Archive for December, 2012

Are Modern Offices Ergonomic Nightmares?

Usually, when we reference the offices of yesteryear, we’re pointing out how much better things are today than they used to be. After all, who among us would trade a flexible work schedule and wireless networking for the 9-to-5 grind and giant CRT monitors?

But sometimes, newer isn’t better. Witness the relative decline of ergonomic office furniture, and tell us your wrists and back are glad to be toiling away in the 21st century.

If you’re looking for something to blame, look at open plan offices, which, while cool and collaborative, feature a less regimented (and often less ergonomically-friendly) work environment. Long tables are harder to optimize for your joints than single desks, and grabbing any old chair to chat with a coworker means that you’re not sitting in your own, specially-adjusted chair.

Don’t despair, however: we’ve got a few ways that you can adapt yesterday’s ergonomic accessories to today’s office environment.

1. Take your chair with you.

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It might sound silly, but rolling over to talk to a coworker does more than just make you look like a super-busy character in an Aaron Sorkin office drama. It also means that you’re sticking with the adjustments that make you most comfortable.

2. Ditto your keyboard and mouse.

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Even if your company eschews individual desks in favor of a big, long table, you can still give your wrists a break by using a separate, ergonomic keyboard and mouse. It might take an extra minute or two to set up each time you switch locations, but it’ll save tons of time and pain down the line when you get to keep using your hands.

3. Or skip the chair altogether.

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Ironically, the reason so many of us leave work feeling like we’ve just run a marathon isn’t because we’ve done too much, physically, throughout the day — it’s because we’ve done too little. You can combat that by swapping your standard desk chair for a ball chair. These nifty little items look like something a kid would bounce around on at the playground, but they keep your core muscles engaged all day, preventing back pain and making you stronger while you work.

4. Get a stand for your tablet.

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Tablets are totally fun — and notoriously terrible for your body. Not only are they difficult to type with and read on, but if you’re not careful, you can wind up with “iPad Neck,” a condition that arises from craning your neck to look at your tablet. The solution? Buy a stand for your tablet, and if possible, use a mouse and keyboard instead of inputting your information directly.

Images: jnyemb/Flickr, osde-info/Flickr, thestanding/Flickr, yensid1998/Flickr

What Should You Do With Your Old Office Furniture?

Office furniture doesn’t last forever, and maybe that’s a good thing. Can you imagine what offices would look like if no one ever had to redecorate? Sure, we all love the show “Mad Men,” but try to find a place to plug in your laptop on a mid-century desk. It’s not pretty.

Fortunately, we have lots of options for getting rid of old office furniture to make way for the new. Here are a few ideas, and the plusses and minuses of each.

1. Re-Use It

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The first thing to determine is whether or not the furniture is still usable. If it’s just a matter of being sick of the sight of the stuff you have now, a little rearranging might just do the trick. Employee lounges all over the country are full of furniture no one wanted to see hanging around the boardroom anymore.

Benefits: It’s free and easy. You don’t need to buy new furniture, or go to the trouble of getting rid of your old stuff.

Drawbacks: It’s not a good solution if the furniture isn’t in good condition. And if you’re really tired of the sight of it, moving it to another room doesn’t totally solve the problem unless you, the manager in charge of redecorating, never need to go in there.

2. Sell It

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If you have your heart set on a total redecoration, one of the best options is to sell your old office furniture to a company like Arnolds. We buy whole buildings worth of stuff, and also purchase smaller lots, if you’re just trying to clear out a conference room or two. Contact us now for a quote.

Benefits: You can get rid of your old stuff and make money toward the new equipment, all in one fell swoop. Plus, many companies will come pick up your office furniture at no charge, which means that they’re literally paying you for the privilege of taking your stuff away.

Drawbacks: Not many, actually. If you have time to make a few phone calls to get quotes, you can make a few bucks while you clear out your office.

3. Trash It

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The trouble with just trashing your furniture is that you can’t exactly put fifty ergonomic chairs out on the curb for your friendly neighborhood trash man to pick up. Your options, basically, are to hire a junk removal company or advertise on Craigslist.

Benefits: The junk removal option allows you to get rid of your furniture fast; the Craigslist option is totally free. (And might also be fast. As this article points out, “If you want to get rid of anything fast, all you have to do is put up a ‘free’ sign and interested takers will come running!”)

Drawbacks: If you advertise on Craigslist, you’re basically letting a bunch of strangers roam around your office grabbing furniture, hoping that they don’t also help themselves to confidential information or the computers that you’d like to keep. And hiring removers costs money.

