Archive for March, 2013

Tax Laws for Writing Off Your Home Office

Before writing off your home office, make sure to read up on the lengthy list of qualifications required by the IRS.

Before writing off your home office, make sure to read up on the lengthy list of qualifications required by the IRS.

With the number of home offices exploding (an article in Forbes estimates that more than 3 million workers can make the claim), the IRS created a simplified filing process for taxpayers looking for a home office deduction this year.

To figure out the deduction under the the “Safe Harbor” method, the qualifying homeowner simply needs to multiply the square footage of the area of the home devoted to the home office by the prescribed rate of $5 per square foot.

Of course, to qualify, there are several criterion homeowners need to meet. As you can imagine, there are a lot of rules surrounding deducting expenses related to a home office and not following them to the letter can result in tax penalties down the road should you ever be the subject of an audit. We’ll give you an overview of what you need to know starting with a quick quiz, and but be sure to read over IRS Publication 587 for all the details.

Can I Deduct Business Use of the Home Expenses?

Determine if you qualify for deductions related to using your home for business-related functions. This quiz does not include use of the home for storage of inventory or product samples or the use of your home as a daycare facility.

1. Is part of your home used in connection with a trade or business? If your answer is yes, go to the next question. If your answer is no, there is no deduction.
2. Are you an employee?
If your answer is yes, go to the next question. If your answer is no, go to No. 5.
3. Do you work at home for the convenience of your employer?
If your answer is yes, go to the next question. If your answer is no, there is no deduction.
4. Do you rent part of your home used for business to your employer? If your answer is yes, there is no deduction. If your answer is no, go to the next question.
5. Is the use regular and exclusive?
If your answer is yes, go to the next question. If your answer is no, there is no deduction.
6. Is it your principal place of business?
If your answer is yes, a deduction is allowed. If your answer is no, go to the next question.
7. Do you meet patients, clients or customers in your home?
If your answer is yes, a deduction is allowed. If your answer is no, go to the next question.
8. Is it a separate structure?
If your answer is no, there is no deduction. If your answer is yes, a deduction is allowed.

Definitions

Of course, this is the IRS we’re dealing with here, so there is a veritable encyclopedia on the definitions for specific terms like “regular and exclusive” and “principal place of business” to read over to make sure you’re applying the correct rules to your tax filing.

Exclusive Use:
For a home office to qualify under the “Exclusive Use” test, a specific area of your home (whether it’s a room, outbuilding or some other identifiable space) must be used solely for your business. If your spare bedroom doubles as the place you prepare client’s tax returns and a playroom, it doesn’t count under “exclusive use.”

Exceptions include:

  • Regularly using a portion of your home for storing inventory or product samples.
  • Using your home as a daycare facility.

Principal Place of Business:
Many companies have multiple locations at which business is conducted. For your home to qualify as a deduction under the Principal Place of Business test, it must meet the following criterion:

  • It is used exclusively and regularly for management and administrative activities related to your business.
  • There is no other fixed location where you conduct management or administrative activities.

Management and administrative activities include:

  • Billing customers, clients or patients
  • Keeping books and records
  • Ordering supplies
  • Setting up appointments
  • Forwarding orders or writing reports

Exceptions
There is plenty of nuance to IRS definitions, so you’ll find exceptions and gray areas when trying to figure out whether your home office qualifies. Here are some common ones:

  • Your home office can be used for more than one business, but it just can’t be used for mixed business and personal use.
  • Separate structures (like a detached garage you’ve converted into an office) don’t need to be the principal place of business to qualify for deductions, unlike an office inside your house.
  • Not all of your work must be completed within your home office necessarily. If you’re a salesperson, for instance, you probably spend most of your time out of the office, but if you perform functions like billing and returning client phone calls from your home office, it should still qualify.
  • Even if some administrative and management functions are performed elsewhere, you might still qualify for deductions. Examples include hiring others to perform administrative and management duties outside of your home (like hiring a company to handle billing), you conduct administrative and management duties at non-fixed locations like a hotel room or car, or you sometimes conduct administrative or management duties at a fixed location outside your home.

Do the math

After you’ve figured out if your home office does, in fact, qualify for a deduction, then you’ll need to crunch numbers.

