Using Your Business Equipment Productively
Setting up your equipment productively will enable you to work in an efficient and comfortable manner, do more in less time, and spend less money. In time, you will also have to make decisions regarding repairing or replacing broken or obsolete equipment. There are several factors which should be considered when making this decision, as well as different disposal methods if you decide to go that route.
A workplace designed for optimum performance requires that you acquire the right equipment, and then you can proceed to put that equipment to work in your business.
You can use a life-cycle approach for this process:
- Setting up your new equipment is the first step, so that you can work in an efficient and safe manner.
- Repairing or replacing your equipment will eventually be necessary and we'll give you some insights on how you might approach a repair or replacement decision.
- Disposing of equipment that is no longer productive is the final issue in the equipment life-cycle.
You and Your Workspace
There is no one right way to design and equip a workspace. What works for someone else may not work for you. However, we suggest that you keep in mind what we call the "PEC" (Productive, Efficient, Comfortable) priorities.
- Productive workspaces are organized so that equipment, records management, and communications systems not only work, but work together.
- Efficient workspaces should be both cost-effective and time-effective. If your workplace is set up right, it allows you to do more, with less money, in less time.
- Comfortable workspaces help you to do your work with minimal stress and strain on your body.
If your workspace is set up to be productive, efficient, and comfortable, then you have done things right. Competitors and business consultants may "tsk-tsk," but if it works for you, that's what matters.
Our examples can be adapted for just about any business facility.
Organizing your business records and supplies. Although you need to be comfortable with any system that you create, this doesn't mean that you're locked into organizing your business the same way you handle your personal records. Your business gives you a fresh start. If you haven't approached your personal recordkeeping with the care that it deserves, you have a second chance to do things differently in your business.
Setting Up a Productive Workspace
When we're talking about productivity, what we're really asking is does the layout and organization of your equipment enable it to get the job done? To give you a simple productivity problem, a solar calculator won't do its job if you use it in a dark corner of your office. Getting productivity out of your equipment is a bit different from using equipment efficiently, which is more concerned with saving you time and money.
Frequently you must balance time and cost considerations against how they will affect your equipment's ability to function. For example, think about a fax machine. You can probably operate such a machine at a lower cost if you use a single phone line for both phone and fax transmissions. But if you need to send or receive faxes at the same time you're making phone calls, the fax machine won't be able to do its job. To use the fax productively in that situation, you may have to maintain a second phone line.
Ask yourself questions. Take the time to ask yourself a few questions about what you do and how your equipment helps you to do it. The basic questions you should ask are:
- Are you dealing with the public or is the office primarily for your private use?
- Which pieces of equipment do you use most frequently to do your job?
Once you answer these questions, you can make a plan with your responses in mind.
Consider how systems will work together. In the "old days" trying to watch television while your mom vacuumed in the next room didn't work very well. The buzzing lines that filled the television screen demonstrated that two pieces of equipment may be useful by themselves but not work well together.
Various system conflicts that should be avoided with careful planning include:
- Power availability problems. Consider the effect of supplemental heating and air conditioning units on power availability when the weather starts changing. Some equipment may also distort radio transmissions or cause static on a cordless phone.
- Temperature discrepancies. Be wary of placing equipment that generates heat too close to sensitive equipment.
- Lighting conditions. Many people working on a computer like things darker to minimize screen glare. Arrange lights so that you can turn some off when you are working onscreen and turn others on when you are working at your desk.
- Noisy equipment. Too much noise can give the overall impression of an unprofessional office and can cause specific problems, such as rendering the phone message you left for an important client unintelligible.
Setting Up an Efficient and Comfortable Workspace
Organizing your workplace equipment efficiently can save you both time and money. Also, no matter what kind of business you're in, you will probably have an office either at home or at your facility. It's important to set up a comfortable work station in an office where sitting at a desk is the norm and a computer is used frequently.
Is Your Equipment Being Used Efficiently?
Two key factors determine whether equipment is being used efficiently. The first is time, the second is money. Unless your workplace equipment's layout helps you to save both time and money, it is not efficient. As you strive for efficiency, however, be sure that you don't compromise your equipment's productivity.
To save time, map out your workflow. What is it that you do most in your workspace? What equipment do you use to do it? It usually makes sense to put that equipment closest to you.
