15 Home Office Must Haves
From all in one printers to call handling services, here are 15 essentials for people working from home
In 2014 the TUC released figures that showed that there are now more than 4 million Brits who regularly work from home, and with the rise of internet start-ups and flexible working opportunities, it’s a trend that is likely to continue.
As the number of people working from home is set to increase we thought it was time to put together our list of essential items that should be in every home office.
Rather than stating the obvious and writing about the importance of having a computer and a phone, this is a list of things you might not have considered that can prove to be life savers when it comes to running your business from home.
1. Hands-free Headset
If you’ve ever tried to take a call on a landline or a mobile while using your computer you will understand why this has made it onto our list. Holding a phone in one hand and typing with the other doesn’t just result in slow and clumsy typing, it can make your business look bad.
Long painful pauses while you type and the ‘erm’ and ‘ahh’ noises you make while your brain struggles with three tasks at once will make your company look small and unprofessional.
Investment in a hands-free headset will let you answer calls quickly, and efficiently deal with your customer’s queries in the professional manner they are used to from big outsourced call centres. At starting prices of around £20, a hands-free headset is an affordable way to improve the professionalism of your business.
2. High Quality Microphone and Webcam
When you’re working from home full time you’d be a fool not to make the most of online video conference call software like Skype. Skype is an affordable way to take meetings with other businesses anywhere in the world and could see you brokering the deals that make or break your business.
But when you’re taking some of the most important calls of your career online, why would you rely on the poor quality built in microphones and cameras that come with most computers?
Even the most affordable external microphones and webcams can offer much better quality than comes as standard with your computer, and can help to provide a professional experience when web chatting with stakeholders and customers alike. Just like a hands-free headset, this is a small expense that can greatly improve the appearance of your business.
3. Call Handling Services
Many home offices will be set up as the headquarters for a new online start up firm. And, while your start up may have the ideas and the products to compete with the big boys, having the infrastructure to compete is another matter.
Customers expect their calls to be answered at their convenience, which means late into the evening and in some instances even 24 hours a day. Call handling services are a great way to provide this to your customers even if you are operating your business from home.
Outsourcing to a call centre means you can provide 24 hour customer service to your customers without being tied to your phone day and night. And, it allows you to compete with the big players in a competitive market.
4. Office Software
While many people may have set up their home office as part of an attempt to be the glamourous CEO of their very own company, the boring day to day administrative tasks of running a business will rear their ugly head sooner or later. And more often than not this means spreadsheets – lots of spreadsheets.
In order to make these administrative tasks as painless as possible, it’s a good idea to invest in some proper office software. While there are plenty of good free options these days, the industry standard for most documentation is Microsoft Office.
Rather than writing a lengthy text document to a stakeholder only for them to be unable to open it, spend the extra money for industry standard software so your documents can be shared with everyone.
5. Fibre Optic Broadband
To put it simply fibre optic broadband is fast. It’s really fast. Some fibre optic providers can offer speeds up to 200Mb per second which makes cable broadband speeds of 76Mb look sluggish in comparison.
When you’re working from a home office your internet connection is your lifeline to the rest of the world and your customers. Having the best possible internet connection means you can run your business to its optimum efficiency, and is particularly important for eCommerce companies when it comes to synchronising your order management software with sites like eBay and Amazon.
6. Wireless Internet Dongle
A business that is run from a home office is more than likely generating a large part of its leads and sales online. Imagine then how fatal it would be if your internet provider were to fail. Although this is an extremely rare occurrence, it can happen, as we saw earlier this year when BT’s broadband went down.
You can protect yourself from these unforeseen internet outages by preparing in advance and buying a wireless dongle from another provider.
Although wireless dongles can’t provide the same high speeds as fibre optic broadband, they can prove to be invaluable when they are the only way to stay online and keep in contact with your customers and stakeholders.
7. All in One Printer
While we all aspire to work in a very modern 21st century paperless office, the reality is there are some situations that still require hard copies of documents. It could be manifests for a courier to sign, or it could be an awkward customer requiring a VAT receipt. Either way, sooner or later you’re going to get in a situation that requires you to print, scan, or – horror of horrors – fax documentation.
The easiest way to go about fulfilling all these needs is to buy an all in one printer, scanner, and fax machine. Most of these will connect wirelessly to your network so you can print from your laptop or device, and the best ones can even scan to an email address to send documents straight across to customers.
A pro tip when it comes to buying a printer is to check the cost of the printer cartridges prior to making your decision. The printer of your dreams can quickly become the printer of your nightmares when you see ink cartridge costs spiralling out of control.
As we’ve already covered with all in one printers, even in this day and age there are going to be times when you’ve got hard copies of documents to deal with. Just as important as printing these documents is disposing of them correctly.
It only takes one incidence of data theft to completely discredit a business, so make sure your data handling is up to par and destroy all documentation properly with a shredder.