You can use the Safe Harbor formula described above, or opt for the more complicated, conventional method (which allows you to make a deduction for the depreciation of allocated office space. To learn more about that process, either work with a tax professional or take the DIY approach with the help of IRS Publication 946.

Using the traditional method, your deduction will be based on the percentage of your home the home office occupies. To determine this, just divide the square footage of your home office by the square footage. Then you can apply that percentage to different expenses.

Qualifying expenses include:

  • Home repairs or maintenance
  • Mortgage interest
  • Real estate taxes
  • Utilities
  • Homeowners insurance premiums

Office supplies, furniture and equipment can also qualify for deductions. Make sure to save bills and canceled checks in the chance that you’re audited and you need to prove what you spent to the IRS. For the safest approach work with a CPA. Anyone can get audited and it’s always wise to have a pro in your corner.

5 Ways to Spice Up a Boring Cubicle

There’s a lot to be said for office cubicles. In a world where offices with doors seem destined for the museum, they’re pretty much the only guaranteed way to get a little bit of privacy while you work other than locking yourself in the restroom with your laptop and refusing to come out. And bosses tend to frown on that sort of behavior.

Unfortunately, a cubicle is not the most exciting piece of office furniture. Cubicles tend to be upholstered in monotone fabrics. They also don’t offer much in the way of self-expression. Your cubicle is likely exactly the same as your neighbor’s.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay this way. The geniuses at Lifehacker suggested a couple of different ways to make your boring old cube more exciting. Here are a few of our favorites and our take on them.

1. Cover Up Every Large Surface

 

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Walls, floor, that imaginary ceiling that maintenance refuses to install…if you cover the major surfaces of your cube, you can effectively transform it into a whole different workspace altogether. Lifehacker suggests rugs for the floor and fabric for the walls, among other ideas. We still like the idea of wrapping our cubicles entirely in bubble wrap.

2. Adjust the Lighting

 

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We can’t say this enough: if you want to avoid eye strain and also the dull, soul-sucking feeling that comes with working under florescent lighting, add task lights. There’s a reason that interior designers spend so much time on lighting. A few well-placed lamps will change the whole feel of your office.

3. Adjust the Temperature

 

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You probably won’t be able to convince your stingy building manager to crank up the heat (or, oddly, crank down the air conditioner). However, you can make the office warmer all on your own with the addition of a space heater. Also, we once had a coworker who wore a Snuggie every day at the office, which both kept her warm and provided an elegant form of protest against our parsimonious overlords. You can use your best judgment about whether that would fly at your office. (Hint: it’s better if you work for a website than for the stock exchange.)

4. Bring in Stuff from Home

 

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You don’t need to rip out every fixture and replace it with your own stuff. In fact, most offices won’t approve of that behavior. However, bringing in the odd lamp or plant from home will make your cubicle seem, well, more homey.

5. Accessorize

 

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Plants, fish, Magic 8-balls, posters, pictures, toys, and games…anything that brightens up the place is a good idea. Just make sure it isn’t something that needs feeding or watering every single day of the week. The modern office worker toils away ’round the clock, but maybe not that ’round that particularly ugly wall clock.

Images: aizaz/Flickr, imglighting/Flickr, collinanderson/Flickr, jamesvandyke/Flickr, mulad/Flickr

7-Step Guide to the Ultimate Home Office Layout

Whether you're planning on running a business from your home or just need a spot to pay the bills, a well-planned home office can keep you organized and motivated.

Whether you’re planning on running a business from your home or just need a spot to pay the bills, a well-planned home office can keep you organized and motivated.

Whether you just need a landing spot for managing household paperwork like bills, calendars, insurance information, etc. or a room designated to running a small business, planning the ultimate home office requires a little more work than plopping a laptop on your kitchen table or shoving a desk and a chair into an available corner of your home.

You’ll probably spend at least an hour a day working on tasks, so a crumb-covered table won’t inspire much organization or motivation (neither will the kids screaming over who gets the last Oreo, for that matter).

Creating a space that not only makes you more productive, but also keeps you organized calls for careful planning. Yes, this means homework and a little math, but the end result will make you feel like you could be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company rather than just the signer of your kid’s field trip forms.

