Office equipment can make your work run more efficiently, but it can also be a strain on your budget if you get the wrong kind . New companies often spend over $10,000 to furnish an office for the first time, while consumable office supplies can easily cost around $1,000 per employee per year. Going digital can help reduce your spending on both equipment and supplies, but you’ll also want to consider purchasing more reliable office supplies and equipment to help keep costs low in the long term.
There are numerous factors to consider if you need to purchase office equipment that will stand up to both time and usage. In this guide, you’ll find:
Category-specific advice for common office equipment and supplies
What to look for in reliable office equipment
What you should avoid when purchasing equipment
A detailed explanation of what reliability means for office equipment and supplies
How to properly budget for office equipment, regardless of the size of your business
For your convenience, we’ve placed the category-specific purchasing advice at the top. If you want a more detailed explanation of how we define and evaluate equipment reliability, click here.
Reliable office equipment: What to look for and what to avoid
There’s no one way to define reliability when it comes to office equipment. Different products will have different reliability factors. The information below can be used as a starting point before you purchase any new equipment. Combine it with more extensive research that will help you better distinguish between unreliable and reliable office equipment.
There’s a good chance you and your coworkers will spend a significant amount of time sitting in chairs. As such, you’ll need to make sure you purchase a chair that’s both comfortable and durable.
Key reliability factors for office chairs include:
Wheel design (more on this in the next section)
We recommend opting for a chairs made with an ergonomic design. Ergonomics is the study of human efficiency. When applied to chairs, it typically means the chair is designed for long-term comfort and proper back support. When the chair is better designed for comfort, you’ll find yourself adjusting it less and shifting your weight less, increasing the long-term viability of the chair and your comfort.
Seat materials can vary. Most standard office chairs use cloth, while mesh and leather are popular for higher-end models. If you’re on a significant budget, cloth chairs can work in a pinch and offer some reliability, although the material will wear out.
Mesh may provide some breathing room and good durability, so long as it’s designed well. Poorly designed mesh chairs often come with no cushion on the bottom, making them far less comfortable and can expose you to contact with the frame. Mesh can also be more difficult to clean than other materials. If purchasing a mesh office chair, ensure the design is good and avoid getting a chair mesh chair with poor ratings.
For office chairs, we recommend an ergonomic design made of cloth or mesh. If you do purchase a mesh chair, opt for a higher-quality model, but avoid the over-the-top expensive chairs that provide little extra benefit beyond name brand.
Office Chair Wheels
Most office chairs are designed with low-quality nylon wheels that will wear out quickly on hard surfaces. They can also damage hardwood floors, making them a major concern for home offices, in particular.
Key reliability factors for office chair wheels include:
Wheel or caster design
You should opt to replace your office chair wheels before they start wearing out. Choose wheels that are designed to have a minimal impact on your floor, and that are composed of softer, rubber-like materials that offer more protection for your floors.
Inline “rollerblade” style office chair wheels are the best design you’ll find in this case. They have a smaller surface area than traditional wheels and use a rubber-like material that offers significant friction resistance while avoiding the standard wear-and-tear that’s typical of common nylon office chair wheels.
For office chair wheels, we recommend rollerblade-style wheels composed of rubber-like materials that will last longer and protect floors.
Computer monitors come in all shapes and sizes and are designed for various purposes. The good news is that the reliability differences between the different computer monitors you purchase are minor, at best. We also found that most reviews of various computer monitor brands and models rarely differ.
The biggest factors that influence your monitor purchase are going to screen size, resolution, panel technology, and available connections. None these have a noticeable impact on reliability, so your purchase should be based on what makes the most sense for your business.
For computer monitors, we recommend choosing products that fit your needs. Most are no more or less reliable than the others on the market. This also means you can avoid overspending on top-of-the-line brands.
Desktop computers and laptops
Purchasing the right computer equipment can be difficult. Do you spend top dollar on the shiniest models on the market, or go with the least expensive option you can find? Computer reliability has gotten a lot better in the past few decades, but there are some aspects you’ll want to consider.
Key reliability factors for computers can include:
Computer reliability is mostly reflected in how easy it is to use your computer without a slowdown in your work efficiency. For this reason, you want a computer with enough processing power to handle large tasks, especially if you working with large data sets and running multiple resource-intensive programs at the same time.
