The Tech Essentials You Need to Jump-Start a Home Office

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During this hectic and very scary time, many of us have found ourselves suddenly working from home. And many of us are finding that working from home is a lot harder than it sounds. On paper, you might think all you need is a good computer, a reliable printer, and Internet service. Those of us already in the home-office trenches know that—although these are good places to start—there are literally hundreds of things with which you need to keep up in a demanding at-home career. More importantly, the home office that works for the freelance writer is woefully inadequate for the at-home graphic designer or aspiring rap star with a home studio.

What do you need to get started? What would you consider essential? Here are a few tips on basics to help you get set up at home.

A Solid Workstation or High-End Laptop

The workstation or laptop (or workstation/laptop combo) will be the center of your universe. But which one do you need? It depends. A solid workstation can be crucial for any high-end work, especially with creative professionals and, in most cases, you can upgrade your workstation with a powerful graphics card, and add your own monitors to customize your rig. If you’re looking for something more aesthetically pleasing that you can move from room to room, you can always look to a mobile workstation from well-known manufacturers like Dell and Lenovo. Are you partial to Macs? You can opt for a MacBook Pro for a lightweight mobile option or you can go all in on the powerhouse Mac Pro.

Lenovo ThinkStation P330 Series Tiny Workstation

Good Monitors

You can buy any monitor you want. High resolution, curved screen, huge refresh rate, but be careful—some monitors are made specifically to handle the performance standards of high-end graphic work, while others can play games nicely. Video editors may have additionally concerns. Luckily, B&H has put together a guide specifically to help editors find the right monitor. If you have a graphics card (and expendable cash) to purchase more than one, a multi-monitor setup will ensure that your work will get done in the most productive way possible. Or that you’ll waste copious amounts of time playing games.

BenQ PD3220U DesignVue Designer 31.5"16:9 HDR 4K IPS Monitor

Reliable Storage

You can go cheap (portable external hard drives like these) or you can go large (NAS servers with RAID options), but you have to go with one or the other, because reliable storage is a bedrock for a home office. You also want security to be high. If you are going to be serious about working from home, you don’t need someone getting into your business (literally and figuratively). Which one for you? If you’re saving large graphics files (including RAW photography and video files), you want something on the upper end, something with RAID capabilities and Thunderbolt™ 3 connectivity. If all you’re doing is storing Word files, you can go portable. For something in between, check out the WD line of MyBook drives—you get a large-capacity storage option, amenities like the ability to access your files from anywhere, and set up email servers. If you would like to use your hard drives with Mac computers right out of the box without reformatting, you may consider the G-Tech series.

Printer & Scanner

Computer: check. Storage: check. Now how are you going to see your work or make a physical copy for editing, group sharing, and reviewing? That’s where your trusty printer comes in. But buying a printer can be as confusing as buying a laptop, though, and again, it will greatly depend on what you’re using it for. Business documents, presentations, and spreadsheets? Consider a laser printer, which will offer clearer type and sharper images, but are more expensive and require specific types of paper and toner instead of ink (you have to consider the cost of maintaining a steady supply of ink or toner). Although you can get a color laser printer, you once again should factor-in the cost of toner cartridges, which are pricier than ink cartridges and can be expensive in the long run, especially if you’re printing a lot of color images. A less expensive inkjet printer may seem the route to go, but for a high-quality inkjet to print at super-serious resolutions, you are going to pay slightly more, and your ink consumption will cost more than the printer. For those starting a home office with a budget in mind, the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4730 and the Epson WorkForce ET-4760 InkJet printers might be a good place to start. A scanner complements a printer quite well, allowing you to digitize your documents and make more copies, if necessary. You can opt for a traditional scanner, like the Epson DS-530, or go portable with the Epson WorkForce ES-50, ES-60W, or ES-200.

Epson WF-4760 All-in-One Inkjet Printer

Router

Tying this all together should be a strong router. Why should you worry about a router for a home office? Why not just buy the first router that goes on sale? The answer is simple: when your router goes down, everything in your home office ecosystem will also fail. Not a scenario you want to face when you’re trying to impress a client. If you’re starting small, with a small space that is easily serviced by one central router, go with the tried and true—the ASUS RT-AC68U is still a great router, even though better ones hit the market every day. But for the price and value received, it’s still our choice. If you’re transferring large files, or are dependent on a strong, steady, reliable signal, you want to step it up a bit with something like the Netgear Nighthawk X10, which offers tri-band connectivity, and a combined 7200 Mbps throughput. If you are looking for a mesh network setup, you can opt for Google Wi-Fi (3-Pack).

Netgear Nighthawk X10 Wireless-AD7200 Tri-Band Gigabit Router

Also needed but not as essential are the following items.

UPS

No, not the carrier; the Uninterruptible Power Supply. Much like your storage options, a UPS will help safeguard your work against untimely power fluctuations in your home. Although you’ll see a wide variety of options and prices, stick with well-known manufacturers like APC and CyberPower. There are many different units, and a lot of price variation, from surge protectors to server backups, but for a small home office, you want to consider what you’re running and how long you need battery backup to shut down your computer safely in case of power loss (ten minutes is usually the norm). The APC Back-UPS Pro BX1500M or similar will provide the back-up power you need to keep a mini-tower Intel® Core™ i7 desktop with a 26" monitor, with two internal and two external hard drives running during a power loss. Both APC and CyberPower have excellent online calculators, which can help you determine the right power supply for your rig.

CyberPower CP1000PFCLCD PFC Sinewave UPS System

Amazon Echo and Smart Accessories

Does your small home office need an Amazon Echo and smart plugs? I find it hard to function without mine while working. Besides the ability to play music, look up Internet queries for you, help you gauge the weather, traffic, and news from your locale, you can also turn on lights, appliances, and throughout the day, the Amazon Echo is a digital assistant that makes work seem more like a perk.

Amazon Echo Dot

Smartphone

You can’t function without a smartphone today—but you want to make sure your business lines are separate from your home lines (for professional and tax purposes, as well). A good business smartphone can be a great tool. Make sure you pick yours based on speaker quality, processing power, and usability. A cheap smartphone will leave you in the lurch—a good smartphone will save a sale.

Google Pixel 3a Smartphone

The decision to stock a home office fully requires a lot of planning (where are you going to get your paper supplies? Do you have a pencil sharpener? Should you go with paper clips shaped like tiny hearts?), but the basic tech needed as described above should give you a good start. Scale up or scale down, but make sure you start with these basics and stay safe out there.

Did we miss any tech essentials for starting a home office? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

2 Comments

You did forget a few somethings--a paper recycling bin, a sturdy shredder, and (if your business involves shipping anything at all) a package scale!

We had a wireless router hooked to the cable modem and our computers were hooked up to the switch portion of the router. Lightning came in through our cable TV line and destroyed the cable modem and the wireless router. The surge went through a six foot CAT-5 cable and destroyed the wired ethernet adapter as well as motherboard. Fortunately, the computer was under warranty and parts were replaced; although we didn't get a 3Com ethernet card replacement. I was on the computer when it happened and instead of getting a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death), I got a PSOD (Pink Screen of Death). It also blew out a CRT TV (It was that long ago).

Now, the cable modem connects to our wireless router. That router feeds an ethernet switch for our wired connections. But I don't know if that extra switch provides additional protection or not since we haven't had any more lightning surges.

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