How to Set Up a Safe & Secure Home Office (from Scratch!)

By Chelsey Donohoe, M.A., Operations Specialist
Last Updated: 8 April 2020

If you’re new to remote work, you’re probably scrambling to set up your home office (for real) for the first time. Your company’s IT department and management are in charge of securing remote access to company data and systems, but you are in charge of your own workspace now. This comes with a host of considerations:

  1. (Try to) find a dedicated space. This will not only allow you to mentally separate “work” from “home” but will also give you greater control over your environment to make sure your home office fits your needs. This includes checking what will show up behind you on video conference calls (Dirty laundry? Your kid watching a slasher movie on TV? Embarrassing self-help books?). This includes checking who (or what!) can potentially see your screen and the contents of your desk (Webcams? Baby monitors? Neighbors passing by your window?). Pay attention to what might be listening in on your work conversations as well, including any voice assistants listening for commands like “Hey, Siri” or “Hey, Google” from nearby smart speakers/phones.
  2. Get the right equipment. Find a home for your charging cables, headphones, and any adapters you might need, and make sure they’re neatly organized so you don’t have to worry about untangling cords when you’re in a hurry later. If you’re working with a company-issued laptop, get a docking station, monitor, HDMI cables, keyboard, and mouse—your back and neck will thank you! Invest in ergonomically-friendly seating as well, and pay attention to how your body feels when you’re in front of your computer: Is the chair the right height? What about the angle of the monitor? Would a wrist pad help prevent carpal tunnel?
  3. Make sure you have adequate access to internet service. Some companies will offer remote workers an internet stipend or company-issued mobile hotspot. Use free online tools to test whether you’re getting speeds of at least 10mbps download/ 2mbps upload. If you’re often on video conferencing calls, downloading large files, or have other family members streaming content while you’re working, speeds of 40mbps or faster are preferable. Follow all company guidelines regarding VPNs, password requirements, and authorized connections.
  4. Lock things down. You’re responsible for physically securing any assets in your custody, including your work-issued laptop and phone, any hard copies you’ve printed out, and portable media like CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, and external hard drives. Make sure anything that can be password-protected is password-protected, log out of systems when you aren’t using them, and literally lock things up when you’re done for the day (and don’t store your physical keys, passwords, or encryption keys nearby!). Lock your house doors, your office door, and the safe/cabinet drawer where you stash your work stuff. Even if you’re home alone with your family, just like you don’t want to find out that your toddler drew all over your printouts, you’re responsible for preventing your work computer from being infected with malware because your partner wanted to print something off a thumb drive or your teenager downloaded a game.
  5. Protect yourself from health & safety hazards. Check for leaks and spills, exposed wires, mold, the lamp cord or bump in the rug that you’re always tripping on, mouse holes, that one shoe in the back of the guest closet that your cat pooped in two months ago—especially anything that would be an OSHA violation for a business. Follow all manufacturer instructions as you install, test, and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, including changing batteries regularly. During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, follow the CDC’s guidelines for Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home (and not only when someone in your household is already sick!). When you’re done, make sure your cleaning supplies are stored safely and out of the reach of children and pets.
  6. Check your electrical outlets and surge protectors. If your outlets appear to be damaged, only have two prongs, or have a “No Equipment Ground” sticker, talk to an electrician to make sure your outlets are safe and grounded before you plug anything in, Make sure your power strip or wall adapter is actually a surge protector (don’t just assume it is!) and only plug in your router, devices, chargers, appliances, etc. if the indicator light is on to show it’s working.
  7. Make contingency plans for your family. Just like fire/tornado/active shooter drills in schools and workplaces, your family should create and practice plans for various types of emergencies, including house fires, shelter-in-place situations, and crises that may involve evacuation (e.g., wildfires, hurricanes, major flooding). All family members should know when and how to safely leave the home, where to meet later if people get split up, and how to contact emergency services and any other family members that need to be kept in the loop. Consider how you will receive information in a timely manner during a crisis situation, particularly for local disasters. If possible, keep a “go bag” stocked with food, water, a change of clothes, and first aid supplies at home and in each vehicle. Know who is in charge of helping family members with special needs and where to grab pet food, medications, identification and proof-of-ownership paperwork, and other necessary supplies during an evacuation.
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