Commentary

By Ben Hart,

A short guide to working from home

In the last article, we spoke about the increasing shift to remote working. To make the most out of working from home, it’s important to have the right tools for the job. You can improve your remote working setup without spending a fortune, and you may be able to claim income tax relief on some of the items, as long as they are actually used for your work, by filling out a P87 form, available on the government website here.

Getting the right kit

If you’re going to be working from home for the foreseeable future, then you don’t want to end up with a nasty repetitive strain injury, so you should avoid your laptop’s trackpad and invest in a mouse. At the time of writing Amazon are selling a decent quality ambidextrous mouse made by HP, the HP 1000 Black Wired USB Mouse for just £6.99 with free next day delivery for Prime members.

However, if you can afford to spend a bit more, there are some more premium offerings, including the Logitech G305 Lightspeed Wireless Gaming Mouse pictured here, for £44.99 with free shipping for Prime members. Although it is primarily targeted at gamers, it lacks the gaudy styling and RGB lighting that some gaming peripherals have, and has an extra two fully customisable buttons on the left hand side that can be programmed to your liking, perhaps to move forward and backward through pages in a web browser or to undo and redo in Word. It’s a great mouse to use, very comfortable in your hand and extremely lightweight at under 100 grams. It’s powered by a single AA battery, with one included in the box, and battery life is rated at 250 hours with an indicator light reminding you before the battery runs out. It’s made of a durable material, has a compact form factor and its nano Bluetooth receiver is barely noticeable when plugged into one of your computer’s USB inputs. This product comes highly recommended by us.

Printers

Printers can be bought incredibly cheap now, as low as £40 or £50, but often the manufacturers make back their money by charging more for ink cartridges. You can buy third-party ink cartridges but these aren’t guaranteed to produce the best results so it’s generally best to stick with the manufacturer’s own ink. You can buy a very good quality printer for between £100 and £300, with PC Pro magazine recently recommending the Canon Pixma TS8350 as a great all-rounder, available from the Printerbase website for £170.14. It’s a mid-range inkjet model with print, copy and scan capabilities, Wi-Fi and USB connectivity, 4800 x 1200 DPI print resolution, borderless printing and a large LCD touchscreen. It can print a black and white A4 page in 13 seconds, and a colour page in 21 seconds which is not the fastest by any means, although its performance with colour photos is more impressive with a 6 x 4 inch photo printed at the highest settings taking around two minutes when tested by the folks at PC Pro.

Pictured: the Canon Pixma TS8350

Inkjet printers, when bought offer great value for money up-front, but they do come with some downsides. The usual business model of printer makers is to subsidise the price of new printers with expensive ink. This is now starting to change though as some brands have begun to move away from this practise and now provide some exciting new alternative refill methods to help reduce the high cost of ink replacement. One of these is HP’s Instant Ink program, described as an ink cartridge replacement service, based on a subscription model and with users being charged by the page, on top of a minimum monthly fee. Another new type of product are printers that are refillable with bottles, pioneered by Epson with their EcoTank range. Canon offer a similar range of bottle-fed printers such as the excellent Canon Pixma G5050, available on Printerbase.co.uk for £208 with two large bottles of black ink included in the box; enough for 18,000 black and white pages; and bottles of cyan, magenta and yellow ink available separately. The printer is hardly the fastest out there, taking around 11 seconds to print a black and white page.

Pictured: the small but powerful HP LaserJet Pro M28w Multi-Function (but mono) printer

