click Apple ID and iCloud, and untick the box that’s marked Optimize Mac Storage.
You can leave this option enabled but download files manually to make sure they’re available offline. From your Desktop or Documents folder in Finder, right-click on a file and choose Download Now. If you’ve opened or edited a file recently, it should be downloaded automatically.
Like iCloud, Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage tool (which is built into Windows) can move files online if you need to free up space on your local drive—the feature is called Files On Demand. The files still show up in File Explorer, but the data isn’t actually there until you need to edit the file.
To make sure a file is stored locally as well as in the cloud, open up File Explorer and navigate to your OneDrive folder. Right-click on the file(s) or folder(s) you absolutely need offline access too, and make sure the Always keep on this device option is ticked. The symbol next to the file or folder should show a green tick when this is done.
We can’t go through every single cloud storage program out there—you can always check the help and support resources for your application of choice to see if there’s an offline mode available—but Dropbox is popular enough to warrant a mention as well. As with OneDrive, Dropbox can ‘offload’ files to the web through a feature called Smart Sync (though you’ll only have access to it if you’re on a paid plan).
From the Dropbox client in the notification area (Windows) or on the menu bar (macOS), click your profile picture, and then choose Preferences. On the Sync tab you can turn Smart Sync on and off, so keep it off if you want all of your files available all of the time. You can also leave it on but make sure specific files and folders are saved locally—right-click on a file and folder in File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (macOS), and choose Smart Sync then Local to do this.
Pocket is one of the best read-it-later services on the web, able to store up all those articles you don’t have time to read, and store them safely for when you’re able to get around to them. Pocket can work offline, if needed, so if you’re researching something it might be a good idea to save a few key webpages to Pocket so you can get at them without a web connection.
You’ll need the Pocket app for macOS, the Pocket extension for Chrome, or the Firefox browser (which has Pocket built-in) to enable offline support: Pocket downloads articles automatically in the background on the Mac and inside Chrome, but on Firefox you need to open an article while you’re online to make sure it stays available if you ever go offline (click Library then View Pocket List).
Having offline access to your playlists might not be as critical as having offline access to your work documents, but music is important for productivity, right? To store a specific playlist for offline playback, open it in the Spotify application for Windows on macOS, and turn on the Download toggle switch.
Click the arrow (top right) then Settings, and under Offline storage you can see where songs are cached, if you need to know. This offline functionality is handy if your home Wi-Fi is patchy or if you’re working out in the garden, as well as if your internet connection should come crashing down.
When the working day is done and you want to kick back with some Netflix, having a borked internet connection can really mess with your binge-watching plans. All is not lost if you’re using Windows though—you just need to download the Netflix app for Windows and queue up movies and shows in advance (no love for Mac users yet, unfortunately).
Not every show and movie can is available for offline viewing, but many of them are: Choose Available to Download from the app menu to see a selection. Whenever you see a downward arrow symbol on the listing page for a show or film, it means it can be saved locally—just click the icon to start the download.
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