Here’s how to create the perfect home office:

1. What do you need to do?

The home improvement guru himself Bob Vila offers an overview of how to plan your office space. First, divide up your space by the types of tasks you need to complete.
Consider every possible use for the room:

  • Will you need space for a computer?
  • Open table space for hands-on work?
  • Space to meet with customers and/or clients?
  • Space for your kids to play or do homework?
  • Storage space?

Architect and designer Neal Zimmerman told Inc magazine to use the acronym CAMP to help determine your needs:
Computers: How many will you need and how big are they?
Administrative storage: A place where you can make phone calls, but also sort through mail, bills, invoices, etc.
Meeting space: An area to share information with visitors (if you think you’ll have any on a regular basis).
Project station: An area to complete not paper-related tasks (for instance, if you’re an artist or you make gift baskets or handmade soap, here’s where that work is completed).

2. How much room do you need?

After determining what types of work areas you might need, the next step is to get out your measuring tape, a pencil and paper and start measuring the length, width and height of all the components you already have for your office: desks, work tables, chairs, lamps, computers, printers, scanners, filing cabinets, etc.

Then do the math for each work area. For instance, how much room will your desk chair, desk and computer need? How much room will a sofa and table take up for meetings with clients? (BobVila.com recommends bringing a friend or two over to act as models for your clients so you can figure out comfortable distances for seating to build into your plan).

Consider whether any of these areas can be doubled up, Zimmerman said. For instance, your administrative area could also serve as your meeting area.

3. Where should the office be located?

Once you’ve determined how much space you might need, then you have the difficult task of figuring out what space you actually have to put it in. If you live in a small studio apartment in the city, you might have limited options versus a house in the suburbs where a spare bedroom, finished basement or attic can be transformed into a home office. No matter how much space you have, it’s still important to designate a work area that won’t be impinged upon by the other activities you do in your home said Zimmerman.

4. What’s your plan?

Next you need to do some arts and crafts. Draw a model of your office to scale, cutting out and labeling paper squares and rectangles to represent the different pieces of furniture. Move the labeled items around the different areas of your office to see how they might fit best, keeping factors like power sources and phone jacks in mind. It might be wise to visit an office furniture store for advice on furniture that will help maximize your space. They can advise you on things like safely stacking computer equipment or using tables that can be folded to increase or reduce workspace as needed. Zimmerman recommends enlisting the help of a professional designer at this point to ensure you are considering everything you need to about the space and that it fits within your budget.

5. What’s the best design?

Traditionally, setting up your office in an L-shaped or U-shaped layout that keeps you within arms reach of all of your work. “Think of this space as a cockpit that enables you to move from task to task with a minimal amount of effort,” small business consultant Terry Lonier told Inc. Figure out what type of work you do the most of. If you’re on the computer all day, that should be the focal space. If, however, your work involves making models or putting together flower bouquets, your layout should change accordingly.

6. How can you make the space healthy?

Ergonomics aren’t just something your human resources representative came up with to torture you about your posture. Using the proper office furniture and equipment can save you from eye strain, repetitive strain injuries, back injuries and other potential problems related to a poor work environment. Position your computer so that the screen is at eye level and you’re not hunched over the computer. Use multiple sources of light to prevent glare.

Don’t skimp on your desk chair; select one that swivels and adjusts for seat height, tilt, armrest height and lumbar support. You might spend more time in the chair then you do your bed, Lonier said.

Also, make sure to take advantage of the natural light in your home, which studies have shown improves mood and productivity and is easier on your eyes.

7. How can you personalize the space?

When you work in an office building, chances are someone else has selected the furniture, color scheme, generic inoffensive artwork and sickly fern you sit by all day every day. Since you’re building a home office, make this the place to reflect your personal aesthetic. Use colors that inspire and calm you and pictures and artwork that make you happy. Create a space that gives you energy, rather than sucking the life force out of you.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Levine Design/Flickr

Expert Advice on Getting Rid of Old Office Furniture

If you have piles of old office furniture in need of a new home, consider using a junk hauler to save yourself some logistical headaches.

If you have piles of old office furniture in need of a new home, consider using a junk hauler to save yourself some logistical headaches.

Want to know what will bring you down from the high of your gleaming new office furniture being delivered? The depressing pile of the reject furniture waiting for its fate to be decided.

