The Perfect Home Office: Technology for Productivity

Cristian MiculiBlog, Featured

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Have You Set Up Your Home Office Yet?

In the Next Normal, your home office will look a lot like your old office. The key difference? You are your own IT person.

You need to set up all of your office equipment, hardware and software in a way that optimizes your productivity and minimizes distractions. It might be a tightrope walk between using solutions your IT team allows and just getting the job done using the tools you need. There will be many technological gray areas, and you’re going to need to be comfortable living in them.

Ideally, your company will reimburse you for the majority of your expenses. Or, if you’re an independent contractor, you can take advantage of tax write-offs. 

But remember, your productivity is your differentiator. If upgrading your home office makes you work faster and stay more connected to your workplace, it will be well worth it in the end.

Here is a short list of the hardware and software tools to make the most out of your home office.

Hardware Checklist for Your Home Office

A good laptop for work

The most important part of your home office is the computer you’re going to use for all of your work. You’re going to spend hours per day on it, after all. If you have a recent laptop or desktop, you may be all set. However, if you have an older computer that is reaching the end of its days, it may be time to consider upgrading to a new one.

The best reviewed laptops at present are the MacBook Air or Pro for Mac users, and the Dell XPS 13 for Windows users. They will give you the speed, HD space, battery life and flexibility you need when you’re working remotely.

Pro tip: if there are docking stations available for your laptop, you might consider getting one. That will save you time with connecting and disconnecting the wires as you carry the laptop with your outside of your home office room.

Monitor(s) that give you more screen space

While a monitor is optional, it’s so useful to not have to squint at a smaller screen and be able to pull up windows on separate screens. Monitors have never been more affordable for high-quality displays, so it’s worth shopping around for a good one.

We like the Acer SB220Q Bi, a 22 inch full HD monitor for only $90, but there are lots of other great options, like the Dell UltraSharp UP3218K, Asus Designo Curve MX38VC, BenQ PD3200U and more at higher price points. Or if you like insanely wide monitors, check out the Philips Brilliance 499P9H or Asus Designo Curve MX38VC.

Mouse and keyboard fit for a home office

Chances are, you already have a mouse and keyboard that will work with your new setup. However, if you don’t or if you want to ditch old and grimy ones, take a look at the Logitech MX Master mouse and Logitech K380 keyboard. Or if you’re someone who doesn’t mind sacrificing practicality for ergonomics, the Anker Vertical Ergonomic Mouse and Microsoft Sculpt keyboard may be your jam.

A good webcam and microphone for Zoom and other video calls

When you join a video conference, you want to look as professional as possible. Poor video or audio can quickly give the wrong impression. If you're using a laptop, it's highly probable these are already included. But are they good enough?

You’ll want to have a webcam that features HD video, autofocus, light correction and the ability to frame yourself just right. For your webcam needs, Logitech Streamcam, Microsoft LifeCam or Razar Kiyo are all excellent choices. Then for your audio, you’ll want a USB mic that gives you clear audio and is plug and play so you can use it without a hassle. Mics by Blue Yeti, Rode, Shure or Sennheiser will all do the trick.

Router to have the fastest Wi-Fi

After having a solid computer for work, connectivity is the next most important success factor when it comes to working from home. An old router may not cut it if you need the fastest speeds.

First, make sure your provider offers the speeds you need for remote work and that you’re signed up for the right tier. If you’re paying for enough speed but your router isn’t fast enough, newer ones like the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 or Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 may just be what you need.

Check out our 7 secrets of remote work connectivity article for more tips on getting the most out of your internet connection.

Essential Software for Your Home Office

Connectivity tools to make your internet more reliable

Once you have the right hardware to support the fastest internet speeds, you’re going to want software that can take it to another level.

Speedify is the only connectivity tool and VPN that allows you to use all your internet connections at once. This makes your internet connection faster, more reliable and secure. You can connect your home Wi-Fi or Ethernet, mobile data, public hotspots and more to take advantage of their combined speeds. If one drops out, you stay connected with seamless failover. It also automatically detects video streams, including video conferencing, so your most mission critical traffic continues flowing uninterrupted.

