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10 Home Office Essentials

More and more people are working from home: some telecommute for their paid job, some own their own home-based businesses and some use their home offices as super-charged productivity hubs for all their jobs, clients, paid hobbies and more. The one thing all home offices have in common is that they should all be geared up and streamlined for distraction-free, enjoyable productivity. We’ve got a quick list of some essential tech items that can help you work smarter, not just harder. Some of these items may even save you a bunch of money.

1. All-in-One or Multifunction Machine
In the not-so-distant past, home offices typically had a veritable flotilla of devices to help keep things running – a printer, a scanner, a copier and a fax machine. Thank the geek gods for constantly improving technology, because all those old devices fit into one slim, high tech machine. All-in-One units have high quality color printers, high-resolution scanners, copy functions and can even fax when plugged into a phone line. If you don’t have a dedicated land-line for faxing, just scan a document and fax it for free using faxzero.com. An All-in-One is essential because it does so much and takes up so little space. You’ll also save a lot on your electricity bills by dropping from four power-hungry devices to one.

Some popular All-in-One units:

A) HP Photosmart C6180 
B) Brother DCP-7020
C) HP LaserJet 3055

2. Laptop Computer
Laptop computers are often preferred for home-office use because they allow work to be done from more than one static location in the home. They can be moved from desk to desk, out of the office and onto the porch, and even on the road if ever necessary. Should you get a little stir-crazy from working from the same location all the time, a quick trip to a coffee house with wireless internet can work wonders for clearing cobwebs, sparking new ideas and reminding you that you’re still part of a social society. You just can’t get that freedom with a desktop computer. Laptops use much less power than desktops, so you could see an almost instant drop in power consumption.

Some popular laptops:

A) MacBook
B) Lenovo ThinkPad T61p 
C) HP Pavilion HDX

3. External Hard Drive
If you value any of the data on your computer, you need to keep it backed up in some way or another. If you have lots of data to protect (images, spreadsheets, business plans, computer code, emails, etc.), you’ll want a very reliable external hard drive. Storing duplicates of your files on an external drive saves you untold grief should your main computer ever fail or go missing. Always buy a hard drive that can hold more data than you think you’ll need. You can often get drives with 200% more storage room for only 10% to 20% higher prices than base models. Excellent value, brilliant security solution.

Some popular external hard drives:

A) Maxtor OneTouch 4 Mini – small, fast and easy 
B) LaCie 2big Triple RAID – for super safe, hardcore backups 
C) LaCie d2 quadra

4. Spacious LCD Screen
If you’re one of the few people still using a bulky CRT monitor in your home office, please, please, please do yourself and the environment a favor by upgrading to a new LCD monitor. New LCD screens offer stunning visual quality, low power consumption and, best of all, widescreen LCDs can enhance productivity. Even if you’re using a laptop, you can benefit immensely from the productivity boost an external LCD monitor can provide. It essentially doubles your work space, allowing you to multitask like mad, all without having to switch back and forth between super tiny windows. Prices are right for any budget, too.

Some popular LCD screens:
A) HP w2007 20″ widescreen LCD
B) Samsung 226BW 22″ widescreen LCD 
C) HP w2408 24″ widescreen LCD

5. Speaker System
Unless you’re hearing impaired or suffer from terribly low attention span, one of the most enjoyable productivity boosters can be background music. Whether it’s a little Tony Bennett playing softly over the air waves, or trip-hop cranked up loud enough to drown out air raid sirens, music is both aesthetic and therapeutic. Luckily, high quality speaker systems are very affordable and can play directly from your computer or MP3 player. Desktop systems, shelf systems and even floor-based systems can be found online and in retail stores everywhere. Speaker sets may not save you any money, but the music they play can inspire you to do more.

Some popular speaker systems:
A) mStation 2.1 Stereo Tower
B) Audioengine A5
C) XtremeMac Tango

6. Comfortable Keyboard
Whether you’re using a desktop or laptop computer, the wrong keyboard can wreak havoc on your work flow and can prematurely tire your hands and fingers. Bad keyboards contribute to typos, hand/wrist strain and, quite often, excessively loud key noise that can drive some people batty. Find a new keyboard that has smooth keying action that feels good under the tips of your fingers. Ergonomic keyboards can help reduce and/or prevent strain. Most high-quality keyboards have wireless versions, helping you keep your desk clutter free.

Some popular keyboards:
A) Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000
B) Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 5000 Laser (Keyboard/Mouse Combo)
C) Cordless Desktop S 530 Laser for Mac (Keyboard/Mouse Combo)

7. Better Mouse
Old style mice with the rubber ball underneath are notoriously bad when it comes to accurate mouse movements. No matter how clean you or your work space may be, gunk inevitably builds up, causing herky jerky, uncontrollable mouse action. They’re also prime gathering places for nasty germs. An optical or laser mouse will work beautifully on most surfaces, and you can even ditch the nasty mouse pad. Some mice are made with comfortable ergonomic designs, making them very pleasant to use for long periods of time. Wireless mice (whether Bluetooth or RF) are great for keeping desks clean and tidy.

Some popular mice: 
A) Microsoft Wireless Optical Mouse 4.0 Mass Steel Blue
B) Logitech MX400 Performance Laser Mouse
C) Logitech MX610 Left-Hand Laser Cordless Mouse

8. Cell Phone & VoIP Headsets
In a work environment, cell phone headsets can be invaluable. Whether corded or wireless, headsets allow extra mobility, eliminate kinked-neck syndrome and add freedom for both hands to work on other things. Bluetooth headsets allow you to freely walk around the office environment, up to 30 feet from the phone itself. Most Bluetooth headsets (and many corded headsets) also work well with VoIP applications like Skype, iChat, etc.

Some popular headsets: 
A) Plantronics Voyager 520 (for cell phones & computers) 
B) Aliph Jawbone (for cell phones & computers) 
C) Plantronics .Audio 550 DSP (for cell phones & VoIP applications)

9. VoIP Phone Service
Standard land-lines, though old-school, are commonly used for home office phone service. Many home-based entrepreneurs and remote employees use cell phones, especially if they need to be mobile on a regular basis. Another fantastic option – often free or incredibly inexpensive – is to use an already-existing high speed Internet connection for VoIP – also known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or internet telephony. Think Skype and Vonage. These services can save tens, hundreds and even thousands of dollars on long distance and long-duration calls. Skype offers a $30/year USD plan called “Skype Unlimited” which allows you to place any number of calls from your computer to any US telephone number for only $30 USD per year. You can talk 24/7/365 and not pay a penny more than $30. Inbound calls to your special Skype phone number, however, cost about $60 USD per year – still, very inexpensive. Vonage has personal and business plans that allow you to use any standard phone connected to a little router than ties into your high-speed Internet service. “Residential Premium Unlimited” costs $25 USD per month and “Small Business Premium Unlimited” (with a phone number AND fax number) costs $50 USD per month. That’s a major savings over land-line costs. Both Skype and Vonage offer voicemail services.

10. Charging Station
Along with all the gadgets sprawled all over the average home office desk, there are inevitably an equal number of charging blocks and cords connected to said gadgetry. Virtually eliminate the mess by getting a super charging hub like the “Callpod Chargepod“. The Chargepod can simultaneously charge up to six gadgets and only uses one wall outlet. It’s a fantastic space saver in the home office, and works wonders for simplifying business and personal travel and lightening the bags you may carry.