Webster's New World Office Professional's Desk Reference

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This comprehensive package of the most useful information in book and CD form is a must for the home office, small office, and corporate office professional alike.

About the Desk Reference: Webster's New World Office Professional's Desk Reference gives today's office professional or entrepreneur concise advice, tips, and resources for accomplishing many diverse tasks in the least amount of time. The information is written in simple, direct language and categorized and indexed ...

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This comprehensive package of the most useful information in book and CD form is a must for the home office, small office, and corporate office professional alike.

About the Desk Reference: Webster's New World Office Professional's Desk Reference gives today's office professional or entrepreneur concise advice, tips, and resources for accomplishing many diverse tasks in the least amount of time. The information is written in simple, direct language and categorized and indexed for quick and easy retrieval. Webster's New World Office Professional's Desk Reference is completely up-to-date, covering today's basic office equipment and current technologies such as desktop publishing, video conferencing, and much more. These special features provide extra value:

  • Sidebars featuring special advice for medical, legal, and technical assistants
  • Model formats for letters, reports, press releases, minutes, and more
  • Numerous reference tables including travel distances, weather, exchange rates, and more
  • A complete, concise style and grammar guide
  • A 33,000-word guide to spelling and hyphenation
About the CD-ROM:
Writing powerful, effective letters can be time consuming. Webster's New World Office Professional's Desk Reference comes with Webster's New World 1001 Essential Letters on CD-ROM. The CD provides over 1,000 instant, electronic templates for all letter-writing needs from cover letters to sales-lead generation letters, and more. The keyword search technology allows users to find the perfect letter template in a flash and the easy-to-use customization feature allows for quick personalization. Webster's New World 1001 Essential Letters is compatible with Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, and MS Write.

System requirements are Windows 3.1, 3.11, or Windows 95 on a 486sx 33Mhz or faster system with 8MB RAM, 2MB hard disk space, and a CD-ROM drive.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780028628837
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/6/1999
  • Series: Webster's New World Series
  • Edition description: BK&CD ROM
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 624
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Table of Contents

Sidebars and Tables
Ch. 1 Communications 1
Ch. 2 Other Office Documents 73
Ch. 3 Office Equipment and Supplies 103
Ch. 4 Mailing and Shipping 139
Ch. 5 Computers 165
Ch. 6 Office Environments and Workstations 217
Ch. 7 Office Operations 255
Ch. 8 Organizing People and Time 303
Ch. 9 Human Resources 331
Ch. 10 Travel Planning 367
Grammar and Punctuation Guide 397
Index 573
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First Chapter

[Figures are not included in this sample chapter]

Webster's New WorldT Office Professional's Desk Reference

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Office Equipment and Supplies

  • Equipment selection
    • Needs Analysis
    • Office Equipment Leases
  • Equipment Basics
    • Telephones and Telephone Systems
    • Fax Machines
    • Copiers
    • Electronic Typewriters
    • Recording and Dictation Equipment
    • VCRs and Projectors
    • Shredders
  • Equipment Maintenance and Ordering Office Supplies
    • Equipment Maintenance
    • Ordering Office Supplies
    • Storage
    • References and Publications for Offices
    • Letterhead and Business Cards
  • For More Information

Equipment and supplies encompass the wide variety of items needed in the day-to-dayrunning of an office--items that the office professional is often responsible forchoosing, buying, and keeping in stock. The umbrella term "equipment and supplies"includes everything: the pencils and scratch pads at everyone's desk, the businesscards a salesperson hands out at a trade exhibit, and the phone system that linksyour company with customers halfway around the world.

The selection of equipment and supplies involves a great deal more than productdemonstrations and price comparisons, especially at the high-tech, high-cost endof the spectrum. In a large organization, the office professional's involvement inassessing the organization's needs likely will include determining the type of workdone, assessing the ease of use of equipment or software, listing any special featuresrequired, recording functions currently being used, and identifying desired functions.On the other hand, the office professional in a small company might participate directlyin the processes of equipment selection, purchasing, and maintenance because he orshe is probably the person most knowledgeable about what is needed.


Before selecting high-end office equipment (such as phone systems, computers,copiers, and so on), a careful analysis of the company's needs should be performed:What does the company want to do? Who will be doing it? How easy will it be to do?What technical and informational support will the user have? After this analysisis reviewed and a piece of equipment is selected, there's another question to address:Should the piece be leased or bought outright? This section discusses advantagesand disadvantages of each option.

This overview concludes with a look at the equipment basics found in most officesand those pieces that are most likely to fall under the responsibility of the officeprofessional when a new item must be selected.


Before any piece of equipment is purchased, an analysis of the office or companyneeds should consider the expected applications of the new equipment, its users,and its ease of use. For the users' sake, a demonstration is crucial, as is an assuranceof the level of documentation, instruction, and support services that come with theequipment. With today's constantly changing technology, it is also important to knowwhether a piece of equipment is versatile and whether it can be upgraded.

Using a high-end copier as an example, each of these elements will be consideredin the following sections.


When considering the purchase, first address the equipment's applications. Putsimply, what do you want the copier to do? Of course, you want it to make multiple-pagecopies for individual employee use, but what else? To make copies of a special fifty-pagereport for internal distribution? To provide an alternative to an outside printerfor a small-run customer newsletter? Consider these special uses as well as the morefrequent ones.

After determining the general applications, examine specific needs. What featuresare required? Just black-and-white copying? Photographic color copying? Two-sidedenlarged or reduced copies? Simple collating? Folding, inserting into covers, andstapling? What level of monthly volume is the copier designed for? Can the machinebe programmed to do lengthy jobs after-hours to prevent tie-ups during the day? Canit be linked to PCs for remote programming? Samples of actual or anticipated applicationsshould be carefully analyzed to determine the features needed.

Still other considerations must be addressed. Does it make sense to have a multifunctionmachine that incorporates scanni ng, faxing, and so on besides its copying capability?If the copier has fax capability, does it have an anti-junk-mail filter for incomingfaxes? Does it have storage memory? Can it physically manipulate the image?

Is security an issue? What about expensive unauthorized use? Can the copier beprogrammed to accept passwords? Can it diagnose its own problems? Can it be fixedfrom the manufacturer's remote location via modem?


Think about who will use the equipment (in this case, the copier). How many individualusers will share it? How many departments? Can it be shared by departments, or willeach department require its own? Does one department have less need for a specialfeatures machine? Would that department be better served by buying a second smallmachine that handles only basic black-and-white copies?

Ease of Use

Many copiers use icons or pictures to represent the task to be performed. Usersmake choices by touching a control panel to change the number of copies, the sizeof the reproduced image, the darkness or lightness, and so on. Similarly, multifunctionmachines should quickly switch from one use to another, and each function's specialfeatures should be clearly labeled.

Loading paper trays and clearing jams also should be easily accomplished by allusers, reducing the need to call on the office professional for help. Additionaltasks that are usually performed by the office professional, such as changing tonercartridges, should be simply and neatly accomplished.


Although a vendor demonstration will highlight the good features of the pieceof equipment being sold, there are a few points to remember. Because demonstrationsa re done by experienced personnel who know the product well, features that may bedifficult to use sometimes only look as if they are very simple. Also, featuresthat are important to you might not even be part of the demonstration. Make surethat the product demonstration is done with the application of the user in mind.

Again, let's use the example of the copier. Actual jobs should be performed--onboth the copiers and the multifunction machines. Be sure to include the most complexcombinations of functions. These functions should be tried by one or more peopleother than the office professionals who are familiar with the department or company'scopying needs. Some vendors also might arrange for an in-house trial period of apiece of equipment--a "free trial" or a brief rental period. This tryoutprovides the best test because it happens under actual user conditions.

For both demonstrations and trial periods, the machine should be the exact makeand model as the one being considered for purchase.

Documentation and Support

Documentation and support are primary areas of concern, especially for noviceusers and for users of more sophisticated pieces of equipment such as telephone systems,multifunction copiers, and computers. Equipment should come with detailed setup instructions,as in a tutorial disk. No matter which pieces are selected, the instruction manualsshould be well organized and clearly written for beginners, not veteran users ortechnicians.

