Archive for October, 2012

Is Your Office a Health Hazard?

By now, everyone knows that keeping employees healthy is the best way to trim healthcare costs, cut absenteeism, and just generally keep things running smoothly around the office. But what about if the office itself is the problem? How can you tell if your building is what’s making folks sick?

For companies who are moving into new spaces, or concerned that their current digs are contributing to the staff’s poor health, we present you with this list of things to look for — and what to do to neutralize the risk.

1. Health Hazard: Asbestos

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Asbestos was a popular building material all the way up through the late 1980s, in some places. If your building dates back to the 1970s or before, it almost surely had or has asbestos, either in the insulation or the floor and ceiling tiles.

Find It and Fix It: Ask your landlord for information on the asbestos situation in your building. If you’re uncertain, hire a professional asbestos inspector to determine your building’s status.

2. Health Hazard: Lead Paint

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Lead paint is most dangerous to children, but it’s no picnic for adults either. Women of childbearing age should be especially careful about exposure to lead, because it’s stored in the bones and released as maternal calcium to a developing infant.

Find It and Fix It: If your office building was built before 1978, it almost certainly contains lead paint. Ask your landlord to provide you with information on the current lead status of the building. If he or she has recently renovated the space, the contractor should have been Lead-Safe Certified and provided paperwork to that effect.

3. Health Hazard: Toxic Chemicals

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Here’s a scary thought: Just going to work can expose you to hazardous chemicals, such as the flame retardants in many types of office furniture, which can make you sick or even infertile.

Find Them and Fix Them: Buy metal components whenever possible (plastic is higher in these kinds of compounds), and wash your hands before you eat to avoid ingesting chemicals.

4. Health Hazard: Dust

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We can hear you laughing from here. “Dust?” you say. “Seriously?”

Yes, dust. Dust allergies are common and debilitating, with sufferers experiencing everything from sneezing to asthma symptoms.

Find It and Fix It: To keep your staff healthy, make sure the cleaning people aren’t just emptying trash cans and shifting the recycling.

5. Health Hazard: Poor Indoor Air Quality

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Sick Building Syndrome gained traction in the media a few years back, and shows no signs of abating. The symptoms — skin, eye, and throat irritation, hypersensitivity reactions, and just plain feeling bad — are various, and can be attributed to many causes, which makes identifying the issue much more difficult.

Find It and Fix It: So how do you figure out if your workers are suffering from it? Look for potential sources. Sick Building Syndrome is generally thought to be caused by poor ventilation, as well as chemical and biological contaminants. If your building doesn’t meet current recommendations for ventilation (20 cfm/person) it might be time to ask the landlord for an upgrade.

Images: mikecogh/Flickr, Abby Lanes/Flickr, Cavin/Flickr, Adams999/Flickr, jennypdx/Flickr

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Could an In-House Health Clinic Save Your Business Money?

For years now, companies have been offering group exercise classes and flu shots to their employees, with the idea that an ounce of prevention is cheaper than a pound of cure. But as chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes continue to rise, some employers are offering a wider range of in-office health services — and reaping significant financial rewards as a result.

How Much Money Can You Save?

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A recent study by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that employers who created in-house health services saw a return on investment of $1.50 to $3 for every dollar spent. Companies that adopt programs like these often see a decline in obesity rates and tobacco use, which in turn lowers absenteeism and other health care costs.

“Unhealthy people cost a lot more,” says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

According to Reuters, a survey from Towers Watson/NBGH shows that companies spend an average of $11,664 per employee for healthcare, which is an increase of 5.9 percent over last year’s costs. This is despite the fact that employees’ share of costs increased 9.3 percent to $2,764.

Bringing healthcare services in-house can offset these costs and help employees manage chronic conditions like diabetes, which they might otherwise tend to ignore.

What Conditions Can Clinics Treat?