There are plenty of options for disposing of your unwanted office equipment, some of which (donating it or selling it to an office liquidator) are a little more environmentally friendly than others (like dumping it at the nearest landfill).

Of course, after you decide where it’s going to go, then you have to figure out how it’s going to get there. Before you call every pickup truck owner you know and enlist the brawniest folks of the office to spend the day cleaning house, consider an alternative: Hiring someone to get rid of it for you.

This way, you can enjoy lounging in your stylish, ergonomically correct task chair while it still has that new task chair smell without having to break a sweat (or a nail).

For advice on disposing of old office furniture, we checked in with Mike Thorne. He’s the founder and CEO of Just Junk, a professional junk removal service.

What options do business owners have for getting rid of old office furniture?
Generally, because of time constraints, businesses and business owners often aren’t able to remove junk on their own. Often city services won’t take office furniture and electronics equipment, and if the city is able to take them, it’s often not without complications. Donation is often ideal, but finding the manpower to lift, load and haul away furniture for donations is often just as difficult.

What seems to be the most common method you’ve come across?
Once office furniture is outdated or has been replaced, our services are called. With junk removal and office cleanout services, we’re able to recycle and donate. Given the vast amount of recyclable materials that are used in older office chairs, tables and electronics (from computers, monitors, servers etc.) and other e-waste, so much of it can be recycled if not donated.

What do you think is the best thing a business can do with old furniture (Throw it out? Donate it? Hold a yard sale?)
Finding a way to reuse or recycle furniture is ideal, but with online classifieds at low costs it’s more possible to sell older furniture for those looking. To ensure you’re maintaining a low carbon footprint, maintaining the use of furniture is always the best thing that you can do.

What are the biggest hassles/challenges associated with getting rid of old furniture?
We’ve found that the donation of furniture becomes complicated with over-saturation. With so many businesses and residences updating furniture, donation centers are being approached with more furniture than they can handle. Finding donation centers is often the most difficult, but once that site is found, only a fraction of them will offer to pick up the furniture. Businesses often don’t have the resources to transfer old furniture themselves to these locations.

What are the advantages of using a junk removal service like yours?
We do it all! We work with local donation centers to ensure that we can donate those couches and dining sets for you. We have the man power and the resources for anything from smaller removals of a few office chairs to an entire office cleanout. Our trucks hold 15 cubic yards and can be loaded easily by our team of removal service professionals. Once you show us what you need removed we can begin the loading so you can get back to work.

What does your service do with the furniture after you haul it?
We travel to various donation centers and recycling locations in order to dispose of the items. Local spots like these benefit from these items and the resources they provide, as opposed to a local dump. It’s these connections we have that allow us to find the best place to reuse and recycle these items.

What are the costs associated with using a junk removal service?
Our rates are simply based on the volume of the load size. We provide all inclusive rates, so all labor and disposal fees are covered in our removal rates. Upon arrival, our team provides every customer with a free, no obligation estimate to confirm the rate. Some removal companies charge the dump fees back after the removal, but we aim to make removal easy. We come in, give the quote and remove without the headache of waiting for another bill in the mail.

When would it make sense for a small business to just handle the junk removal themselves? What are the disadvantages of that?
Single items or items of extremely high value for resell are often more advantageous for small business to remove or dispose of themselves, yet in many cases high-value items are often complicated in some ways: tax receipts for donations, or high-value items may be very large to move and may require the time and resources of your own employees which may affect your day-to-day in unforeseen ways.

What are some things business owners often overlook when it comes to disposing of old furniture and office equipment?
It’s important to dispose of electronics properly, and many electronics (processors, circuit boards) contain precious metals and can be disposed of separately to greater effect than together, and often to greater value over time. It’s important to do your research around your locality. Each city and region is different and has different laws about disposal and recycling. Your local junk removal company is aware of many of these laws, but some small independent removal services may not be. It’s important to know who you’re dealing with if you’re a business conscious of the environment.

How do junk removal services work? How far ahead do you need to call for services? Is there a limit to how much you can haul?
JUST JUNK services are easy. Call or book your removal online and save on your removal. Our Sales Associates can answer any questions you may have and can book you for a free estimate as soon as that day! With our same and next day service, that pile of junk for removal can be gone tomorrow. The truck as mentioned earlier is 15 cubic yards, but we’re always available for multiple loads.

