Thanks to COVID-19, working remotely is transitioning from 'optional' to 'mandatory' for many people. In 2010, for example, the U.S. Census found that just 4.3% of employees worked from home most of the week. Recently, Global Workplace Analytics estimated that by the end of 2021, 25-30% of the workforce will be operating from home on a nearly full-time basis. 

Setting up a home office involves much more than a desk, chair, and computer. A surprising amount of additional technology is involved. Here are the essential tech tools most home offices need, along with some suggestions on specific brands and models. 

Computer

Your two computer choices are Apple's Macs (which use the operating system iOS) and PC (which run on Microsoft Windows). It's best to adopt the platform in use at your regular workplace. Beyond that, your decision is between a laptop and a desktop

  • Laptop - Many who work from home prefer a laptop. It takes up less space, is portable, and usually has important peripherals built-in, including a monitor, touchpad, keyboard, webcam, and microphone. If you work from the kitchen table but sometimes have to move to the bedroom while the kids do their homework, or if you just like the option of mobility, a laptop is the way to go. If you are thinking about an Apple laptop, consider the Apple MacBook Pro 16 at about $2,800 (a 13 inch version costs $2,400). If you prefer a Windows computer, the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 Laptop costs under $1,400. Plus, the 2-in-1 feature lets you convert from laptop to tablet, giving you much more flexibility.
  • Desktop - Though not portable, a desktop offers a more professional experience. Certainly it affords the option of a bigger monitor and the facility of a mouse. Even if your home's already equipped with a desktop, now might be the time to upgrade, since you'll be using it a lot more often. Desktops have gotten more streamlined. The traditional "component desktops," consisting of a stand-alone CPU unit, separate monitor, keyboard and mouse, are space hogs. Except for hardcore gamers, they have been replaced by all-in-one packages in which the CPU is in the monitor. For Macs, one of the best is the Apple iMac 5k  27-inch package available for $1,800 to $2,300, depending on the processor. On the PC side, there's the highly-rated Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IE coming in at under $2,000.

Peripherals

Peripherals are computer accessories (anything other than the CPU). In most cases, the essential peripherals--monitor, keyboard, mouse/touchpad, webcam and microphone--come with your computer. If not, or if you want to upgrade, stand-alone peripherals are available.

  • Monitor - If your laptop screen is too small or if you need a second screen, consider the 23.8 inch BenQ BL2480T business monitor for $200. Note that just about any monitor works with either a Mac or a PC, though some may require an adaptor.
  • Keyboard - You may prefer a wireless keyboard, especially with a laptop or if your desktop computer keyboard is hardwired. If so, consider the Logitech K780 for about $80. It works with PC, Mac, tablets, iPads, and basically anything with Bluetooth.
  • Mouse - When working from home, a wireless mouse that works well on any surface is a plus. The Logitech MX Anywhere 2S at under $85 does that plus works on both Apple and Windows platforms and has a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 70 days.
  • Webcam - You may get along fine with the webcam that comes with your computer. But if one doesn't, or for extras like autofocus, light correction, and full HD video--important for high-quality video conferencing--consider investing in the Logitech C920S HD Pro priced at $70. The C920S includes a built-in stereo microphone and can be tripod mounted or clipped to your computer.
  • Headset - If you take calls or want echo-free video conferencing, you need a good headset (with microphone). Earbuds with a built-in microphone will work, but for an all-around better experience, go with either the mono Plantronics Voyager 5200 for $120 or, for full stereo, the Plantronics Voyager 4220 UC which retails for $220.
  • Printer/Copier/Scanner/Fax - An all-in-one machine is a real space-saver and works best for most home offices. Your only real choice is between inkjet and laser. If most of your work involves scanning and faxing, inkjet printers offer color copies at a low price point. If you do a lot of printing, especially black and white, laser is cheaper in the long run. Color laser is available but more expensive. The HP Office Jet Pro 9015  All-in-one color wireless inkjet printer at about $180 is a great option for most home offices. The Brother HL-L2395DW laser printer retails for about $170, making it a less expensive option if your printing needs only include black and white.