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In addition to diabetes, and those flu shots we mentioned earlier, in-house medical services can address infectious diseases like upper respiratory ailments, plus offer regular check-ups and monitoring for employees with chronic illnesses.

But perhaps the most successful function of these clinics is to provide prevention programs — weight loss, nutrition services, vaccinations, and smoking cessation programs.

Which Companies Are on Board?

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Setting up a full-scale clinic isn’t cheap, so it’s no wonder that some of the early adopters are large companies like Intel Corp and American Express Co. But not every company needs to build a separate medical unit on-site to reap the rewards of in-house medical care. Even adding a few prevention programs can save money and raise employee morale.

But if you do decide to invest in a full-scale program, you’ll be in good company: by 2007, 100 of the top 1000 companies were offering on-site clinics of one sort or another, including Toyota, Credit Suisse, Sprint, and Pepsi.

Images: DoNotLick/Flickr, US Navy Official Imagery/Flickr, SWF Photography/Flickr

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4 Money-Saving Opportunities Your Business May Be Missing

When it comes to succeeding in business, Benjamin Franklin was right: a penny saved is a penny earned. The road to a healthy bottom line starts not with the money you earn, but with the money you never have to spend. Here are some easy ways to save a buck or two that you’re probably overlooking.

1. Strategic Sourcing

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Everyone knows it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. That cost-cutting measure is employed by almost every company in the country, not to mention every family with a Costco membership. But while you probably already order departmental supplies in bulk, you might not have thought about joining forces across departments.

That’s where strategic sourcing comes in. By phasing out individual purchases and encouraging departments to buy together, you can get a lot more for your money. A recent study by Government Accountability Office found that some government agencies were spending 5 to 20 percent more than they needed to on individual purchases. (Which will shock anyone who’s never worked for the government, and elicit bored nods from anyone who has.)

2. Turn Your Trash Into Treasure

Misguidance Through Serious Talk Cutout

When the Powers That Be decide to redecorate the office, they often think in terms of how quickly they can get the old office furniture out the door. But what they don’t stop to consider is that those broken down chairs, desks, and cubicles could be refurbished and resold through a company like Arnolds Office Furniture. We buy entire office buildings worth of furniture and buff it back to like-new quality. Don’t assume your old stuff is beyond saving until you contact us. You could make a tidy little sum off of your unwanted equipment, which you can then put toward the remodeling of your offices.

3. Check Your Settings

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This is so absurdly simple, and yet it’s one of the most common ways offices waste money. Make sure all your monitors are set to energy-saving mode and you won’t have to worry about footing a giant electric bill while folks aren’t even working at their desks.

4. Adopt Flex Time

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This idea has the added benefit of making you look like the best boss ever. Letting your employees work at home on an occasional basis saves on electricity, and might even allow you to consolidate office space down the road. And since your workers will perceive it as a perk, you can buy a little goodwill even if the budget is too tight to give them the raises you’d like.

Images: iStockphoto

5 Ways to Make Your Office Healthier

Let’s face it: offices aren’t health clubs. We spend eight-plus hours a day crouched over a keyboard, swilling coffee and eating high-fructose corn syrup in hopes of staving off the lethargy only fluorescent lights and corporate art can induce. It’s no wonder that many of us spend flu season fighting off the same bug over and over again, or that our yearly physicals are less glowing than the annual report. What’s a health-minded manager to do? The good news is that you can make your office a healthier place, with a few small changes.

1. Offer Standing Desks

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The news is full of horrifying studies about the long-term effects of sitting all day long. As a result, many companies are swapping out their old office furniture for standing or treadmill desks, to mitigate the risks. As this article points out, this would put your workers in such august company as Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Jefferson. Plus, it’s supposed to be great for energy levels.

2. Decorate With Air-Cleaning Plants

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It’s always nice to have a bit of greenery in the office, but some plants can actually help clean the air as well. Plants like Goldon Pothos, Peace Lily, and Snake Plant have been found to cleanse the air of toxins like benzene and formaldehyde.