Photo courtesy of Jmettraux/Flickr

Is It Exercise Gear or Office Furniture?

If your definition of a workout is balancing a box of doughnuts in one hand and and an extra large (excuse us, Venti) vanilla latte in the other before sitting in your office cubicle all day, it might be time to reevaluate your fitness routine.

Luckily, you can start in the comfort of your own desk. More and more exercise equipment is showing up in workplaces around the world as office furniture, which means you can walk, pedal or balance your way to a healthier life.

Check out some of the most popular fitness gear that’s moonlighting as health-improving desks and chairs:

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Stability balls: If you see oversized rubber balls bouncing into your office they’re probably not for a circus act involving a very agile elephant. Everyone from grammar school students to office workers have taken to sitting on them at their desks. According to Livestrong.com, stability balls help strengthen abdominal muscles, protect the lower back and improve posture, thus helping with balance and stability. However, before you go blowing one up for your office, experts also caution that without backrests and armrests, the balls don’t not provide enough upper body support, which could cause neck and shoulder strain.

 

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Treadmill desks: If you’ve gone the standing desk route, but want to up the fitness ante, then it might be time to throw in a treadmill (actually, we don’t recommend throwing the treadmill. They’re rather large, not to mention heavy, but you know what we mean). A treadmill desk is exactly what it sounds like: a standing desk with a treadmill that you walk on at low speeds (usually 0.8 to 1.2 miles per hour) while you work. Worried about how you’ll get your work done with your head bobbing the way it naturally does when you’re walking or running? According to a reviewer from Popular Mechanic, once you get used to it, walking at such low speeds shouldn’t interfere with your ability to type, write or even talk on the phone (you shouldn’t be huffing or puffing). Burning calories and increasing your energy levels through the course of your eight-hour shift? No sweat!


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Bike desks: For those who aren’t the walking sort and who find it more comfortable to work while seated, let the cycling desk rock …err… roll your world. More compact than a treadmill desk, a bike desk offers many of the same benefits: Improved circulation and productivity, muscle building and calorie burning. For work, you operate them at low resistance, so you won’t be breaking out in a sweat or be too winded to answer a phone call. There are a variety of options for cycling through your work day. Whether you buy a full cycling workstation (they come in spin and recumbant styles), an adjustable height desk you prop your actual bike underneath or pedals you place on the floor under your regular desk, you can start training for your Tour de Work.

 

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Standing desks: Sitting all day can be more than a pain in your butt. Spending more than six hours a day seated is linked to higher mortality rates (especially in women) according to a study from the American Cancer Society released in 2010. Enter electric adjustable-height desk, which allow you to work from a sitting or standing position with the touch of a button. Beyond potentially adding years to your life, standing more on the job can also improve blood circulation and reduce muskuloskeletal discomfort.


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Muscle-activating chairs: Want to ease your way into workaday fitness? Do it while sitting in a chair that strengthens the core muscles in your back and abdomen while improving your posture. While many of these ergonomic chairs look like nothing more than glorified stools, they purport to help improve posture and concentration, allow deeper breathing and take pressure of the spine. Okay, so you probably won’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger by the end of the day, but your back probably won’t be aching quite so much.

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Anti-fatigue mats: They look a bit like yoga mats, but don’t be fooled. These cushioned floor mats will help you sooth your aching feet as you transition from sitting all day to using a standing desk for part of the day. And hey, in between sitting and standing, why not use it for some midday downward dog action?

Photo courtesy of cote/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Wickerfurniture/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Claylo/Flickr

Photo courtesy of juhansonin/Flickr

Photo courtesy of James Dennes/Flickr

5 Reasons Mobile Technology Is Ruining Our Posture at Work

We all love our tablets and smartphones, but do our gadgets love us back? In the ergonomic sense, definitely not.

It’s nearly impossible to have good posture while using mobile technology. The rules we observed so religiously when we were working at desktops (feet on the floor, knees at right angles, monitor at or below eye level) go right out the window when we work on iPads and the like. Here are a few ways mobile devices are affecting our posture , and what we can do to combat the problem.