Some manufacturers are known to make more reliable computers (many people swear by Apple products, for example, especially as they’re less likely to get viruses), but you may find a few well-designed computers from makers who get less attention and also offer more budget-friendly prices.
That said, you definitely won’t need to purchase the most expensive computer available. You’ll want to do some additional research to verify the quality of the computers you’re considering. Do note that bargain shopping on the low end for computers can come back to haunt you, mostly because very cheap computers often use lower-powered and cheaper materials, leading to worse reliability.
Also, note that computers aren’t going to last forever. They’re the type of equipment you’re going to have to replace eventually, typically every 5 years. They become less reliable over time mostly because processing and software demands increase beyond what they can reasonably handle, although the technological shift toward cloud computing is making that less and less of an issue and extending the lifespan of modern computers.
For computers, we recommend reviewing computer buying guides for your industry. Then, check customer reviews and look for average ratings, as well as common complaints in the negative reviews. Check specifically for any indication of poor reliability, such as lackluster battery performance, slow processing speeds, and easily damaged or broken hardware.
Many offices place computers directly on top of the office desk, but you may instead want to consider purchasing a monitor stand. Monitor stands elevate the computer to a more comfortable position, while also creating more usable space on the computer desk.
Key reliability factors for computer stands include:
Monitor stands should be able to do just that: stand. You’ll want a monitor stand with strong steel legs and a sturdy base that can hold a significant amount of weight. If the legs are adjustable, make sure the adjusting mechanism doesn’t weaken how well the product holds weight. Poor construction on that end could result in a monitor stand that falls over, which could result in damage to your computer.
For monitor stands, we recommend a product with a sturdy wood or metal table, strong legs, non-slip feet, and good product reviews to verify reliability. You also don’t need to purchase the most expensive options on the market here, so you can probably ignore Apple’s ridiculously expensive monitor stand.
Printers and scanners
Printers are often seen as the most unreliable products on the market, while scanners tend to last forever. Interestingly enough, you can purchase both as a combination device, and we recommend that you do just that.
Reliability for printer/scanner devices mostly falls on the printer side. For that, reliability factors include:
Print technology (inkjet vs. laser)
Performance (often tied to consumer reviews)
Consumer Reports produced an interesting study that found brand really does matter with printers, but it’s not quite what you think. You may be better off getting a less-popular brand (Brother), than the brand most consumers purchase (Hewlett-Packard). Printers are most often replaced because of poor reliability, and Hewlett-Packard printers have not fared so well on that end.
Furthermore, you’ll need to strongly consider whether you want an inkjet or laser printer. Inkjet printers tend to be less reliable, but also much less expensive. Laser printers use no ink (they use toner instead) and are often more expensive. But the toner lasts longer than ink cartridges and tends to have fewer issues during the printing process. You can also get color laser printers, but those will also come at a higher cost. Still, it’s an option to consider since you’ll end up replacing the printer less frequently.
For printers/scanners, we recommend avoiding Hewlett-Packard inkjet printers. Instead, opt for Brother products, as recommended by Consumer Reports, or going with a printer that has overall good reviews on product sites. Additionally, opt for laser over inkjet, if possible.
Desks (including standing desks)
The good news here is that most regular desks are designed to last, even if you purchase a desk made of somewhat cheap materials, you can get fairly good reliability. That said if you want the most reliability out of your desks, the construction materials are going to matter the most.
Key reliability factors for desks include:
Construction material (wood, manufactured wood, metal)
We won’t completely recommend against purchasing a desk made of various manufactured woods, such as plywood or particle board. However, note that such desks are not going to last you very long, so they are, in effect, less reliable. They’re also much cheaper than desks produced from real wood, or desks made with a composition of metals and wood, or desks that are completely metal.
If you want a desk that lasts as long as possible, opt for real wood or even bamboo, or desks constructed with a metal frame.
Additionally, make storage and weight capacity part of the equation. Storage capacity is less an issue for reliability and more to do with efficiency, as it makes it less likely you’ll need to roll or run around the office, and saves space on top of the desk. Weight capacity, however, is important if you’re going to put a fair amount of equipment on the desk, including computers, printers, and pounds of paperwork.
Standing desks are a bit of their own monster. Reliability factors are mostly the same, but you’ll want to pay more attention to weight capacity, as some standing desks may hold less weight due to their design. Material and overall design matter on that end, but also be careful with desks that convert from sitting to standing. You may end up with reliability issues if the adjustment mechanism fails.