4. Donate It

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Do you need a tax write-off more than you do a fistful of cash? The donation option might be for you. A lot of organizations will take your used office furniture (and again, many will even pick up the stuff themselves, thus saving you a trip). Try Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or the Muscular Dystrophy Association, or call your favorite charity and ask if they’re accepting donations.

Benefits: The aforementioned tax write-off — plus, the sense that you’re helping others while solving your immediate problem.

Drawbacks: Not every charity will do the pickup themselves, and you might need to wait a bit for a scheduled pickup time.

Images: faungg/Flickr, swanksalot/Flickr, Scott Rocketship/Flickr, schipulites

New Office Design Reinvents Walls, Ceilings

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Increasingly, companies are adopting open plan office designs to make it easier for their employees to work collaboratively (and, let’s face it, to save a buck or two on square footage). Most organizations are prepared to deal with the problem of mitigating noise in the open office, but some are surprised to find that all that open space isn’t as architecturally interesting as they had expected.

Enter Seeyond Architectural Solutions, a Minneapolis-based company that creates features that spice up open spaces. Their creations include free-standing walls, clouds that hang from ceilings, and even futuristic office cubicles.

“The loft space concept is, in theory, very inviting. But in practice it is not,” said Seeyond General Manager Kirby Rea in an interview with Finance & Commerce. “We need definition in interior space, but you don’t want to block the light from windows. Since most of the installations are in the cellular resin, natural light is transmitted through it, or the installations can be internally lit.”

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Recently, Seeyond created a three-dimensional white wall for the lobby of a media and marketing firm in downtown Minneapolis. Haworth Marketing + Media needed a feature to visually tie together both floors of its offices, and offset the industrial look and feel of the staircase that joined them physically.

“Haworth wanted a central lobby that was all about communication and connectivity, and it wanted the space to be alive,” said Jodie Leppa, senior project manager at design firm Nelson, which oversaw the project. “We wanted something artful because the stairs were more industrial looking, and we needed something more refined for the wall.”

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The white wall is one of 18 installations that Seeyond has created for companies as diverse as a casino in Las Vegas (a 30-foot long cloud that hangs near the ceiling) and a 27-foot tall column for a Long Beach, Calif. Hotel. Their clients include hotels, restaurants, and yes, office buildings, and tend to be clustered on the coasts, where those open loft spaces beg to be filled with engaging architectural features.

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Interestingly, for such a futuristic company, Seeyond has pretty old roots: the firm is backed by Liberty Diversified International, a $500 million company founded in 1918 in New Hope, Minnesota. Their designers have worked in fields ranging from architecture and mathematics to boatbuilding and metalsmithing.

They must be doing something right. The company won a 2012 Silver Award at Neocon, the largest expo for commercial interiors in North America.

Images: Seeyond

5 Best Types of Office Furniture for Small Spaces

Time isn’t the only thing that costs money. Space — specifically square footage — costs companies a pretty penny as well. No wonder that many organizations are trying to make do with the smallest amount of space possible. The trick is to find office furniture for small spaces that will make it easier to keep workers productive and happy with less room to roam around. Here are some pieces that can help.

1. Desk With Built-In Shelves

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It’s no surprise that the first item on our list is from IKEA, beloved purveyor of everything cheap and space-saving. The Expedit furniture line offers several inexpensive solutions for tight spaces, including this tiny desk with built-in shelves that allows you to save space without sacrificing on organization and efficiency.

2. The Corner Desk

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Don’t waste that corner — use it! Corner desks hold a lot more storage than you would expect, and enable you to use every part of your office space. Plus, they’re pretty cute and offer an illusion of privacy that workers don’t get when they toil away at a regular desk in the middle of the room. Overstock.com has a variety of corner desks to choose from.

3. Tiny, But Traditional

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Again, we have our friends at IKEA to thank for this little wonder, which looks like something you’d see in a banker’s office, but takes up way less room than those giant monster desks of yore. The pull-out drawer even makes this easy to retrofit for keyboards, providing a functional blend of traditional and modern.

4. Modular L-Shaped Desk

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If you need more storage than a tiny desk will provide, the L-shaped desk allows you to have everything you need right at your fingertips without taking up too much room. This one is from West Elm and includes an under-the-desk filing cabinet for extra storage.

