Set up your Home-Office & What PC-Parts you’ll need

CG Director Author Tim White  by Tim White   ⋮   ⋮   6 comments
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Set up your Home-Office & What PC-Parts you’ll need

Roughly 5% of people who work do so from home.

It’s a pretty sweet deal (I’m writing this in my pajamas in between episodes of Firefly), but it has its own unique set of challenges that the other 95% of working adults don’t have to deal with.

If you’re new to working from home, you’ll find it far more enjoyable if you preemptively get all your ducks in a row—but some of those ducks may not be obvious.

In this guide, we’ll help you set up a work environment that’s both comfortable and conducive to productivity.

We’ll also discuss your new hardware and software needs, financial considerations, and staying compliant with your employer’s policies.

Note that this guide is geared primarily toward digital content creators, such as 3D artists or video editors but many of the general tips are applicable to any industry.

Purposefully Arranging Your Workspace

Your employer has (hopefully) put some real time and money into ensuring that your desk or office at work is configured to maximize your success.

Setting up an office in your home that makes it easy for you to do great work takes some careful thought and planning, but it’s essential.

First (and most obviously), your home workspace should be clean, quiet, and free of distractions. If you have a spare bedroom, use it, but it’s not strictly necessary to have a whole room all to yourself.

A corner of the kitchen or den can work fine, as long as your family members or roommates know not to disrupt your work.

A casual Home-Office setting, Image by blupics on Flickr

If you’re going to be sitting for more than an hour at a time, proper ergonomics is absolutely critical. You’ll need, at minimum, a chair and desk which incentivize good posture that is both healthy and comfortable.

If you’re going to be working from home for weeks or months, a proper chair is unquestionably an investment worth making, even if your company won’t buy one for you.

Not only do you want to avoid pain and long-term health problems, you’ll also find it easier to focus and thus be more productive if you maintain good posture.

Do your best to stick to the schedule you typically keep at work. This will help to periodically remind your brain that it’s work time, not “I can screw around because I’m at home” time.

Take frequent stretch breaks and feel free to attend to quick, important chores as needed, but beware of letting nonessential tasks eat too heavily into your work hours.

Finally, take some time to think about any extra equipment or tools you may need. These could include:

  • A microphone or headset for chatting with your coworkers and clients
  • A scanner and/or printer for sending and receiving documents
  • Extra USB storage drives or external hard drives
  • Ergonomic or specialized mice, keyboards, or other accessories
  • A stable, fast internet connection (you may need to upgrade your service if your job requires uploading or downloading a ton of data)
  • A new modem or router, if your current one isn’t compatible with your new internet package

Hardware Check

If you’re lucky, your employer will set you up with a company-owned computer that’s already loaded with everything you’ll need to work from home—but most of you probably aren’t quite that lucky.

More likely, you’ll need to use your personal computer.

If you are able to borrow company-owned hardware, make sure to inspect it thoroughly before you accept it and after you turn it back in, and have someone else verify that it’s in good condition both times.

The most basic question to ask is:

Does your home computer have enough raw horsepower to render 3D models, edit 4K video, or process thousands of ultra-HD images?

Us writers needn’t worry too much—a wood-burning Apple II from 1977 will do in a pinch—but most visual artists need some pretty specialized hardware.

How to Check Your PC Specs

As usual, let’s gather some basic information before we worry about anything else.

On Windows PCs, it’s super easy to check your system specs.

Just type “dxdiag” (without the quotes) into the main Windows search bar and you’re done! If you need more detailed stats on your video, audio, or input devices and drivers, just click over to the relevant tab.

Image-Credit: Microsoft

If you’re not sure exactly what to do with this information, send it to your supervisor or IT guy. They should be able to tell you if your hardware is sufficient and suggest solutions if it isn’t.

We also have lots of in-depth articles on buying the right Hardware for any type of workload you might be running. Start with “What kind of PC do you need” and follow along from there.

