The most vital item in your home office is you. But savvy home-based business owners recognize that running a successful home enterprise takes more than a phone and a pencil. Here are 12 pieces of gear to help your home office run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.
1. A Reliable Computer
A good computer is still the centerpiece of home office technology. When choosing between a laptop and desktop, consider the laptop’s portability for meetings and remote working. Whether Apple, Windows or Chrome, look for a fast multi-core processor, at least 8 GB of RAM and high-resolution screen. If you work as a team, purchase matching platforms and consider cloud based shared applications to safe cost and insure availability of files and software that is totally compatible and up-to-date.
2. A Larger Monitor
A larger monitor can be invaluable for working with big spreadsheets, designing publications and editing photos. For home offices, a 27-inch monitor with 2560 by 1440 resolution should be adequate and not consume too much desk space. Other desirables include a highly adjustable stand and good selection of display connections, including HDMI, DisplayPort and USB 3.0. Depending on your occupation, dual-monitors can be valuable to individuals in the creative, video, web design – any job that requires that many application, windows and files be opened simultaneously.
3. A Multifunction Printer
The paperless office is fine in theory, but sometimes you’ll need hard copy. If you already have a functional printer and or printer/scanner, keep it. It’s also worthwhile to check if your printer has a USB or network plug, which will allow you to connect your printer to a wireless router for wireless printing relatively painlessly. If you’re on the market for a new printer, consider purchasing a printer with networking capabilities so you can print directly from your computer, connected to the printer.
4. A Quality Keyboard
Laptop keyboards are compact, light and rugged, but not ideal for heavy typing. If your work involves lots of data entry or word processing, a Bluetooth keyboard can ease those chores considerably. You will want backlit keys and a keyboard layout compatible with your laptop operating system.
5. A Mouse
The limitations of laptop trackpads can become painfully apparent — literally — after a long day of clicking and dragging. A Bluetooth-connected mouse is an inexpensive fix. Look for comfort, customizable buttons and robust construction.
6. Evaluate Your Router
If you find that your Internet connection is lagging when you’re at peak productivity, there are a few questions to ask. First, are you using a dual band router? If yes, try switching the frequency from the standard 2.4GHz band to a channel on the 5GHz band. Most Bluetooth signals, wireless networks and even microwaves compete for bandwidth on the 2.4GHz frequency, so sometimes switching to 5GHz can make all the difference. Consider keeping your phone connected to 2.4GHz and using the 5GHz channel for computer-based tasks like streaming or video conference that require more bandwidth. If you’re still finding your connection slow, it may be time to upgrade your router all together. To make sure you’re getting the best router for your buck, look for the most recent 802.11ac, 802.11g or 802.11n, make sure your router can handle both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, and check for USB 3.0 ports so you can connect all of your devices. A built-in VPN server is also important, so you can securely connect to the network when out of the office.
7. Get a Backup Drive
Internal hard drives are not reliable enough to serve as the only place you store essential home office data. Fast, self-contained backup drives with multi-terabyte capacity are inexpensive and easy to use. Before you buy, make sure the external drive is compatible with your devices, whether that’s PC or MAC. If the bulk of your data is comprised of documents and spreadsheets, a 250GB-320GB external drive should be sufficient, at least for the short term. If you’re storing videos and high-resolution photos, consider something bigger. You can find 1and 2 Terabyte external drives for under $100, so it’s probably worth investing in something bigger as it will last you much longer and store more. If your business needs something beyond a handheld external drive, consider a cloud-based option. Things to look out for: storage size capability, file encryption, restore and recovery assurance. The other beauty of cloud-based storage is the added benefit of being able to access your data securely, anywhere, which is increasingly important as mobility and the use of personal devices in work settings (BYOD) becomes increasingly commonplace.
8. Try VoIP
A cell phone can serve for both work and personal use, but adding a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) desktop phone for your home office helps you separate business and home life and provides an added layer of reliability since VoIP phones aren’t reliant on cell phone service coverage. VoIP phones route calls through the Internet and offer economy and sophisticated features that far outstrip old-fashioned telephones. You can find models with video capability, expansive full-color touch-sensitive screens, multiple cordless stations and more, in addition to familiar standbys such as conference calling, voice mail and forwarding to your cell phone.
9. Headphones and Headsets Always Help
Whether you’re in an open office setting, working remotely, or traveling, a good headset and pair of headphones is arguably key to productivity. Invest in a pair of high-fidelity noise-canceling headphones so can maximize your focus and creativity while blocking out distracting sounds. Desirable features include sturdy cords, replaceable earcups and lengthy warranty. A sturdy headset for calls is also important, especially when the person taking the call is either remote or in a less-than-desirable, noisy location. Voice clarity tends to be better with a headset, as you’re not trying to juggle holding your phone, typing and generally multitasking.
10. A Webcam
If you need higher quality video for recordings or videoconferences than your laptop’s built-in camera can provide, or if you employ a separate TV monitor for presentations, a separate webcam can fill the bill. But not all stand-alone webcams are worth the upgrade. Key differentiators include image quality and software user-friendliness.
11. Get a Shredder
A home office has the same information security needs as one located in a downtown high-rise. To secure hard copies of sensitive information, your best bet is a cross-cut or micro-cut shredder, both of which cut discards into unrecoverable bits. Estimate your expected shredding needs and compare to model specs for how many sheets can be fed at once, size of the collection basket for shredded output and how long the unit can run before it needs to cool down. In an interview with the New York Times, Linda Foley, the founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center, outlined the capabilities of light-duty to heavy-duty shredders. Foley explained that a light-duty shredder ($10-$60) only shreds about six to eight sheets of paper and run for a total of two minutes. A medium-range shredder ($50-$130), which will shred mail and between 9 to 14 sheets of paper and run for four to five minutes. A heavy-duty shredder ($130 to $300) will shred about 12 to 20 sheets of paper and mail and run for four to five minutes. For the business owner, a medium or heavy-duty shredder is probably the best choice, as the price points are relatively low and both types of shredders can shred a diverse array of items – from papers to mail and even old CDs or credit cards. When you go to buy, look for models that can shred between 9-20 sheets of paper within your price point.
12. Surge Protectors
Electrical surges and spikes can damage the electronics that make your home office productive. The solution is a surge protector that muffles these potentially harmful electrical bumps. Choose one with a joule rating of 3,000 or more, plenty of widely spaced plugs and a generous cord length. Some models have warranties covering any damage to your gear. For maximum protection, consider having an electrician wire a whole house surge protector into your home’s circuit breaker panel.
These dozen pieces of office gear is only a starting point for your individual office. The topic of digital tools alone could fill another dozen or two lists. Some home office workers would sooner go without a stapler than a subscription to a file transfer service. But if you use this as a starting point, you’ll be well on your way to outfitting a home office that will make you as productive as possible.