Although there are many cheap shredders on the market, it is worth investing in a good one as they provide cross cut shredding which is much safer, and can also handle thicker items like credit cards.
9. Surge Protection
We are just over half way through this list and we have already covered many electrical items that will benefit your home office. Having the most up to date tech is vital to having an effective home office, and chances are you’d be lost without it. Not only that, but the gizmos and gadgets required in today’s offices don’t come cheap. As such it only makes sense to have proper surge protection to look after your home office equipment.
The easiest way to get surge protection in your home office is to invest in extension strips with built in surge protection. These range from the cheap and cheerful to highly stylised expensive affairs, but as long as it can protect your gear from voltage spikes, a surge protector could be one of the best money saving investments you ever make.
10. Remote Power Source
Now that we’ve covered surge protection, it’s time to look at the opposite problem – how to deal with power outages. A power cut in your area, even if it’s just for a few hours, could cause considerable damage to your business, especially if your clients expect round the clock customer service.
You can protect against this by preparing in advance with a remote power bank. A remote power bank is a battery that will hold enough power to recharge your laptop. While it’s not a permanent fix to the problem of a power outage, hopefully it will give you enough juice to see you through any power outages you experience and keep your business online for those vital few hours.
11. Cloud Storage
Cloud Storage is great for people who work from home as it lets you take your home office with you everywhere you go. Providing you’ve got your laptop you can access your files anywhere in the world, allowing you to work on the go.
There are loads of cloud services to choose from. There are free options like Google Drive and Apple iCloud (although these can offer limited storage space) right up to giant paid options like Dropbox for Business.
If you think cloud storage is for you it’s best to evaluate how much storage you will need before choosing a plan. That way you can get the best price and you won’t run out of space after just a few months.
12. External Hard Drive
As anyone who has ever lost of all of their data can tell you, regularly backing up your work is vital in every industry. While cloud storage is a great tool for accessing your data on the move, it is always wise to keep another copy of your data on your own remote hard drive. Cloud storage relies on an internet connection and a service provider for you to be able to access your files, so it is best to have your own copy to fall back on.
Many people wince at the thought of spending their hard earned cash on something as dull as an external hard drive, especially when you need enough space to back up records for a whole business. These days though, data storage is incredibly cheap and you can grab a 4TB hard drive for little more than £100, which should be more than enough to back up the data for most small businesses.
13. The Right Monitor
When it comes to computer monitors a lot of media coverage is aimed at gamers in pursuit of the highest possible frame rate per second. Because of this, it is easy to think that when it comes to business all monitors are created equal. This however is not true. Depending on the type of work you will be doing in your home office, the style and number of monitors you have can make a huge difference.
First things first, if you are currently working solely from a laptop the addition of any monitor will be a great improvement. Not only are stand-alone monitors bigger and better performing, your ability to position them higher off the desk away from the keyboard allows you to have a much better posture for longer and more comfortable hours of work.
Beyond this, even if you are already working from a desktop it is still worth considering which type of monitor is best for you. If you’re a real number cruncher and use Excel on a regular basis a wide screen monitor is a must, as it allows you to see many more columns at once and removes hours of frustration trying to find the column you need.
Another area where choosing the right monitor is important is in the world of design and graphics. Colour performance can vary from monitor to monitor, and when you’re working with colours and pantones on a daily basis you need to know that the colour you’re seeing in front of you is as close to real life as possible.
And this doesn’t even touch on the subject of dual and triple monitors which can have a massive range of applications from coding to research and from customer service to reporting.
14. Ergonomic Mouse and Keyboard
With more and more people working in offices, cases of repetitive strain injury are on the rise. This HSE report from 2015 shows 9,466,000 working days were lost to work related musculoskeletal disorders (another name for RSIs). As anyone who runs their own business knows, taking days off isn’t really an option, so taking all measures possible to avoid falling victim to the problem of RSI makes good sense.
One of the best things you can do to help with this issue is to splash out on an ergonomically designed keyboard and mouse. The ergonomic design of these units helps to reduce the strain on your joints that can come from long and regular hours using the computer. When your income relies on your ability to get into your home office and work, an ergonomic keyboard and mouse makes good sense.
15. A Standing Desk
Last year a report from the British Journal of Sports Medicine made headline news when it said that sitting down all day could actually be a health risk to office workers. The report said that workers should aim to be stood for up to 4 hours a day and take regular walks around the office.
While space and budget constraints might prevent most offices from offering standing desks to their staff, the benefit of a home office means you’re in complete control of your workspace and there is nothing to stop you installing a standing desk to work from.
Even though the idea of standing to work is only just gathering weight, there are already a number of standing desks on the market, with many of these designed to be easily adjustable to switch between standing and sitting.
With some people now saying sitting may be as dangerous as smoking, a standing desk could be the best investment in your long term health you will ever make.
Ken’s 40 years of experience in finance has seen him steer businesses through every surprise the British economy could throw at him.