So You Need to Design a Small Office?

Second in a Series: Technology and the SOHO

office_landingWhat does the successful small office have in it that sets it apart from the unsuccessful small office? The expectations that your time in your office is as productive as possible. Having the technology you need within reach, easily configured, can go a long way toward enhancing your productivity. Your technology list should include some or all of the following:

  • A good desk, with the ability to alter part of its height or the ability to raise and lower your keyboard and a good chair, also with the ability to raise or lower it as well as the ability to tilt it forward or backward
  • A foot rest to place your feet on, to help give your back the support you need if you are sitting for extended periods.
  • A comfortable keyboard and mouse setup if you spend a lot of time with your computer
  • A large and easy to use display (or two) to help you stay organized on the screen
  • A color-coded cable management system to keep your cables untangled and easily identified
  • A telephone headset if you are on the phone for a good portion of your time at your desk

Technologically sophisticated

  • A computer (needs internet access, either wirelessly or through a secured medium)
  • A friendly operating system that works with you, not against you
  • Well designed software, that is user friendly, powerful, works as part of an industry standard and reliable
  • A good printer (inkjet will work, a laser printer is better) I recommend the laser printer over the inkjet printer. Two problems are deal breakers for the inkjet.
  1. The first is cost. The inkjet printer is very inexpensive as little as $100, but the cost of the ink is prohibitive considering the output level of a cartridge of ink. The average ink cartridge will produce 150 pages and cost $50-100 dollars. The average medium volume laser printer can sell for as little as $300. The average laser writer cartridge costs $75 to $150 but will produce 5,000 to 10,000 sheets of output.
  2. The low cost of the inkjet printer is significantly offset by the high price of the consumables (ink). A laser printer is a significant investment but the quality of output, quantity of output, the durability of the device and the volume of output are far better than the inkjet device. The only exception to this rule is if you need high visual quality (but low volume) color output. Then inkjets are only a bit more economical.
  3. The second reason is output durability. Inkjet output can be destroyed by something as simple as a sneeze or cough. The ink does not penetrate the paper deeply and can be damaged by sneezing, coughing or even sweaty hands. Laser output is far more durable and stable and can be stored effectively for years.
  • A fax machine (or the technological equivalent to be able to send and receive a fax). There are online services as well as office devices that will allow you to send faxes (eFax Plus for $16.95 per month is one such service). Multipurpose printer/scanner/copier/fax machines are how most offices send faxes both from their computer and from the copier/scanner surface of the glass.
  • A copier (or the ability to duplicate a page successfully using a scanner and software like Acrobat). A multipurpose scanner/printer/copier often serves this function in a small office. This is not recommended for heavy duty printing as its capabilities are generally sub-par and printing is very, very expensive on an inkjet printer. You can use the scanning function to import documents into the computer, convert them into Adobe Acrobat PDF files and store them on your system, print them out, or send them to someone else as an email attachment.
  • A telephone (or technology that allows you to make a phone call such as Skype)
  • Buy a GOOD surge protector! Most places have questionable power quality. Old buildings are especially likely to have electrical spikes and drops in power integrity. Depending on where you live, more dangerous than just ‘dirty power’ is lightning!
  1. A lightning strike can have over one million volts of electricity and can destroy your computers internal components in seconds. A good surge protector protects your computer by dying instead of your computer if a major power surge should strike your power line.
  2. Quality surge protectors will defend against lightning, offer insurance coverage (at least the cost of your tech) and connect your modem or cable line as well. It will also offer spacing to support large power bricks from external devices.
  3. A good surge protector can cost upwards of $30 to $100 dollars. (Balanced against the cost of replacing your tech!)

Information-retrieval friendly

  • A fireproof and waterproof safe (not water-resistant) to protect your backup files (either on digital analog tape, CD/DVD, a small removable hard drive or on a USB flash drive) and your most important office documents; property deeds, insurance policies, warranties, etc. All of these documents and gear, should be stored in watertight sealed bags within the safe, (just in case the seal is not perfect).
  • Good filing cabinet or storage for reference materials, a bookmark system for storing important websites. I recommend the Google Toolbar online book-marking feature or the program Evernote (in working beta format) from the Evernote Corporation as online bookmark libraries. The bookmarks are not stored in your computer, they are stored online, so they are available to you anywhere you have access to a web browser.
  • Good asset management of all IT related documents, software, receipts, and warranties. A secondary external hard drive to back up your important files or a tape storage media system if you have a server or small enterprise environment and need to backup more than one computer. See Rule number 7, Backing Up.

Technological luxuries would include:

  • An iPod or other MP3 storage device – if the device has a large hard drive, it can function as another form of data storage for files you might need to transport such as PDFs or PowerPoint presentations.
  • A portable computer, portable printer, a webcam to create a conference call environment and a small removable hard drive – for the road warrior
  • A smart phone or personal digital assistant – If you communicate mostly by email, this is the way to go. The smart phone or personal digital assistant or PDA allows you to connect to your office and get your email and respond without the bulk of a laptop computer. Like any technology it will have its limitations and should be a part of an entire office plan.
  • A USB flash drive (2-4 gigabytes, with security features if possible) – One of the best technologies to come along in decades. You can store your data, you can install your programs and run them from the device, you can even store entire operating systems (Linux, easily, Windows with some work) on it and use them from the USB drive.
  1. The only weaknesses of this excellent storage medium are its size (so easy to forget somewhere or lose by accident) or its interface (USB is ubiquitous in new systems but not always responsive in older ones such as Windows 2000 or Windows 98.)
  2. There is a question of security as well, since if you lose it, you lose all of the data it contains.  New vendors are creating tools to encrypt your data automatically and several of these devices are already on the market. Kingston DataTraveler Elite Privacy Edition is a good example of such hardware.
  3. You can also use software to encrypt the data yourself but this is not without its own inherent risks. If you lose your password, you lose access to all of your files. If the password is not robust, it won’t keep anyone out. If it’s too robust, you may forget it. I have included PassWordSafe on the CD for you to experiment with as a password manager.

Remember, you get what you pay for!

  • Free is nice and low price is good, but sometimes, what you need will cost money and you will often pay handsomely for it. The trick is to be able to get help in deciding what something should be worth to you and what a reasonable price for that would be.
  • This does not mean you can’t economize and buy effectively or wait until a good price shows up at your computer store but this rule is one that should always be in mind.
  • Buy the best equipment you can. If after determining your needs, talking to a professional, and deciding what would truly be the best for you, you cannot afford what you need, then wait.
  • Save to get exactly what you need rather than a poor substitute. My experience after buy millions in information technology is: Buy it once and buy it right. But if you buy it cheap you’ll buy it twice. Once for what you thought would work, and then twice because you have to still buy what was truly needed in the first place.
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