For desks and standing desks, we recommend opting for stronger wood or metal materials in the construction, when possible. Ignore brand name and focus more on positive reviews for products you’re considering.
Although so much of business documentation is now stored digitally, most businesses still find a need for good filing cabinets. Thankfully, you’ll have a hard time locating an unreliable filing cabinet. This is a piece of office equipment that’s exceptionally difficult for manufacturers to get wrong. Key reliability factors for filing cabinets include:
You’ll find there are metal filing cabinets still in use that are decades old. In fact, if you take a trip to a local Goodwill or Salvation Army, you may even be able to find a few and purchase them there to save some money. You can always buy them new, but note that plastic filing cabinets may not as reliable as metal, although you’ll likely be able to get a lot of life out of a plastic cabinet.
If going metal, consider getting one with wheels. Moving metal filing cabinets can be a chore, especially if they’re full of documents. Metal filing cabinets can also scratch hardwood floors more easily than plastic, so they’re a bit risky without wheels.
For filing cabinets, opt for metal for longer-term reliability, and consider a cabinet with wheels. However, go ahead and go plastic if it suits you.
Desk supply organizers
Messy desks are a problem for efficiency, but supply organizers can help reduce that problem. As with some other products here, reliability is not hard to come by, as most products in this category are just as reliable as most others. It’s really a matter of preference, although if you’re getting a monitor stand, you should strongly consider a supply organizer that fits underneath the stand to make more efficient use of the space.
That said, some desk supply organizers are altogether terribly designed, so they’ll be unreliable insofar as they don’t do a good job at organizing.
Key reliability factors for desk supply organizers include:
Most desk supply organizers are made from either metal or plastic, although you can find some that are constructed from wood materials or even fabric. We recommend ignoring the fabric organizers, as they’re mostly unreliable even if more pliable.
Wood, metal, or plastic can serve you well, but you’ll need to be conscious of the design. Make sure it’s not too flimsy, and that it has compartments organized in a way that makes sense. Consumer reviews aren’t going to help you here, for what it’s worth.
For what it’s worth, most products have great reviews from buyers. Your pick may come down to preference and style.
For desk supply organizers, choose a product that fits your storage needs and desk layout, but opt for sturdier materials.
Paper Shelf Organizers
Your papers need to go somewhere. If they haven’t made it to your filing cabinet or paper shredder, they’re going onto your desk. Paper filing desk organizers help bring some of that paper chaos to order. Most will give you exactly the results you need, so reliability is less of a problem. Instead, you’ll need to mostly be concerned with design and size. Construction material can impact long-term reliability, however.
Key reliability factors include:
You’ll be better served by either metal or wood for more paper filing desk organizers, but some plastic designs will work. Avoid the plastic, stackable paper filing desk organizers such as these. The plastic pieces to connect them together are often flimsy and break easily. The entire product can break rather easily, in fact, especially if it’s too thin.
For paper filing desk organizers, we recommend going with your gut, but pay attention to negative reviews and look for trends. Additionally, make sure the filing desk organizer fits your desk layout.
When it’s time to destroy the evidence (or simply clean house), paper shredders can help remove paper waste while ensuring any private information is unrecoverable by dumpster divers. Most paper shredders these days are fairly reliable, but some can get jammed if you try to insert too many sheets at once.
Key reliability factors include:
Ease of use
Number of papers it can shred at once
How easy paper jams can be fixed
You’re going to have to rely mostly on product reviews for this one. For the most part, brands won’t matter nearly as much as what actual users have to say about it. Focusing on products with good ratings, but spend some time in the negative reviews as well.
For paper shredders, we recommend you avoid poorly-rated products. Most well-rated options will work, but don’t ignore the negative reviews on even well-rated paper shredders.
What is reliable office equipment?
When we talk about “reliable” office equipment, we refer specifically to equipment with a better-than-average lifespan, even with regular use, as well as equipment that works as intended to create more efficiency in the office. Any equipment that slows things down because it keeps breaking, or must be replaced too soon would be considered unreliable.
Unlike food or produce, most office equipment doesn’t come with an expiration or “best by” date. Instead, you’ll need to apply a bit more scrutiny to the items you purchase, with some attention given to the materials used in production, consumer and professional reviews of the equipment or supplies, and even brand name (to a more limited degree).
