With high speed home internet, cloud based productivity and collaboration tools, flexible employers and growing numbers of self employed people, home working is more popular than ever. But to do it right you need to set up a home office that’s suited to your needs.
Whether you’re working from home every day or only occasionally you need to have a space set aside where you can comfortably work. An appropriate desk and chair is important of course, but you should also think about the technological requirements.
Many of us like to use more than one screen. To do so you will need a computer which is capable of outputting to multiple displays. Often desktop computers will already be able to handle this, if not it will be necessary to purchase a new graphics card. All laptops will be able to use an additional display in addition to the built-in screen, and some models may even support two so you could go for a triple screen setup.
Accessing the internet and your home network is another consideration. Wi-Fi is an easy way to get connected but if the signal is weak it can be very slow and unstable. Wi-Fi boosters can be used to extend the signal, however powerline networking adapters which transfer data over the electricity circuits are an easy way to install a wired connection without trailing wires around your home. Ideally though your computer will be right next to the broadband router so a network cable can be used for the best possible performance.
For safety you should also purchase surge protected adapters for all equipment to prevent electrical damage. These are not expensive and could ultimately save a great deal of money if they protect your computers and other hardware from a harmful surge.
Choosing the right broadband
Home workers should not usually need a broadband service that’s radically different from a regular home connection though there are a few things to keep in mind which may affect your choice of provider and service.
- Upload speed
While download speed is usually the headline figure for broadband, upload rate can be very important if the connection is used for work as you may need to do things like transfer large files to clients or colleagues, upload data to the cloud and use remote desktop access to control a computer over the internet.
Fibre optic broadband provides a significantly quicker upload speed than ADSL so should be your first choice if upload rate is vital.
Look at the support offered by a prospective ISP. Some will provide 24/7 lines, others may be limited to business hours and closed at weekends. Overseas call centres are common as well, so check this if you’d prefer a UK based support team.
- Static IP addresses
A typical home broadband connection uses a dynamic IP address, which means the string of numbers which identifies your connection can change. But a static IP is permanently assigned, and may be desirable for additional security or operating a home server. Some providers may charge a little extra for a static IP or only supply this service on request.
- Data use caps
Use an unlimited broadband service whenever possible. It’s a lot easier to run over a usage cap if the connection is used for work as well, and exceeding the limits can mean extra charges or service restrictions.
One of the great things about home working is the flexibility it gives you, and that includes the option to take your work outside the home when required.
Cloud storage and apps make working at different locations seamless. By storing files on a service like Dropbox you can instantly access the latest versions from any computer. And cloud-based apps like those offered by Google Drive or Microsoft Office 365 allow you to carry on working without having to install the software first.
But what about internet access? Mobile broadband can be really helpful as it’s capable of providing a fast connection wherever you go, so long as there is a signal. 4G mobile connectivity can now be very fast, with download rates quicker than ADSL home broadband and an upload speed that matches many fibre optic services.
If it’s only required occasionally though, and you’d rather not spend any money, you might be able to use public Wi-Fi hotspots. These are free in many cafes, pubs, restaurants, hotels and other businesses, plus there are nationwide networks which many of us can already use for no charge. The O2 Wi-Fi network is free to anyone, Sky offers its Cloud Wi-Fi service free to all Sky broadband subscribers, and BT broadband users get free nationwide BT Wi-Fi access.
If you are going to make use of public Wi-Fi though you should bump up your security as these connections can be monitored. It’s a smart idea to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when accessing any confidential data or services so your communications are encrypted. Many businesses provide these to employees for connecting to work systems, or you can use one of the numerous paid-for VPN services available for just a few pounds a month.