Unless clients regularly visit your workplace, the efficiency of your system is probably more important than how it looks.
Remember that your time is worth money. Any system that helps you to work faster saves money if it frees you to work on other matters that help to generate profits.
Setting Up a Comfortable Office
In home offices and small offices where a computer is used frequently, an improperly arranged workstation can be a source of major discomfort. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration studies office and computer ergonomics and is concerned with the consequences of long-term exposure to poorly designed environments. They can contribute to such physical ailments as general fatigue, irritated eyes, and soreness or pain in the wrists, neck, shoulders, legs, and back.
Alleviating problems. To help alleviate these problems, you should look into acquiring an adjustable computer desk and chair that allows you to:
- Position the keyboard at elbow height so that you can work it with your wrists remaining straight and with your elbows maintaining a 90 degree angle.
- Position the screen so that the top of the screen is right at or slightly below eye level.
- Sit with your feet flat on the floor, your knees at a 90 degree angle, your back against the chair back, and your hips at a slightly obtuse (greater than 90 degree) angle.
To further combat eye fatigue, try setting your monitor's contrast to high and its brightness to low. Also, try to keep the screen free of dust and smudges. If glare from overhead lights or windows is reflecting off the screen, try tilting the screen slightly downward or using an anti-glare screen or hood.
No matter how well your workstation is arranged, you're going to experience some soreness or pains if you don't take occasional breaks from your work at the computer. Force yourself to take a few minutes each hour to stand up and stretch, to move around, or to focus your view on an object that's across the room.
Noisy equipment. One thing that can make a small office very uncomfortable is unwanted noise. In some cases you may want to move particularly noisy equipment outside of your office, as long as it won't compromise productivity or efficiency.
Heavy carpeting and drapes may also help to absorb noise. Moreover, a rubber mat placed beneath a machine may help to keep it from vibrating loudly.
Repairing, Replacing and Disposing of Business Equipment
Very few items of equipment, if any, have an infinite working life. Accordingly, you can generally assume that the equipment that you use in your business is going to break down eventually. This, in turn, will require you to decide whether you should repair or replace the equipment. You may also face an equipment replacement decision whenever newer models or makes of your current equipment arrive on the market rendering your equipment obsolete. There are several factors to consider when making these decisions.
Repair or Replace--Factors to Consider
In many respects, the repair-or-replace decision is similar to the decision of whether to acquire a given item of equipment in the first place. The first question you should probably ask yourself is whether your business in fact still needs the equipment that you're thinking about repairing or replacing. Will the repaired or replacement equipment make your business more profitable, efficient, or productive? If not, perhaps you should just consider the existing asset to be unproductive and eliminate it.
Let's assume your experience indicates that the equipment has continued utility to your business. How then should you determine the proper course of action? Well, a thorough cost-benefit analysis of each of your options might prove useful. For example, if you were trying to determine whether to repair or replace a broken item, you would compare the costs and associated benefits of repairing the item versus the costs and associated benefits of replacing it.
In some cases, however, factors outside the straight economic analysis of costs and benefits will (and should) drive your decision. For example, you may conclude that you just can't afford the potential down times associated with your older equipment breaking down, so you choose to replace the equipment, even though your direct repair costs would be minimal. Or, your concerns about the health and safety of you and your employees may lead you to replace an existing item with a newer, safer model, even though it's unlikely that you'll realize any increased revenues or cost savings from using the newer equipment.
Disposing of Unproductive Assets
Every item of equipment that you acquire for your business represents an investment of your business capital. Taken a step further, an item that is not currently being used represents capital on which the current return to your business is zero or even negative (if property taxes and insurance costs attributable to the item are taken into account). For this reason, you want to be sure to limit the amount of unproductive assets that your business owns.
Assess equipment's level of use. Adopt a practice of taking regular inventories of all of your equipment to confirm each item's current level of use. If you come across an item that you're currently not using, try to determine whether you have a definite future use for the item that justifies the continuing cost of holding it. If you don't foresee such a future use, seriously consider selling or otherwise disposing of the item.
When to donate or junk equipment. If you're unable to sell an unproductive item of equipment, or to use it as a trade-in on the purchase of an item you need, you may be able to generate a tax deduction by donating the item to charity or by simply abandoning (junking) it.
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