For computer users, templates that fit over the keyboard and list the functionsperformed by various keys or combinations can offer great help. An extensive selectionof "how-to" books on PCs, operating sy stems, and software packages alsocan help simplify use.

For all kinds of equipment and software, ask if the company has a toll-free numberto call with questions, at least for an initial period. In general, the level ofsupport provided is greater with larger purchases; a desktop shredder, for example,comes with less support than an industrial-quality shredder. The level of supportis also greater for a large company buying in quantity. Often a computer or officesuperstore also can provide more guidance than a mail-order house.

Vendors who provide training on the higher-end pieces generally train a certainnumber of employees to use the equipment. After the initial training, vendors usuallycharge a fee for each additional person trained. Some types of training--particularlyfor PCs on large systems--must be provided for newly hired, upgraded, and transferredpersonnel. Although an in-house training department might be appropriate for a largecorporation, a smaller company might bring a trainer in-house. Individual users thenmight have to attend a seminar or course, or purchase an audiovisual training package.

Versatility and Upgradability

A major concern when purchasing equipment and software is the continual advancesin technology. While purchases should include the needs of the foreseeable future,overbuying now can be much more expensive than upgrading later, especially as thecost of technology keeps dropping. Upgrades for computer hardware and software arefamiliar to everyone, but these are not the only products that can be upgraded. Inanalyzing the copier, for example, do you foresee the possibility that the companycomputers might become networked? In that case, can the copi er be upgraded laterto add network printing? Or can it be upgraded to scan to the network, individualPC, or e-mail? Ask about a machine's future capabilities as well as its current ones.

Other Considerations

Other important considerations exist for all types of equipment: guaranties, warranties,responsibility for repairs, extended warranties, and so on. In short, what happenswhen a problem occurs with the functioning of the equipment? What is covered underthe original guaranty, by whom, and for how long a period? Is a maintenance contractavailable through the vendor? Is the repair provided by the vendor, or is it contractedto a third party? If the equipment is purchased from a computer store, does it haveto be brought in for repair? Is on-site service available? Is a substitute availablewhile the equipment is being repaired? All questions should be answered before anypurchase takes place.


Years ago, most office equipment was bought as a matter of routine. Now, the officeprofessional with purchasing duties faces an additional choice: to buy or lease?Basically, a lease is a rental agreement for a limited period of time. An estimated80 percent of all companies now lease some, if not all, of their equipment becausea lease offers the following distinct advantages:

  • A short-term lease is ideal for ever-changing technology. This is perhaps the single most important reason for leasing pieces of equipment such as computers, which quickly become obsolete.
  • Repairs and servicing are usually covered by the agreement. Except for routine wear and tear, major problems are not the compan y's responsibility. What constitutes wear and tear, however, should be spelled out.
  • Tax advantages make leasing very attractive. Instead of averaging tax deductions for the cost of the item over what current tax law says is the life of the item, the company can deduct the lease payments in full as they are made.

On the other hand, leasing carries the following disadvantages:

  • Poor terms. The company could get locked into a lease with unfavorable terms, or one that is too long for what the company later discovers is its true needs.
  • More costly than buying. The lease could end up being as or more expensive than ownership over the full term of the lease. If the company decides to buy the item at the end of the term, the total of all lease payments plus the final purchase price almost always costs more than buying the piece in the beginning.
  • No extras. The lease may not include such expected items as maintenance, repairs, insurance, and so on.
  • Too long. If the lease extends beyond the life of the item, the company is forced to essentially pay rental money on outdated equipment. If the company breaks the lease to update its equipment, it may have to pay an early-termination penalty.
  • Poor quality. The rental equipment is not brand-new, as expected. Although these disadvantages do not apply to the best leases (which is why lease arrangements are so popular), the office professional should approach leasing with the idea that it has as many, if not more, risks as buying.

As with all purchas ing deals, the office professional should specify to the vendorswhat the company wants: Be sure to establish the type and frequency of equipmentservicing, get written bids from several vendors, make sure that contracts spellout details of maintenance and repair, try to ensure that equipment can be upgradedwithout breaking the old lease (upgrading won't be necessary for many items), andhand over the final negotiated contract for legal approval.


Whether a company is a five-person ad agency, a factory employing hundreds ofshift workers, or a national financial firm with thousands of stockbrokers, certainpieces of equipment are basic to every office.


Telephones have always been critical to a company's profitability because theyare major sources of client contact. Now, those same lines are the heart of mostof today's business communications systems because they send and receive voice, video,and data--both within a company's own boundaries and out to the world. The lone telecommuterworking at midnight, the company's internal network, faxes to customers, and thecompany Web site handling hundreds of hits a day are all part of what was once theplain old telephone.

Features and Accessories

The telephone itself may have several features: speed dialing, last number recall,memory keys for frequently called numbers, caller ID, a built-in modem jack, a speakerphone,and an indicator light to show that a message is waiting. In a standard telephone,the message is transmitted through underground and above-ground phone wires.

Headsets. If the office professional o r other employees spend long periodsof time on the phone (especially while doing other tasks), a telephone headset isa smart investment. The newest models are very small and lightweight, help ease neckcramps, and leave hands free to use the keyboard, search files, and so on. Headsetsmust be compatible with the company's current phone system.

Cellular phones. Though once reserved for the salesperson on the road,cell phones are now in use everywhere and by everyone, from the busy manager who'sin touch with the office while roaming the plant floor, to the technician who returnscalls while on another job site.

When trying to decide on a cell phone, the confusing terminology may appear tobe written by the same demons who write the tax laws. Part of the problem is commonusage of the terms cell phone and wireless phone to refer to the samething, as well as advancing and overlapping technology. Basically, cellular phonesoperate like a radio station, sending and receiving signals from a transmitter thatcovers a certain geographic location called a cell. The signal is transferredfrom cell to cell as the caller moves. Wireless phones operate like cellular phones,but instead of using radio signals and analog technology, they use high-frequencymicrowaves and digital technology. Although they can be cheaper to use, wirelessphones are subject to interference from weather and terrain (in flat-lying regions,interference is not a problem). Some phones combine the two technologies and useboth radio and microwaves.

Because the term cell phone has become almost generic, this book uses thatterm. The important thing in selecting a cell phone is to look for digital techn ology.The analog technology of most existing cell phones is subject to interference or"cross-talk" from radios and other phone users. Thus, an analog cell phoneposes a security risk in two ways: The phone number and sometimes the PIN numbercan be scanned and cloned by phone thieves monitoring the air; and the conversationitself sometimes can be overheard, making cell phones a poor choice for discussingconfidential business matters. Digital technology is much less subject to these securityproblems, plus it provides better sound and a stronger resistance to interference.Not all areas are equipped with digital technology yet, but the number of citiesoffering it is constantly increasing. In the meantime, if a caller is in such anarea, the digital phones automatically switch to analog (they are subject to thesame vulnerabilities as analog phones during that time).

Cell phones can be purchased with the monthly phone service, or sometimes areeven given away. Rates are continually dropping, but other important considerationsexist when pricing phones and service. Telecommunications providers offer a bewilderingnumber of package deals, with so many free minutes, free weekends, peak hours, offhours, and so on. Be sure to compare a package deal against actual usage patternsand costs. In addition, check out the issue of roaming charges--fees for travelingoutside the caller's local area. Cell phones using analog technology may impose roamingcharges of as much as $1.50 per minute in addition to the cost of the call itself,as well as a daily fee just for roaming. Obviously, these telephone charges can meanenormous company expense for its employees on the road. Many digital phones havedropped roaming charges or include them in a cheaper flat rate within a package thatincludes a certain geographical area. Again, check actual usage against package costs.

Beepers and pagers. Before everyone had a phone in their pocket, beeperswere the most common way to stay in touch while away from the office. Beepers areessentially tiny radio receivers that are always tuned to one station. When someonecalls the beeper number, the call is picked up by the beeper service and transmittedto the beeper, the tiny machine chirps, and the individual knows it is time to phonein. Though just a multifunction version of the same thing, pager is now thepreferred term--beeper is considered to be less upscale. A pager still beeps,but it may also silently vibrate. And instead of simply offering a way to say "Callin now," a pager can show the individual caller's number, his or her name, andprinted text. Depending on the model, pagers can even supply a voice message.