Rendering and Other Resource-Intensive Tasks

If your home PC isn’t beefy enough to do what you need it to do, there may be offsite or cloud-based alternatives.

Ideally, your company will have hardware that you can access remotely—this way, you won’t have to pay for extra services or learn any new programs.

Of course, if you do need to use any third-party services or purchase any new hardware for your personal computer, your employer should either pay for it or reimburse you.

  • For 3D artists: Websites like RanchComputing and Rebusfarm allow you to directly export your projects from most 3D programs, such as Cinema 4D, Maya, 3DsMax or Blender. They’ll use their massively powerful hardware to render your project and get it back to you quickly.
    • Pros: Frees up your hardware (and your time) for other tasks, faster turnaround times than any single computer can manage
    • Cons: Extra costs per revision, increased dependency on others, may not be an option for sensitive/confidential projects
  • For video and photo editors (smaller Projects): You may want to consider working with cloud-based editing programs, especially if you need to collaborate on projects with others and/or if you expect to be working from home for weeks or months.
    • Pros: Saves time, facilitates easy collaboration with others
    • Cons: Limited features compared to most traditional editing software, difficult to preview the final product in high quality, can be expensive, Internet is just too slow for high-res footage editing

If you must (or prefer to) do heavy-duty rendering or editing on your own hardware, do some experiments and test projects to get an idea of how it compares to your setup at work.

Communicate proactively with your supervisor and team members and let them know if you need more time than usual to deliver projects.

If you’re thinking about upgrading your personal PC, be sure to browse our selection of guides to the best PC builds for various kinds of editing and design work.

Software Check

There are several different kinds of software you’re likely to need to work from home efficiently, especially if you’re part of a team.

Most are pretty straightforward, but a few are more specialized.

Communication Software

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of communication apps designed specifically for professional use.

The most popular of them, by far, is Slack, which is great for facilitating text, video, and voice chat for up to 15 people at a time. (Text channels, which are different from group messages, support unlimited users.)

Image-Credit: Slack

Slack’s utility doesn’t end with text and voice chat—it also supports hundreds of plugins for popular apps such as Google Drive, Salesforce, Trello, and all the major calendars.

There are many alternatives to Slack, like Skype, Flock, and Discord, but most of them aren’t nearly as robust in terms of features and/or aren’t designed specifically for work.

Still, depending on your team’s needs, one of these alternatives may be a better fit. For instance, Slack can’t save more than 10,000 messages, whereas Discord keeps all messages forever.

Remote Desktop Software

Depending on the exact nature of the work you do, the simplest and most cost-effective way to work from home may be to simply use remote desktop software like TeamViewer.

Such programs allow you to directly control your work computer from a different one, meaning that you don’t have to modify your home computer at all.

Image-Credit: TeamViewer

There are a few downsides to this approach, however.

Most obviously, your work computer needs to be on, and there needs to be someone physically present at your workplace to restart or troubleshoot it if needed.

Remote access programs also tend to suffer from mild to moderate lag, even with a strong internet connection on both ends, so if you need to click frequently and precisely, the annoyance may become too much to bear.

FTP Clients

If you’ll need to regularly upload files to a server at work, you might need to use an FTP client. FTP (file transfer protocol) is one of the oldest and most reliable methods of securely transferring files from one place to another, but it does require some setup and familiarization.

Regular FTP transfers are fairly simple: You connect to a server with a client such as FileZilla or SmartFTP, enter a username and password, and transfer files back and forth using simple folder-based directories similar to Windows file explorer windows.

SFTP (secure file transfer protocol) is a bit tricker, at least in the setup phase, and if you’re going to be accessing company servers, you’ll probably have to do it this way.

Rather than prompting users for a username and password, SFTP authenticates you with a pair of security keys, one public and one private.

Image-Credit: Filezilla

Each key pair is unique, and each key in that pair will not work with any other key. When you connect to your company’s servers this way, you’ll be allowed in automatically.

It’s kind of like a bouncer at a bar letting you in because he knows your face.

