The perfect home office

Written by Susanne Baillie

When you run a growing business, 9-to-5 at the office is never enough. Given all the hours you work from home, your home office should be as safe and efficient as your company digs. Don’t lose time and business by skimping on the basics. Get these six essential technologies for your home office instead.

1   A dedicated computer

Your family’s multimedia mega-PC might have a lot of power, but your own dedicated business computer is a must-have. Once you’ve got one, don’t let your kids use it, warns Garry McNeilly, owner of Kojac Consulting, a Toronto-based business-technology advisor. “They download music and games, which takes up a lot of space, and you don’t want them e-mailing confidential information by mistake.”

2   High-speed Internet access

With so much rich content on the Net and so many fat e-mail attachments to download, a dial-up Internet connection is just too slow. Sign up for a DSL or cable Internet connection. They’re speed and cost comparable at $40 to $50 a month.

3   Router

This small box, which sits on the line between your PC and your Net connection, performs a pair of important functions. First, it acts like a one-way mirror, allowing your computer to “see” out onto the Internet, but preventing outsiders, such as hackers, from seeing back into your computer. The alternative — software firewalls — are available for home use, but “most people don’t have the know-how to administer them,” says Steve Parent, president of Tech Dynamics, an it-consulting firm based in Calgary.

Costing little more than $100, a router is also a hub that allows you to set up a network. Visiting clients or business associates can plug their computers into the router to access the Net without disrupting your connection. If the idea of stringing cable all over your house makes you shudder, spring for a wireless version, available for less than $250. When used with a wireless network card installed on your laptop (an additional $150 or so), you can work while lounging by the fireplace, pool — anywhere else within 300 feet. For security’s sake, activate the encryption setting on a wireless router. Enlist your local techie for help.

4   Multifunction machinery

With space at a premium in many home offices, an all-in-one printer / scanner / fax ($400 to $500) makes a lot of sense. Think you don’t need a scanner? “They’re not just for scanning pictures anymore,” says McNeilly. Scanners can cut paper clutter by allowing you to store documents electronically. You can even turn a page of scanned text into an editable document in your word-processing application.

5   Remote access or VPN

Remote access software such as pcAnywhere ($200) can give you full access to your corporate servers and office PC from home. However, it gets expensive and hard to manage when many employees need an outside line into your computer network. If this is your situation, a virtual private network is a more powerful and cost-effective option. A VPN also encrypts the data transmitted between your home and work. You’ll pay roughly $2,500 for a VPN that can link up to 50 people at a time.

6   Security systems

While a router protects your PC from intruders, off-the-shelf antivirus software (roughly $50 per year) will innoculate your system from harmful computer bugs. You should also back up data in case your system is corrupted or fails outright. A CD-writer will make regular data backups a cinch, and they cost less than $100. Fortier prefers external hard-drives for no-fuss backups. Available for $200 to $300, you can use them to create a copy of your existing hard drive. Happy home computing.

© 2003 Susanne Baillie

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com