Balancing the Home Office and the Family Computer

A home business conjures images of a small, cozy workspace with a computer dedicated solely for business use. Family members do not touch the computer, understanding that the success of the business rides, in no small part, on the machine.

Ah, the ideal home office. So wonderful, so productive, and for many home business owners, so…unattainable. Tough budgeting decisions often mean a business computer doubles as the family computer, which reduces the security of business information. Fortunately, a few simple precautions allow you to strike a balance between work and play.

Work and Play — In That Order

First, and perhaps most importantly, every member of the family needs to understand that work takes precedence over play where the computer is concerned. When you’re working, no one has any rights to the computer at all. After business activities, homework has priority, with entertainment coming in a distant third.

Explain to kids (and partners) that the success of your business directly affects family finances. The more productive you are, the more money comes in (along with the tempting possibility of a second computer in the future).

Keep Accounts Separate

All family members should have their own user profile, with their own user name and password. If you use Windows, you can find User Account settings in the Control Panel.

Separate accounts provide several advantages. Consider the desktop. Customizing the desktop is one of the first things most people do with their computer. Logging in to your business computer to find the teenager rearranged your icons and changed your wallpaper irritates you and reduces your productivity. Separate user profiles also keep your documents separate from those of other family members, so you can keep your business files organized.

If you’re using Windows, make sure that your assign yourself administrator privileges and all other users have standard profile accounts. Standard accounts can install and remove programs, but cannot make system-wide changes that affect all users. As the only administrator, you have complete control over the computer.

Control Downloads

Unsafe downloads can introduce spyware and viruses into your computer. Family members need to understand that downloads constitute a potential business threat.

You may decide to completely prohibit downloads, but that’s exactly the type of rule that children seem hardwired to ignore. A less stringent option allows family members to download material once you give it the okay. Point out that this doesn’t just protect you; it also protects the computer, and by extension, family members’ computer use.

If you already use an antivirus program such as Norton or McAfee, check the program settings for parental controls or Internet blocking features. You can set these to prevent users from accessing suspicious or malicious sites. (EasyTech offers Peace of Mind services that can help you set up your antivirus programs.)

Update and Patch Frequently

Updating antivirus programs and installing operating-system security patches protects any computer, but is especially important for a computer that combines vital business information with family use. Schedule regular update checks for both your operating system and virus protection program.

Don’t Back Down on Backups

If your business relies on a single computer, regular backups are essential. Information loss comes in many forms. A virus might delete vital files. Your hard drive might suddenly die. The two-year-old might pour a glass of milk through the CPU’s ventilation screens. In any of these cases, if you don’t have a backup, your business screeches to a sudden, and possibly permanent, halt.

You can upload information into the cloud, back up vital files on USB drives, or use an external hard drive. Just make sure you back up regularly. Taking a few minutes to back up every Friday afternoon could save your business.

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