Your IT guy at work should be able to generate these keys for you and tell you how to configure your FTP client to use them.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

It’s also possible that you may be required to use a VPN (virtual private network) in order to work from home. Even if your employer doesn’t require this, it’d still be a smart move on your part.

VPNs route all of your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel, making it nearly impossible for anyone else to see what you’re doing or gain unauthorized access to your data.

A VPN is one of the simplest and most effective ways to secure the data you’re working with.

However, be advised that because VPNs bounce your internet particles through several extra servers, some of which could be thousands of miles away, you’re going to lose a lot of upload/download speed.

Make sure that your connection is fast enough that a potential reduction in speed won’t matter too much.

Proofing

Most visual artists need someone else to proof their work when it’s ready for delivery, and if you’re used to having someone physically walk over to your desk to check your work, getting it done over the internet can present some surprising challenges.

If your company is on a tight budget, or if you’re a relatively small business that doesn’t need to track too many projects, something as simple as screen sharing could work but this requires both you and the person you are showing it to, to be online at the same time.

If you have bigger teams or more complex projects that require detailed comments on parts of frames and images to be tracked, though, a more detail-oriented approach may be necessary.

Emailing back and forth or relying on group chats won’t cut it; it’s too easy for conversations and updates to get lost in the mix.

Apps like Workfront (formerly known as ProofHQ) are designed specifically to solve this problem.

They offer meticulous project tracking tools that make it easy for all members of a team to check the current status of a project and see which tasks are assigned to whom.

Image-Credit: ProofHQ

An alternative to Workfront ist Wipster, which offers a free plan for small projects.

Backing Up and Syncing Your Work

Finally, it’s absolutely crucial to back up your work regularly.

Many companies will require you to do so at least once a day when you’re working from home, but even if they don’t, do you really want to have to redo hours or days of work if your hard drive suddenly dies?

If you only need to back up a handful of folders or directories, free services like Google Drive and Dropbox might be just the ticket.

Both have simple, lightweight desktop clients that add folders to your hard drive. Anything you put in those folders will be automatically backed up and synced in real time.

If you need to back up a ton of data, though, or your internet connection is too slow for using cloud storage, you’ll probably need a more heavy-duty solution.

Programs like Freefilesync (free), Acronis and EaseUS are affordable, easy to use, reliable, and more than capable of backing up large amounts of data.

Image-Credit: Acronis

Speaking of hard drives—you should seriously consider picking up a rock-solid external hard drive that you’ll use exclusively for work.

Ideally, you’ll want to create backups both in cloud storage and on a separate local drive every time you do so.

The odds of one backup being accidentally deleted or corrupted are pretty low, but the odds of losing two separate backups are astronomical, so your work will be very safe if you double up.

Financial Considerations

At least in the U.S., the tax code is inordinately complicated and applies differently to people who work from home.

If at all possible, have a detailed conversation with your HR person before your first day working from home.

Ask questions such as:

  • Will I need extra equipment or services? Will they be required or merely helpful? (Your direct supervisor may be more qualified to answer these two)
  • Will you pay for anything I need up front or will I be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses?
  • When and how should I submit expense reports, reimbursement requests, and any other required financial paperwork?

If you are or are about to become an independent contractor (also known as a 1099 employee in the U.S.), you can deduct any work-related expenses that your employer doesn’t reimburse you for.

Note that these expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” for the performance of your job, but they needn’t be required by your employer—if you buy software, tools, office furniture, or anything else that makes your job easier or increases your productivity, you can probably deduct it.

Regular (i.e., W-2) employees are also eligible to deduct work-related expenses that your employer doesn’t reimburse you for, but the rules are different, somewhat more limited, and far more vague.

Consult a tax professional if you think you need help figuring all this out (you will—it’s horribly complicated, inconsistently enforced, and makes no sense).

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to consider when you’re about to transition from working on site to working at home—far more than any single guide could cover exhaustively.

