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Tech Time! Gear Advice for the Home Office Newbie

Let’s give some love to the IT guys. Especially right now, as the move to home offices forced by COVID-19 has resulted in all of us needing to become more hands-on when it comes to technology. Whether your company is providing you with IT advice or you’re a freelancer doing it alone, the need to be self-sufficient at home is a big deal right now.

And what does that mean exactly? Well, it starts with assessing what you have on your desktop and around the house. Many have already done this, as we are now getting awfully close to beginning the third calendar month of C-19 in North America. But as we all settle in to remote working for what’s looking like the long haul–and maybe even for good, depending on how many companies decide to turn this crisis into a great opportunity to save money and improve the lives of their employees–it’s a good time to take stock.

1. Invest in a good workstation PC as the anchor of your home office. You don’t have to go crazy with some $10,000 rig capable of playing bleeding-edge games through 2025 or anything, but you should go beyond what was acceptable for a basic work machine a couple of months ago. Don’t scrimp on a video card, either, especially if you’re doing a fair amount of video-conferencing. Programs like Zoom can occupy a significant amount of processing power, so ensure that your machine can handle the demands of video calls. Oh, and also pick up a UPS, or Uninterruptible Power Supply, to keep your workstation running if the juice goes down.

2. Consider going to a multiple monitor setup on your main home office desk to enhance productivity. I have to admit that I always thought this was overkill, particularly when I watched someone actually set up three screens in an in-person meeting. Kinda hard to do that and also pay attention to the people around the table. But then I got used to doing it at home with a laptop and saw how useful it was to focus on main work projects on one screen while checking in with supplementary tasks on the other. Now I’m just unhappy that I can’t fit a pair of 32” monitors on my desk without evicting speakers, a few gadgets, and a cool Darth Vader action figure.

3. Do not forget about your internet service and router. While the standard 40Mbps down cable connection is generally all you need to Netflix and chill with a couple of TVs at the same time and let the kiddos play Minecraft, working from home may require an upgrade. Consider calling your ISP and looking at greater speeds, particularly if you will be doing video-conferencing from. This is particularly important if you have a lot of little people under one roof right now with the schools closed. You don’t want to lose connections during meetings. Spend an extra few bucks on a solid router (this generally means dumping the subpar one you got from your ISP) to ensure that your wifi strength is solid around the home, and even out to your yard if you plan to get some sunlight this spring. You can go with a strong tri-band central router or a mesh system (generally best if you have a larger home and need to spread out your coverage). Big brands like ASUS, Google, Linksys, Netgear, and TP-Link have models to suit all needs.

4. Ensure that you have a reliable printer and scanner or an all-in-one unit. This was my first challenge to overcome when C-19 locked me down, because A.) I despise printers, B.) I rarely use them, and C.) I’ve grown accustomed to using printers elsewhere (mooching) on those rare occasions I need a hard copy of something. I was able to get by with a basic HP all-in-one inkjet. YMMV, though, depending on how much or how often you need to print physical copies of work. Laser printers have become increasingly affordable, even good colour models. There are tons of choices, of course, making it impossible to throw out any recommendations. As always, start with online reviews and match your machine to needs and budget.

5. A good smartphone and sufficient data plan are vital. This may be a “Well, duh” moment for most, but it’s surprising how many people–especially here in Canada, land of some of the priciest cellular services on the planet–cheap out on both phone and plan. I know, because up until the start of this year, I was one of them. You don’t have to splurge on the latest and greatest Samsung or Apple superphones, but make sure you have something with enough power to handle business apps and video-conferencing. And that your carrier plan offers enough data, so you’re not stranded mid-month. All of your data usage will be going up right now, so plan ahead.

Dig in. Don’t be intimidated by having to be your own IT provider. Spend some time with online research and learn about what’s out there, so you can make the best buying decisions and operate the most efficient home office that you can.

Cheers!

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