Working remotely often means working from home. The space where you work has a large impact on how you work. When you are in an office surrounded by other people working, it helps you work. Your home will never feel the same as your office.
Home Office Basics
When you set up your home office there are a few necessities and a few more optional items:
Laptop or desktop? Your company will almost certainly provide you with a computer, but they might give you a choice or you might want to use your own. Which kind your get is a question of your preference and your budget. Desktops are more powerful and cheaper, but leave you stuck in one place. Just the option to work from different parts of my home was enough for me to get a laptop.
Desk or chair? A desk is optional. Some people like to work in a comfortable chair with a laptop on their lap. If you do want a desk you don’t need anything fancy, something basic from your local office supply store will do.
A chair. You have to sit somewhere.
A door. You don’t always have to close the door, but you need the option.
Internet connection. How fast an Internet connection you need depends on the systems you are using. If you use Subversion or Git with a web-base bug tracking system like Bugzilla then a DSL link or cable modem is fine. If you use a heavy-weight version control system like IBM Rational ClearCase or need direct database access you might want to upgrade to a fiber optic line.
A phone. We’ve talked about the importance of high quality phones already. Get one.
Wireless connection? Wireless Internet is optional, but very convenient and cheap. Many wireless solutions sell for under $100.
Printer. Inkjet is good enough, but you need something. It might gather dust for a while, but you will be happy to have it when you need it.
External monitor? Totally up to you if you have a laptop. Monitors are getting better and cheaper every day, but so are laptop LCD screens. If you do get a monitor then you should also get a desk. Holding the monitor in front of you all day is very tiring.
External keyboard and mouse? These are optional if you have a laptop. If you have a tendency to repetitive stress injuries then an ergonomic keyboard and mouse are a good idea. I keep them handy, but I don’t use them all the time.
Fax machine? I never thought I would need it, but my combination printer, copier, scanner, fax machine has been one of the best investments I ever made. Mostly I just fax for expense reports and patent applications, but it is really nice to have it when I need it.
What will your company pay for?
Companies vary widely on what parts of a home office they will pay for. I’ve never heard of a company that wants you to write software and doesn’t provide a computer, but after that there is no standard.
If your company will pay for more than a computer the next item is your Internet and phone connections. I have also heard anecdotal evidence of companies giving a budget for chairs, desks, and printers. Many companies don’t have firm policies on these expenses so ask your manager what they will sign off on.
Your home office decor should be functional and comfortable. It also needs to fit your working style. Workaholics should leave some distractions around the office to remind them to relax and procrastinators should remove all distractions to help them stay focused. Figure out your work style and then organize your space to support a productive balance.
Along with separate space, you need separate communications. Make sure the lines of communication you depend on are always available. Get a separate phone line and don’t do your work on the family computer.