It takes weeks or months to get into an efficient flow and to start feeling confident that you’ve accounted for all of the most important variables.

We hope this guide has helped you make a plan to tackle the most essential considerations. Did we miss any helpful tips, or do you have some of your own to add?

Let us know in the comments!

Find a new friend on the CGDirector Forum! Expert Advice & PC-Build Planning with a warm and friendly Community! :)

Tim White - post author

Hi, I’m Tim, a freelance writer and editor who spends a lot of time gaming and tinkering with the inside of my PC.

I once got a GTX 970 to (kind of) run Crysis at max settings.

If you have comments or questions, drop them here—I’ll help out if I can!

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Comments
Also check out our Forum for feedback from our Expert Community.

Darren

Hi Tim
I need a pg for graphic design
I can spend around $1.5k for the pc
Can you help me with the best components
Thanks a lot
Darren

Hey Darren,

Thanks for dropping a line!

Given your $1,500 budget, you can get a graphic design-centric build like the below:

Parts List:

CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X 3.8GHz 12-Core Processor ($432.37)
CPU Cooler: be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 AM4 ($87.32)
Motherboard: MSI MPG x570 Gaming Plus ATX AM4 ($140.79)
GPU: NVIDIA RTX 2060 6GB – MSI Gaming ($349.39)
Memory: 32GB (2 x 16GB) Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200 CL16 ($144.99)
Storage PCIe-SSD: Samsung 970 EVO 500GB M.2 Solid State Drive ($124.28)
Power Supply: Corsair RMx Series RM650x 650W ATX 2.4 Power Supply ($119.99)
Case: Corsair Carbide Series 200R ATX Mid Tower Case ($74.99)

The total cost of the build comes up to approximately $1,474.12 but you can expect task responsiveness from this build thanks to its Ryzen 9 3900X CPU and 32GB of RAM. In addition to that, you also get an RTX 2060 graphics card included in the build along with a 500GB NVMe SSD which will help speed things up a bit. One thing to note though is your storage is only 500GB and that can fill up pretty quickly if you’re working with large files so you might want to invest in an additional HDD. A 2TB HDD from Seagate or Western Digital will do the job. Other than that, all’s good with that build!

Cheers,
Alex

Zoya Nair

can you recommend a laptop for work from home

the laptop will mostly be used for data entry and web research

budget is 700$ the lower the better thanks

Hi Zoya,

Thanks for asking!

If the laptop is going to be used for just data entry and web research, you need not spend $700 for that matter. Please take a look at the Lenovo Ideapad S340 Laptop priced at around $599.00. Below are it’s specs:

CPU Intel Core i5-8265U Quad-Core Processor
Graphics Card Intel UHD Graphics 620
Memory(RAM) 8GB DDR4
SSD 256GB M.2 Solid State Drive
HDD –
Weight 2.2 kg (~4.84pounds)
Display 15.6″, 1366×768

As mentioned, the Lenovo Ideapad S340 Laptop is available for around $599.00 and this laptop is perfect for your needs. It has an i5-8265U CPU and 8GB of RAM that delivers a decent performance. In addition to that, it comes with a 256GB SSD for that added snap factor when you’re working. All in all, the $599.00 can’t be beat at this price point.

Cheers,
Alex

Zoya Nair

thank you for the prompt response

what can i get for 500$? will that do? with the quarantine i’m hesitant to spend too much on a laptop

Hey Zoya,

In that case, please have a look at the HP Notebook 15-dy1731ms priced at around $479.99. Below are its specs:

CPU Intel Core i3-1005G1 Processor
Graphics Card Intel UHD Graphics (Integrated)
Memory(RAM) 8GB DDR4
SSD 128GB Solid State Drive
HDD –
Weight ~4.40 pounds
Display 15.6″, 1366×768

Given its relatively cheap price, the HP Notebook 15-dy1731ms only has an entry-level i3-1005G1 CPU but it does come with 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD. All in all, this laptop will do decently for data entry and web research.

Cheers,
Alex