Prices vary, depending on what features are wanted. Many paging companies offerthe pager itself at low or no cost because the monthly service must be purchasedat the same time. The price of this service depends on whether the individual wantsto be paged within a local area only, within a wider geographical region, or nationwide.Currently, a pager is less expensive than a cell phone, but as pagers add featuresand raise their costs, and as telephone technology improves its quality and reducescost, the cell phone eventually could win out entirely as the more useful of thetwo because of its immediacy.

Telephone Systems

The kind of phone system that the office professional recommends depends on thesize of the com pany and the type of features wanted or needed. It's important tofind the right balance between a system size that will accommodate growth (becausephone systems are estimated to last seven to ten years) and one that is needlesslybig (and usually needlessly expensive). A general rule of thumb is to purchase acapability of 50 percent more lines than currently used. For example, if a companynow has 200 lines, its new system should rewire for 300 lines. Of course, if a companyhas a pattern of exceptionally rapid growth, that 50 percent figure should be adjustedupward accordingly.

The appropriateness of the following systems is based on the employee number,as well as the features desired. (Employee number refers to the number ofemployees who actually use the phones. The number of phone lines needed for a factory,for example, would not be based on the number of plant workers.)

Intercom. If a company has fewer than ten employees and most of them workin the same room, the company might want to use an intercom system. This is basicallya single phone number, answered by a receptionist, with extension lines on each desk.The call comes into one of the available lines, and the receptionist announces thecall over an overhead intercom: "Pat, call on Line 3." An intercom systeminvolves buying only the receptionist's main phone and the intercom, and the individualphones with buttons to show which lines are open. The system uses the existing wiringand works through the usual service from the phone company, but it is very limitedas far as expanding for employee growth or for adding features such as voice mail.

Centrex. Another option for small companies with twenty or f ewer employeesis a Centrex system. Basically, the local phone company acts as the business' phonesystem. Each employee has his or her own touch-tone phone and phone number. A company'sexisting phones can be used, and no rewiring is necessary. Unlike installing a largersystem, Centrex involves no upfront capital costs, service contracts, or ongoinghassles with vendors. Features such as voice mail, call forwarding, three-way calling,and call transfer can be arranged for each number through the phone company.

Besides the simplicity of operation, another benefit of Centrex is that it makessmall companies appear--by phone--to be much larger than they are. For example, witha single regular phone, the office professional of the one-room, start-up accountingfirm might say, "She's not here," when a call comes in for the boss. Theabsence is obvious because the boss's empty desk is a cramped 6 inches away. WithCentrex, the office professional can say, "She's in a meeting right now. MayI connect you to her voice mail?" The caller is now imagining that the bossis down the hall in the conference room with all those junior partners.

Because each line is charged individually, Centrex price-per-minute charges onsome features can mount up. Although this is the only major drawback of the system,it may be a sizable one for some smaller companies.

"Keyless" systems. Another system for small companies (with lessthan thirty employees) is called a "keyless" system, which also works onstandard wiring. The company buys special phones that are plugged into current telephonejacks that provide up to three separate phone lines, with several more extensionsfor each line. That's all the equipment that must be purchased. Within the office,the phones can transfer calls, handle standard teleconferencing, and handle station-to-stationintercom calls. Other features require a more sophisticated system, however.

"Key" systems. Larger companies (with up to 200 employees) orsmaller companies with special needs (such as music-on-hold) must be connected toa "key" system, a central processing unit that organizes and routes callsautomatically. Existing phones can be used, but the central processing unit mustbe purchased. Every company phone then must be wired to it. Although key systemsused to be limited to basics such as voice mail and automated answering, they arenow actually hybrids and are beginning to pick up many of the additional featuresof the PBX (discussed next).

PBX (Private Branch Exchange). A PBX system fills the needs of the largestcompanies (with up to thousands of employees) and those that want maximum phone features.Some smaller companies also might opt for a PBX if their phone demands are extensivebecause a PBX provides features less expensively than Centrex. PBX features includemultiparty conferencing, automatic call distribution ("Please wait and the nextavailable representative will answer your call"), voice mail, automated answering,and other standard features (call forwarding, call waiting, and so on). Special equipmentand wiring are necessary; the company buys these and installs them on company property.Because of the complexity of the setup, however, the vendor or outside firm mustsupply ongoing maintenance. A market for used equipment does exist, so buying certainused components is a way to re duce costs; still, an expert's guidance is needed forthe selection. By the same token, this serves as a way for unscrupulous vendors toraise profits by charging new-equipment prices, so be sure of the vendor's reputationfor integrity.

T-1 lines. For even higher-volume (and better sounding) calling, companiesmay want to investigate T-1 lines, which are dedicated lines that use a high-speeddigital circuit. Each line can carry twenty-four conversations at the same time--andfor less money than twenty-four separate phone lines cost. The company enjoys a discountbecause the T-1 lines bypass the local phone company and tie in directly to the long-distancecarrier. A T-1 line can be upgraded to double its capacity to forty-eight conversationsper line. (A T-3 line has the capacity of twenty-eight T-1s.)

T-1s are used by companies with substantial long-distance calling costs. Becauseinstalling the T-1 wiring and equipment is expensive, a company's long-distance billsshould be at least $3,000 to $5,000 per month per location before a T-1 is consideredcost-effective. In some states, however (such as in those on the two seaboards),so much competition exists between phone companies that sometimes having a T-1 offersonly minimal savings. Compare carefully. A T-1 line can be divided among customers(this is called a fractional T-1), but the same expensive equipment and wiringmust be installed.

Cost is not the only reason to consider a T-1 line. One of its major advantagesis its speed. Because its bandwidth is wider, a T-1 line can transmit much more informationper second than traditional phone lines. This speed becomes increasingly importantwhen a company is online. Modems over traditi onal analog phone lines transmit 56Kbps(kilobytes per second), which is adequate for many business needs, including e-mail,general Web searches, and maintenance of a Web site with limited daily hits. However,when a Web site has extensive graphics, includes a multimedia presentation, or attracts(or is trying to attract) hundreds of hits a day, a company should consider a fasterline. You know from your own experience how many online sites you've abandoned withoutever visiting because the site simply took too much time to load. If the site iscommercial--an online shopping site, for example--slowness can spell disaster.

A step up from the traditional phone line is the wider bandwidth provided by ISDN(Integrated Services Digital Network). Using the existing copper phone lines availablefrom local phone companies, ISDN offers a speed of 128Kbps, which, depending on theapplication, can be more than four times faster than traditional telephone service.ISDN provides better and faster connections to the Internet, as well as between twocomputers, two networks, and the telecommuter and the office. Telecommuters evencan split the bandwidth and use 64Kbps for voice communication and 64Kbps for onlineuse at the same time--and on a single line.

When an ISDN is too slow to hold the amount of data per second being transmitted,a T-1 line may be the answer because it can transmit 1.544Mbps. When Web page trafficapproaches 500 hits a day, at least a half T-1 should be considered.

Voice-mail systems. In theory, voice mail is a way to expand and enhancethe company's telephone capabilities. Voice mail can reduce or eliminate the needfor a receptionist or operator, thus freeing up that person to hand le other workas well. It enables personnel to work without interruptions, and to receive messagesand make calls at their convenience. It even can work as a marketing tool, providingcallers with new product information and describing existing services. In practice,however, voice mail can be a message-eating nightmare from which there's no escape.

Buying a voice mail system can be almost as complicated as buying the phone systemitself. The simplest units are little more than answering machines for each line.As with phone systems, the more sophisticated systems require vendor installationand maintenance and enable users to do the following:

  • Listen to, erase, store, or transfer messages
  • Pre-record messages to send to other mailboxes at later scheduled times
  • Record and choose from multiple greetings ("I'm either away from my desk right now or on the other line . . ."; "I'm out of the office until next Tuesday. For emergencies, please call . . ."; "I'm in, but I'm working on deadline . . ."; and so on)
  • Route messages
  • Give the same message to multiple people, as in fax polling
  • Notify the individual's pager when there's voice mail
  • Be linked to e-mail and faxes

Certain systems have "automated attendants" that answer the company'smain phone and route the call, eliminating busy signals, the need to put callerson hold, and so on.

