Ask LH: What Technology Should I Include In Our Office Refit?

Dear Lifehacker, We're moving office in about eight months' time, and it's a good opportunity to smarten up our outdated internal technology. Any tips on what to avoid/embrace in an office fit-out? I'm mainly concerned with making the space feel shiny for staff and customers whilst not getting locked in to one vendor or looking dated in three years with plasma screens when everyone else has holographic displays and telepathy.

So should we go wireless displays and projectors? Smartboards? Telepresence? Desktop videoconferencing ? VOIP or a few real handsets? Structured cabling or wireless? Smart access security cards or phones with NFC? Thanks, Moving And Shaking

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Dear M&S,

Fitting out an office is a rewarding but time-consuming process. The exact requirements vary from business to business, but there is one overriding principle to consider: be as flexible in your choices as possible. Gear that requires complicated fixtures (such as screens) will be harder to replace. Security concerns may mean you can't always avoid that, but the less stuff that requires mounting in permanent fashion, the better.

The second thing to remember is that buyer's remorse is a fact of life. No matter what you purchase, something new will emerge to replace it. You can't afford to worry about that too much. Ideally, you need technology which can be fairly easily upgraded, and which doesn't tie you too closely to a single vendor.

Some specific thoughts on the issues you raise:

Networking. If you have more than a handful of staff, you need both wired and wireless networking. Wi-Fi is great for impromptu and formal meetings, but the speed benefits and reliability of cabled systems are worthwhile, especially for staff who spend most of their time in the office. If you want to implement VOIP or teleconferencing systems, cabling is also essential.

Telephones. Your approach here will depend on your provider. The ultimate aim is to save money, and a VOIP-based system may well do that — but you need a specific quote, not a vague idea. Existing building policies when you move will also play a role here.

Displays. Your needs here will vary widely depending on the nature of your business. In cost terms, plasma is a pricier option. I'm not a big fan of smartboards — if there's a clear business need for them, you'll already know.

Conferencing. If you regularly conduct meetings with clients in other locations or run multiple offices, a videoconferencing system can be useful. If it's only a very occasional requirement, skip the dedicated equipment and use software-based solutions.

Access. Unless you purchase an entire building, this is likely to be dictated by your landlord. An NFC-based system using phones will only really work if you supply all staff with phones. For most purposes, access cards are a simpler solution.

Extra ideas from readers are, as always, welcome in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Run lots of cat6, everywhere. Two ports per workstation, and some in the roof for wireless access points. Hook them all up to PoE switches at the back end. Get as good a line to the internet as you can reasonably afford, the upload bandwidth of plain DSL is often a bottleneck.

    In four years time you might replace your workstations with the ipad 8 + docks, or virtualise all the computers and run them centrally to cut down on hardware costs...but you'll still have the same cabling in the walls.

    Last edited 27/11/12 3:26 pm

      CAT6 is cheap - 4 per workstation would be my advice, even it remains unterminated, it can be a potentially huge time-saver in the future. Running CAT6 everywhere is a pretty good idea - wifi access points, phones, security cameras, environmental monitors etc can usually all run on CAT6 with PoE.

      I'd also recommend leaving empty ducting to your server/comms cabinet/room for future fibre/whatever. As well as an air extraction from your server/comms cabinet/room - it allows the hot air to escape without making it hell for the unlucky person whose workstation is closest.

    Personally I'd like to have a siesta-type room for that after-lunch-can't-keep-my-eyes-open occasions. And a coffee machine that is linked via cable to pre-order so it ready for me to collect when I arrive at office. And a floor-to-ceiling wall with nature scene that changes every day, sound included when you walk past. Until then I'll slave away in the basement.

    with BYOD on the rise, you want workers to be able to easily connect to your work environment. i can also see a trend to be able to wirelessly transmit data to a boardroom screen (smartglass, AppleTV, WiDi).

    A captain's chair. In the centre of the room.

    At least 2 Ethernet ports, and 4 power points for each desk.

    Phones can be connected through ethernet/patch panels. Wifi isn't a priority, it's also redundant pretty quickly as certifications become outdated.

    I'd focus on sound proofing the office too. Working out main thoroughfares and seeing if you can reduce the noise/echo around the office. Work out a suitable distance for things like printers, faxes and photocopiers (and keep them sound isolated). People love to chat between the front door, kitchen and board rooms. I'd consider keeping them isolated/on a noisy side.

      Also have servers onsite in order to reduce the amount of internet bandwidth. Probably worth having an onsite email server, share drives, as well as personal drives. (and offsite backup)

        I'd disagree with this as most business is going to the cloud, aka Google Apps for email. However I would agree with having local storage, especially when in the business of graphics and multimedia.

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