3. Light That Mimics the Sun

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Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D can lead to everything from increased cardiovascular disease to impaired cognitive abilities — neither of which is going to help your team hit its goals. You can’t force everyone on your team to start eating tons of fish or to take vitamins, but you can help them create vitamin D the old-fashioned way, with help from sun-mimicking lights. Full spectrum lights can help prevent illnesses associated with vitamin deficiency, as well as cheering up your staff during the long, dark, winter months.

4. Offer Healthy Snacks

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Sure, juice is more expensive than soda, and it’s hard to put carrot sticks in a vending machine. But if you can offer a few healthy alternatives to the fat- and salt-laden fare most offices have on hand, you’ll have happier, healthier employees — and lower health care costs. Offer green tea as well as coffee, and stock your vending machine with trail mix and instant oatmeal, as well as the usual chips, cookies, and bright-orange treats.

5. Encourage Cleanliness

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Doorknobs and elevator buttons are dirtier, generally speaking, than toilet seats, and yet most of us don’t think twice about pushing a button or palming a handle. Have the cleaning crew go over these areas with disinfectant wipes on a daily basis, and offer cleaning materials to your staff, so that they can keep their desk phones, keyboards, and work spaces clean and free from germs.

Images: ashkyd/Flickr, KLPA/Flickr, James Bowe/Flickr, havankevin/Flickr, Rae Allen/Flickr

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Is an Open Office Plan Right for You?

Facebook recently announced their new office space, which will cover ten acres, house 3000 workers, and be “the largest open floor plan in the world,” according to Mark Zuckerberg. And while the social media giant might be planning the biggest open plan office yet, they’re certainly not alone in embracing the new, cubicle-free way of doing business. The question is, should your company make the transition? Here’s what to consider.

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Pros:

  • Cost: This is possibly the biggest benefit for cost-conscious companies. It’s far cheaper to use an open office plan than it is to use cubicles or private offices. Open offices are more scalable: managers can add new employees without building new walls. And, as this CNN article points out, they’re far cheaper to heat — no mean savings in these times of skyrocketing fuel prices.
     
  • Collaboration: For companies that rely on teamwork and creativity, the open office offers a unique opportunity to foster group communication. Many open offices have movable furniture and a variety of different kinds of work spaces — from long tables to private conference rooms — that can be booked for small brainstorming sessions. All of this allows workers to structure their space around their work, instead of vice versa.

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Cons:

  • Noise: Open plan offices can be LOUD. Even if every single person who works in a given office knows how to use his or her indoor voice, all of that low-level chatter can be deafening in an open room. If you have a lot of folks who need to be heads-down in a silent environment, it might be difficult to accommodate them. If you do opt for an open plan office, then, the best thing to do is to invest in sound-masking equipment, which will cover the chatter with soothing white noise and allow people to work in peace. We’d also recommend that anyone who switches to an open work environment offer workers a few private places to make phone calls and meet in small groups.
     
  • Lack of Personality: Another downside to open offices is that people don’t have a space to call their own, which can make even the coolest décor feel oddly impersonal. Consider allowing workers to personalize some part of the office, whether it’s bringing in pictures of their family or having a hand in decorating the lunchroom.

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Before You Plan an Open Office:

If the pros of switching to an open plan office outweigh the cons, ask yourself these questions before drawing up plans:

1. What kinds of work do my employees do? Are they engaged mostly in group projects, or do they tend to work solo?

2. How many meetings do we have on a weekly basis, and do we need private space for each?

3. Is there a place people can go to in order to make a phone call, meet with a small group, or even have an argument?

4. Will there be opportunities to personalize the space?

5. How are the acoustics in the space, as is, and what can we do to mitigate noise?

Images: Shawn Allen/Flickr, Lars Ploughmann/Flickr, Rey BangoFlickr

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5 Ways to Improve the Light in Your Office (Without Breaking the Bank)

The days are getting shorter. For those of us who toil away in office cubicles, the darker days of winter are especially trying. Heck, we can barely get any light as it is. Once we’re going to work before the sun rises and staying until long after the early dusk, we’re lucky if we see any sunlight at all. This isn’t just a bummer for wage slaves. Since natural light has been shown to boost worker productivity, it behooves employers to find ways to get some sunlight — or a close approximation — into their offices. Preferably while not shelling out tons of cash no one has.