5. The Repurposed Magazine Table

OFFI furniture-Mag, Skool, Kapsule, Yoodo, Scary Fish

Of course, if you’re really dealing with a tiny amount of space, the solution might be to use a piece of furniture for a new purpose. Thanks to the always-amazing Apartment Therapy, we know now that this bedside table from Offi can be used as an impromptu — and very contemporary-looking — laptop stand. If you have a flexible space, like an open plan office design, you might want to consider one of these clever solutions.

5 Things That Won’t Be on Office Desks in 2020

Ever look at old pictures of offices in the early part of the 20th century? Just us? OK, you’ll have to take our word for it: some of these sepia-toned beauties are eye openers. The technology that was cutting edge then — telegrams, tickers of all sorts, massive indexes — are old-timey now, more likely to grace a display in your local vintage shop than the corner of anyone’s office.

This brings us to a realization: most of the stuff we have on our desks right now will be obsolete in a few years. Here are some of the things you can expect to see disappear from your desktops by 2020:

1. Phones

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Quick: When was the last time you used the phone on your desk? If you’re like most of us, you probably had to think before answering. The ubiquity of email, smartphones, and other messaging technology means that there’s less reason to allocate space and resources for desk phones. That’s good news for those of us who always found their menus and features hard to navigate anyway.

2. Monitors

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Even after most offices switched from desktop computers to laptops, it was still common to provide monitors for employees who asked for them. Laptop screens were too small, and often harder on the eyes in terms of glare. Now that lighter-weight, desktop-replacement laptops are storming the scene, expect fewer and fewer monitors.

3. Printers

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Here’s an idea for a study: take a sample of office workers who still use the printer, and find out how many of them are using it for work-related purposes vs. how many of them are using it to print out pictures of cats to hang in the break room. We bet it’s 50/50, at best. We’d also be interested in seeing the results of a study geared at finding out how long it would take people to notice if the printer were removed from their office. Our money is on months.

4. Paper

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And speaking of the all-digital age, forget about those stacks of paper that are constantly threatening to obscure your keyboard. The office of the future will finally be paper-free — an upside to having to have meetings in which every single participant is tap-tap-tapping away on their gadgets under the table.

5. Your Desktop Itself, as Well as Your Actual Desk

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A decade from now, we might not even have desks at all. The increasing popularity of open plan office spaces and hot desking means that it’s becoming more common to forgo assigning seating at all in offices. In these scenarios, workers use mobile devices and plug in wherever they happen to be working.

Images: Irish Typepad/Flickr, Victor1558/Flickr, jared moran/Flickr, kennethkkonica/Flickr, Adam Tinworth/Flickr

5 Things You Should Know About an Office Furniture Auction

Brand-new office furniture is pricey, and unnecessary: If you can get used furniture that’s properly refurbished, no one will ever know that you didn’t shell out top dollar. But where can you find bargains like these? Many office managers hit furniture auctions to find deals on gently-used furniture. If you’re considering it, here’s what you should know.

1. There Are Rules

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Auctions have their own sets of rules and regulations. Learn them before you go. You’ll avoid irritations both minor (embarrassing yourself in front of other attendees) and major (finding out that sales tax is tacked on after, and winding up with a worse deal than you thought).

2. Bidding Is Both an Art and a Science

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Make sure you’re familiar with the description of the furniture before you bid. Familiarize yourself with the brand, quality, and quantity of items for sale. No one wants to walk away with a hundred chairs when they only needed 20, no matter how good a deal they’re getting. Once it’s time to bid, try not to go first. You could wind up driving up the price on something no one else was going to bid for, doing yourself out of a deal and paying handsomely for the privilege. Remember that auctioneers often get a cut of the proceeds. Don’t assume that the first price they mention is the rock-bottom figure. If no one else bids, the price will go down.

3. Don’t Assume You Can Fix It Yourself

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You might be a DIY wizard around your home, but are you really interested in steam-cleaning 30 ergonomic chairs? Probably not. Try to buy office furniture that’s already in usable condition. Remember that your time is worth money, too.

4. Read the Fine Print

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Auctions are generally a “buyer beware” situation. Rarely is there a return policy, something that could come back to haunt you if you find out your lot of secondhand filing cabinets doesn’t fit into your office space.

5. You Have Alternatives

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And finally, if the auction option just isn’t for you, there’s always an alternative. Buying from a reputable dealer (cough, Arnolds Office Furniture, cough) removes any chance of getting carried away or cheated at auction. Plus, you’re guaranteed professionally refinished furniture that looks as good or better than it did when it rolled off the line. Contact us to find out what we have to suit your needs.

