Home office essentials: What you need to work from home

Working from home on your computer in your home office

Working from home has been forced on many people, but even when the current crisis is over, many people will choose to continue working from home. What software and hardware is needed?

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I have been working from home for over 20 years. That does not make me an expert and how easy it is depends on what type of business you are in. Some types of work are very easy to do at home on a computer, but some are not.

Web articles like this can be written anywhere there is an internet connection and writers can work from anywhere and on almost any computer or device. However, Some people might need special software or remote access to a company’s systems, which can only be provided by their company. Some people will be provided with a computer, others may have to buy their own.

Here are a few thoughts on working from home or any remote location. You never know, you might get to like it. The main downside is not having much interaction with other people. Social media and business chat apps can help, but they cannot replace interacting with real people.

Computers for home work

Some lucky people are given the equipment they need to work from home, such as a laptop computer, but if you have to provide your own, what should it be? A lot depends on what software you need to run, but most people will find that a middle of the range computer works fine and there is no need to buy an expensive model. Just avoid really cheap Windows laptops because they are not good for working.

  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB storage
  • Intel Core i5 processor
  • PC or Mac

Ideally, it should have 8GB of memory and budget laptops with 4GB will struggle when multitasking with two or three apps open. There are people who need more than 8GB, such as for editing extremely large images, but most office software will be fine.

Make sure it has sufficient storage. You might struggle with the 128GB in budget PCs and a 256GB drive gives you more space for software and files. SSDs are much faster than old style hard disk drives.

An Intel Core i5 CPU would be good for most home working tasks, but an i3 can cope with lightweight work tasks and the latest generation is better than older designs. Of course, there are people who can stress a Core i7 to the limit, but generally, an i5 will do what you want.

Some people like Apple MacBooks and they are excellent. They are priced higher than most Windows laptops, but they do have a good specification and build quality. Just make sure that they can run the software you need. For example, your business may need to run software that is only available on Windows. Although you can run Windows on a Mac, it is cheaper to run Windows on a PC.

Internet access

Most people have internet access and many have fast access too. This is perfect for home working and it enables you to research on the web, use online services like web apps and storage, and exchange files with work colleagues, customers or clients.

Not everyone has fast internet access and if the internet is particularly slow, it might need an upgrade from your ISP. Fibre optic broadband is excellent if you can afford it. If you work for a company from home, ask them to contribute towards an internet upgrade.

Home office software

  • Microsoft Office
  • OneDrive online storage
  • Outlook email, calendar and contacts
  • OneNote notes
  • To-do tasks and reminders

Microsoft Office is the standard software used by many businesses and if you work from home, it is a great way to get work done. It would be nice to have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription and have all the apps on your computer, but Office can also be used on the web for free. Word, Excel and PowerPoint web apps run in the web browser and are surprisingly good. Not as good as Microsoft Office installed on the computer, but good enough for many people’s home working tasks.

Microsoft Word web app in Chrome browser

OneDrive provides online storage for files and at the website, you can create Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. It is possible to create shared folders and to share documents. This raises the possibility of working with others on documents and projects. Invite work colleagues, customers and clients to your shared folders and documents. Several people can work on documents and the changes they make can be tracked.

Sharing features are also useful when you have to provide big files for people and they can simply be shared rather than emailed.

Outlook is a pretty good email service and it can handle all your work-related emails. There are ads in the free version, but they are not too distracting and subscribing removes them. Outlook has a built-in Calendar so you can add events, schedule tasks and so on.

Microsoft To-do is handy task organizer and reminder. It also lets you invite others to tasks and projects, which is useful for collaborating on things.

You can store notes in OneNote, but itis more than a simple note-taking app and it is actually quite powerful and flexible. It is more of a place where you can store research and content for work projects in sections with multiple pages. It can store tables, images, files, voice notes, meeting details and more. Sections can be locked with a password.

If you are serious about working from home, get an Office 365 subscription, but if you only work occasionally or temporarily from home, the web-based apps are free and good enough for lightweight work tasks. All the apps are available for iPhone and Android phones and they sync across devices.

  • Google Drive
  • Google Docs
  • Google Keep
  • Gmail

Google provides a similar set of online services for working from home and it all starts with Drive. There is plenty of free online storage for work files and you get a generous 15GB of space for free.

Docs, Sheets and Slides are the Google office apps for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Unlike Microsoft Office, which also provides downloadable software, Google’s office apps only run in a web browser and they read and write files to Drive storage. They aim to provide all the basic features you need for work and most people probably won’t need anything else. Although they use their own file format, Docs, Sheets and Slides import and export Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, and many other file formats.

There are other excellent tools like Gmail and Calendar. Who hasn’t got a Gmail account? If you are one of the few that doesn’t, sign up and you get email plus Drive and the office apps.

Everything is free and excellent for anyone working from home. G Suite is available for a monthly subscription if you are serious about running a business or working from home and it comes with several extra features.