Here a few great ways to get started.

1. Take advantage of the windows you already have.

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Lower cubicle walls — or do away with them altogether — and embrace an open plan office design to maximize the amount of natural light. Place workers’ desks closer to the windows so that they get as much of that healing (and motivating) vitamin D as possible.

2. Place lamps at irregular intervals.

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It might sound strange, but irregular lighting is actually better for your eyes than a bright, evenly-lit room.

“If we are working in a space with one uniform type of lighting, which a lot of us do … that can cause a lot of distraction to our eyes,” says Doreen Le May Madden, a certified lighting consultant. Our eyes seek out the brightest area in the room, she says. If there’s no single brightest spot, our eyes shift around, looking for light and becoming strained and fatigued.

3. Buy full-spectrum light bulbs — but get a deal.

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Full-spectrum bulbs are significantly more expensive that fluorescents, but you can cut costs by ordering in bulk or from wholesalers. You can also encourage workers to bring in their own lamps from home, further cutting down on the expense.

4. Skip the overheads.

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It seems like overhead lighting would be the best way to brighten up a room, but trust us: your workers will be way happier if you turn off those flickering, yellow-tinged light panels and double up on indirect lighting. It’ll ease eye strain, and make the office more cheerful to boot.

5. Swap out fluorescents for CMH lighting.

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Ceramic metal halide lighting has a shorter shelf-life than fluorescent bulbs, but gives a truer color. They’re also energy efficient, which is great for the planet — and your wallet.

Images: swanksalot/Flickr, Nadya Peek/Flickr, J Fortune Photography/Flickr, andybee21/Flickr, sensibleabode/Flickr

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4 Execs Who Work in Cubicles

Gone are the days when ascending the corporate ladder meant a swanky corner office in the penthouse. Nowadays, many executives skip the private space altogether, opting to toil away in office cubicles like their reports. The idea is to reinforce the feeling that everyone’s in this together, and to create a more egalitarian culture that rewards ideas instead of tenure and title. Here are a few of the top executives in the country who are currently working in cubicles just like the rest of us.

1. Meg Whitman, CEO of HP

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Back in the Carly Fiorina days, executives at HP had fancy private offices. They also had a barbed wire fence separating their BMWs from employees’ Fords and Chevys. (That is not a metaphor. There was an actual fence. We can only assume that ankle monitors were also considered.)

Those days, thank goodness, are over. Since Meg Whitman took over the top spot, the highest ranking workers at HP are housed in the same cubicles as everyone else. In fact, Whitman recently gave NBC’s Today Show a tour of her cube.

The only people who have offices at HP anymore are Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. The company’s founders are remembered with a shrine — their offices, preserved just as they were when they founded the company.

2. Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City

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Mayor Bloomberg famously redesigned the offices at City Hall into a “bullpen style” open plan office, to promote communication. Many who work there say they like the openness and ease of working in this environment.

“The bullpen really allowed free-flowing communication and efficiency,” said Edward Skyler, a former deputy mayor who sits close to the mayor. “It eliminated gatekeepers. You didn’t have to make an appointment to see someone.”

3. Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel

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Not only do Intel execs sit with the hoi polloi, they use the same restrooms, parking spaces, and cafeterias as everyone else. (Did you even know that there were executive cafeterias at some companies? It sounds like the sort of thing Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock” would think up on a business retreat.)

4. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

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Tony Hsieh is not the average CEO. He encourages his workers to “create fun with a little weirdness,” he writes bestselling management books that focus almost as much on happiness as customer service, and yes, he sits in a cubicle, just like the lowliest temp or brand-new CSR.