To that end, we’ll refer to the tried-and-true dictionary definition of “reliable”:
“Consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted,” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Note that reliability does not mean “the most expensive”. There are plenty of products available on the market that are both cost-effective and highly reliable. The important factors to consider, again, are whether the product’s materials and design make for better performance and whether past and current users also find the products to be reliable office equipment.
Common reliability factors for office equipment
Office equipment covers three “big” categories: tools, supplies, and furniture.
Office tools: any office equipment designed to enhance your ability to complete work or tasks, such as computers, printers, fax machines, staplers, phones, scanners, etc.
Office supplies: any consumable good you purchase for your office, including paper, pens, markers, or staples.
Office furniture: any permanent or semi-permanent fixtures in your office used as an accessory, including office chairs, tables, and filing cabinets
There’s certainly some flexibility in these categories. Many tools and furniture, for example, are also “consumable” in the sense that you use them up over time. However, what reliability looks like more broadly for different product categories will vary.
Office tool reliability
For office tools, such as high-tech computers or low-tech staplers, reliability is often determined by how long that product will last with extended and regular use. Design plays a large role for more technologically-advanced office tools, while you’ll find many of the less-complicated tools can be fairly reliable even when composed of cheap materials.
Product and consumer reviews are extremely important when making a decision on office tools, but you’ll also need to know what materials and technical details create a more reliable product for different types of tools.
Office furniture reliability
Reliable office furniture follows a similar pattern to tools, where the best equipment is that which lasts the longest. However, some furniture will need to be assessed on additional categories as lasting long may not always mean the furniture is functionally good.
Ergonomic design is important to consider for office chairs, for example, while the impact all office furniture has on the physical space is also important (does it damage floors, walls, and other surfaces, for example).
Office supplies reliability
As office supplies are a consumable resource, it’s not as important that they last a long time. After all, items such as paper, staples, and sticky notes are one-time-use. Nevertheless, office supplies need to be functional, and some do need to last beyond just a few uses. Who hasn’t had markers or pens that bleed, or staples that snap in half?
Office supply reliability can be harder to pin down, but positive reviews, materials, and brand can play a big role here. Importantly, supplies that are intended to be used just once should be able to do their primary function without problems, while supplies intended to be used over a period time should not frustrate the user with poor quality.
Impact of unreliable office equipment
You’ll find unreliable office equipment tends to perform poorly in its primary functions. The worst result of this is a loss of productivity, as well as a need to replace that equipment sooner. Both will impact your bottom line as you end up spending more money on equipment.
Some equipment may also start to look or become damaged and worn in a relatively short amount of time. Even if the equipment is still technically functional, it may not have a pleasing appearance.
It’s best to think of reliable office equipment as an investment. Good, reliable equipment will increase productivity and result in higher earnings, while unreliable office equipment will reduce productivity and have a ROI. In either case, both reliable and unreliable equipment can have sometimes incalculable impacts (both positive and negative) on your office.
How to budget for reliable office equipment
A very large question mark will go into how much you should spend on office equipment. This will undoubtedly vary, depending on the size of your business, your industry, and how much remote work is taking place.
Budgeting for office supplies
You may want to consider budgeting around $1,000 dollars per year per employee for supplies. That comes out to about $83 dollars per month.
If you’re buying supplies in bulk, you can lower that cost. It’s common for large and mid-sized companies to end up paying less per employer because they buy supplies in bulk. Yet even small companies can buy in bulk and save, so long as you’re sure the supplies you’re purchasing will be used.
Budgeting for office equipment
Office equipment should last you longer than supplies. How you budget for equipment, however, will vary depending on your priorities. When creating an office equipment budget, take into consideration two broad categories:
The type of equipment you consider to be essential (your office can’t operate without it) The type of equipment you consider desirable (your office can operate without it, but it makes your office a better work environment)
It’s hard to give specific numbers for what you should budget for equipment. Many industries have unique equipment other industries would never need. However, a few basics include:
Chairs (wheeled and stationary)
Desk organizers (paper and supplies
Paper shredders (for when you need to get rid of the evidence)
According to Fundera, the average start-up spends between $10,000 to $125,000 on office equipment. Again, industry-specific equipment is going to be a major factor determining how much you need to budget on equipment. We recommend consulting with someone within your industry to determine what is common.