Office Technology

Technological innovation has boosted productivity in operations of all sizes and has been instrumental in turning small local businesses into global empires. Whereas in the past there was no Internet, email, mobile advertising, smartphones or telecommuting, today’s businesses have powerful technological tools and access to vast amounts of information through email and the Internet.

A 2013 Dell study of 1,000 small businesses found that technology plays a major role in a company’s growth. What’s more, 69 percent of SMBs and start-ups reported that the daily operations of their business depend on some form of technology.

Business owners need to squeeze every drop of productivity out of their tangible and intangible resources and the right technology tools can help the employees get tasks done more quickly. This chapter will cover the basic pieces of electronic equipment a business needs, along with tips for strategic placement and maintenance.

Technology and Workflow

- The key to a more efficient workflow is ensuring the office technology is up to date. While upgrading the technology might include more capital outlay at the outset, the right updates can help lower the operating costs over the long term. Modern technological equipment tends to work more quickly and efficiently than tools that were available to businesses even as recently as a decade ago.

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Newer technological equipment is generally easier to operate which helps save time and money on staff training. Modern technological tools are intended to work optimally with an updated office technology network. This is critical when establishing a print network or other managed IT services. If the office equipment is obsolete, investing in new tools is the best way to ensure productivity and efficiency in daily operations.

Essential Office Technology



Computers  

- Computers for the office staff are likely to be the most important pieces of equipment businesses will invest in. So, it’s crucial to choose the right ones for underlying but vital business needs. If computers are generally only needed to surf the web and use email, a top-of-the-line system is not necessary. If, on the other hand, business operations involve heavy-duty video editing, owners should purchase something more robust than a basic laptop.

Businesses can choose from a variety of options available in the market. Basic office computers and low-end computers are used to perform basic tasks like managing documents and spread sheets, handling email, using the Internet, or utilising accounting software. High-end computers are configured to enable engineers or graphic designers’ management of Computer Aided Design (CAD) software or graphic design software respectively. Laptops or tablets perform basic office tasks but are also convenient for slideshows or presentations, which makes them ideal for employees who are not tied down to their workstations.

Computers should be placed in a dry area, away from sources of excess moisture or heat. All computers should be plugged into surge protectors and the ventilation holes on the computers should be clear of dust or blockages.

Office layout (i.e. power outlet availability, privacy concerns) and what types of tasks each employee will need to perform must also be considered. Regular computer maintenance keeps the system running smoothly. This is crucial for maximising efficiency and productivity. Regular maintenance includes hard drive cleaning and defragmenting, scanning for viruses and malware, backing up data, and performing security checks.

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Every month, employees should defragment their hard drive and scan for errors. Data should be backed up daily and a scan for malware should be performed every week. Depending on employees’ skills and the company’s needs, they can either perform regular maintenance themselves or leave it to professionals.

Backup Devices  

- Backup devices protect valuable business data and provide an easy means of recovery in the event of a theft, accident or fire. Backup devices are a good investment for small businesses that don’t want to store sensitive data in the cloud or on local hard drives. Examples of backup devices are USB sticks, which can store up to 128 GB of data, USB Hard Drives for use with a USB 3.0 port, which can store up to 2 TB of data, solid state drives, which are small, fast and durable, and network storage servers, which are suitable for file sharing and multimedia streaming.

Optimal placement of backup devices will depend on employees’ needs and work requirements. Employees need to consider portability, storage capacity and data sensitivity when placing their backup tools. The main maintenance task performed on backup devices includes organising the files stored on each device.

Computer Network and Internet Connection

- Most businesses today rely on email, Internet searches, and cloud applications to carry out business tasks. There are two basic options for connecting to the Internet: wired and wireless. Wired Internet connection is faster, more reliable and more secure.

It is also less expensive than wireless connection and offers full control over the network. In contrast, wireless connection is more convenient as it allows use of mobile devices and there are fewer unsightly cables. On the other hand, it can be costly depending on the number of access points (routers) that need to be installed.