  • LibreOffice office software suite
  • GIMP
  • Dropbox

LibreOffice is a collection of apps that are useful for working from home. It contains a word processor, spreadsheet and presentations as you might expect, but also drawing and illustrations, a database and math formula editor.

If you need to create or edit images and photos, Photoshop is nice, but GIMP is a free alternative that might be all you need. All the images here are created in GIMP for example.

Accessing Dropbox online storage using Chrome browser

Dropbox provides online storage and it has some great features for anyone working from home. For example, it can be used to store your work files and they will be more safe online than on your computer. Files and folders can be shared with work colleagues, clients and customers and you can collaborate on projects. You can start with a free plan providing 2GB of online storage and upgrade later if you need more space and features.

Use a VPN for privacy and security

VPN software on your computer or phone enables it to create a private, secure and encrypted connection to the internet. It is useful for working at public Wi-Fi hotspots where security may be questionable, but you might also want to use it for working from home to provide the extra privacy and security you need.

You might have work documents, email and video communications with work colleagues, sensitive documents and so on, and you want to make sure they are private and secure. A VPN can help with that.

Ivacy VPN – secure your internet

Also, if you are spending more time at home working remotely, you need breaks and a VPN provides access to online services and content that can provide the entertainment you need to relax. Take a break every couple of hours and do something different, like catching up on streaming video. A VPN can make you appear to be anywhere in the world, even though you are sitting at home, and access local content and services.

There are many VPNs and some do not have high security or privacy standards. Avoid VPNs you have never heard of or that have suddenly sprung up from nowhere. It is not that they are definitely bad, they may be good. The problem is that it is hard to tell. Stick with well-known companies that have been around for years and have lots of happy users.

One of the most popular is NordVPN and I used it for years and had no problems. It worked perfectly and has a great range of features. Tip: Avoid monthly plans, they are expensive and go for a two or three year plan to save money. It works out a lot cheaper. I have used NordVPN and found it to be excellent. Other VPNs I recommend include PureVPN, Ivacy VPN (I’m currently running this) and Surfshark VPN.

Check out the VPN deals on the Offers page.

Don’t forget to back up!

We put a lot of trust in computers and never think that they will ever go wrong or stop working. It is true that many computers do indeed work for many years without problems and there are people working at home on PCs and Macs that are five or more years old.

The reliability of computer hardware lulls us into a false sense of security, but one day, maybe tomorrow, it may develop a fault. Files can be lost and when you work from home, that means work files are lost. It could be disastrous.

MiniTool ShadowMaker software for backing up Windows PCs
Back up with MiniTool ShadowMaker

Storing files online in OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox helps protect your files, but you really need a backup. That means plugging a USB drive into your computer. Apple Macs have Time Machine, which is a pretty good backup utility. Windows PCs have File History (find it in the Control Panel), but third party backup utilities are best, like MiniTool ShadowMaker or EaseUS Todo Backup.

Keep in touch

You can keep in contact with other work colleagues at your business or at home, customers and clients using Gmail or Outlook, but that is a bit dull and ponderous.

In addition to email, you may want a chat tool that lets you have lively discussions with others and Slack and Microsoft Teams are hugely popular and there are free accounts if you are on a tight budget. You get more if you pay, but a free account may be all you need. There is a good chance that people you know are on one of these two services.

There are many Slack and Teams alternatives, like Fleep and Chanty. Both offer free accounts and Chanty for example, is free for a team of up to 10 people and has public and private conversations, voice calls, voice messages, task management, file storage and more.

There are alternatives to the alternatives and you could easily set up a private Facebook group that only you and the people you invite can access.

Your phone is an essential communication tool of course, but what can you do if the signal is poor at home and you struggle to make or receive calls? One solution is to enable Wi-Fi calling. Instead of calls being made over the mobile phone network, calls are routed over Wi-Fi and the internet.

Wi-Fi calling setting on the iPhone

Most phones and carriers support this feature and you just need to turn it on in the phone settings. Both Android phones and the iPhone have it and on the iPhone for example, go to Settings > Cellular (or Mobile Data) > Wi-Fi Calling. Turn on the switch.

It’s tax-deductable!

It depends on the tax laws where you live, but usually if you work from home you can claim expenses that reduce your tax bill. For example, if you have to buy a computer, buy a backup drive, a replacement mouse, pay for repairs, buy software and online services, upgrade your internet, and so on, you might be able to claim for them and reduce your annual tax bill.

There is also the extra cost of electricity and gas, which comes from working from home instead of a company’s offices. You cannot claim for the whole bills, but any additional costs above what you would normally pay can be deducted from your tax bill. You might need to print documents on your home printer and we all know how expensive printer cartridges are.

Write down every cost incurred when working from home. Create a spreadsheet or even just a simple list in a text editor. At the end of the tax year you can add up the cost and could reduce your tax bill a bit. Tax is complicated and home working expenses are split across different categories, but providing you have a list of what you spent and what on, you should be able to work it out.

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1 Comment

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