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What Tech Should You Have in Your Home Office?

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As a freelancer or newly-minted entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily need an office, as you’re either going to be working from home or at client sites. You might work on the sofa, with your laptop warming your thighs as you get distracted by whatever happens to be on television at the time. Alternatively, you may have commandeered one of the rooms in your house as a workplace and rigged it up to suit your working habits.

If you’re starting a new business, especially if you’ve been saving up and are finally in a position to start writing cheques for kit, it can be tempting to go overboard on various gadgets and bits of equipment. Which of them are actually necessary, however? Some of the things that a developer might class as essential may not necessarily be the same for a financial consultant. There are, however, some things that I’m sure we can all agree on.

If you’re going to be working from home, especially if you’re subject to the whims of Kenyan electricity supply, you need to make sure that you have a spare battery for your laptop, or a Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) for your desktop. KPLC don’t care if you’re working on a crucial project, but you should. Better yet, if you can afford it, get a spare battery and a UPS.

This is an easy one, although you need to make sure you don’t spoil yourself for choice to the extent that you can’t get all your details on a businesscard. The easiest way to contact you is probably your mobile phone, but this can mean being interrupted by business calls when you’re off-duty. It might be an idea to invest in an extra prepaid phone that you use exclusively for business. Not only can you switch it off when you want to be unavailable, but you’ll also be able to claim all costs for that phone against your tax bill. Bonus! Of course, you could also have a landline, or maybe even a Skype phone, but having at least one functional phone line is the most important thing.

Internet connection
Along with a phone line, your internet connection is one of the most important things for any home office. It needs to be quick and reliable, so dial-up is not what you’re looking for. I’m in no position to give a summation of the merits and faults of the various broadband packages available in Kenya, but this is something you need to investigate thoroughly before your sign any contracts. In the absence of industry-wide figures, it’s best to go for recommendations from friends and colleagues. And again, consider a backup option: a mobile USB dongle could be an excellent alternative in case your main broadband ever suffers connection problems.

Printer, Scanner, Copier, Fax?
Regardless of the nature of your business, at some point you will have to print documents. Depending on what sector you work in, you may also need to scan something. And archaic as it may seem, there are still people who communicate by fax. Only you can know what is most suitable for your business, but it might be an idea – especially if space is at a premium – to consider a multifunction printer that can print, scan, copy and fax from one box. Remember though, it’s not the printer itself that will drain your wallet, but the cartridges.

It’s all very well storing all of your data in the cloud, but that means it may not always be accessible. Also, things can go horribly wrong, both online and on your hard drive, and it would be a shame to lose all that lovely work you’ve been doing. Invest in a decent backup drive; it doesn’t take too long to train yourself to backup your data on a regular basis. The cost of external backup drives is coming down constantly, and if you avoid Seagate, you shouldn’t have too many problems.

This is one area where you can afford to indulge yourself. After all, you’re going to be staring at it most of the day, so make sure that the monitor you choose is the best one you can afford. For desktop machines, I prefer to be greedy: anything above 21″ is fair game. For laptops, seriously consider getting a 17″ screen. This is for your work machine, remember; you can always switch to a smaller screen when you’re on the move or just doing casual browsing.

Desktop vs. Laptop
At some point you’re going to have to decide whether to blow your pennies on a desktop or opt for the greater portability of a laptop. Again, making this decision that depends on your specific business needs, but there are a couple of factors to bear in mind. First, for a given amount of money, you will get a higher-spec desktop than laptop, provided you’re not too much of a brand snob. Second, it is much easier to upgrade a desktop computer than a laptop, and the parts are cheaper too. If you’re worried about being able to work on the move, remember this: for the price of a fairly recent laptop, if you shop around carefully you could buy a decent desktop and a netbook, for the times you’re forced to leave your lair.

Finally, there are a few other options that, while not absolutely essential or techy, can also make your life much easier and comfortable when working from home:

  • Wireless keyboard and mouse
  • Wireless LAN
  • Telephone/gamer’s headset
  • Basic digital camera with web capability
  • Comfortable ergonomic chair
  • Sturdy desk
  • Shelving
  • Filing cabinets (multiple)

I’m sure I’ve missed something, but that’s only because the luddite I share a house with refuses to give in to my desire for a techy paradise. If you have any other ideas for what would make for a better home office experience, feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

[Image by TotalAldo]


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