Work from Home: Technology Setup

The next critical element for working remotely is your technology. For starters, your goal is to make sure you have access to the best technology you can afford. If you’re working remote part-time, then perhaps your company has provided you with a laptop to use at home. If you’re just starting out working remotely, perhaps as a freelancer, you’d have to buy your own computer.

Remember: your computer is your lifeline. The quality of your work will be partially defined by the quality of your equipment.

When I decided to remain in Europe and not return to Canada back in 2010, I quickly had to find the cheapest laptop I could afford to keep working my shifts. I went for a 13 inch Dell notebook with 2GB RAM that sold for about $250.

What a nightmare! The darn thing couldn’t keep up with Google Docs and Sheets. If I had more than 10 tabs open in Chrome, it would freeze. It would constantly heat up to the point of shut down. My solution was to shove the laptop in the freezer for a few minutes and allow it to cool off. I was forced to do that several times throughout my eight hour shift, causing me to stay up to two hours over my shift to complete my work. Rest assured, I used my next paycheck to buy a Sony Vaio running an i3, which offered a considerably better performance.

I did learn a lesson though! Besides planning things out before switching continents, that is.

We can break it down in these 3 steps:

  • Decide the type of work you’ll perform;
  • Define your budget;
  • Research and review.

Type of Work

Will you perform mostly office related work, using Microsoft Office or Google Docs? Will you work out of your browser using platforms like Salesforce, Sprinklr, Asana? Or will you focus on content creation, using the Adobe Creative Suite to create branding and logos, edit photos in Photoshop or stitch video clips together in Premiere?

You don’t need a supercomputer if you’re just going to work in a few Chrome tabs or with Office, just as you wouldn’t need a basic computer meant for media consumption instead of content creation.

If you’re going to be mostly stationary, buy or build a desktop PC or get a 17 inch laptop. If you’re going to travel frequently, get something more portable, maybe a 14 or 15 inch laptop that can easily fit in a bag or carry-on.

Define your budget

This step is mostly dictated by your available resources; just keep in mind that your computer doesn’t have to be the latest model on the market. Expensive doesn’t mean better but just because a product is too affordable doesn’t mean it’s going to perform good either. Good price doesn’t equal good value.

Start small, maybe something within the mid-range line. Once you start earning money, you can always increase your budget and invest in an upgrade.

Take advantage of deals during Amazon Prime Day or Black Fridays if possible.

Research and review

You don’t have to be tech savvy to look up and watch reviews on YouTube. Pick the model that caught your eye or suits your budget and review the pro’s and con’s of the device. The internet is ripe with videos and articles comparing laptops and computer parts giving you the benefit of a very informed decision.

Suggestions:

  • Linus Tech Tips
  • Marques Brownlee
  • Dave Lee
  • Unbox Therapy

Once you familiarize yourself with the specifications and capabilities, visit a showroom or a nearby store to get some first hand experience to help cement your final decision.

Specification Suggestions

  • CPU: Core i5 (best balance for performance & price);
  • RAM: 8 GB (best for multitasking & productivity);
  • Storage: SSD (an SSD is faster & responsive than a HDD);
  • Storage Space: 256GB or better;
  • Graphics: integrated is fine if not gaming or heavy content creation;
  • Screen resolution: 1920×1080 at least;
  • Screen size: 15 inch (popular) & 13 or 14 inches (best portability);
  • Battery: at least 8 hours.

Resources:

  • Laptop Buying Guide: 8 Essential Tips
  • How Much RAM Do You Really Need?
  • The best laptops: Premium laptops, cheap laptops, 2-in-1s, and more
  • Laptops with Best Battery Life 2019 – Longest Lasting Laptop Batteries

Headset

If you’re going to work from home, cheap earbuds or the laptop’s built-in microphone might not provide the quality or comfort you need. You can still get away with using these inexpensive options if you’re on a tight budget, provided you hold your calls in a quiet room and you mute yourself when not speaking to avoid distracting background noises. More on etiquette later.

Features to consider when buying headphones:

  • Clarity and audio quality;
  • Noise cancellation microphone;
  • Comfortable ear cups and headband design;
  • If wired, make sure it’s compatible with your laptop’s input: USB or 3.5 mm jack;
  • If wireless – good battery life – at least 15 hours.

Suggestions:

  • Plantronics Blackwire C5220 $75.95
  • Logitech G430 $79.99
  • Logitech G433 $99.99
  • Sennheiser SC 660 USB CTRL (504555) $174.45

What I use: Logitech G633 Artemis Spectrum $149.99

Read more:

  • The 8 Best Headsets of 2019
  • The 8 Best Logitech Headsets of 2019

Webcam

As the popularity of working from home increases, face-to-face meetings are replaced by video calls and video conferencing. Being able to see others and be seen humanizes the conversation and enhances the connection. You can project your personality, read body language and be more productive.

You have two options:

  • your laptop’s integrated webcam;
  • an external webcam.

Embedded webcams have gradually increased in quality over the years which means you get to save some money. External webcams on the other hand, have more options allowing for fine tuning: they come with higher resolution options, enhanced color balance and noise reduction, a wider field of view, a better low-light performance thus providing a higher quality image. And since they’re not integrated you can easily adjust the angle and position that suits you best.

Suggestions:

  • Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 $39.95
  • Logitech C920S HD Pro Webcam $69.05
  • Razer Kiyo: Full HD 1080p – Built in Adjustable Ring Light $99.99
  • Logitech BRIO $199.99

What I have: the Logitech C920 I bought in 2016.