Although features such as these are always attractive, the office professionalshould ask the following important questions before choosing a voice-mail system:

  • Will the proposed vo ice-mail system be compatible with the existing phone system?
  • Must the voice-mail system come from the vendor who sold or is selling the company its phone system? (The answer should be no.)
  • Can the voice-mail system store old messages until the recipient decides to erase them?
  • Does each mailbox have its own security pass code?
  • Can messages be retrieved while away from the office?
  • Is the caller at each prompt able to repeat the menu by pushing a certain button?
  • Is the caller at each prompt always able to reach a live voice, usually by dialing "0" to get the operator?

New voice-mail systems are as dreaded by employees as by customers, so make surethat the vendor includes full training in the package by the vendor.

What does an office professional do in the face of these bewildering choices?The best course may be to determine what features the company wants or needs in itsphone system. Then, armed with the answers, the office professional can seek helpfrom a competent vendor. Because the vendor not only bases its profits on the sizeand brand of the system purchased but also often works as the administrator of thesystem, choose carefully. When considering recommendations for vendors, the officeprofessional should ask these questions:

  • Does the particular system leave room for growth? How much?
  • Can extra features be added onto a particular system later? If so, which ones?
  • Can the company use its own telephones with the system? (Being limited to the vendor's phones may indicate a way the vendor is trying to boost cost.)
  • If the compa ny must buy vendor phones, do the phones use standard dial tones, ringing, busy signals, and out-of-order signals? (If not, this again could indicate a way to boost costs because unusual signals will not respond to standard signals, thus making it impossible to buy, say, voice mail from another vendor.)
  • How experienced is the vendor?
  • Is the vendor licensed by the state as a contractor to do the work?
  • Is the vendor insured and bonded? Ask for proof.
  • Does the vendor have 24-hour technical support for the new telephone system?
  • How fast is the vendor's emergency response time?
  • Is the vendor factory authorized and factory-certified for the brand desired by the company?
  • Will the vendor supply recommendations from other customers?
  • Will the vendor supply an itemized bid (not a package deal) for better comparison?
  • How much time will it take to add new lines or services?
  • Is leasing the telephone equipment an option with this particular vendor, and is leasing a good option for your company?


Telephone systems are on the brink of a revolution. Although existing systems will continue to be used for years, new technology involving PCs and the Internet are transforming the future. For example, PC PBXs and PC-based telephony make it easy and much less expensive for smaller companies to set up PBX systems and maintain these systems themselves without an outside vendor. Computer telephony integration links the individual's P C to the phone system. For example, caller ID will send the caller's name and number to the employee's PC; if the caller is a customer, his or her account will automatically appear on the employee's screen--and the phone may not even be answered yet. Internet telephony enables companies to route calls over existing phone lines, over a private network, or over the Internet. A main advantage of this is the reduction of long-distance call costs.


Just as traditional postal delivery is often replaced by priority and overnightmail, overnight mail is often replaced by the fax. "Quickly" has come tomean "instantaneously."

Fax transmission is a flexible, inexpensive, and simple method of sending informationinstantly in the form of image replication (facsimile). A fax transmission can begenerated in two ways: (1) from a fax machine, or (2) from a computer with faxingcapability.

Although fax machines are standard in offices today, faxing from com- puters isless common. To fax directly from your computer, you need a system with a fax modemand a phone line. After installing the required fax software, you can send a faxas if you were printing a letter. When you go to output the document, the softwaredials the number and faxes the document.

Many people use the fax to instantly send a single letter to a single recipient.They dial the number into the telephone keypad and press the Start button. Fax machineshave many other strengths that are often overlooked. Suppose a business must notifyall its customers immediately that an error was found, or must notify the entiresales force that an import ant deadline has been changed. The time involved in telephoningor mailing a letter to each recipient would be prohibitive. This is where fax transmissionscome in. The fax has the capability of broadcasting--that is, automatically sendinga list of fax numbers with the same transmission.

Not every machine has the same capabilities. The office professional should readthe user's manual in detail or contact the dealer to become familiar with the fullcapabilities of the machine currently in use. Following are some of its possiblefeatures, or features to look for in a new machine (certain features require beinglinked to a computer):

  • Message confirmation and/or error printouts
  • Multiple-number speed dial
  • Capability of storing pages as they arrive and printing when available, so as not to tie up the phone line while printing pages
  • Memory for scanning documents and sending later, for delayed sending or so the sender doesn't have to wait for each page to transmit, or for sending when rates are lower
  • Capability of sending the same document to multiple locations without having to rescan the document each time
  • Capability of storing incoming messages in mailboxes so that the person with the proper access code can retrieve them
  • Gray-scale controls that can adjust the resolution of the graphics
  • Built-in surge protector
  • Upgradable memory to store hundreds of pages
  • Capability of creating logos, letterheads, forms, and protected signatures
  • Prioritization of faxes so that urgent ones transmit first
  • Data compression that substitutes symbols for words and phrases in a process that condenses information and enables faster transmissions (similar to disk compression)
  • Capability of exporting transmission histories to spreadsheets, databases, and so on

With today's lower long-distance rates and higher postage charges, it is sometimesactually less expensive to send a fax than to send a letter. Unless urgency preemptsall other reasons, the office professional should use the more cost-effective method.However, he or she also should be sensitive to the contents of the fax. Confidentialityhas always been a significant risk with faxes: The machines are often located inopen areas, so messages are usually seen by at least one other person before theyreach the recipient. Newer machines store messages for individuals and require passwordsbefore each mailbox can be opened, but not every recipient has this feature.

Another cost factor in fax usage is the full-size cover sheet. It is estimatedthat billions of dollars are spent each year on this single sheet, which is immediatelydiscarded. A small sticky note attached at the top may suffice; letters that havean address and closing signature may not need a cover sheet at all.


Although junk mail still clogs regular postal delivery, it is illegal to send electronic junk mail--unsolicited fax transmissions that advertise or sell services or products. Check in advance to see that all recipients on a broadcast list want to be included.


The essentia l reason for buying a copier is, of course, to make copies, but theadded features of the newest machines often can obscure that basic fact. Once-impressivefeatures such as two-sided copying, color copying, and size reduction or enlargementare now taken for granted because copiers have become miniprinting systems. Dependingon the model, they can print as many as two copies per second, can edit and storecopy, and can be programmed to work off-hours. A copier's printing capability isjoined by the capability to collate, sort, staple, and add a heavy-stock cover, ifdesired. Other models work as multifunction machines, giving the copier scanningcapability. Add a phone line, and the copier is also a phone, answering machine,and fax (with anti-junk-fax function). In addition, some copiers can be linked tothe office network to work as printers, with all the instructions--down to delayedprinting--programmable from the user's desktop PC.

The new generation of copiers are digital machines. Although very expensive atthe moment and therefore not yet widely used, these new machines can scan a documentonce and store it in memory to produce other originals, not copies. Image manipulationis also possible with digital machines, as are remote diagnosis and trouble-shooting.

Because all these features add considerably to the cost, the office professionalshould choose with care. Salespeople or in-house employees will persuasively explainhow certain features are an absolute necessity. Vendors will try to sell packagedeals that seem to throw in the extra features at no cost. But absolute necessitiesare often just a wish list, and each feature has a cost even within a special package.Therefore, it is bett er to decide beforehand exactly what is needed by the company,and then to shop for only what is needed. The savings can be significant.

In contrast with employees generating an extravagant features wish list are thoseemployees who will not use the special features at all. The individual maybe afraid of doing something wrong and breaking the machine, or he or she may betoo reluctant (or even too lazy) to learn a new procedure. A simple example is theemployee who always uses two pieces of paper rather than making a double-sided copy(clearly a waste of money and resources) or the clerk who would rather spend hoursstapling a cover to a collated report rather than programming the copier to do it.If certain complicated jobs must be done by using the special features, employeeswho resist learning will try to turn these copying projects over to the office professional.Training these people (and retraining them, if necessary) is essential if the companyis to recoup its investment in terms of greater employee efficiency and time savings.