While these new payment models help mitigate one of inkjet printing’s traditional downsides, there is still the issue of the inkjets themselves becoming clogged up with ink, especially likely if you print only occasionally and leave your printer unused for any period of time. Laser printers don’t suffer from this problem, and have plenty of other advantages over their inkjet counterparts too. Lasers move fast, so they can print pages at a much faster rate than an inkjet, and the focused nature of a laser beam means it can print far more precisely with no chance of blurring on the page. The high-speed performance is the reason why many offices will use a single laser printer for an entire department, with the printer being able to keep up with all the worker’s printing needs. Laser printers are much cheaper to run than inkjets too, with toner generally being very cheap and long-lasting. Although laser printers have traditionally been too expensive for home users, and are still often more expensive than an inkjet equivalent, there are now more affordable options available, especially if you only need a mono (black and white) printer. The HP LaserJet Pro M28w Multi-Function Printer is available on Amazon for £129.99, a mono printer with scanner and copier functionality, is energy efficient, can scan directly from a mobile device and has a small footprint at around 30cm². If you need a colour printer then the HP Colour LaserJet Pro M283fdw Multi-Function Printer is a superb choice, albeit somewhat larger in size than the previous option, and is available on Amazon for £299 with a three-year HP commercial warranty. Both options come with a pre-installed toner cartridge so they’re ready to print right out of the box.

Headsets

Headsets that consist of headphones with an integrated microphone on a stalk are very useful during conference and video calls. Often, headsets like these are primarily designed for gamers, but they provide much better sound quality in both directions than the cheap mics and speakers that come built into laptops, so they make an excellent choice for video conferencing. Sennheiser produce some excellent models, although they can be quite pricy. We would recommend the SteelSeries Arctis 1 as a more wallet friendly version which is available on (again) Amazon for £45.97. There’s also a wireless version of the same headset available for £99.99 on Amazon and again, yes delivery is free if you are a Prime member, and no, Amazon are not paying us, although they are welcome to do so!

Pictured: The SteelSeries Arctis 1

Another option is a separate microphone such as the excellent Blue Yeti or Blue Snowball USB microphones manufactured by Logitech, available on Amazon for £119 and £59.99 respectively and both with free delivery. These are used by small Youtubers, professional podcasters and everyone in-between, and are considered one of the best condenser microphones around, sub £1000, providing near-broadcast levels of quality whilst still being an easy to use, plug and play device.

Pictured: The Blue Yeti USB condenser microphone. Available in other colours.

Webcam

Although your laptop will most likely have a webcam, they are generally quite low quality.

Logitech make a great webcam capable of recording images at 1080p resolution, the Logitech C920S HD Pro, which is available from Argos for £84.99, and is pictured below.

Another obvious option is to use your phone for video calls. Your smartphone will likely have a far better-quality camera than your laptop, but holding it up with one hand is hardly an ideal solution, so buying a tripod like the one pictured below could be the answer. The KobraTech Mobile Phone Tripod is available, also on Amazon, for under £19.99 and has flexible legs, allowing you to easily find a suitable spot to perch your phone on.

Like your laptop’s inbuilt camera, its integrated speakers will generally be of a low quality, mainly due to the fact that they have to fit into such a small space, and as such can’t move the large amount of air needed to produce the full range of sound waves. Some music producers have taken to mastering their tunes with smartphone speakers in mind, which is shocking frankly.

To get decent sound quality out of your laptop, you’ll need external speakers. A decent low-cost option is the Logitech Z333 multimedia 2.1 speaker set, pictured here and available at Curries for £59.99. 2.1 in the context of speakers refers to the fact that there are 2 channels (left and right, or stereo) with the .1 representing the subwoofer.

You could go all out and buy some studio monitors, designed to accurately reproduce sound for mastering music or film soundtracks. You can buy reasonably priced options like the Edifier White R1280T active speakers available on Amazon for £89.99, or for something more premium the Yamaha HS range of active monitors are used in production studios by professional producers, and the smaller Yamaha HS5 active monitors, pictured below are available for around £150 each; they are usually sold individually but you should use two of them in combination to get the proper stereo effect. Bear in mind that the speakers we have described here are all ‘active’ which means they have amplification built-in. If you wanted to use a set of regular hi-fi speakers you would need to use an amplifier.

Getting yourself the right kit can make the world of difference to your experience working from home. We’re not suggesting you buy everything that we’ve listed here but it’s definitely worth looking into buying the things that you feel could make a difference to you and make your work easier to do.

In the next article we’ll be taking a detailed look at the extensive range of keyboards available, and how they can help make work more enjoyable, and save your wrists and hands from the various repetitive strain injuries that continue to plague our generation.

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