1. Reclining while reading.

 

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There’s nothing like kicking back with a good book, or the 21st century equivalent: a good tablet. The problem is that at work, they tend to frown on sofas and hammocks (unless you work at a super-cool start-up with a nap room.) The result is strain our eyes by bringing the screen too close to our faces, and messing up our necks craning our heads.

Solution: If you need to read and absorb a lot of information, either plug into a screen or set your tablet in a stand. Then, make like you’re reading on a monitor of old and sit with your feet on the floor and your head upright.

2. Using more than one device at a time.

 

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Many of us go back and forth from phone to tablet to laptop all day long, craning our necks this way and that, trying to absorb all the information at once. The result is eye strain and reduced productivity. It turns out, you really can’t do more than one thing at a time.

Solution: Stop doing that. Try to concentrate on one thing at a time, and use the biggest screen possible for the bulk of your work.

3. Swiping, swiping, swiping.

 

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There’s nothing more satisfying than “turning a page” on your tablet, but unfortunately, doing this for long periods of time with your tablet flat on your desk means that you have to keep your head bent at a right angle over your work surface. Not great for your neck.

Solution: Use a stand, and try to limit your tablet time by switching off with a laptop or desktop.

4. Falling into a trance.

 

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This is a danger with any computer, but it’s even more common now that we have such speedy and easy-to-navigate devices. Staring at your computer for too long without blinking dries out your eyes, causing strain and discomfort.

Solution: Consider loading up one of the many productivity programs that will remind you to blink at regular intervals.

5. The good old-fashioned slump.

 

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We’ve been fighting against slumping over our keyboards since keyboards were invented. Bad posture from slouching causes everything from backaches to headaches to eye strain.

Solution: Swap out your old-fashioned desk chair for a ball chair, or try one of the new standing desks, or really anything to keep you from letting your core go lax and your spine bend forward.

Images: Veronica Belmont/Flickr, Yutaka Tsutano/Flickr, lucamascaro/Flickr, Sarah G/Flickr, robadob/Flickr

5 Ways to Prepare to Sell Your Office Furniture

Selling your office furniture is a great way to make a little extra cash, or maybe even fund your office redecoration project. The best used office furniture retailers (cough, Arnolds, cough) will offer you top dollar for your old equipment (provided it’s in usable shape). To make sure you get as much money as possible, follow these easy tips.

1. Do an inventory and inspection.

 

 

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Finding out what, exactly, you want to sell, is the first step in selling your used office furniture. Don’t rely on your memory or a vague sense of what needs to go. Getting a precise count will help you figure out which seller you want to hire as well as allowing you to estimate your profit down the line. Some retailers work with large lots only, while others will deal with single items or mixed lots.

2. Clean it up.

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We’re not just talking about a pass with a rag and a bottle of Windex here. No matter how neat and tidy your employees are, years of use adds up to layer upon layer of grime. To get your office furniture looking like new again, hire professional cleaners or rent steam-cleaning equipment and buff ‘em up yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much better your old furniture looks minus the dirt.

3. Replace missing parts.

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Most major furniture manufacturers offer replacement parts for a small fee. It’s worth it to get your furniture in good working condition before you sell. You’ll get a lot more money for something that retailers can pass on whole than you would for something that amounts to a pile of spare parts. Make sure you check the warranty before you replace anything at your own expense. Some manufacturers will replace parts free of charge within a certain time frame, and that time frame could be longer than you think.

4. Compare prices.

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Of course, you won’t get full retail price for your old equipment. If you did, the furniture seller wouldn’t be able to make a profit on it. Still, it’s a good idea to see what your furniture goes for on the open market in its present (clean and repaired) condition.

5. Compare resellers.

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Before you decide on a broker, ask around. Get bids from a few different companies and make sure you know what’s included, especially in terms of pickup or drop-off. That great price might not be so impressive if you have to rent a furniture truck to move your stuff across town. Most places will be happy to send a representative out to look at your goods before giving you a quote. Not only will this enable you to figure out whether you’re getting the best possible deal, but it will also give you a sense of who you’re dealing with before you sign on the dotted line.