One of the most critical aspects of buying a copier is knowing its volume-per-monthcapability. Don't underestimate the company's usage. Although lower-volume machinesare less expensive, underestimating usage makes lines at the copier longer and alsocan result in frequent problems and breakdowns. Keep careful watch of the presentusage before selecting a model. Plan for growth. If usage is low but the number ofemployees per machine is about fifty or more, a second copier is often a good idea.If one machine has features, the second can be the most basic of models.

Copier Paper

The selection of the right copy paper is crucial to the machine's p erformance.To prevent jamming, choose the manufacturer's recommended paper weight. Also lookfor paper that is evenly trimmed, that can withstand copier heat, and that doesn'thave a tendency to curl.

Copier paper is generally available from any office supply store, office superstore,or catalog company. Businesses with high paper consumption may want to consider buyingpaper directly from paper manufacturers. For information on how to buy from thesemajor companies directly (or through their regional representatives), see the followingWeb sites:

Boise Cascade, at www.bcop.com

Georgia Pacific, at www.gp.com

Hammermill, at www.hammermill.com

The company's rate of usage will help determine whether paper can be bought inmoney-saving bulk. If paper is kept in a low-humidity, moderate-temperature environment,it may keep for extended periods as well. So even if a company does not use paperrapidly, it may still see some savings with bulk-buying if proper storage space isavailable. For a beginning rule of thumb, plan on reordering when the stock fallsto 25 percent of the original quantity. This should accommodate even large rush jobswhile the stock is being replenished. Adjust this 25 percent figure later, when you'refamiliar with the company's copying needs and patterns.


The birth of the electronic typewriter was sandwiched somewhere between the olderelectric typewriter and the word processor; as a piece of equipment, it is a hybridof the two. Electronic typewriters do not have separate monitors or printers, butthey do have small electronic display screens above the keyboard that s how a partialpage. These machines have become more sophisticated in recent years; many have built-inspell-checkers, text-editing capabilities, spreadsheet and mail-merge capabilities,limited font selections, timer alerts, formatting functions, upgradable memory, andsecurity passwords. Some include a 100-key buffer zone so that even the fastest typistwon't end up with snarled keys, as with an electric typewriter. Some electronic typewriterscan be networked to computers and used as printers.

Although the market for electronic typewriters has plummeted, a viable niche stillexists for them. They are durable and easy to use, and an electronic typewriter canhandle some jobs faster and better than a computer. For example, electronic typewritersare more practical than computers for printing on checks or index cards, to generateprinted paper forms that have not been computerized, to type on preprinted forms,and so on.

For example, to address a single envelope by computer, the office professionalmust boot up the computer, pull up the word processing program, click Envelopes,type in the return and main addresses, select the font style and size, remove thepaper from the paper tray, adjust the tray to accommodate the wider-width envelope,insert an envelope, and then click Print. By contrast, he or she merely needs toturn on an electronic typewriter, insert an envelope, type, and it's done. Obviously,the electronic typewriter is not a replacement for the computer, but it can be ahandy accessory.


Suppose that your boss is eating a brown-bag lunch while stuck on the freeway.Sudden inspiration hits and he wants to change the openi ng of his motivational speechto the Lions Club next week. He takes out his pocket recorder and creates a new openingabout how to succeed despite being stuck in life's traffic jams. That afternoon,he drops the disk on your desk and asks you to make the changes to his typed speech.

Although the old phrase "Take a letter" may not have been spoken inyears, executives are still dictating letters, reports, random thoughts, and more--allinto tiny recorders that go wherever they travel. Today, two types of portable modelsexist: much smaller versions of the old tape recorder and new digital machines thatuse disks.

Tape machines now come with special features such as the capability to screenout background noises (angry motorists in the next lane and the rustling of sandwichesbeing unwrapped, for example). They also can be switched on by voice activation,prevent accidental erasing of tapes, erase tapes rapidly, go at once to the end ofthe dictation, stamp the time and date, and so on. Digital machines can do the sameand also insert urgent items at the front of the disk without erasing the rest, allowrandom access to any message on the disk, use electronic indexing, provide a biggercapacity, and use access codes for security. Some models can be linked to a PC. Thesecan send contents automatically to a word processing program or e-mail, which eliminatesthe office assistant's need to transcribe.

Larger table-top recorders, sometimes called conference recorders, havesensitive recording capabilities that can follow all the proceedings of a meetingwithout having to be moved as the speakers change.

Many recorders, including the smaller ones, come with a foot-pedal attachmentto control the playback speed as the material is played and keyboarded. Some largertranscription models only play back, although they have many of the recorder's featuresthat are useful for transcription, such as electronic indexing, end of dictationcodes, and so on.


Though the technology is relatively new, people have become spoiled very quickly:They now expect presentations to be in color and contain either live action or animation,even though a sophisticated presentation used to be a slide show. Today, low-techis no longer a flip chart but a VCR, and high-tech means an LCD projectorthat produces computer graphics, millions of colors, and multimedia presentations.


Basically, the same VCRs for use at home for recording favorite programs are usedby businesses today for training and presentation purposes. The office professionalshould not forget that videotapes also can be made from special company occasionssuch as picnics, parties, charitable affairs, and more. In addition, press releasesto cable and network news shows are bolstered when they are accompanied by footageof a person or event, as well as general scenes of the company itself.

When choosing a VCR, many of the features that are personally attractive alsoare important for business use: four heads rather than two for clearer images duringpauses or searches, onscreen menus for easier programming, a digital tape counterthat measures in real time rather than numbers, an automatic clock set to adjustfor power outages and daylight saving time, automatic picture control to adjust forlower-grade or worn tapes, automatic tracking, electronic i ndex searching to bookmarkspots for easy reference, and an automatic head cleaner.

If the company plans to record its own videotapes, look for these extra features:jog/shuttle control, which enables the user to browse a tape either quickly or frameby frame for editing; an audio/video insert, which provides for both audio dubbingand inserting new video clips while maintaining a single soundtrack; and a flyingerase head, which helps smooth scene transitions and recording starts and stops.


Computers can produce amazing presentations with colors, graphics, sounds, andanimation. But only a bare handful of people can view a monitor at the same time.To display a computer-generated program to a large audience, the LCD (liquid crystaldisplay) projector was developed.

Now, armed with a laptop and a portable LCD projector, a salesperson can presenta pitch to audiences of various sizes. In the past, if any information on a productor service changed while the salesperson was on the road, he or she had to wait untilnew charts or slides were made up and delivered by special courier. With LCD technology,he or she can easily connect back to the company's computer via modem and receivethe updated program from the office professional.

LCD panels are positioned on top of the light of an overhead projector. LCD projectorscome equipped with their own light source. The panel itself hooks up to the computer--oftena laptop--and as the presentation data comes up on the computer monitor, the LCDpanel projects the images onto a regular projection screen or, if necessary, ontoa blank wall. Some models use just one panel or matrix that produces a single imageon the screen; others use multiple panels and a series of lenses, producing multipleimages that are then united on the screen. Multiple panels provide a brighter image,but they may face convergence problems if all the separate images are not exactlyaligned.

The future of projectors seems to lie with DLP (digital light processing) technology,although this is still in development. DLP projectors use many more panels than LCDsdo, and each panel is covered by tiny mirrors that reflect light outward. The imageis projected onto the screen one color at a time, but in such rapid succession thatthe brain fills in the gaps to create what appears to be a solid picture. The imageis brighter than that from an LCD projector and presents a seamless surface, unlikethe pixel-dotted surface of LCDs. But DLPs are still being refined; at the moment,they are too large and expensive by comparison and can't yet compete with the performanceof the best LCDs.

When choosing an LCD panel or projector, an office professional should come preparedwith answers to the following questions, which determine the type of projector bestsuited to the company's needs:

  • What is the typical size of the audience for whom presentations are given?
  • What is the typical room size?
  • What are the typical lighting conditions: complete darkness, some light, or fully lit rooms?
  • How clear a picture resolution is desired?
  • Will the presentation incorporate photos, video clips, or sound?
  • How much travel is planned for a typical projector?
  • How portable should the projector be?
  • Will the company be projecting special images, such as high-resolution photo graphy, CAD (computer-aided design) drawings, or maps?
  • Are special features desired, such as a remote control, stereo Surround-sound, or simultaneous computer and video display?

