So you finally decided to create a home office? A home office is not the same as occasionally working from home after work hours or during holidays. You can get by without much ado for the latter; the former requires more planning, technology and facilities. Whether it’s high-speed Internet or admin support on-call, there are many things that we take for granted in an office—a home office will require you to organize all these for yourself. Yes, you do not have your boss watching over your shoulder but neither will you get endless coffee on demand. If you want to be really productive, you need to get your set-up right. Over time, most enterprises will create plug and play “home office” packages to instantly enable their remote workers. Till then, you may need to invest some time and money to create an environment that makes you feel at office in the home.
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You obviously already have a mobile phone; you should probably get a landline. Mobile phones are not always reliable or convenient when you have to get on to a 2-hour conference call. A landline will also be useful for Internet connectivity (see below). Don’t forget to activate international subscriber dialling (ISD) on your phone—you will need it to dial international toll-free numbers (000-800 numbers) that most conference bridges use.
TIP:If your company uses IP telephony from Cisco, Avaya, etc., ask for a soft-phone application on your computer; this will enable you to replicate your office phone and call your office extensions (using voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP).
Trust me, get two Broadband connections. Ideally, one of them would be a DSL connection on your landline or a fixed wireless connection (for example, WiMax), with an assured speed of about 1 Mbps and unlimited data usage. In addition, you should get a wireless Internet connection (data-card) that can act as a backup as well as provide you with mobility. Wait for the 3G networks to go live to get more options and possibly better price plans. In any case, Broadband access could cost Rs2,000-3,000 per month—the biggest expense for working from home. However, you cannot work from home if you do not have reliable Internet connectivity.
TIP: Create a local wireless network using a Wi-Fi router; this will provide you some flexibility to move your workplace around and also connect multiple devices to the same Broadband connection.
Find yourself a room or a corner of a room that you can convert into an office. Get yourself a comfortable chair and a work desk. A few filing cabinets and a waste-paper bin would also be nice. Make sure that you have enough electric points nearby, else get a couple of extension strips. A coffee maker, perhaps…
TIP: Check with your employer if they have a policy to support the creation of a home office. Some companies such as BT and P&G provide their remote workers with furniture or other amenities to replicate an office environment at home.
You would most likely be using your company-provided laptop as your primary computing device. An external LCD monitor (20 inch or more) would be a useful addition to ease pressure on your eyes; it can also work as a projection screen if you ever have to have a team meeting at home. Similarly, an external mouse and keyboard (preferably wireless/Bluetooth) would make your desk experience more flexible.
You will find that a printer is useful; you may need to print the occasional e-ticket or your monthly expense vouchers or something of that sort. An all-in-one deskjet device (less than Rs5,000) or even a laserjet printer (around Rs10,000) from Hewlett-Packard (HP) or Samsung that prints, copies and scans would meet most typical requirements; most of them can be connected to your Wi-Fi router and operated wirelessly.
TIP:For most document scans, it will work if you just click a picture with a phone-camera and email the photo. If you have an iPhone, there are free apps such as Genius Scan that give you several edit features. You should also keep digital (scan) versions of your photo, passport, ID card, signature, etc., handy—these are very often required at short notice for visas or other official purposes.
SECURITY AND BACKUP
Access to your corporate network, information and resources would mostly be through a virtual private network (VPN) for which you may need an additional password or a token. Make sure that your computer is configured for full remote access and you have IT helpdesk details handy.
You ought to also have your email configured on a mobile device (BlackBerry or any other smartphone) in case your laptop fails to connect for some reason. Many companies create periodic backups of all computers on their network; if not, or in addition, you may want to create a local backup using an external hard drive—do check your company’s IT and data policies before you copy data on to a personal disc.
TIP: Unless your office is nearby or you have an official IT support resource handy, consider investing in a personal desktop or a netbook. This will let you remain connected to your work, even if your office laptop is non-functional for some reason. It would be good to identify an IT troubleshooter in your neighbourhood—usually an IT hardware reseller, a computer engineering student or a geek.
Without these nifty tips, working from home may just become an expensive proposition
• Consider asking your employer to fund purchase of furniture or allow you to use spare stuff from the office. You should also seek reimbursement for your telecom and Internet expenses; remember, you are saving your employer a lot of cost by working from home.
• If you need to make a lot of calls to the US or Europe, sign up for a VoIP service such as Skype, Vonage or Line2, which will give you a local US number on your computer or smartphone to make and receive unlimited calls for a small fee.
• Microsoft and other software providers have special enterprise deals that enable employees to use expensive Office software in their home computers for almost free. Check with your IT department for such offers.
• Don’t let anybody in your neighbourhood know that you have a printer at home. Printers attract urgent printing jobs such as children’s school projects and ‘puja’ manuals that you will be unable to refuse. Remember, printer cartridges, over the lifetime of a printer, can cost three-four times the cost of the printer itself.
Srinivasa Addepalli is senior vice-president, corporate strategy, Tata Communications. Addepalli can be found on Twitter @addepalli. Views expressed here are personal.
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