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HOW STUFF WORKS / HOME OFFICE

How To Network Your Home Office

By SmartHouse Team | Friday | 09/03/2007

The perfect office design includes networking, entertainment and control systems.

If you own a computer, you're going to need a space for it.Throw in a printer, a scanner and a pair of desktop speakers, and you need quite a bit of room for all that gear.

The area required for computer equipment is enough to inspire many homeowners to build a dedicated home office. But how you plan to use that equipment will determine what other kinds of technologies you should incorporate into the space.

For example, if your home office will function as the headquarters of a full-fledged business, you'll certainly need to have a telephone system as well as a robust networking system in place. On the other hand, if you envision your home office as a spot for the entire family to use, a blend of business-like systems and casual entertainment components will please every member of the household.

Running a business
Technology has made it easier than ever to operate a business out of your home. Networking systems allow every computer in your office as well as computers in other rooms to simultaneously exchange files, share a common printer and surf the Internet.

But before setting up an office for your business, consider hiring an installer to route the appropriate high-speed cabling behind the walls. Naturally, the best time to pull that wire is during construction or an extensive remodeling project. That doesn't mean wiring can't be added to an existing home. Just be prepared to pay your installer more for labour, and expect that holes will need to be drilled into the walls, ceilings and floors. The installer will route the wiring to Ethernet jacks that they will mount to the walls just like an electrical outlet.

Ideally, each jack should be positioned near a computer, so when you plug the computer into the jack, very little wire will be visible.

It's a good idea to visualise the layout of your home office before you decide on jack locations. If you plan ahead, this same high-speed network can facilitate a corporate-style multi-line telephone system powered by VoIP. Incoming business calls can go directly to the office lines, while incoming personal calls can be directed to the phones in the kitchen, family room and master bedroom. The system can also enable you to put callers on hold, facilitate conference calls and transfer calls between telephones.

Obviously, a multi-line telephone system does a great job of keeping your business and personal life separate, but it is also a great tool for monitoring what's happening around the house while you work.

For instance, you can talk to household members simply by pressing the intercom button on your office phone. You can conduct a private in-home conversation with one person or everyone at once through each phone's speakerphone function. When you hear the doorbell ring, you can press a different button to speak with the person at the front door. Of course, you'll first need to have your installer attach an intercom station to the exterior of the house and connect it to the phone system.

If your home office will share the same temperature control system, stereo system and security system as the rest of the house, consider having a home control system installed. From a keypad, a touchscreen or even your computer or PDA, you'll then be able to adjust the temperature, unlock the back door for a delivery person and have music piped to your office speakers.

Working from home
Few people call it a day at 5pm anymore. That's one of the reasons telecommuting has become so popular. Instead of camping out at the office, many people are choosing to finish their work at home.

Depending on your profession and how often you telecommute, having a dedicated home office might come in very handy. Many of the same technologies that are helpful to a home-based business also make sense for telecommuters.

If you've got multiple people who want to use the Internet at once at home, a high-speed networking system, for example, will ensure that you'll be able to get online even when the kids are surfing the Web on the living room PC.

A telephone system, meanwhile, will allow you to place business calls even if your spouse is chatting away on the kitchen telephone.

Because your home office is used for serious business only part of the time, you may want to incorporate other types of systems into the room to get more use out of it.

There are a number of home offices around that can also be used for entertainment purposes. For instance, with the right gear, a home office could function admirably as a home theatre. A flat-panel LCD or plasma TV paired with speakers built into the wall or ceiling can amalgamate nicely with the office atmosphere. These devices can sit quietly in the background while you work (unless you are looking for distractions on your lunch break, of course).

When you're finished, you can turn the room into a home theatre simply by pressing a button on a remote control. You can give your office TV its own DVD player and other components, or ask your installer to network the DVD player in the family room to the office TV. The latter solution will save space, but you should be aware that you may sacrifi ce performance when you share a single player between two TV sets.

Finally, If your definition of downtime is playing video games, a home office is the perfect place for it. After all, there's already a computer in the room. And what about that big-screen TV you may have put in your office? It might be ideal for game playing. With the right connections, you can take gaming to a whole new dimension.

The action is bound to be more engaging on the screen of a 42-inch LCD TV than on a 17-inch computer monitor. And the sound? It'll seem more realistic when it's blasting through the five (or more) speakers of a surround-sound system than through the tiny units flanking your desktop computer.

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