When comparing projectors, check how much light reaches the screen (whether theactual screen or the room wall). This is reported in the product specifications interms of ANSI lumens: The higher the number, the more light there is, and the betterthe image appears. Both LCD projectors and today's new overhead projectors use eithera metal halide bulb or a halogen bulb. Although metal halide bulbs can cost ten timesas much as halogen bulbs, the price usually evens out because halide bulbs last muchlonger. Halogen bulbs are best for projectors that see a lot of travel because thebulb is common and can be more easily replaced on the road if broken. The projector'slamp is wired for only one or the other; the choice must be made at the time of purchasebecause the bulbs are not interchangeable.

In general, look at the projector's focusing capability, the quality of its images,its fidelity to the original colors, and the uniformity of the brightness on thescreen. Specifically, look for the type of image controls on the unit itself. Whatcan be adjusted? In addition, some models come with a memory card if the user wantsto run presentations without the laptop. Most projectors come with built-in stereospeakers; some also have a microphone jack so the presenter can speak over the samesystem.


The process of creating LCD panels is so complex that nearly every projector shows a few defective pixels--dots that are either per manently bright or permanently dark. The manufacturer tolerates a set number of these (find out specifically how many); only when this number is exceeded is the projector itself considered defective.


Suppose that an executive has asked for a copy of a confidential report that hasbeen sent to her before she forwards it to the next person on the routing list. Youdon't notice that the person ahead of you has adjusted the controls and you makea copy that, while readable, is too light. Tearing the paper into pieces is time-consumingand unreliable. That's one good reason why a small shredder should be next to everycopier.

Paper shredders cannot make paper disappear, but they can make per- sonal or confidentialinformation disappear. Payroll lists, customer records, telephone logs, meeting minutes,personnel evaluations, pay scales, product specifications, market analyses, customerlists, design changes, and canceled checks are just a few types of sensitive materialsthat should remain confidential. Industrial espionage is a major concern today; manyresearch companies not only shred top secret information but also keep the shreds.And with increasing lawsuits on all fronts, companies are less likely to put anythingin the simple wastebasket.

The need for a shredder goes far beyond the business world. Law firms, medicaloffices, and pharmacists also regularly deal with confidential information that shouldbe shredded. Schools should not put student and personnel files into the regulartrash, even if they have expired. Anyone who has private information of any kindhas a need for a shredder.

Shredders come in a wide range of styles , capabilities, prices, and shreddingoptions. Flat paper can be shredded into long strips as wide as egg noodles or asfine as angel-hair pasta; for maximum security, it can even be cross-cut into confetti-likeparticles. The style selection ranges from desktop models to large free-standingunits that can handle thick wads of paper and folders (including staples and paperclips)--as well as disks, cassettes, microfilm, and microfiche--and still run continuouslywithout overheating. Popular features include an electronic eye that turns the shredderon and off, a function that stops the shredder when the waste bin beneath is full,and casters to move the shredder to the documents rather than add the extra securityrisk of transporting sensitive documents from their locked location.

When selecting a shredder, consider the level of security desired, the volumethat the shredder must handle, and the kinds of material it is expected to shred(checks, letter-size paper, folders, computer printouts, and so on). Also considerthe company's multiple shredding needs. You may want a desktop unit for you and theexecutive, another to put in the copy room, and a larger unit to be located in thecentral records department.

Shredding services are available from outside firms (look under Recycling in theYellow Pages). However, many firms that are already concerned about privacy may bereluctant to place their confidential papers in the hands of an outside party, evenfor the time it takes to shred the papers. For companies with extensive files, owningone of the larger shredders may make sense.

Shredded material can be recycled or internally recycled by certain model shreddingmachines that turn old files and such into packing material.

No matter what the company or organization, buying a shredder is only the firststep in its proper use. Employees must learn how to make the decision about whatshould be shredded and what should be kept. The office professional may want to drawup a memo detailing the types of documents that should be shredded, along with instructionsabout how it should be done--whether the material is to be left with you or broughtto a central shredding location, or whether an appointment should be made for theportable shredder to be wheeled to a particular location.


Among the many duties of office professionals is the job of office management.This all-encompassing term can range from tracking lost change in the vending machine,to purchasing office supplies, to arranging maintenance and repairs of office equipment.

Although such petty duties as change-tracking might accompany the job, two office-managementduties are critical to the efficient running of the department or the whole company.These responsibilities are maintaining the equipment and ordering office supplies.


Basic equipment maintenance ranges from the scheduled visits of the copier repairteam to the employees' basic understanding of how to put paper in the fax machine.When dealing with office equipment, employees must know enough about a machine'soperation to understand whether it is broken when it stops working. Employees alsomust know that the office professional--or whoever else is maintaining the filesof warranties, service contracts, and lists of repair people--sho uld be notifiedimmediately if there's a problem. So often a line of people will walk into the copyroom, discover that the copier is out of paper, and then lazily decide that theircopy was not important enough to warrant either filling the machine themselves ornotifying you. Likewise, many people will attempt to use a machine, find out thatit's malfunctioning, and then simply walk away from it rather than tell anyone.

When any new piece of equipment comes into the office--whether purchased by theoffice professional or not, whether to be used by the office professional or not--heor she should become familiar with the user's manual as soon as possible. Even ifthe equipment is not for the office professional's use, the actual user is likelyto come to you to see how it works--and will definitely come to you when there isa problem.

For each piece of equipment, read the manual carefully. Note anything that mightbecome difficult to operate under the company's specific conditions. Note any necessaryaccessories or attachments that require special ordering: cords, covers, uncommonbattery sizes, and so on. Fill out the warranty card at once to register the equipment.Make two copies of the warranty card that shows the equipment's make, model, andserial number. Tape one copy of the card to a discreet location on the equipmentitself (inside a hard cover, for example, or on the side of the machine). Do notgive it to the user; employees come and go while equipment remains. File the othercopy with the warranty itself, the service contract if any, and the manual (oncethe user is done with it). Following up on getting the manual will probably be necessarybecause in the beginning the user may not want to par t with it.

Check for technical-support numbers, recommended service dealers, and so on, allof which might be listed in separate publications that come with the equipment. Filethese as well.

If the equipment is for general use (a copier or fax machine, for example), makea copy of the basic instructions and post it on the nearest wall. If there's no singlelist of instructions in the manual conveniently written up for this, condense onefrom your own understanding of the guide, type it up, and post it. File the copyas above with the warranty. This procedure helps prevent loss of important paperworkregarding the machines and accommodates faster servicing.

General Troubleshooting Instructions

The most important part of troubles hooting is the correct use and regular maintenanceof equipment. This keeps problems to a minimum.

Scheduled maintenance. Just as a car needs regular oil changes and lubejobs even if it is running well, pieces of office equipment need regular maintenanceto prevent cash- and time-consuming emergencies. In the user's manual for each pieceof equipment, the manufacturer often includes a list of recommended maintenance practices.Some of these involve simple cleaning and can be performed in the office by the user.Others must be scheduled, whether through the manufacturer or through a service contractwith an outside firm.

For each piece of equipment, use the same file folder that holds the warrantyand user's manual. Write the basic warranty-registration information on the insidecover of the folder, as well as the phone numbers of the manufacturer, the placeof purchase, and the service company. Note the cost of the equipment as well. Whenthe fi le becomes thick, having this information right on the inside cover will savemuch thumbing through of papers. It is handy to have all the information in one placewhen calling to schedule service or a repair because the make and model will be oneof the first questions asked.

If the company has a service contract, be sure to note whether the techniciancomes automatically or whether the service call must be scheduled.

Each time a piece of equipment is serviced or repaired, note it in the file. Includethe nature of the problem, the amount of time lost, and the cost involved. Trackingthe actual maintenance will help determine the machine's overall efficiency overtime and its actual price to run--both details necessary for making new purchasingdecisions at a later time.

Enter all recommendations for regular maintenance on a yearly calendar. This enablestimely scheduling of appointments and prepares users for periods of downtime.