Images: cogdog/Flickr, BurnAway/Flickr, hapal/Flickr, Ben Husmann/Flickr, Arnolds Office Furniture

4 Celebrities Starring in Cubicle-Related Flicks

At first glance, office cubicles do not seem like a natural setting for a movie. They’re light on drama and atmosphere. There are few battles to the death and the love stories that unfold tend to bear more resemblance to a Match.com profile than “Dr. Zhivago.” Heck, even the weather is climate-controlled.

Still, there must be something pretty compelling about the place where most of us spend the bulk of our days. How else do you explain all the recent films that take place in cubes? Here are a few celebrities whose next movies feature cubicles.

1. Ashton Kutcher in “jOBS

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Can a guy who got famous playing a pretty idiot (Kelso on “That 70s Show” and whatever character he’s supposed to be in those camera commercials) convincingly portray one of the computing world’s most revered geniuses? According to Grantland, he can, at least in photos. The first images from the set of Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic show a sharper, more pensive Kutcher, apparently doing justice to Jobs’ famous beard.

2. Alan Thicke in “Cubicle Warriors

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Yes, that Alan Thicke. No longer the dad on “Growing Pains,” Thicke plays a crooked investment banker trying to pull off a student loan scam. Two recent grads — played by Michael Seater and Joe Dinicol — try to foil his evil plans. If their office is anything like the ones we’ve worked in, they can start by telling Thicke there’s cake in the break room. The bullpen will clear out so fast, it will look like there was a fire drill.

3. Ben Stiller in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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This is the second adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, which followed the imaginary adventures of Walter Mitty, an everyman who daydreams about a more exciting life. The first film starred Danny Kaye as pulp-fiction writer. This one features Ben Stiller as a photo researcher — which means many more opportunities to show our hapless hero spinning daydreams under buzzing fluorescent lights.

4. Henry Cavill in “Man of Steel

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The latest incarnation of Superman might seem like a strange addition to this list, but hear us out: What’s Superman most famous for, besides wearing tights and saving the world? That’s right, toiling away in the anonymous cubicles of The Daily Planet. After all, what better disguise for a superhero than office drone? No word on whether or not The Daily Planet has been updated to include an online edition, a mobile version, and a bunch of blogs, but if you want to start a parody Twitter feed, now’s the time.

Images: zennie62/Flickr, ikrichter/Flickr, Hot Rod Homepage/Flickr, MuseLed/Flickr

The 5 Most Common Employee Office Complaints

Offices are not synonymous with comfort. Even when companies move to brand-new spaces or renovate their existing offices, they tend to concentrate on how the building looks to guests and clients, and largely ignore the needs of the hapless folks who toil away in the office cubicles day after day. So what’s a well-intentioned office manager to do? Below are a few of the most common worker complaints, and what you can do about them — without convincing the powers that be to re-design the whole place.

1. Temperature

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Half the staff says it’s too cold; the other half says it’s too hot. The first thing to do is to fix any serious oversights. Seal the windows (so that folks who sit near them don’t freeze in the winter), and make sure no one is sitting directly below a vent (so that the AC isn’t blowing straight down on their head). Hint: the printer never complains about drafts, so if possible, rearrange the space accordingly.

Then split the difference on the thermostat. Chilly people can bring sweaters and use space heaters, while warmer workers can dress lighter and use fans. Provide both options, so that you have control over which appliances are being used. No one wants a faulty space heater plugged in next to a stack of papers.

2. Lighting

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Too much light, and you get glare; too little, and you get eye strain. Wherever possible, skip the overhead lights and offer individual lamps. That way, everyone can customize their lighting to suit their needs.

3. Smells

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It’s a funny thing: aromas that smell delicious when they’re coming from our lunch are downright disgusting when they’re wafting over the cubicle wall from our neighbor’s midday meal. Cut down on the fighting by setting aside a dedicated area for eating lunch. As an added bonus, you’ll decrease the chance of sharing your work space with pests. Plus, we could all stand to take more actual breaks away from our desks, anyway.

4. Noise

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Our offices get louder and louder as companies move away from private cubicles and toward open plan offices. To keep things down to a dull roar, make sure you set aside plenty of smaller conference rooms for informal chats. If you have the money, consider investing in a white noise machine — or encourage workers to bring their own noise-cancelling headphones from home.

5. Space

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Sometimes, the modern office feels like a bee hive. But unlike the bees, most of us are not too thrilled to find ourselves working on top of each other. That’s another good reason for setting aside conference rooms for smaller meetings, or even just to get a change of scenery. Many companies also offer storage lockers for their employees’ personal belongings, both to keep their stuff safe and to get it out of the way during the workday.

