Your Home Office: Managing Technology and Software as a Contractor

By Dave Allen
Consultant and Client Coordinator, Origin Editorial

Takehome Points:

Understand how your space and equipment provide tax benefits.

It is a best practice to separate your personal and business technology, a dedicated work hard drive, computer, or device will protect you and allow you to separate home and work life.

Be ready to provide software compatible with the needs of your client.

Understand your technology needs and make sure you understand the needs and expectations of your client.

Learn about data security and file management and implement secure back-up and storage solutions. 

Editor’s Note: Peer review management, journal publishing, and many other activities within scholarly publishing frequently are managed by teams that include contractors—this has become even more common because of the pandemic, with journals finding cost-savings with outsourced editorial personnel. Today’s post by Dave Allen is the first in a series of posts that will be published over the course of the next several months that focuses on topics that are of particular interest to contractors. The intent of the “… as a Contractor” series is to provide practical information on best practices for working as an independent contractor in scholarly publishing. 

Managing the technology of your home office as a remote contractor should be considered carefully with an annual review. This is important considering the current environment where phishing and ransomware attacks are growing more sophisticated. As a contractor, any security breach or attack may also impact on your clients. It is important to understand your needs and the potential needs and requirements of your clients. It will fall on you to be ready to work and have the software and technology required to meet your contractual obligations. This includes data management and security of your client’s data. The following article will provide some advice and best practices on how to manage your home office technology, including assessing your equipment and software needs, secured internet, data security and management, and contractor insurance.

Your Home Office
You should select a space that you can dedicate to your work, as the square footage of your home office may be used as a tax deduction. You are allowed to deduct a percentage of your bills by calculating the percentage of your living space that is dedicated to work. You use this calculation to deduct the same percentage from your utilities, internet, and phone bills. If you use a tax program, such as QuickBooks Self-Employed, then you can set up regular, automated tracking of your bills and expenses for tax purposes. In addition, if you make equipment and furniture purchases for exclusive work use, these are 100% tax deductible. This is important to note when assessing your equipment and software needs.

Assessing Hardware and Equipment Needs
Contractors must often supply their own software and equipment when working for clients. While some clients may provide access to software licenses and company email accounts, a contractor cannot expect that this will happen. Many contractors use their personal computers and devices; however, this can be a security concern for you and your client. It could allow for your personal and work data to mingle, with possible embarrassing or legal complications. If you use your personal computer for work, then I recommend you use a separate hard drive dedicated to work. This approach allows you to store information and install programs, such as email clients, on a separate drive from your personal data. This drive can be either internal or external. However, it is best practice to purchase a separate computer or device for exclusive use for work. Purchasing a different computer allows for a complete tax deduction (up to USD $2,500). It also means that you may clearly separate all the equipment and software required for work and prevent any complications of mingling your personal and work data. When assessing your hardware needs, you need to make a few key decisions:

    •      Disk space: A minimum of 512 gigabytes with a recommended 1 terabyte space. This can be offset if you purchase secure cloud storage for work and upload your data rather than save locally.
    •      External backup: Every contractor should back up their data. It is best to have an external hard drive or a secure cloud storage solution (such as Microsoft OneDrive or DropBox) to make certain that you do not lose your data in case of a hard drive failure or cyberattack.
    •      Memory: Graphics or applications such as Zoom use a lot of memory and negatively impact the performance of your computer. Eight gigabytes used to be fine for business but applications are becoming more complex and require more memory to run multiple programs concurrently. I recommend at least 16 gigabytes of memory.
    •      Graphics: Onboard graphics (graphic processors built into the system motherboard rather than as a separate card) can be sufficient unless you need to work with image files. It is best to make sure that you have a graphics card installed in case you need to deal with images or even graphic-heavy presentations or video content.
    •      Monitor(s): It is best to select a monitor(s) that provides enough space to handle multiple applications. If using a single monitor, then 27-inch is ideal. If using dual monitors, then I recommend two 24-inch monitors. For those doing quality check on manuscript submissions, two monitors are recommended.
    •      KVM Switch: A KVM switch is a simple way to reuse peripheral equipment (monitors, mouse, keyboard, camera, etc.). It is a simple device that allows you to hook up one set of peripherals and switch between your personal and work computer. You will need to research these devices to ensure they have enough ports for all your equipment.

Assessing Software Needs    
It is equally important to assess your software needs. Every contractor should establish the software expectations of the client before signing a contract. You need to understand the client’s expectations so that you have the right applications available for the job. In some cases, you may request a software allowance as part of the contract if you must purchase applications for the position. In general, you will need to be ready to provide a suite of business software. This software may include Adobe, Microsoft, or Google applications to be used for email, documents, spreadsheets, and office phone. Any software or subscription you purchase may be used as a tax deduction provided you use it exclusively for work. If not used exclusively for work, then you may use the home office percentage to calculate the percentage you may deduct. You can also use free or open-source software to fulfill these needs; however, these may not meet your clients’ needs. The predominate business software remains Microsoft Office.

Personally, I maintain a Microsoft Office License tied to my personal Google email, which is dedicated to business. This provides a suite of tools dedicated to work and includes options such as FindTime (an Outlook alternative to Doodle) and Microsoft Teams (alternative to Zoom and GoTo Meeting). I also encourage the use of internet phone applications, such as Google Voice, to provide a separate work number. This can be used on your computer or as an application on your smart phone to provide a dedicated phone line for work. Also note that the use of your personal phone for work offers similar challenges to using a personal computer such as interrupting personal time, lost or stolen devices may lead to data breaches, and you could be asked to download applications, such as device security, which could impact your personal use. A separate device for work is fully tax deductible and this includes the calling plan. If you choose to use a personal phone, I highly recommend a phone/voice application to provide a separate phone number. I also recommend that you use a separate email application on your smart phone to separate work and personal email.

Assessing Data Security  
Data security and management is critical. A data breach can lead to a loss in client trust, loss of the client, and potentially expensive legal consequences. As a contractor, you are responsible for the management of your business and client data. You need to mitigate your risk by investing in security: antivirus software, encrypted Wi-Fi, secure data storage, and regular software updates. You must be aware that using an unsupported version of an operating system or unpatched software leaves you and your data vulnerable. Investing time and resources into security and providing for secure storage of data and data backups is best practice for contractors. A contractor should use password managers, such as BitWarden or Google, with secure passwords to access client data. Also, I encourage contractors to encrypt their hard drives and both Microsoft’s Bitlocker or Apple’s FileVault 2 are free to use. These programs encrypt the data at rest on your hard drives. You do not want to be responsible for a data breach. Finally, consider investing in contractor insurance. If you are responsible for a breach, insurance can mitigate any severe financial consequences.

Helpful Resources

Conflicts of Interest:
None to declare

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