Images: megwhitman2010/Flickr, americanprogress/Flickr, Cea./Flickr, Silicon Prairie News/Flickr

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Which "Endangered Species" of Office Equipment Still Lurk in Your Office?

When it comes to office equipment, we tend to get new shiny toys long before we get rid of outdated stuff. This is partly because it’s always a bit nervewracking to toss out the old technology before we’re sure the new gizmo will work, and partly because we’re lazy. It’s sad, but true.

A recent survey by LinkedIn asked 7,000 professionals which of their office tools and trends will disappear completely by 2017. Here were the winners:

1. Tape recorders (79 percent)

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Forget about those bulky old recorders or even the sleek new digital models. Pretty soon, we’ll probably be using apps for that — on our smartphones, where we keep everything from our calendar to baby photos.

2. Fax machines (71 percent)

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This technology can’t leave fast enough for most of us. Anyone who’s ever spent the bulk of an afternoon trying to persuade this dinosaur to send their message will be happy to trade it for digital transmission. Let’s be honest: we’d just as soon use passenger pigeons. It would be less trouble.

3. The Rolodex (58 percent)

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We can’t even remember the last time we saw one of these, but it was probably on TV. Physical Rolodexes are rapidly being replaced by any number of online organizers.

4. Standard working hours (57 percent)

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This is either great news or the worst news ever, depending on what you mean by “standard working hours.” If we’re talking about having a flexible schedule, then hooray! But if we’re referring to working at all hours of the day and night, then a big fat boo.

5. Desk phones (35 percent)

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At our last job, a coworker’s desk phone rang. Instead of picking up, she just stared at in horror for a full minute as it rang and rang. You would have thought it was a live grenade. Afterward, she confessed she didn’t even know how to answer the phone anymore. “I even text my 70-year-old mother,” she said.

6. Desktop computers (34 percent)

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These have been fading out for years. First, laptops replaced desktops. Now, tablets are replacing laptops. Pretty soon, we’ll just stand in the middle of the floor and draw on the air like Tom Cruise in “The Minority Report.”

7. Formal business attire like suits, ties, pantyhose, etc. (27 percent)

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Pantyhose and ties were invented by the devil. Good riddance to this stuff. Bring on working in our jammies!

8. The corner office for managers/executives (21 percent)

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CEOs like Meg Whitman and public officials like NYC Mayor Bloomberg already work out in the open with all their employees. And with the rise of open plan offices, expect more and more top executives to join the cubicle revolution. It saves money, and makes it look like a fairer and more communicative workplace.

9. Cubicles (19 percent)

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See previous re: open offices. Many are now a combination of cubicles and open areas. As time goes on, expect more open space and fewer walls of any kind. It’s just good sense for the bottom line, and everyone’s pretty invested in that these days.

10. USB thumb drives (17 percent)

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Now that we can store all our information in the cloud, there’s no need to put things on thumb drives. In the future, expect to see one million Etsy projects involving old thumb drives, decoupaged and turned into keychains.

Of course, if you want to replace some of your worn out stuff before 2017, drop us a line. We’ll bring you up-to-date for a fraction of the price you’d expect.

Images: psd/Flickr, Abhisek Sarda/Flickr, campelj45ca/Flickr , ARendle/Flickr, foleymo/Flickr, flickrsven/Flickr, laverrue/Flickr, Axle/Flickr , ilamont/Flickr, robertnelson/Flickr

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5 Ways for Your Office to Go Green (and Save Money, Too)

What’s the best part about adopting more environmentally-friendly practices at the office? If you said “saving the planet,” you’re a nicer person than we are. Because while we’re always pleased to be able to do something for mother earth, in this economy, we’d be lying if we said our favorite part of going green wasn’t saving green — as in money.

