According to a May 2012 report by the National Economic Council, there are 28 million small businesses in the U.S. employing 60 million Americans – roughly half of the private sector workforce. The balance between budgeting and productivity can be challenging to small firms, particularly those working to get (or maintain) a foothold in today’s economy.
As I travel for appearances on TV and radio, I am often asked what technology small business owners really need and what they can live without. With no further ado, here’s my “Buy This, Not That” series for the small office environment.
The largest technology expense in a small office environment, especially one just starting out, is likely computers. Desktop computers are typically the most versatile, particularly to those who require a specialized configuration like dual monitors, upgraded graphics capability, or multiple peripheral attachments (like cameras, custom keyboards, or audio equipment). However, desktops lack mobility, often making it a hassle to work from home or on the road.
According to a Yankee Group report published in 2008, more than 50 million U.S. workers are considered mobile (i.e. away from their primary workspace more than 20% of the time). To a small business owner or executive, the ability to access a work project when away from the office is often pivotal to success and productivity.
Some offices accommodate this with an FTP or cloud-based file server that users log into when they are away from the office. However, if your business requires specialized software it can get costly to install it on multiple machines. While users could use a remote login program like LogMeIn to access their work computer while away, their productivity will hinge on the strength of their internet connection.
Instead, consider equipping employees with laptops and docking stations. This will give you the best of both worlds at minimal additional cost. A docking station allows you to connect a laptop to a multitude of additional devices with one plug, typically via USB. Look for one that includes software to allow your system to function with the top closed, so that you can utilize external keyboards, mice and monitors. When deadlines loom (and, frankly, when don’t they?), the laptop has the portability to allow you to continue working from anywhere. No need to remotely access software or data from a secondary system – everything is exactly where you left off. Yet when you return to the office, one connection lets you work under optimal conditions to ensure your comfort and efficiency during your workday.
I like the Toshiba Dynadock U3.0 Universal USB Connect Docking Station which works with any Windows-based computer and is available for around $130. Its built-in video card supports two large monitors and the HDMI-out port allows you to view 1080p HD videos or games on an external display. It supports network data transfer over USB 3.0 and surround sound through either HDMI or 3.5mm audio. Compared to the two to four USB ports on many laptops, the six USB slots will increase the number of peripherals you can connect.
This is also a great option for allowing multiple users to share a specialized piece of equipment, like a large monitor or projector. Set up the docking station and whoever is hosting today’s sales conference can get going with a single connection.
A note about tablets: while their versatility is improving with every year, they are not yet functional enough to warrant outfitting your small office with them unless you need to fulfill a specific purpose. They certainly are not powerful enough to take the place of a standard desktop or laptop in an office environment.
Stay tuned next week for the “Buy This, Not That” recommendations for your small office network. If you have questions or would like more of my recomendations for small business computers drop me a note here.
Photo used by permission: cliff1066