Using a Shared Office: Tips for rounding out your new cube

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The search for affordable office space can be frustrating, but there’s a relatively new option that might work well for your growing business: shared office space. Instead of renting an entire office, you can rent a cube or a desk and share amenities such as a receptionist, the copier and the fax machine with your fellow entrepreneurs.

Sunshine Suites operates two shared office locations in New York City, offering cubes of various sizes and small offices. Rent includes high-speed Internet service, communal copiers and fax machines, daytime receptionists and conference rooms. If you’re setting up an office in such a shared space, keep it simple, keep it small and keep it safe. A shared office isn’t the place for expensive equipment, even when security measures are in place. Fortunately, functional office hardware doesn’t have to be expensive.

The Computer
There’s no need to buy a top-of-the-line computer if your work consists of word processing, e-mail and some Web surfing. Dell Inc. offers the Dell Precision line of muscle-bound desktop and notebook PCs starting at $750, but its less expensive OptiPlex (designed to be networked) and budget-priced Dimension PCs are more than adequate for most businesses. It’s important to get a PC with the software you need. A $399 bargain PC is no bargain if you spend $600 on software. Some reasonably priced PCs come with Microsoft Corp.’s Office 2007 Basic, which includes Microsoft Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheet) and Outlook (e-mail, contacts, calendar, etc.). Office Basic 2007 is sold in bulk to PC makers at a discount, thus allowing them to bundle it with inexpensive PCs.

If you want to add Office 2007 to a new PC, your least expensive options include Office Home and Student 2007 ($149), which adds PowerPoint (presentations) and OneNote (information manager) but lacks Outlook; or Office Standard 2007 ($399; $239 to those upgrading from old versions of Office), which also adds PowerPoint and retains Outlook, but does not come with OneNote. Another popular office suite included with business PCs is Corel Corp.’s WordPerfect Office X3.

For the limited confines of a cube, a svelte flat-panel liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor makes sense. Many 15-inch models are available for less than $200 and even 20-inch models aren’t that much more expensive. In January, Dell was selling a 20-inch ViewSonic VG2021m flat-panel LCD monitor for $244.95. More expensive flat-panel models offer ultrafast refresh rates, making them suitable for heavy video use or for games. Business software, on the other hand, usually requires very little from your monitor—so don’t spend more on a monitor than you have to. Many computer vendors, including Dell, sometimes offer free upgrades from tube to flat-panel monitors, so watch for online sales.

The Printer
A multifunction printer—one that also serves as a scanner, copier and fax machine—is also perfect for limited office space and frees you from having to use the communal office equipment. If you have heavy-duty printing needs, a small laser printer may suit your business better. Lexmark International Inc.’s X5470 all-in-one inkjet unit offers printing and scanning functions and also works as a stand-alone fax machine. The $99 unit also supports photo inks and can print borderless

4-by-6 photos on photo paper. While the scanner has an optical resolution of 600 by 1200 dots per inch—not as high as more expensive multifunction units—it’s still fine for business use. Included is Lexmark’s one-year, next-business-day warranty, which provides for quick replacement of a defective unit.

Phone Service
If you have a high-speed Internet connection, use a broadband phone service rather than having a traditional phone line installed. By routing calls over the Internet or via private data circuits, broadband phone companies can offer low calling rates. SunRocket Inc. offers a year of unlimited calls in the United States and to Canada and Puerto Rico for $199 a year. Broadband phone services work with conventional telephones. When you sign up you receive a phone adapter that connects between your phone and your Internet connection. Other major broadband phone providers include Vonage and Packet8.

Another type of low-cost Internet phone service routes calls through your PC. With Skype, for example, you install the service’s software on your PC and use the software and your computer’s keyboard or mouse to place calls. Instead of your conventional phone, you plug a headset with a microphone into the appropriate jacks on your PC. Skype calls are downright cheap. For most of 2006, local calls were free, as Skype worked to grow its user base. As of February 2007, however, Skype began charging $29.95 for a year of unlimited calls to standard phones
in the United States and Canada. Calls between Skype
users are always free.

Phone Comfort
Some computer accessory makers are now offering cordless handsets that can place calls via Skype. Belkin International Inc.’s Wi-Fi Phone for Skype ($199.99) connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi wireless networks like the ones found in many offices, libraries, coffee shops and other public spaces. If you already have a Wi-Fi network at your shared office location, you can place Skype calls as long as you can get a connection to your Wi-Fi base station. The Skype software is em-bedded in the phone, thus making PC software unnecessary.

Invest in a good set of headphones, since shared offices can get noisy with the buzz of other entrepreneurs.
Netgear’s Dual-Mode Cordless Phone with Skype ($199.99) can make calls both via a conventional phone line as well as through Skype. The phone connects wirelessly to a base station, which you connect to your Internet connection with an Ethernet cord and to your phone jack with a phone line. Here again, the Skype software is built into the phone. You can add up to three phones to the system.