These are just a few of the things you can do to be kinder to the planet, while saving a little bit of your extra (ha!) cash:

1. Recycle

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You knew this one was coming. Recycling is the always No. 1 on every list of how to help the environment. But what you probably didn’t know is that it’s also a great way to save money. Many communities have “cash for trash” programs that will net you a little bit of extra moolah for hauling your aluminum cans to a recycling center instead of putting them out on the curb. And if you have higher value metals like copper or steel lying around, you can make even more.

2. Reuse and Repair

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Think twice before you toss out that broken coffee maker or printer. If it can be fixed, you’ll save the money you’d have spent on a brand-new replacement — plus, all that space in the landfill.

3. Reduce

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Encourage your employees to share documents digitally, over email or via the cloud, and you’ll spend much less on paper. What’s bad news for the folks at Dunder Mifflin is good news for your bottom line.

The same goes for things like disposable coffee cups and plastic cutlery. Provide washable mugs and real silverware, and you’ll cut down on trash and the costs associated with buying all the plastic picnicware. Not to mention how happy your employees will be when they can actually cut their pizza on Pizza Day.

4. Donate

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If you have furniture or equipment that you really can’t use any longer, or just can’t stand to look at anymore, consider donating it to a worthy cause. You’ll be making an ecofriendly choice, while helping someone who really needs it. (Plus, you’ll get a nice tax write-off.)

5. Buy and Sell Used

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Finally, if you do decide you need new office furniture, look into buying used equipment that’s been lovingly refurbished back to like-new quality. It’s cheaper than buying all new stuff, and no one but you and your accountant will know the difference. If you’re interested in saving money on your office furniture, drop us a line and we’ll talk about your office’s needs.

Images: mrlaugh/Flickr, goodrob13/Flickr, Derrick Coetzee/Flickr, akeg/Flickr, Arnolds Office Furniture

5 Tips for Saving Money on Office Supplies

The average worker uses $500 worth of office supplies every year, and that’s if they’re not the type to help themselves to the occasional nifty notebook or shiny new pen for use during their off-hours. Multiply that by the number of workers at your company, and you’ll see why most office managers are eager to save money on office supplies in any way that they can. Here are a few of our favorite methods.

1. Look for Rewards Programs

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Many office supply companies offer discounts if you sign up for their rewards programs. Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples all offer gift cards or cash back on purchases, and Office Depot and Staples offer additional discounts for recycled printer cartridges.

2. Choose Cheaper Supplies

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If might sound obvious, but if you encourage employees to choose cheaper supplies (ballpoint pens, instead of pricey Uniball ones, for example) you can save a bundle. Consider creating a list of approved office supplies and alternative options to more expensive choices.

3. Lock up the Supplies

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If you let employees help themselves, you’re liable to wind up watching a lot of Post-Its and business-size envelopes go marching out the door in laptop cases and handbags. Placing supplies in a closet or cabinet and having people sign out what they need will go a long way toward preventing theft.

4. Reuse Anything You Can

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Remember those interoffice envelopes they used to use in high school? There were always about a thousand crossed-out names on the front. Mimic your old teachers of yore and start reusing envelopes, packing materials, even paper. Much of what we throw away every day is still good for a couple of extra uses.

5. Save on Ink

HP Drucker Tintenpatronen Recycling im frŠnkischen Thurnau

In addition to recycling old ink cartridges, consider stocking your printer with off-brand ink. You can save up to 50 percent by going with non-brand name ink, and odds are that your employees won’t even notice a difference. Just be sure to check your printer’s warranty, as some manufacturers won’t honor a warranty if the user supplied the equipment with anything other than the company’s cartridges.

Finally, consider setting up different printers for everyday use, and set them to “fast-draft” or “black-ink only.” No one needs perfect ink density and four-color images for printing out emails and memos. Save the high-quality printouts for presentations, when it really matters.

Images: theogeo/Flickr, Smabs Sputzer/Flickr, Lee Haywood/Flickr, Bradley P. Johnson/Flickr, Innovate360/Flickr

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