Images: rob_nguyen/Flickr, norio-nakayama/Flickr, dmclear/Flickr, 401(k) 2013/Flickr, 401(k) 2013/Flickr

8 Ways to Lure Employees Back to the Office

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has been taking a lot of flak for asking that employees stop working from home and return to the office in an effort to turn around the struggling company. However, we’re pretty certain there are plenty more business owners out there who are grateful for Mayer’s move and the acknowledgement that company culture cannot be built via e-mail.

Of course, if you want to lure your employees off their living room sofas and back into their cubicles, you’ll need a little bait. To help, we came up with eight things you can do to pique their interest:

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1. Offer privacy: Modern offices are not known for being very private. With open space offices enjoying their heyday, there aren’t too many places to escape to for an employee who needs a break from the noisy gum popper to their left and the loud phone talker to their right. Telecommuters often tout how much more productive they are at home without co-workers to distract them. While it’s not practical to give each of your employee their own office, you can set aside quiet rooms for those who need to complete more focused tasks and include plenty of seating throughout the office for impromptu meetings for those who need to collaborate.

2. Reduce stress: By nature, offices can be stressful. The long commutes, the huge piles of work, uncomfortable seating, harsh fluorescent lighting and obnoxious co-workers; it’s no wonder many people prefer holing up at home. However, there are ways you can help mitigate some of the stress that comes with office life. Start by inviting nature inside: Bring in live plants and give more employees access to windows so that they can both enjoy views of the great outdoors and be exposed to natural light. Studies have shown that can reduce fatigue and improve productivity. If you want to take it a step above and beyond, think about starting office-wide initiatives to boost employees’ overall health. Purchase ergonomically friendly office furniture, organize lunch-time walking groups or offer free or reduced-cost gym memberships. You might even have a massage therapist visit the office monthly to help employees work out those extra kinks during their morning coffee break.

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3. Free refreshments: What’s that old saying? The way to an employee’s heart is through his stomach? Maybe that’s not quite right, but we know it’s rare to find someone who turns down a free cup of coffee or a fresh bagel. Telecommuters often say one benefit to working from home is the money they save on food by not eating out as often. While your office might not have the means to provide free gourmet lunches for all ala Google, you could swing some other small freebies (like an office fruit bowl, instant oatmeal or granola bars to help with those mid-afternoon hunger pangs).

4. Flexible scheduling: We’re pretty sure nobody looks forward to their commute (unless, of course, they enjoy spending hours of their day staring at brake lights while listening to obnoxious morning talk radio). One way to help mitigate rush-hour blues is to allow your employees to work around the busiest times traffic times in your area by either allowing them to work an earlier or later shift, depending on what’s most convenient for both your company and your employee. You could also allow employees to work from home on the worst days for commuting. In addition to reducing driving headaches, flexible scheduling can also help employees balance work and family, which in turn inspires more company loyalty.

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5. Casual days: One thing telecommuters always seem to be celebrating is their ability to work in their pajamas. No neck-strangling ties or feet-pinching heels,  just some cozy flannel sleepwear and a pair of soft slippers. Living the dream. While it’s probably not practical or professional to allow employees to show up to work in their lounge wear, you can help maximize their comfort by having dress-down days, especially for employees who don’t meet regularly with clients or have to represent the company out of the office.

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6. Free car washes: In addition to the high cost of gas, commuting puts a lot of wear and tear on cars. Show your employees you’re grateful that they make the drive every day by offering free or discounted car washes every month. There are plenty of mobile car-washing services that can visit your office parking lot and detail cars at your employees’ convenience.

7. On-site daycare: Telecommuters love the flexibility working from home offers when it comes to balancing work and family. Entice parents to return to the office by letting them bring their kids to work (or at least close to work) at an on-campus daycare facility. Nearly a third of CNN’s best companies to work for offer a childcare center on site. While this might not be a practical feature for small businesses, larger companies can benefit from reduced tardiness and absenteeism, along with employees who are more productive and satisfied knowing their kids are close by.

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8. Be dog-friendly: We admit this might be a little far-fetched, but if you’re a company bent on improving employee morale and introducing a fun office culture, then why not allow four-legged friends to visit the office now and then? A recent study by the Central Michigan University found that dogs in the workplace can lead to more trust between co-workers and by turn more collaboration. Plus, they’ve been linked to improving productivity, lowering absenteeism rates and making employees happier. Bow wow.