Trouble-shooting. Besides instructions, most manuals have a list of troubleshootingdirections: "If X goes wrong, try doing Y." These directions offer quickand simple solutions to the equipment's most common problems. Both the users andthe office professional should confine their activities to those on the trouble-shootinglist. If the trouble-shooting list recommends something that makes either personuncomfortable--going under the hood of the computer, for example--leave that forthe repair person.

Certain troubleshooting recommendations will be basic to all equipment and arethe common-sense directions often forgotten when something goes wrong: Check thatthe batteries have life, that the machine is switched on, that extension cords arep lugged in firmly at both ends, that peripherals are firmly attached at both ends,that the paper or ink supply is filled, and so on. Do not overlook the obvious. Becausemachines work under only a specific set of conditions, make sure that all the conditionsare fulfilled. The office professional might have to try to get the machine to operateafter it has been reported as broken. Often, the user might skip a step in procedure,while the office professional will automatically perform it. It may be annoying tobe called away from work to fix something that wasn't broken, but this can preventa loss of downtime while an "Out of order" sign is taped up--and it alsoprevents calling a repair person for a needless (and pricey) appointment.


Brother International 800-276-7746
Canon 800-652-2666
Epson America 800-289-3776
Hewlett-Packard, Co. 800-752-0900
IBM 800-426-2968
Konica 800-256-6422
Kyocera Electronics, Inc. 800-232-6797
Lexmark International, Inc. 800-358-5835
Mita Copystar America 800-222-6482
Murata Business Systems 800-543-4636
NEC America 800-632-4636
Okidata 800-654-3282
Panasonic 800-742-8086
Ricoh 800-637-4264
Sharp Electronics 800-237-4277
Toshiba 800-334-3445
Xerox 800-862-6567


Ordering office supplies is another critical responsibility of office management.Sufficient supplies always should be on hand to finish the job and to prevent idletime caused by lack of supplies. On the other hand, the inventory should not be sobloated that supplies dry up, pass critical expiration dates, or otherwise becomeuseless.

Catalogs and Superstores

In lieu of dealing with vendors and manufacturers, catalogs and superstores mayoffer great convenience and sometimes significant savings. But there also can behidden costs. For example, superstores must factor in the cost of regional and nationaladvertising, the cost of rental space for the retail operation in addition to warehousespace for the items, and the cost of retail staff salaries. Superstores often carrymostly name brands, while lower-priced, no-name clones could be of equal quality.In addition, the office professional must figure in the time spent traveling to andshopping in superstores.

Catalogs--without a showroom--solve many of these problems. But look for reputablecompanies that others can recommend. When dealing with a catalog company for thefirst time, order cautiously to test delivery speed and the quality of the items.Be certain of return policies and return shipping. Check that equipment is new andnot someone else's reconditioned lemon.


Purchasing involves much more than ju st selecting a particular brand and model of office machine. The office professional also might be responsible for choosing the vendor, shopping by store or catalog, putting in verbal orders, changing the numbers of items ordered to take advantage of quantity discounts, negotiating prices and services, approving invoices, and more. Keep these hints in mind when purchasing supplies and equipment:

Always take several bids on major purchases; take bids on reorders from time to time to keep prices competitive.

Negotiate prices, but know which items are not worth negotiating.

Consider the savings of close-out items, but weigh them carefully in terms of long-term use and maintenance if they are used for constantly updated items such as computers.

Use more than one vendor so that a backup is always available.

Get specific delivery dates, confirm them later in writing, and follow-up quickly when they pass; if timeliness is not important to you, it will not be important to the vendor.

Remember that small companies often can give better attention to rush jobs than larger companies.

Make sure that the specifications provided to vendors are exact, and are checked and rechecked.


A simple notebook or computer file begins the process of establishing a regularand efficient ordering system. For each item, record the name of the item, its placeof purchase, its stock number, when it was ordered, how long the actual deliverytook, and how long the supply lasted. This process will help determine when it'stime to reord er. For example, if an order takes a week to be delivered, order ita month in advance, which allows for three weeks leeway. Of course, if an item mustbe special-ordered, or if back orders often take longer than usual or promised, includeextra time.

As a safety measure, put a note on the box or container of each item (on the sidethat faces outward when in the supply closet). The note should read, "Notify(office professional's name) when only (XX) are left." This note will help duringtimes when an item is used up unusually quickly.

Because of the myriad supplies used in today's offices, an office professionalmight be placing an order each day if he or she ordered each item separately as needed.So try to look for ordering patterns, especially within the same place of purchase.For example, ten items regularly come from Catalog X. Four items are fairly slow-moving;the other six items are used up almost three times as quickly. Instead of orderingeach of the ten items separately, order the six fast-moving items together; onceevery third time, add the four slow-moving items to the order. Or, if the companyhas the space, double up on the quantity for each of the six items and order onlyhalf as often. The slow-moving items might be added in every time or every othertime, depending on whether their number also was doubled. Check for quantity discounts--theymay make it worthwhile to find the space.

Depending on company policy, the office professional might be required to keepan individual log of personal use and a log of general use to help prevent wasteand pilferage. At its strictest, this policy could involve keeping supply cabinetslocked and not handing out a new item until the em pty is handed in. Although thepractice might garner complaints, follow it closely because maintaining and orderingsupplies involves a tremendous responsibility.

What sort of products come under ordering and logging duties? The following listshows the wide variety possible in the area of consumables--items that are ordered,used up, and ordered again:

  • Paper and filing products. Writing pads, legal pads, steno pads, memo pads, scratch pads, message pads, notebooks, index cards, business cards, sticky notes, labels, invoices, other forms, covers, portfolios, ring binders, dividers, name tags, letterhead and stationery, business envelopes, manila envelopes, shipping envelopes, printer paper, copier paper, fax machine paper, manila file folders, hanging folders, file pockets, file wallets, storage boxes.
  • Computer supplies. Floppy disks, ZIP disks, backup tapes, printer toner cartridges, recordable CD-ROMs, compressed air spray.
  • Duplicating and dictating supplies. Steno pads, tapes of all sizes, disks, batteries, fax machine toner cartridges, fax machine drum cartridges, fax cartridges, printer ribbons.
  • Desk supplies. Pens, pencils, highlighters, markers, correction pens, ink refills, lead refills, erasers, gluesticks, staples, clear tape, packing tape, masking tape, mailing tape, mailing tubes, paper clips, binder clips, hole reinforcements, rubber bands, rubber stamps, ink, pushpins, calendars, planners.
  • Miscellaneous. Light bulbs, clipboards, camera film, transparency film, videotapes, easel pads, coffee, tea, cleaning supplies, first-aid supplies, wastebasket liners, toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, lunchroom supplies, bottled water.


Global Computer Supplies 800-845-6225
Modern Service Office Supplies 800-672-6767
Office Depot 800-685-8800
Office Max 800-788-8080
Penny Wise 800-942-3311
Staples 800-333-3330
Viking Office Products 800-421-1222


Because office supplies must be kept somewhere, storage is always a considerationwhen ordering. Unlike the local store that can run an inventory clearance sale whenit wants to stock up on new items, the office professional works under the same strictlimitations but without such a quick and easy way to make space. For every item thatis brought into the company, these questions must be asked: Where will it go? Ifit is a replacement item, will the old item be stored, moved to another branch ofthe company, or thrown out? Can delivery of the new and moving of the old be timedso that two of the same aren't competing for the same space (even temporarily) orleaving users without any equipment at all?

Even ordinary items might have special storage needs. Printer cartridges, forexample, come with expiration dates; if the package is opened, it should be usedwithin a few months, regardless of expiration date. Cartridges and disks are sensitiveto extreme temperatures and direct sunlight. Envelopes should be used within twoyears or the glue may no longer seal properly. Improperly stored paper picks up heatand humidity and begins to curl, causing jams. For every item, check with the manufacturerfor the proper storage technique and shelf life.


A good reference library will save the office professional countless questionsand searches. For correspondence needs, include a college dictionary, a thesaurus,and a grammar and usage guide. Combination books and dictionary or thesaurus programsin word processing will not provide the in-depth knowledge of separate volumes, althougha good-quality dictionary on a CD-ROM may work as well. For most offices, an unabridgeddictionary (which may run two or more volumes and carry a hefty price tag) providestoo much information, while a pocket dictionary provides too little. A college dictionary--whichwill be identifi ed as such in its title--will handle almost all your needs.

