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5 ways the Elgato Stream Deck can streamline your workflow (even if you're not a streamer)

The Elgato Stream Deck is the WFH companion I didn't know I needed.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on
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June Wan/ZDNet

Since its inception, the Elgato Stream Deck (now owned by Corsair) has been quintessential to streamers and video broadcasters alike. Coming in a 4.6 x 3.3'' figure, with smaller and larger sizes available, the desktop accessory serves as a command center with 15 mappable keys at your disposal.

In the case of broadcasting, streamers can create toggles via the Elgato Stream Deck software to quickly switch between scenes and overlays, or queue sound effects and background music. Similarly, the Stream Deck allows you to alternate between A-Roll and B-Roll cameras with the press of a button.

All of this sounds meaningful and handy, but what if you're not a streamer? That's a question I asked myself a month ago when a friend gifted me a Stream Deck and pitched the idea of using it for work. After spending the past weeks fidgeting and playing around with it, the Elgato Stream Deck has quickly become the work-from-home accessory that I didn't know I needed.

Here are the top five applications that I use every day and how they can better the workflow and productivity for you as well.

1. Video-conferencing controls

It happens to the best of us. It's finally your turn to speak on the Zoom call, all eyes are on your webcam, and after you've proudly shared that million-dollar idea, you're met with awkward stares and a cordial soul who exclaims, "Your mic is muted."

Let me introduce you to Zoom Plugin by Martijn Smit, one of the most popular third-party plugins in the Elgato Store. When installed, you can assign keys on your Stream Deck to toggle your mic and video on or off, and so much more. On my rig, I have a column dedicated to Zoom controls, including the aforementioned functions, and one for "Leave Meeting". Instead of fumbling over the Zoom window, I can just press a button and have peace of mind.

If this use-case alone is enough to sell you on the Stream Deck, then I'd recommend the smaller six-key version which is an ideal size for video-conferencing controls.

More: Best webcams that you can buy right now

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The Stream Deck program lets you create, modify, and delete actions through simple plug-and-play controls.

June Wan/ZDNet

2. IFTTT and smart home

The second column on my Stream Deck is dedicated for IFTTT (or, If This Then That) and smart home controls. These toggles can be best explained as chain reactions, events that trigger when something else happens. For example, one of my keys, when pressed, turns on my smart office lamp, which then prompts my smart blinds to close.

You can create smart routines via the IFTTT website, or paste the Maker Key of premade ones into the Elgato Stream Deck software. Some of the best premade automations include copying completed Trello tasks onto a Google Drive spreadsheet and adding your latest iPhone screenshots to a Dropbox folder. IFTTT works with major smart home manufacturers like Philips Hue, Nest, Lutron, and more, so the possibilities are endless.

3. Folders for app-specific functions

At the center column of my Stream Deck are folder toggles for Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, and After Effects. Clicking on either of the keys brings up a new layout of program-specific functions (see image below). In the case of Photoshop, I have quick toggles that include the lasso tool, content-aware fill, perspective crop, healing brush, and more. In essence, I can edit photos without ever needing to use my keyboard.

Being able to implement folders into the Stream Deck means that you technically have 196 key placements, including the 15 that are on the main screen.

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June Wan/ZDNet

4. Shortcuts and workspaces

At its most basic level, the Stream Deck can be used to open up a specific program or website. On my setup, I have a column of keys that are mapped to three things: ZDNet.com, my content management system, and a Google doc where I jot down weekly tasks. But wait, there's more.

Since I do most of my work on an ultra-wide monitor, I routinely snap two browsers to fill up the screen real estate. That's why I've downloaded the Windows Mover and Resizer Plugin by BarRaider to create workspace buttons. The Stream Deck plugin lets me set the position and size of my windows so that when I press, say, ZDNet.com, the website opens up on the right side of my monitor and a blank tab fills the left.

Also: How to snap your windows on MacOS and Windows

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From Zoom controls to folders of photo- and video-editing macros, my 15-key layout eases my workflow.

June Wan/ZDNet

5. Status widgets

And finally, what might be the most underrated Elgato Stream Deck application: status widgets. My list includes a Pomodoro timer and a weather display. The former is a time management method that alternates between 25 minutes of focused work and 5 minutes of resting. After four sets, the Pomodoro timer switches to 15 minutes for me to take a long break. I've found this technique and its pacing to work wonders for my productivity. And it certainly helps to have visual queues on the Stream Deck.

The weather widget is a little more self-explanatory. I mainly use it to know when I can keep my windows open for fresh air and when the weather is good enough for an outdoor walk.

Bottom line

I wouldn't go as far as to say that the Elgato Stream Deck is a must-buy, especially if you're not a streamer. But clearly, the gadget has plenty of applications that make it worthwhile if you do decide to pick one up. Elgato offers 6-key, 15-key, and 32-key versions of the Stream Deck so it all boils down to what your needs and use-cases are. They're not cheap, and you can easily substitute one with a standard macro keypad for less, but for its evergrowing software support and visual appeal, there's nothing better than the Stream Deck.

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