Home Office Essentials

The Equipment, Technology and Design Every Home Office Needs

Pensive woman looking through window with feet up on desk in sunny home office
Ah! The perfect home office. Caiaimage/Paul Viant / Getty Images

Aaah! Working at home! Fuzzy bunny slippers. Quiet moments of contemplation. Free, unrestricted access to a fully-stocked refrigerator. Add the advantages of low overhead, income tax reductions, and not commuting, and you can understand why so many small business owners choose to operate out of home offices.

Being one of those fortunate people who gets to work at home most of the time, here’s my list of home office essentials and home office “nice-to-haves”.

Basic Home Office Equipment

Zoning regulations may determine whether or not you can even have a home office. Before you start a home-based business, it’s important to find out whether or not home-based businesses are allowed in your location; some cities/towns don’t allow businesses to be operated in residential areas. (If you're just starting a home business, see What You Need to Know Before You Start a Home-Based Business for more on what you need to consider before you start one.)

A separate home office space. It’s important to have a designated space, preferably a room where can work in isolation, away from distractions. Having a designated home office space also makes it easier to calculate percentages of home business use expenses that you can deduct on your income tax. (Calculating The Home-Based Business Tax Deduction explains how.)

When you’re choosing the home office space in your home, remember to choose a location that has all the relevant wiring for the equipment you’re going to need, (such as telephone and cable jacks), and space for all of your chosen home office equipment, including things such as filing cabinets.

Otherwise, you’ll waste too much time wandering through your home looking for this or that. The Basics of Small or Home Office Design will show you how to plan your office design around the power, lighting and ventilation needs of your office space.

You may also need an attractive home office space if you’re going to consult with clients on the premises.

This space needs to be kept “business-like” (uncluttered by things such as children’s toys), and private. 

Filing cabinet(s) – and a good filing system. To deal with those once-yearly chores, such as income taxes, and whatever daily crises crop up, you have to have a filing system that allows you to lay your hands on exactly whatever piece of paper you need. 

Basic home office furniture. Definitely, you’ll need a desk for your home office (large enough to hold a computer and still leave enough room for a desktop workspace), and an office chair. Whatever other home office furniture you need will depend on how much equipment you have and what kind of business you’re running. If you have a printer, for instance, you’ll need stands for them. See Office Design on the Cheap for tips on saving money on office furniture and equipment. If your business involves meeting with clients in your home office, you’ll need some attractive chairs and perhaps a coffee table.

Family support. Whether or not your family members are actively working in your business, they need to support you to the degree that they’ll give you the time and space to run a home-based business.

Nice to Have Home Office Essentials:

A really supportive family, that pitches in and helps out.

A really comfortable office chair. Because you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting in it, get the most comfortable office chair you can afford for your home office.

You have the basic furniture and equipment for your home office now. But what about those technological gadgets that will make it easier for you to work at home? 

Essential Home Office Technology

If you're going to set up a home office, you're going to have to invest in technological devices. But if your eyes widen like the proverbial kid in the candy store whenever you see a new piece of hardware or a new app, you need to plan your technology purchases for your home office carefully.

Determine what you absolutely need to run your business, determine your budget, make a list, and stick to it. To help harden your resolve, here's my list of technological devices no home office can do without.

A second phone line for your business, whether cell or landline, is a home office essential. Having only one line for your home and your home office makes you look unprofessional. Also, a second phone line makes it easier to answer the phone in a professional manner.  

Make sure your business line has its own answering machine, so you can set up professional-sounding messages for those times you can’t answer the phone. The recorded messages that many people have on the machines that pick up their personal phone calls, such as, “Hi, you’ve reached the Swift family. We can’t come to the phone right now because we’re bathing the dog,” are a turn-off for business callers.

Your business’ recorded message should state the name of your business, welcome the caller, and provide any necessary additional information, such as the number of your cell phone, if you’re out on a call but can be reached by cell, or your hours of operation. Keep your business message updated. If, for instance, you’re closed for a holiday, say so in your recorded message and state when you’re going to reopen.

Business cards. Yes, you still need them. Get these professionally printed, and keep lots of them with you to hand out to people you meet, stick up on bulletin boards in malls, and attach to whatever professional documents you produce, such as estimates and reports. 

A computer/laptop/tablet/smartphone. Consider what business tasks you’re going to use your computer for before you buy one; for instance, if you run a computer graphics business, you’ll need high-storage capacity. As a minimum, you’ll need a computer that’s business-capable, with at least a 2 GHz processor and 8 MB Ram, so you can multi-task a business suite such as Microsoft Office.

An ISP (Internet Service Provider). Even if your business isn’t directly related to the internet, it's a valuable source of business-related information, and how can you possibly function without e-mail? An Internet connection is now definitely a home office essential.

Nice-To-Have Home Office Technology

Besides the basics, there are other technological devices that can make working in your home office much more productive.

A printer. What kind does your home office need? That depends on your printing needs. If you need to print high-quality color documents, then you’ll need to invest in a top-of-the-line color printer for your home office. If not, you should be able to get away with a black and white printer. If you only occasionally need documents such a full-color brochures printed, it may be more economical to buy a basic printer and get your high-quality documents done by a professional printing company. For more help deciding whether or not you need a color printer, see Before You Buy a Color Printer.

Multifunction printers, such as these Multifunction B&W Laser Printers, are often the best picks for home offices; one machine has a much smaller footprint than two or three.

A copier, if you need one. Once again, it may be more economical to take your documents to a business that provides copying services and run off copies there.

A large monitor for your computer. You might move this one into the Essentials category if you spend a great deal of time using your computer. 

The best speaker phone money can buy. When you're working in your home office, the advantages of being able to use your phone hands-free are enormous.

A business website. Even if the business has no connection to e-commerce, having a website gives you professional credibility and is yet another way to reach your potential customers. A business website doesn’t have to be gigantic and full of fancy graphics to do the job; it just needs to present your business in a clear, attractive manner. Here's How to Create a Small Business Website That Works. If you don’t have the skills to produce a business website yourself, there are a great many people who do and will do the job for a reasonable rate.

Home Office Design

The next step of building a home office that works is spending some time on home office design. You can just take all your equipment to your designated home office space, take everything out of its boxes, hook it up, and spend the next decade of your life tripping over cords and moving things to get to the things you need, but there is a better way. Ideally, a home office should enhance your work, not hinder it, so time spent on home office design is time well spent.

The Basics of Small or Home Office Design will show you how to plan your office design around the power, lighting and ventilation needs of your office space.

Office Design on the Cheap explains how to create a functional home office without spending a bundle; it provides tips for saving money on office furniture and equipment such as office desks, filing cabinets, computers and printers.

If you’re interested in marrying function and design, read 12 Organization Tips for a Productive Office.

The Real Test...

is when you sit down to work. If you've followed all the advice in the guide above, you should have everything you need to be your best, most productive you. May all your work go well!