Internet

There are several different types of internet service providers (ISPs), including DSL (digital subscriber line), cable broadband, fiber optic broadband, wireless or Wi-Fi broadband, satellite, and leased line. Your choice of ISP may be limited based on your location but most people have access to DSL (using a regular phone line) or cable. You will likely have a choice of a business or residential line. Most home office operations can get by with a residential line. Reasons to consider a business line would include unusual speed demands, or the wishes of your employer. Prices vary based on speed but many broadband ISPs offer 100 Mbps for about $50 per month.

  • Modem/Router - Your ISP may offer to rent you a combination modem/router. The modem connects to the internet, the router lets you share the signal all over your house via Wi-Fi. You can also buy your own combination unit to save on rental costs. A good all-around cable modem/router combination is the Netgear Model 3700 N600 Wi-Fi Cable Modem Router , which retails for less than $100. For DSL, the Asus DSL-N10 2-in-1 lets you share your DSL connection wirelessly and costs about $50.
  • Security Software - When you let the internet into your home office you potentially also let in the same villains that impact regular offices: computer viruses, malware, spyware, spam, adware. Your company may require a virtual private network (VPN) for security. That can be provided by you ISP through a business connection or by using security software that sets up a VPN on your computer. Most computer operating systems have security software built in. Free security software is also available, though many people prefer to buy their own to gain access to additional features such as file backup, system cleanup, and password protection. One excellent example is McAfee Total Protection. The Household edition runs about $120 per year and includes anti-virus protection, web browsing protection, cross-platform (Apple and PC), and cross device protection for up to 10 devices, encrypted storage, password management, and more.

Productivity Software

When it comes to doing actual work, the productivity software you choose is key. You may be used to certain productivity software or it might be mandated by your employer. If you're free to choose, here's what's available.

  • Office Suite Software - This is the software you use to research, write, and calculate. At a very basic level it includes a web browser, word processor, and spreadsheet. Some of the most common office suite software--Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), G Suite (Google) and iWork (Apple)--include much more than that. It's important to note that all three of the office suites mentioned work on any computer platform. There are also many free office suites available. Preferences matter, but based on use, Microsoft 365 is the winner. Microsoft 365 Family costs $100 per year and includes everything you need except Teams (which allows video conferencing). If you want to use Teams, the Microsoft 365 Business Standard subscription costs $12.50 per user per month. G Suite runs $6-$12 per month and iWork is free.
  • Time Management Software - The suites named above include calendar apps, the simplest form of time management software available. Calendar apps let you schedule appointments, tasks, and events. One of the best calendar apps is Google Calendar (free), which lets you share what you're doing with the main office and co-workers with ease.
  • Project Management Software - Project management is a deeper dive than time management. Think of it as a task, event, or to-do list on a calendar split up into component parts: who's involved, what they are doing, when they're doing it, and so forth. Atlassian's Jira is one of the most popular project management tools because it works for both small and large teams and is useful in multiple situations including project management, tracking problems, and customer support. Pricing is per user per month and, depending on features, runs from free to $14/month.
  • Messaging Software - The best way to think of messaging is to think of email. Email is a basic messaging platform and one companies use extensively. Within the workplace, however, and especially a workplace that involves those who work from home, something less clunky is required. Messaging software is best for ongoing conversations between individuals or groups. A top-rated messaging app, Slack, divides conversations up into channels and bills itself as a "collaboration hub." Features include video calling, file sharing, and integration with other tools like Google Calendar. Slack pricing ranges from free to $12.50/user/month.
  • Video Conferencing Software - Video conferencing is a way to recreate face-to-face meetings online. The best software includes more than just a way to see and talk to each other, but that's the main purpose. Unlike messaging software that may be delayed, video conferences happen in real time. Zoom remains the industry leader, as it's easy to learn, and includes real-time chat, video recording, screen sharing, and calendar integration to name just a few. Pricing ranges from free to $20/host per month.
  • Cloud Storage Software - While it's possible to keep everything on your computer at home and share files as needed, it's far more efficient to store as much as possible in the cloud. Cloud storage makes collaboration and file sharing faster, which is reason enough to rent some space there. Microsoft, Apple, and many others offer cloud storage pricing plans, most of which offer a free trial or free minimum storage amount. Google Drive is one such well-known service that works with any computer system and is especially helpful when using other Google products like G Suite and Gmail. The personal version of Google drive offers 15GB of storage free with upgrades to 100GB, 200GB, and 2 TB for $20, $30, and $100/year respectively. The business version, Drive Enterprise costs $8 per active user per month plus $1 per 25GB used.