Remote desktop and remote access to get the files you need

Finding a good remote desktop app can be a lifesaver if you still have an office and need to access files from home, or if corporate policies require it. If your company provides access to you, Citrix offers a best-in-class remote access solution that combines remote desktop with cloud services, and other competing solutions also work well, such as LogMeIn, ConnectWise, Zoho and Parallels. Follow your IT team’s guidance and set up your relevant app.

If you need to set up remote desktop for yourself, TeamViewer and SplashTop are apps that are free for personal use and available for all the major operating systems, although the latter charges a nominal fee for iOS users. Microsoft and Apple both also offer remote desktop solutions for their respective operating systems. Microsoft Remote Desktop is free, however Apple Remote Desktop costs $80.

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Real-time communication to stay in touch with your team

Slack is hands down the best solution for real-time team chat. Microsoft Teams is a strong contender as well. If you use either, you can create group chats with your team, chat with individual team members and collaborate from within the app.

Slack has numerous integrations with other collaboration and productivity tools like Google Docs and Dropbox, whereas Teams fits in seamlessly with other Microsoft products such as all of the Office apps.

Project management to stay on track

Basecamp, Asana, Trello and Monday are the four most popular project management tools. You can’t go wrong with any of them, although each has its own advantages.

Basecamp’s strengths are task management, messaging and collaboration, file sharing, scheduling and reporting, with a helpful universal search function to find the information you need. It offers a wider range of features than other platforms, however depending on how you use Slack and other collaboration tools, those extra features may not be necessary. Monday is similar, but has a slicker interface and is geared toward smaller teams, with a clearer view of who is doing what at any given moment.

Asana excels at workflow management and is very flexible for people to customize to their needs, although a steeper learning curve is associated with that flexibility compared to similar solutions. Trello, on the other hand, is very simple to use, yet just as powerful. It’s built around arranging tasks into boards, with lists and cards within each board that tasks are fed into and assigned to team members.

Video conferencing to connect with your team and customers

Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams are all high-quality video conferencing solutions. Zoom’s video quality tends to be the best of the bunch, leading to its recent explosive growth. But if you need a free solution, do know that some users are frustrated by the limitations of its free version. These include calls not lasting longer than 40 minutes and no more than 100 participants.

Google Meet, on the other hand, is completely free with a Google account and has no time limitation. There is however the same upper limit to the number of video conference attendees. Microsoft Teams adds collaboration features on top of video conferencing, so it represents an all-in-one solution that’s especially perfect for Office 365 users. And as mentioned previously, if you want to get the most out of your video conferencing solution and improve video and audio quality even further, Speedify will enhance whichever provider you choose.

While we’re discussing remote workers meeting with others on video, telepresence solutions looked to be a thing a while ago. But let’s be honest - you probably aren’t going to need a robot to wander the halls of an office for you when you can just Slack someone or join a meeting via Zoom.

VoIP for when you just need a phone

While Slack and Zoom work well for their own purposes, they don’t completely negate the need for using your phone for work purposes. Or at least not yet.

You may be comfortable using your home or cell phone when working remotely. If you don’t want to mix business and personal calls, or if you have a work number you need to use, there are several easy VoIP solutions.

If you or your organization uses Microsoft Teams, you can use that for your VoIP, as it’s already included as a feature and easy to use within the app. If not, RingCentral is a major VoIP player that can route calls to any device, plus offers visual voicemail, automatic voicemail transcriptions and all of the other features you’ve come to expect from a phone provider.

Working from home is a challenge, but your tech stack doesn’t need to hold you back. Set up everything right and you will be as productive as working in an office. And everyone else will be a step behind.

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Connectivity is the key to productive remote work

If you want to be more productive, start considering how you will achieve blazing fast internet connections with superb network quality, and find the right devices, equipment and tools that will help you collaborate, video conference and take work anywhere.

Our Next Normal series will help you do that, by providing you with the tips, tricks and technologies that will help you optimize your remote work experience to become a WFH Superstar.

Together, we can make the Next Normal better than the old.

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