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“Wifi router” by Sunil Soundarapandian is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When setting up a wired connection, layout of the office must be considered and any necessary wires should run in areas that are not frequently used by employees. With a wired connection, access points should be placed as centrally as possible.

Wireless routers should not be placed near metal objects, microwaves or stone or brick walls. If possible, router should be set high on a wall or shelf. Maintenance of the network should be performed by the ISP or IT department.

Telephone System  

- While a basic one or two line telephone service may suit most businesses’ needs during the start-up stage, expanding companies might want to consider installing a more sophisticated system. Smaller organisations will need to have at least a voicemail system or answering system to service customers after hours. Larger organisations will need a business-class telephone system.

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“Meeting in progress” by Camilo Rueda López is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Some options to consider are a landline, which is a traditional phone system provided by local telephone company, virtual phone system, which forwards calls to remote workers (i.e. automated voice receptionists, answering services, call screening services), or VoIP, which allows users to make and receive calls through Internet connections.

Placement of telephones depends on employees’ daily tasks, as some of them might need more privacy or fewer distractions while speaking with clients. Maintenance of the phone service is generally performed by the service provider.

Projectors  

- Every well-equipped office must have a projector. Also known as LCD projectors, DLP projectors or business projectors, these devices are optimised for conducting presentations in boardrooms, conference rooms, and seminar venues. Projectors range from very small and portable to very large. The largest and most expensive type of projector is the auditorium projector. Smaller projectors can be wheeled from office to office or mounted on a ceiling.

The projector chosen should depend on the company’s presentation needs and the venue in which the projector is to be used. Not all projectors are equal in terms of quality of image, so an entry-level projector may not be sufficient for certain presentation requirements. While it’s not absolutely necessary, employers should also invest in a projector screen. Projector screens are designed to produce optimal picture quality.

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The placement of projectors and screens depends on the size of the room, the specifications of the projector, the seating arrangement of the audience, and the size of the screen. An online tool like Projector Central’s Projection Calculator can help determine the ideal placement of the projector in relation to the screen.

Projectors are very sensitive and delicate pieces of electronic equipment. Users must always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the care, maintenance and storage of the projector. Regular cleaning of the filters can help boost the projector’s power and extend the lamp life.

Printers  

- A growing number of businesses rely on cloud services to store and share their documents, as they are deemed more practical and more secure. However, there are certain concerns against such digital storage solutions that work in favour of the traditional option of the printed document storage solutions. A leading internet pioneer Vint Cerf warns about the negative side effects lack of written records might cause. Rapid development of operating systems and software can make digital documents and images stored using older technologies inaccessible. Digitising files might seem a convenient storage solution but it’s much easier for a soft copy to get misplaced and forgotten than it is for a properly stored hard copy. For these reasons, every organisation needs a printer.

Printers allow businesses to create hard copies of important files. This is a process that is much more convenient for managing those files and ensuring that they are accessible for years in the future.

When choosing a printer, owners should take into consideration the volume and quality of printed documents they expect their businesses to produce. Offices can generally choose between inkjet printers and laser printers, with the latter oftentimes being advocated as a more adequate option for an office setup. However, a growing number of businesses nowadays are opting for inkjet printers, as inkjet technology has improved significantly and proven to be much more reliable.

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Their speed has increased, with certain models delivering up to double the speed of comparable laser printers, while the quality and colour of prints has improved radically as well. Overall, initial investment and running costs are much lower with inkjet printers. Another notable advantage is their higher energy efficiency compared to laser printers.

Ink is also deemed a safer option with regard to environmental impact and employees’ health. For example, a research conducted by the Queensland University of Technology and Workplace Health and Safety showed that certain laser printers emitted small bits of toner in the form of ultrafine particles (UFPs)that have the potential to cause serious health problems.

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Printers should not be placed in high-traffic areas or areas that are very hot or cold. Certain businesses may need to place more printers in some areas than others depending on the needs of different departments. It’s advisable to check the manufacturer’s guide for recommended placement.