Images: Joelk75/Flickr, FHKE/Flickr, slgc/Flickr, timtak/Flickr, dizfunk/Flickr

Luminaire-Level Lighting: How It Works

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Tired of gigantic heating bills and endless complaints from your staff about eye strain and glare? Luminaire-level lighting, a new technology that allows individual lights to sense power needs, might be the answer you’re looking for.

How Most Offices Are Now Configured
Most offices are currently configured as a one-size-fits-all solution. The lights, heat, and ventilation are all set to a standard level. While each factor can be adjusted — usually at a control-room level and by one person or team — there’s very little in the way of individualization. In other words, if the boss likes the temperature at 60 degrees and the lights turned down low, we generally all have to get used to working in cave-like conditions.

In addition to being less comfortable and failing to provide even the illusion of control over one’s surroundings, the old-school lighting and HVAC scheme wastes power. Since the building has no idea whether or not a room is occupied, lights blaze and the heat cranks away, whether it’s needed or not.

How Luminaire-Level Lighting Is Different
Luminaire-level lighting is one aspect of the trend toward smart energy technologies. Jeff Harris, Director of Emerging Technology at NEEA, describes it as “turning over the keys to the occupants.”

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“This emerging technology allows each individual lighting fixture in a commercial building to individually sense its surroundings and nearby occupants,” he writes in an article in Sustainable Business Oregon. “This allows it to decide whether it needs to turn itself on, at what level, and for how long.”

The system relies on wireless communication within a mesh network and is web-accessible, making it easy for users at any point in the network to communicate with the system. It’s usable right out of the box, which means that it’s easy to retrofit to existing systems and doesn’t require a lot of programming and customization.

Users will like the fact that they can set their lighting and heating to their own preferences, without having to worry that their neighbor’s needs will affect their comfort. Bosses and business owners will like the fact that they don’t have to worry about wasted power; since the system senses when rooms are occupied, and adjusts accordingly, there’s no unnecessary expenditure of energy.

The degree of customization can be tweaked to a company’s specific needs, Harris says, making it possible to allow for customization in certain zones of the building, while maintaining steady temperatures and lighting levels in other areas.

No matter how you chose to deploy it, a system like this would result in happier employees and reduced energy consumption, which means more productivity and lower bills … and ultimately, a healthier bottom line.

Images: andybee/Flickr, jepoirrier/Flickr

Report: Building Superintendent Steals $75,000 in Office Furniture

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Employee theft costs companies billions of dollars every year. But most of the time, that’s an aggregate number; the total sum of zillions of stolen pens, Post-Its, and paper, along with more valuable conceptual information like patents and other classified materials. It’s pretty rare that one person walks out of an office with, say, several thousand dollars’ worth of office furniture. Which is why we were so fascinated with a recent story from the O’Fallon Patch, in which just four men boosted $75,000 of furniture.

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GMAC insurance was moving its headquarters from Maryland Heights, Missouri to Cleveland, Ohio. Over the course of a few weeks in March, April and June of this year, the company transported its furniture to its new location. Or, should we say, they transported most of their furniture. A sizable portion never showed up at the new place.

Where it did show up was on Craigslist, where police found it and eventually traced it back to Joseph Resimius (of nearby St. Charles County), his roommates, Jerald Ieans and Shannon Nester, and a fourth man, Jereld Hanks.

Here are our favorite facts about this story:

1. Resimus was the building supervisor for the realty management company that leased GMAC’s Maryland Heights location.

2. He decided to store the furniture at his house.

3. He sold the furniture on Craigslist, using an address that was directly traceable back to him.

4. Even though he’s obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he still managed to walk out with $75,000 worth of office furniture.

Resimius, Nester, and Ieans were arrested and released after posting bail. Hanks, who helped move the furniture, apparently got off scot-free. After all, if you have the masterminds, you don’t need the sidekick.

The Burglar

Ha, ha, ha, just kidding. There was no mastermind here. True evil geniuses at least use a fake email address or, we don’t know, rent a storage space for the stolen goods instead of just keeping them on the property and hoping the police don’t know how to use the internet or a map.

The real lesson here is that there’s no office-related theft too bold or obvious for someone to attempt. And if you’re moving offices, keep an eye on those packing lists. Make sure everything that went out the door in the old place shows up at the new location. And when you get to your new home, make sure the security staff keeps an eye out of people walking out the door with stuff that seems too big to steal. In the end, there’s no such thing.

Images: ell brown/Flickr, f4niko/Flickr, eastlaketimes/Flickr