In addition to this absolute minimum, it is useful to have a desk reference--asingle-volume encyclopedia on a subject (in this case, a business reference).The New York Public Library Business Desk Reference is one such title, as isthe Wall Street Journal Almanac. A collection of ready-to-use business letterscan be helpful, too, as can a handbook for technical writing and a book on businessetiquette.

If the executive travels or clients are far-flung, include both a world atlasand a road atlas on the shelf, as well as a time-conversion table or universal clock,and an area-code/country-code chart for phone calls. If clients speak languages otherthan English, add foreign-language volumes, such as an English-to-Spanish/Spanish-to-Englishdictionary. Even if the office professional does not speak the language or is requiredto have client contact, these books can be invaluable because words may appear infiles, letters, and so on.

If the office professional attends or chairs many meetings, a copy of the NewRoberts Rules of Order describes ways to organize and run meetings in the parliamentarystyle. This resource also includes helpful hints for making meetings a success.

Phone books of major cities--at least the neighboring ones--have much valuableinformation.

Also look for a dictionary of business terms. If the company works in a specializedarea or has frequent contact with one, specialty dictionaries are also available,such as a dictionary of legal or medical terms.

Finally, don't overlook sources of information already in your office. If thecompany deals in a specialized area s uch as technology, pharmaceuticals, or manufacturing,it's likely that it subscribes to numerous magazines, news- papers, and trade journalsthat relate specifically to that industry. These can be a tremendous reference, sofile them after they've been routed and read. If publications are not routed butare left in a common area, allow them to remain a certain amount of time before filing(for example, two to three days for daily newspapers, two weeks for weeklies, onemonth for monthlies, and two months for quarterlies).

Each office has its own reference needs, and each office professional has hisor her own reference preferences. The best way to decide on yours is to be familiarwith what's available, with the needs of the company's employees, and with your ownneeds and habits of working.


Paper and Filing Products

Typing paper
Stationery (letterhead)
Correction fluid (with thinner; white and color as needed)
Scratch pads and paper
Manila or plastic file folders (color-coded as needed)
Hanging file folders
File folder tabs and labels
Memo pads
Dictation notebooks
Alphabetized dividers
Telephone message pads
File baskets, trays, and stacks
3 x 5 cards
4 x 6 cards
Transparent tape
Card files
Planning diaries
Business envelopes
Manila envelopes
Padded envelopes
Loose-leaf covers and fillers
Mailing tape
Telex paper (in rolls)
Address labels
Paper for calcul ating machines
Postage stamps

Computer Supplies

Printer ribbons
Printer cartridges
Floppy disks
Floppy disk trays

Duplicating and Dictating Supplies

Cassette tapes
Tape storage unit
Tape demagnetizer
Tape splicer
Microfiche film
Microfiche index
Copier toner

Desk Supplies

Staple removers
Letter openers
Pen and pencil holders
Tape dispensers
Fine-line, broad-nib, or felt-tip pens
Paper clips
Rubber bands
Writing and marking pencils
Magnifying glasses
Rubber stamps, including date stamps
Ink pads
Push pins
Book holders


Postal scales
First-aid kit
Fire extinguisher
Planning boards

Desk Reference Sources

Desk dictionary
International area code booklet
Secretarial handbook
Current office supply catalog
Office address and/or telephone directory (booklet, sheet, or rotary file)
Style manual
Chart for current postal rates
ZIP code directory
Telephone directory
Telex directory, if needed


A company's letterhead stationery and business cards are more than simple paperon which to convey a message--they present a distinc t image to employees, clients,and potential clients. The letterhead might be a person's first introduction to thecompany, and first impressions do count. Over time, the letterhead itself createsbrand awareness and becomes in itself a type of publicity for the company--especiallyif it incorporates a logo.

When changing or choosing stationery or business cards, the office professionalmust be aware of three things: the quality of the paper, the type of printing, andthe design of the image. The 20-pound stock paper that people are so accustomed toseeing in reports and photocopies is insufficient for stationery. A professionalprinter can display a variety of weights, colors, and textures.

Laid paper has a smooth surface, with very fine lines and crosslines.Wove paper has a thicker pattern, so that a mesh can be seen when the paperis held to the light. Parchment is an off-white paper treated to resembleactual parchment. A linen finish adds a noticeable texture to the paper'ssurface as if it were cloth. Bond paper has cotton fibers incorporated intoit. In the right weight, any of these is suitable for business stationery, thoughsome texture is preferred by many people for no other reason than that it feels substantial--andsubstantial is a word most companies like to have associated with them.

Whites, ivories, and light grays are standard colors; soft, muted pastels alsocan be used with care.

Different types of printing are also acceptable: Lithography provides a flat surface,and thermography has a raised surface. Stationery also can be engraved (in whichthe letters and design are cut into the paper) or embossed (in which the lettersan d design are pressed into the surface from the back, also creating a raised surface).Foil stamping involves a very thin sheet of metal pressed into the stationery asall or part of the design. Any of these is suitable for business stationery, althoughthermographic printing cannot tolerate the high heat of fax machines and the printingmay melt inside the fax.

The design of the logo should be clear and clean. It does not matter whether thelogo is a representation or an abstract image, as long as it is immediately recognizable.The letters should be large enough to be easily read without seeming egotisticalor without overpowering the contents of the letter itself. As technology progresses,designers must keep in mind the extra lines of information that are needed--not onlycompany name, address, and phone number (and perhaps an individual's name and title),but also a fax number and Web address. It's important that the design not look cluttered.

When ordering letterhead, office professionals also should order a supply of matchingplain paper for those letters that are longer than one page.

Envelopes should match stationery in paper quality, color, type of printing, andfont type. If a logo is used, it may be repeated in a smaller version on the envelope.

Many laser and ink jet printers now come with stationery programs to print letterhead,envelopes, and even business cards. At its best, with the purchase of quality paper,printers can simulate lithography. At its worst, the result looks like the companyran out of stationery and is copying its last blank sheet of letterhead, which createsa very poor impression. For that very reason, watch supplies carefully and reorderthem with a safe ma rgin of time.

Business cards use the same types of printing as letterhead and mimic its designand color on a heavy paper or light cardboard. Just as too-thin stationery givesa bad impression, so do lightweight business cards. Whenever possible, card stockrather than a heavy paper should be chosen. Preferably, an individual should usebusiness cards imprinted with his or her own name and title, rather than just a companycard with the name inked in. The latter makes the person seem insignificant and mightprompt clients to search for someone more important. If the company does not providethe executive and/or the office professional with individual business cards, it isworth the small investment to have them made at a personal cost.

A variety of vendors will print stationery and business cards. Open the YellowPages under Printers, and you will see dozens of listings, from private commercialprinters to nationally franchised instant printers. Weigh the company's needs ofquality against price and speed when choosing. After you've decided upon a place(unless you have recommendations and have seen samples from people you know), makethe initial order modest (even though it will cost more). If the first order is satisfactory,you can increase the size of later orders.

Other sources of letterheads and business cards can be found online. Note, however,that if you are using a search engine that rates its listings, this function ratesthe attractiveness, speed, informativeness, and usefulness only of the site itself--notthe printer.


If you can't find what you need from the phone numbers and Web sites listed inthis chapter, you may need to expand your search.

  • For more information on large office equipment such as copiers and fax machines, check in your phone directory under Office Equipment. Most stores will have sales people who will talk you through the basics.
  • For more information on small office supplies and where to order, check in your phone directory under Office Supplies. Often, office "superstores" will have catalogs and delivery services.
  • For more information on telephones and office phone systems, check in your Yellow Pages under telecommunications and/or telephones. Many companies have sales reps who will help you assess your needs.
  • For more information on obtaining or renting VCRs, projectors, video monitors and other equipment, check in your Yellow Pages under Audio/Visual. Many companies provide daily rental services and will pick up and deliver.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2001

    Very good for Office Employees or Students

    This book has a good section on Computer (Chap 5), Office Equipment, Human Resources, Business Correspondence and English. It is definitely a good book to have on your desk to refer to. I recommend it to those in office professions- entry level on up.

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