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Until 2020, most people didn't have the option of working from home even if they wanted to. So, when the coronavirus forced businesses everywhere to relegate their employees to hastily-prepared home offices, everyone had to make do with the best they could. But now, as 2021 rolls on, it's looking like work from home isn't going to go away anytime soon.
Some businesses have already started to get rid of office space in anticipation of making work from home permanent for some or all of their employees. That means workers will have to reassess their home offices and make some severe changes to prepare them for long-term use.
One of the things they're going to have to do is consider building a network for their home office that's separate from the rest of their home uses. There's plenty of reasons that it's a good idea.
First is the matter of security. Having a segregated home office network makes it less likely that a compromised consumer device can pose a security risk to any business data passing through the office network. And second is reliability. Keeping business applications running well even when others in the home use bandwidth-hungry apps and sites is a must, especially if you no longer have a company-provided office to run to.
The good news is that setting up a simple, secure, and high-performance home office network is easy and not very expensive. Here are the three most important things to include if you're building one and some ideas on saving a little money in the process.
Although most people these days consider WiFi the essential part of a network's design, wireless isn't the right place to start when it comes to a home office. Instead, a wired network is preferable for a variety of reasons. They're more secure, suffer from no interference issues, and carry data much faster than even the best WiFi hardware on the market today.
For these reasons, a reliable wired gigabit switch is the first thing to purchase to get a home office network started. They're so common that they're available for commodity-level prices, so cost shouldn't be much of an issue. However, if it is, you can just as easily buy a used switch for pennies on the dollar. Switches tend to last for years without needing upgrade or replacement, so going with a lightly used model is more than an acceptable option.
Image: Song_about_summer (Adobe Stock)
Since one of the main reasons for having a dedicated home office network is enhanced security, the next thing to add to your new setup is a high-performance firewall. You'll need it to sit between your home's cable modem (or other ISP-provided hardware) and the switch that connects your office devices to the internet. Be aware, though, that prosumer-level hardware firewalls cost around £150, so they're one of the pricier parts of a home office network.
But if you're somewhat computer-savvy and have an old PC lying around, there's another option. You can take the time to set up an open-source firewall solution. They offer feature sets comparable to what you'd get in a firewall appliance but won't cost you anything if you already have a machine to run one on. The only downside is that you're going to have to learn some reasonably complex configuration options – but understanding how your firewall works will make you safer in the long run anyway.
Even though a home office network should rely on wired connections for most devices it serves, there's no getting around the need for WiFi. That's because most portable computing devices like smartphones and tablets can't use wired connections, and neither can most home-office printers. But you can't just connect those devices to your home's existing WiFi, or it won't get the added reliability and security benefits of your dedicated network.
The solution is to buy a dedicated WiFi access point to connect your wireless office devices to your new network. Because you won’t share it with the whole household, you don't have to purchase a model designed to support lots of simultaneous connections. Companies like Mikrotik make excellent WiFi APs fit for this purpose, and you won't need a second mortgage to afford one. Just make sure whichever one you choose supports the same (or higher) WiFi standard as the devices you need to use it with.
Image: BublikHaus (Adobe Stock)
Again, the three components listed here shouldn't set you back too much money, but understandably, it is an expense some people don't want to bear. But in many cases, you won't even have to. That's because, at the end of the day, the equipment is a business expense and that gives you some options.
First, you can approach your employer and ask them to cover some or all of the costs. After all, they're getting away with not providing an office for you to work in. If you're lucky, they'll not only cover these purchases – they'll also kick in some extra toward your monthly internet costs.
But that's not all you can do. You can also ask your employer if they participate in any IT discount programs. Oftentimes, they'll have access to preferred pricing from vendors like Newegg, in addition to quantity discounts elsewhere. And if you work for a nonprofit, you can probably use TechSoup, which provides discounts from vendors like Linksys, Lenovo, HP, and more. And if all else fails, you can try this eBay discount code site that can save you between 10 and 20 percent on the gear you need.
And once you have those three core components in place, your home office should be ready to handle anything you need it to. And because it's separate from your main home network, you won't have to worry about competing with your family for resources. But if bandwidth is still an issue, you can also look into enabling quality of service (QoS) settings on your ISP-provided modem to prioritize traffic going to and from your office network. Then you'll be all set to embrace the work-from-home trend for as long as necessary – with fewer annoyances and interruptions to slow you down.
Featured image via escapejaja (Adobe Stock)
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