Your home office means a short commute—but set it up for the long haul

Some IT pros perform their best work without going into the office. David Parkinson explains how to get your "kit" in gear and start enjoying the benefits of remote administration from the comfort of your own home.

TechRepublic has featured a number of recent columns on telecommuting, focusing primarily on the “hard” technical issues facing those working from home. But there are also some “soft” issues facing IT professionals seeking to be productive telecommuters. The creation of a working environment at home is one of those issues. If you're setting out to convert an extra room into a home office, here are several pointers based on my own recently completed project.

Horizontal storage space (a.k.a. desks and shelves)
As sure as users will fill up all available disk space, you will fill up all available desk and shelf space. Give yourself a fighting chance and allow for decent desk room. If you have the budget, make the room coordinate—especially if prospective clients will be visiting you. If you invest the effort in making an office respectable, it will speak volumes about your general standard of work.

Hide it
You are either obsessively tidy or not. I have found there is little middle ground. Many people do not work well amidst clutter. That’s fine—this is your work area. Invest in cupboards (that’s "cabinets," for the Americans in the audience). When you have finished the exercise, you’ll have only yourself to blame if you feel none the better for working in the environment you have created.

I heard of one TechRepublic contributor who has a 19-inch server rack in his basement. Your needs might not be that severe. Whatever your home office might consist of, ensure that you plan sufficient space for your kit (that’s "equipment" for my friends overseas). Bear in mind some of the points from the previous column on building a server room , as you’ll want to ensure you give yourself some elbow room, keep the cables tidy, and use a KVM (keyboard/video/mice) switch.

If, like me, you have a test server, which is forever being rebuilt with different cards and other hardware devices, then you need to have easy access to save your sanity. I also managed to have some UTP (unshielded twisted pair) put behind the new skirting boards when a new floor was laid, so I have an office network completely hidden from view.
Several tasks, such as remote administration, network monitoring, and systems testing, can be conducted from the comfort of a powerful home office. Does your basement house a 19-inch server rack? Do you have Cat 5 wiring in every room? Maybe you've got a DSL line feeding a pair of dual-Pentium servers, which you pilot from a La-Z-Boy via wireless keyboard and mouse? Send TechRepublic a description of your home office, and we'll share the best configurations in a future column. We'll also send TechRepublic T-shirts to three randomly selected entrants. Send us your description.
The compromise
I was allowed to convert a room at home into an office on the proviso that it would sleep two visitors when required. Sofa beds are a fantastic invention. The bed that used to sit in the room made a good shelf for laying papers out on, but you don’t get many beds in IT offices, and it does look kinda odd.

Why write a column on these home improvement issues? Because whether you’re a telecommuter, a journalist, or a consultant, if you work from home you probably spend long hours in the same room. That room is a working environment, not a confinement. So go buy a plant, move the cat off the keyboard, and be productive.
You should consider including the following items to ensure that you’ve planned appropriately for the “perfect” home office:
  • Category 5 cabling
  • Ample electricity (check with an electrician if you’ll be using more than two PCs simultaneously)
  • An uninterruptible power service
  • An extra telephone line (good for business-related voice calls and as a redundant data connection when using an alternative broadband service)
  • A 56 Kbps analog modem
  • A DSL or cable modem
  • Two to three feet of desk space for each PC, unless you’ll be using a KVM
  • A combination fax/copy machine (if required)
  • Ample lighting
  • Surge protectors
  • Storage space for books, software, and files
  • Adequate ventilation (as several PCs stuck into a small room can easily create an unpleasant environment)
Last but not least, be sure to provide your insurance agent with an accurate inventory of your home office equipment, as most property and casualty policies basically cover only the cost of a single machine.

David Parkinson lives and works out of the green and pleasant land of the Ribble Valley in the North West of the UK; loves football, Microsoft NetMeeting, and reading contemporary fiction. He wishes he could travel more but knows he can't have everything. You can e-mail him at

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