A convenient feature is the so called pull printing or follow-me printing, which allows users to store print jobs on a central server and print on the local machines of their choice. Every office will deal with a printer problem at one time or another. Common printer issues include low-ink warnings, paper jams, communication problems, poor print quality, and superimposed images.

Many of these problems can be resolved or avoided altogether with proper maintenance. Printers should be kept clean and free of dust, while printer firmware and drivers need to always be up to date. It’s recommended to use only tried and tested cartridges, whether from the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) or from the aftermarket generic cartridge manufacturers. It is also advisable to always have spares handy to avoid pointless downtimes. Employers should also consider buying a printer maintenance kit to avoid costly service calls.

Photocopiers  

- Buying the right photocopier can boost productivity and cut office supply expenses. There are two basic types of photocopiers: analogue and digital. While the more traditional analogue machine can still be purchased, most photocopiers on the market today are digital. Many digital models are, in fact, multi-functional – allowing users to copy, scan, print, fax and download all from a single machine.

When buying a photocopier, businesses must take into consideration the print capacity, print speed, graphic quality and added functionalities of the machine. These features affect not only the office workflow but the overall cost to own and use the device.

As with printers, it’s recommended to avoid placing photocopiers in a central or highly-trafficked area. Areas where the photocopier noise will distract employees also need to be avoided. Machines that use toner ink have been found to emit carbon monoxide when overheated, so it’s crucial to place it in a properly-vented area as well.

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“IMG_9985” by Stephen Shellard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lack of maintenance can lead to paper jams, overheating and excessive ink consumption. The best way to avoid costly repairs is to properly clean and maintain the machine regularly. This can include cleaning filters and rollers, clearing paper jams, wiping away dust, and cleaning paper path.To further protect the investment, owners should consider purchasing an additional maintenance service plan when buying an office copier.

Scanners  

- Scanners are great for creating digital copies of newspaper articles, photographs, handwritten notes and contracts. These digital copies can be faxed, emailed or transferred to mobile devices to increase workplace productivity. The most important features to consider when choosing a scanner include the resolution, the size of the original documents, and the frequency of use.

Businesses should also remember that some models can only scan paper documents while others can scan entire books or 3D objects. Time management and workflow can be improved by placing scanners in areas where they will be most frequently used by employees. Depending on the size of the organisation, several specialised workstations or shared areas for scanner use can be set up.

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CanoScan LiDE40 is Canon's A4 USB CIS flatbed image scanner; Image courtesy of Qurrenvia Wikimedia Commons

Without proper maintenance, scanners can experience issues such as calibration problems, dirty image sensors and improper paper feeding. Proper scanner maintenance includes cleaning the flatbed glass, automatic document feeder and image sensors regularly with a microfiber cloth. The automatic document feeder pad should be replaced after every 20,000 scans. It’s advisable to refer to the manufacturer’s guide for specific maintenance instructions.

Shredders  

- Regardless of the industry a business operates in, a shredder is essential for disposing of sensitive documents and confidential information. Shredders are available in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices. Popular shredder types include strip-cut shredders, grinders, hammer mills and paper mashers. The most secure of these types is the paper masher, which renders documents completely unreadable.

When choosing a shredder, business owners must consider what types of materials they need to shred. Certain varieties can only shred paper, while others can shred thicker objects like CDs, DVDs, and credit cards. Shredders should be picked and placed according to their size and how frequently they will be used. The noise from the shredder might affect employees’ concentration, so it should also be taken into consideration with regard to their selection and placement.

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A shredder is maintained by oiling the cylinders regularly. Proper oiling ensures sufficient lubrication and keeps the cylinders clean. To perform a general cleaning, the shredder should be wiped with a damp cloth and any debris should be removed with a vacuum before applying shredding oil. The shredder must be unplugged before cleaning and oiled only with manufacturer approved shredding oil.

Conclusion

Updated office electronic equipment will contribute to a rise in productivity, an improvement in security, and a more efficient workflow. Investing in the best technological tools is essential to ensuring the success of a business.

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