When setting up a home office it is important that you have the correct equipment and conditions to work safely and effectively.
Getting the basics right for your home office
If you intend to work from home it is important that you create a space in which you can work, where the resources you need are readily to hand and where you are not subject to distractions.
This will normally lead to you setting up a room in the house as a home office; perhaps a spare bedroom or an attic conversion. If you do not have the luxury of a spare room, you will need to create space some other way. You will also need to decide whether you are going to:
- Commandeer space – for example, a dining room or a corner of the sitting room; or
- Create a portable office that allows you to take advantage of rooms that are free when you need one.
Make sure you discuss your plans with family, housemates and everyone you live with. Working at home can be disruptive and can make life more difficult for others. In particular, we suggest you discuss your needs for privacy and separation right up front before making any firm decisions.
When you decide where you will work, take into account:
- Your need to ‘shut the door’ when you need to concentrate.
- Your need for privacy when making business calls.
- How you will create a suitable environment. For example, you might find it difficult to work and maintain a professional approach to your work if you are surrounded by chaos. Ambient sound and lighting might also be issues. Even the colour of walls and ceilings can affect your ability to work productively.
- Your need to store documents, manuals, reference books, accounts, equipment so they are available to you when you need them (and we suggest that whatever your initial storage provision, you think about how you might provide extra storage if you need it).
- How you will connect to power outlets. Do you have enough? Are they in the right place?
- How you will connect to telephone lines and the internet.
- What furniture you need. If you are going to spend a lot of time working at home, you will need to be sure you use appropriate furniture. You can find out more about this and other health and safety issues at the Health and Safety Executive website.
Having said all this, part of the fun of working at home is your ability to be flexible. Either when your trapped due to the recent snow or as a boost to morale, work from a garden lounger on a warm summer day!
Take advice, think things through, but make sure that you end up with an arrangement that will fit your personality, your needs and the needs of the people you live with. If in doubt, try things out before spending a lot of money equipping a home office.
Is home working appropriate?
You need to consider a number of factors when deciding if one of your team is suited to home working:
- Are they suitably self-motivated?
- Can they work well without close supervision?
- Do you trust them to do a good job?
- Will they be able to separate work and home life appropriately?
- Do they need close contact with you and colleagues?
- Is the person’s role suitable for home working?
- Does it require frequent client meetings in the office?
- Does it need ready access to resources that would not be available at home?
- Does it require close collaboration with colleagues?
- There are no hard and fast rules about what makes a suitable person or role – if you are uncertain, consider using a trial period.
- Home working does not have to be ‘all or nothing’; even working at home a few hours a week can provide benefits to both you and the home worker.
- If you are starting up your own business, working at home can save you a lot of money compared to setting up an office.
- Home working is becoming very common in both large and small companies; you do not need to hide the fact that people are working at home from clients or customers. In fact most of this IT guide has been written from a home office!
Computer equipment for home workers
For many first time home workers one of the most important purchases can be the PC that you will be using. The basic decision is do you select a laptop or desktop PC?
- Laptops provide portability that allows you to work from other rooms in the house, the garden, your car and other offices.
- If space is limited in your house, laptops take up substantially less room than a desktop PC but you might need to add a mouse, keyboard and possibly a display screen to create a suitable working environment.
- Laptops are relatively difficult to upgrade and they tend to have a shorter life than desktops.
- You will find that laptops are more expensive than equivalent desktops.
- You can still use laptops for a few hours in the event of a power failure.
- Desktops are cheaper than equivalent laptops or multimedia PCs.
- You can easily position desktops to suit the layout of your office. You already get a separate mouse, keyboard and screen.
- Desktops are relatively easy to upgrade. They tend to have a longer life than laptops.
Once selected you will need to make sure the computer is loaded with suitable legitimate copies of your business software and protected from viruses and malware. Contact us to find out more of these.
Other computer equipment for a home office
You’re probably going to need the following in addition to your PC:
- A printer. Think about whether you need to do any printing. If you have constant access to the data on a home PC, you might not need to print much at all. However, if you will be doing a lot of printing, think about the various costs involved before making a purchase. For example, ink-jet printers are cheap to buy but replacement cartridges are expensive.
- A scanner. Scanners allow you to copy photographs and documents onto a computer. For example, you may need to email your driving licence to a car rental business. A scanner would allow you to copy your driving licence onto a computer. Some scanners also come with photocopying features.
- A data backup device. You will need a way to back up your data and to store it away from your home. Many PCs now come with a built in CD/DVD drive that can create backup data sets. You may also want to purchase a USB pen drive which is a very cheap and effective way of transferring data.
Communications equipment you will need for a home office
As well as computers and peripherals you are going to need:
- A telephone. You should consider a separate business line if you need to track the cost of business calls or if you’re likely to compete with others for use of the home phone. Consider using a phone with a built-in answering machine as it will allow you to let clients know how and when to contact you when you are away from home.
- A connection to the Internet. Depending on your local provision this will normally be a Broadband connection via cable or your telephone line.
- A secure WiFi router. If you want to be able to access the internet from anywhere in the house via a laptop or if you do not wish to have network cables in your house but wish to connect several PCs together, you will want to have a secure WiFi router.
- A backup connection to the internet. If you create a Broadband connection, you should also consider making sure you can use a dial up modem connection for the times when your broadband connection goes down. Most laptops have modems built in but you might need to buy one if you use a desktop.
- A fax machine. This is much less important than it used to be because people are now more familiar with Emailing diagrams and most diagrams are produced on computer anyway. However, many business still send and receive faxes for signed documents.
Other ancillary equipment you may need for a home office
In addition to computer and communication equipment you may need:
- A copier – although if your needs are light you might be able to make do with access to one at a local shop or library.
- A shredder – especially if you deal with confidential material.
- Cables – even so-called ‘wireless’ equipment needs cables.
- Lighting – we suggest you invest in task lighting that can be angled precisely to your work area ensuring you do not get glare from your computer screen.
Using IT to keep in touch with home workers
Working at home can be lonely for some people. You might find the following useful ways to keep in touch:
- Email. Particularly useful when you want to stay in touch with someone that is difficult to get hold of. However, Email has some severe limitations. Not least it is a poor way to:
- Conduct discussions.
- Convey sensitive information.
- Address difficult issues.
- Instant messaging. Basic Instant messaging systems allow you to see whether others are available, or not and allow you to exchange messages in real time. Communication is therefore more immediate and less formal. More sophisticated IM tools allow you to:
- Use voice as well as text.
- Use video as well as voice.
- Conduct conferenced discussions.
- Exchange files.