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Is Marissa Mayer Right About Telecommuting?

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Marissa Mayer was in the news again, and this time it wasn’t for giving out free iPhones to employees. The flash point for the Mayer-related chatter this week was the recent announcement that Yahoo! employees would soon be expected to work from the office, regardless of whether or not they’d had full-time telecommuting arrangements worked out with their managers. In fact, even workers who work at home only occasionally (you know, like to wait for the cable guy) are encouraged to “use their best judgment.” (Arguably corporate speak for “don’t do it.”) The goal, of course, was increased productivity, but does banning telecommuting really accomplish that?

Here are a few things to consider before introducing a work-from-home policy at your company or scrapping the one you already have.

Benefits:

 

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1. You might get better employees. Especially in the technical fields, telecommuting is a highly-prized perk. Also, if you let employees work remotely, you’ll have a wider geographic pool from which to draw. The end result is better workers.

2. You can pay less money for them. Outside of the top pool of technically-skilled workers, who will always command bigger salaries, offering a flexible schedule might allow you to pay lower salaries. Many workers will trade a little money for the ability to work at home.

3. Lower costs for you. Having remote workers means big savings in terms of fixed costs like rent and utilities.

 

Drawbacks:

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1. Technical difficulties. When your employees are office-based, computer glitches are easily solved. Tech support is usually just a few steps away, and if they can’t fix workers’ computers, they can usually give them loaners, enabling everyone to get back to work as soon as possible. Which leads to the next problem…

2. Possibly lower productivity. For every expert who says that telecommuting improves productivity, there’s an expert who says that it tanks results. Yahoo’s policy change was likely inspired by a productivity problem say insiders.

3. Less opportunity for brainstorming. Jackie Reses, Yahoo’s head of human resources, cited this reason as a primary one for the policy change. In the non-famous memo cancelling telecommuting, Reses said, “Being at Yahoo! isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.” Allowing employees to work at home means fewer unplanned conversations with colleagues and maybe less inspiration and innovation as a result.

Images: Adam Tinworth/Flickr, Ed Yourdon/Flickr, quinn.anya/Flickr

5 Things to Look for in an Office Furniture Installation Company

There are a lot of good reasons to contract out the delivery and installation of office furniture. For starters, it means you don’t have to do it. This is not to be underestimated when you’re planning a move or massive redecoration project. But ultimately, the best reason to hire an office furniture installation company is that they know what they’re doing. Experienced pros are always better at heading off disasters and maximizing opportunities. That said, you’ll want to make sure you really are dealing with professionals. Here’s how.

1. Ask for References

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There’s no better way to predict the future than to examine the past. Reputable office furniture installation companies will jump at the chance to provide you with references, because they know that their past clients’ recommendations seals the deal with new clients. (For completely random example, see our customer testimonials page.) Don’t be afraid to ask for names and numbers of folks who will speak to the experience of working with the company.

2. Find Out If They Have a Good Online Reputation

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Once you’ve spoken with the folks the company recommends, go a bit farther afield to see what the internet has to say about their services. Look at local review sites like Yelp to see how previous clients rate the company. One small caveat: if the majority of the reviews are either very positive or extremely negative, take them with a grain of salt. It’s relatively easy to skew rate-and-review sites, either by having friends of the company provide (fake) glowing references, or by posting multiple takedowns under assumed names.

3. Ask for Prices, and Compare Them

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How much does delivery cost, if anything? Some office furniture installation companies offer free delivery, while others will provide service for a flat fee or an hourly rate. If you do go with an hourly rate, find out how long the job is expected to take, and compare the total against a few vendors before making your decision.

4. Find Out What’s Included

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In addition to determining who pays for delivery and installation charges, find out if the company offers any extras like stain-guarding treatments or extra replacement parts. Find out how long the warrantee is, and it what it includes.

5. Ask About Care and Maintenance

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Even if the office furniture installation company covers some care and maintenance, you’ll want to find out what you need to do day-to-day to keep your furniture looking as good as it did when it was first installed. Get specific instructions on cleaning products and techniques, and you won’t wind up with stained or grimy furniture down the road.

Images: dullhunk/Flickr, puroticorico/Flickr, openDemocracy, themuujtheMuuj, wicker-furniture