More and more workers are staying home. In fact, the percentage of all workers who worked at least 1 day at home increased from 7 percent in 1997 to 9.5 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with two-thirds of those working exclusively from their homes. But to get the job done, remote workers need the right equipment.
There's more to telecommuting and freelancing than working in your PJs and raiding the pantry on an hourly basis. Of course, you'll need a smartphone and a laptop, giving you the ability to be flexible and mobile. But if you're truly planning to turn your spare bedroom, or any other residential square footage, into a workplace that rivals a professional office environment, you'll need a lot more than that. (And good news, most of it may be tax deductible!)
Here are 10 essentials for living the sweet, telecommute life.
—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Data storage backup—in the cloud and local—is essential for any home worker. It pays to double up, too.
A local unit offers immediate peace of mind—and the ioSafe Solo G3 ($350) offers the most. It not only protects 2 terabytes (TB) of your Mac or PC data against system crashes; it can withstand temperatures of more than 1,500 degrees Farenheit for 30 minutes and you can leave it underwater—up to 10 feet—for 3 days and still recover your data. If there's a problem, ioSafe will pay up to $2,500 to recover the documents, photos and other backed-up material.
Cloud storage (such as Google's free Google Drive or Microsoft's OneDrive) offers more convenience, but much smaller storage capacity. Alternatively, you could use a site like Box or Dropbox and pay for upgraded storage amounts—though they still will offer less space than a local backup drive unless you're willing to spend roughly $35-$75 per month. Still, it's worth having for critical files.
One of the joys of telecommuting is you don't have to sit behind a desk all day. Nice out? Work on your deck and enjoy the fresh air. But to do that, you'll need a rock solid residential Internet connection—throughout your home, and out into the backyard.
The Netgear R6300 Smart WiFi Router ($170) offers exceptionally high Wi-Fi speeds. They still pale compared to a wired connection, but the 802.11ac protocol—remember that term—makes it considerably faster than what you're used to from other routers. And set-up is a blissfully pain-free process.
It's especially important to shred sensitive materials when you work from home, and the Fellowes 73Ci ($200) is one of the best. It's jam proof, cuts a single piece of paper into nearly 400 pieces (so it's nearly impossible to piece back together) and is tough enough to destroy CDs and credit cards. The system also has a safety feature that shuts it down when hands get near the paper opening, which is especially handy when kids wander into your office.
Your chair is one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment in your home office. And it's an area where a lot of people skimp. Like a mattress, though, you're going to spend a big chunk of your day in the chair, so it's worth spending the extra money for an ergonomic design. Preferences vary, but it's hard to go wrong with a Herman Miller Aeron office chair ($689—though many retailers offer it for less). Above all, look for good back and arm support, good ergonomic features and something that's comfortable for long periods.
Whether you use a laptop or a desktop, you're going to want to export the display to a good sized, high quality monitor (or two) to help improve productivity. HP's Z Display Z24i ($339) is a good place to start. With a bright IPS screen, it offers a large 24-inch workspace, letting you view several windows simultaneously. It also adjusts to your required height levels and draws less energy than some of its competitors. It's fine for spreadsheets, documents and Web-based operations, but it really shines for anyone who has to do design or graphics-related work.
The days of having to buy a separate printer, scanner, copier and fax machine are long gone (thankfully). All-in-one printers can handle all of the tasks handily. Epson's WorkForce WF-3540 Printer ($140) has two large paper trays (meaning you won't have to worry about filling it up very often), prints pages incredibly fast and works wirelessly. Print quality is great and, on the whole, fairly quiet (though not as whisper-quiet as the company promises).
The all-in-one printer is arguably one of the three most important things in a home office (along with an ergonomic chair and a backup drive), so it's important to have a good one.
You'll be on the phone a lot when you work from home, and holding it in the crook of your neck gets uncomfortable fast. A good headset can save the day. It's a matter of preference—some people prefer an over-the-ear model, but Plantronics' Voyager Edge ($130) is a smart Bluetooth choice. It's compact, comfortable and comes with a caller ID feature. It also features noise canceling tech that filters out any background noise around you.
When the power goes out and you have to reset your alarm clock, it's annoying. When it goes out and destroys the project you've been working on for the past two hours, it can be catastrophic. A universal power source is a must.
The APC BG500 universal power source can keep your desktop PC running for a while when a brown-out hits. Beyond that, it acts as a watchdog for your network—rebooting things (such as a router) if connectivity is lost, and serves as a surge protector. The battery in your device when the power fails won't run forever, and you may need to shut your system(s) down, but at least you'll have sufficient time to save your work and turn off your PC safely.
A good coffee machine is just as important to the home-based worker as the office dweller, perhaps more so, since home workers tend to put in more hours. If you don't already have a top quality machine, here's your excuse to get one. Whether it's a grind and brew, a French Press or a Keurig, find one that will make the perfect cup for your morning (and midday). If you've got money to spare—a lot of money to spare—some home workers swear by Jura's Impressa line ($2,500 and up), which makes a variety of specialty coffees (including macchiato and cappuccino) with the touch of a button.
Yes, it's low tech, and there's really very little difference in quality among the countless brands available, but don't discount the value of the dry erase board. Fairly cheap (typically ranging from $20-$30), it's the piece of home office equipment you'll use the most, or at least second, perhaps, behind a door.
Dry erase boards offer a visible way to keep up with the work you have due and are a good place to brainstorm ideas. While Evernote and other companies might argue the benefits of their high-tech device organizational apps—which let you take notes and doodle and store those in the cloud—it's hard to compete with the creativity a dry erase board somehow inspires.