Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

How to Outfit the High-Tech Office; Office Design, Electronics and Furniture Make the Office More Productive

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

How to Outfit the High-Tech Office; Office Design, Electronics and Furniture Make the Office More Productive

Article excerpt

To qualify for a high-tech label in the 1990s, an office needs most of the following: computers, printers and color plotters, a copier, a facsimile (FAX) machine, modems, an electronic library, an optical storage system and audiovisual and bar-code equipment. An accountant's office, to operate at peak efficiency, is likely to be equipped with most of these items.

(Because communication technology--both telephones and computer networks--is a complex issue, the Journal plans to publish a separate feature on that topic in December.)

While outfitting a high-tech office is a challenge, in many ways designing the office to accomodate all this equipment creates even more of a challenge. Also challenging is the choice of furniture. (For more on ergonomic furniture design, see the sidebar on pages 58-59.)

Decor is important, too, for aesthetics and to convey the right image to clients. A CPA's office shouldn't look too opulent or the firm may appear extravagant; yet it shouldn't be so austere as to give a firm the appearance it's not successful.


Whether a CPA firm is building its office from scratch or renovating an existing space, the design should be done by an architect with high-tech office experience. CPA firms that try the do-it-yourself approach or let a contractor handle the design, in an effort to save money, usually regret the decision.

Designing the office should be a two-step process. First, an architect should be hired, on an hourly basis with a preset upper limit, to assess the site suitability. Then, after the site is selected, it's wise to contract with the architect, for a fixed fee, to design and oversee the work. Under a fixed-fee contract, the architect assumes full responsibility and spends whatever time is necessary to do the job. It's best to avoid contracts that tie the architect's fee to total construction costs; such arrangements provide little incentive to keep costs down.

Once the work is under way, it's wise to try to keep alterations to a minimum. Changes incur extra charges and can add up to a significant amount. However, the architect should act as the firm's representative with the contractor, ensuring the work proceeds according to specifications.


Lighting deserves special attention because poor illumination contributes to office discomfort and low efficiency. A firm should insist the architect pay special attention to lighting needs early in the design phase.

Unfortunately, many clients instruct designers to save money by using the least-expensive fluorescent lamps. Although such fixtures provide ample general illumination, they are not good for task lighting. Unless lamp louvers are added in the ceiling to disperse the light, such lighting is glaring and makes computer-screen viewing especially uncomfortable. Also, the "cold" color of fluorescent bulbs is distasteful to many.

As a cost compromise, the architect should be asked to consider a dual lighting system--fluorescent for general illumination and incandescent for task lighting. Some of the new fluorescent bulbs produce a "warmer" ambience.

In addition, the designer should be asked to add rheostats to the lighting controls so each user can adjust illumination intensity in a room or over a task. Rheostats cost only a few dollars each and provide a convenient personal touch to a work space.


Computers are the heart of the high-tech office. The well-equipped office should have an assortment of them: a small mainframe or a powerful personal computer (PC) to operate a network of computers; PCs or workstations at the desks of most staffers; laptops or notebook PCs for those who travel; and portables for accountants who visit clients and need a computer with more capacity and screen clarity than their smaller cousins. The newest laptops offer power and screen clarity comparable to both lugables and desktop models. …

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