Flexible working boom highlights home tech limitations

The 9 to 5 working life is fast becoming a thing of the past. 1.6 million UK employees now regularly work from home. And 4.8 million of us are self-employed – that’s 15% of the working population. 7 in 10 employers encourage employees to work from home. Which isn’t surprising because some estimates show home workers can be 35-40% more productive. There’s also big benefits in terms of employee satisfaction and retention. In spite of this, a recent BT study showed 20% of workers feel they are prevented from setting up at home by poor WiFi. So in terms of connectivity and tech, what are the secrets to a successful home office setup?

The benefits of getting your home office tech setup right

It can be daunting taking the plunge. Whether you’re an employee embarking on a flexible home working arrangement or an entrepreneur setting up a new home-based business.

And let’s face it, most people aren’t tech gurus. There’s probably enough to worry about without having to be your own IT department too.

To maximise the benefits of working from home – productivity, convenience, work/life balance – you need to get your home office setup right. And it’s much easier if it’s right (or as close as possible) from day 1.

With this in mind, here’s a checklist of our top home working tech essentials you’ll need to consider when you’re setting up.

Home office tech essentials checklist

1. Think about your priorities and plan accordingly

As with most new projects, it pays to take some time to plan. Proper planning is key to avoid wasting time, money and potentially a lot of hassle later on.

When you’re planning your home office setup, think about your most important home working priorities and objectives. Why did you decide this route? What difference do you want it to make in your day-to-day life? What do you (and your employer) want to achieve? As a result, when you’re thinking about the tech you’ll need you can make sure whatever you choose helps you achieve these objectives.

For example, if one of your priorities is a better work-life balance, you may want to have a dedicated room/office in your house with a network connected desktop computer for working. That way you can you can easily separate home and work. Shut the office door and you’re done for the day.

If you need the flexibility of being more mobile sometimes, you can have a similar setup, but with a laptop plus docking station, monitor, keyboard and mouse, instead of a desktop computer.

On the other hand if you prefer not to be stuck in one room and/or you’re out and about a lot of the time, a laptop without the peripherals may suffice.

A home office is sometimes the sofa
A home office doesn’t necessarily have to mean a desk and swivel chair

2. Make sure your broadband is up to the job

To make sure you get the right connectivity, you’ll need to think about what you’ll be doing day-to-day. What tasks will you be using connected technology for? And how demanding are those tasks?

Don’t forget you’ll need to factor in your home devices too. You need to make sure you have adequate bandwidth for both home and work, otherwise the performance of your tech could be seriously impeded.

Does your broadband have enough bandwidth to cope, or do you need to look at a faster connection?

And it’s not just the broadband you need to consider. There’s your home WiFi too. What you have now may be enough for the kids’ iPads and the Sonos, but what about when you add work demands into the mix?

3. Work out where you’ll need to be connected

Your home office may be your kitchen table
You’ll need decent WiFi to stay connected at your kitchen table

In order to plan what equipment and network infrastructure you need, think about where you need an internet connection. If you’ve already done the thinking for 1 and 2 above, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea.

Wherever you’re planning to be when you’re working, you need to make sure you can get good connectivity there. This could be wired or wireless, depending on your preferred working methods. As a general rule it’s best practice to hard-wire static devices (e.g. desktop PC or printer) to your network. This frees up WiFi bandwidth for wireless devices like laptops and tablets.

Most home-based workers are better off having a cabled internet connection in their main office/working area. The last thing you want is to be reliant on a flaky WiFi signal from a router positioned some distance from your office.

Your office may be in a separate building. Garden rooms are becoming increasingly popular with home workers. Or it could be in a converted outbuilding or garage. In this case you have a couple of choices. Ideally you’d run a cable from your main premises. You’d need to use specialist cable and it may involve digging a fairly deep trench to install. Point-to-point is a good alternative to share your internet connection with outbuildings wirelessly.

And don’t forget, you may not always want to be confined to a single area. For example, if you’re planning to save on phone bills by using VoiP internet calling, you’ll need seamless WiFi everywhere you’re likely to be wandering with your phone. Otherwise you’ll likely suffer from signal dropouts. Not just annoying for you, but potentially for that important customer you only just managed to get hold of. Or the numerous other people on the conference call who now all have to wait for you dial back in.

4. Put together a list of essential IT equipment

You’ve decided what you’ll be doing and where you’re likely to be doing it. Next, it’s a good idea to put together a list of the equipment you’ll need for your home office setup.

You may have some of it already, but think hard about whether your home equipment will do the job you want it to do for your business. For example, if you’re relying on the WiFi from your router, will this give you the right coverage for your business needs? Or do you need to find a more robust solution for your WiFi?

Your router may also be a limiting factor when it comes to hard-wiring devices. If you don’t have enough free ports, you may need to add a network switch. (Rather like using a multi-way extension lead to power multiple appliances from a single electrical socket.)

It’s also worth thinking about future proofing – as far as is possible without a crystal ball. For example, a cheap printer might have an attractive headline price, but how much are the consumables? Budget machines are notorious for having over-priced ink cartridges that cost a fortune to replace.

Then there’s security to consider. There have been numerous stories in the press about smart home ‘Internet of Things’ devices using cheap and/or outdated technology which leaves them vulnerable to hacking. You may therefore want to set up separate WiFi logins to keep your home and business networks separate. Or at the very least, check the security settings on the connected devices in your home.

5. Stay connected and stay healthy

With mental health issues at the forefront of a lot of current discussion, it is well worth considering when planning your home office setup.

Ironically, the connected tech that increasingly enables us the freedom of flexible working and home-based business models, can also put us at risk of feeling isolated, lonely and sometimes even guilty.

Many homeworkers have non-traditional home office setups
Avoiding loneliness and isolation is important for home workers’ mental health

This article from The Guardian about how to work from home and stay healthy contains some good insight from home workers who have made the model work for them. And this one – “How to work at home without going crazy” – is also worth a look. It includes some helpful suggestions on apps and tech that can actually help with mental and physical well being whilst working from home.

Research the devices, tools and apps you can employ to make sure you stay truly connected. Not just in the technological sense, but more importantly, in terms of human interactions.

After all, there’s no point leaving behind the stresses of the daily commute and 9 to 5 rat race, only to swap them for other pressures that may be equally detrimental.

Need help with your home office WiFi & network setup?

If you’re in the Bristol and Bath area contact us for help and advice. We are specialists in wired and wireless networking. We offer a free WiFi survey and quote for your ideal home and home office network setup.