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The Work from Home Toolkit

The Work from Home Toolkit

To my pajama-clad comrades, this post is for you. I began taking the “ten foot commute” over three years ago and since that point, I’ve made consistent upgrades to my remote officing. My cubicle friends salivate over the prospects of trading slacks for sweats and yearn for their personal fridge nearby, but if you’ve ever worked from home, you know it’s not all rainbows and daisies. This list will smooth your transition to your home office or perhaps improve your current arrangement. The work from home toolkit:
Ditch the instant coffee: I’m not a barista, but I do like a rich cup of drip coffee. In my early coffee years, the pot roosted on the coffee maker for hours, degrading with each passing minute. I’ve recently transitioned to a carafe, which keeps the coffee hot and the flavor fresh. The more refined coffee aficionado might lean toward French Press or perhaps depend on the Starbucks drive-through. Either way, demand excellence with your morning beverage.

Bite the desk chair bullet: Buying a desk chair is about as much fun as paying taxes. The sticker price always disappoints. But you will not regret the lost Benjamin(s) if you buy a great chair. It makes all the difference that the place you spend dozens of hours weekly supports you well. For the bargain-shoppers like me, let me suggest Overstock.com (mine) as a great place to start.
Engage all your senses: My second year working from home was the hardest. In retrospect, I can pinpoint the exact reason why: I worked in a dark corner of our apartment.  As people, natural light is like energy food. Like a napping cat, telecommuters need to situate their desks in the sun beams. Once you find the sun, think through how to fill your office with good tunes and enriching aromatics.
Invest in sturdy slippers: Whether you wear sweats–or believe that dressing professionally is a prerequesite when working at home–is not a debate I’m touching with this post. What I will say, however, is that a good pair of slippers is a non-negotiable. Acorn is my brand of choice. I’m going on two years with my first pair.
Keep the blood flowing: The latest-and-greatest addition to my office is an elliptical machine. For this chronic-pacer, I finally have an appropriate outlet. Because I’m on the phone 10+ hours weekly, this gift from my wife is truly a game-changer. I stride at a manageable cantor and am more engaged on my calls than I am at my desk. Because I now average close 30 minutes of cardio daily, I feel healthier and more alert than I ever did before.

Battle staleness by changing environments: Like a algae-infested pond, working from home can make you stagnant. If you never leave the confines of your home, you can easily contract “office fever” (a cousin to cabin fever). I try to work outside of my home at least one day a week. Whether I’m in meetings or just holing up at my favorite coffee shop, a change of scenery keeps things fresh.

Walk by the virtual “water cooler”: I’ve found online networks to be a great source of fun. As remote workers, we commiserate when our office friends get snow days, but our biggest beef is with the lack of friendly banter and socializing that happens in the break room. Twitter and Facebook fill parts of that void for me. Through these channels and others (Skype, Gchat, etc.), I feel connected to other people.

Recreate the cubicle: It must seem odd to read this if you’re a cubicle-dweller. But, sometimes we telecommuters miss working alongside people. Hence the incredible upsurge in “coworking” (Denver) spaces and meetups. I prefer organic coworking over the more formal variety. A few times a month I’ll meet up with fellow telecommuters and we’ll each go about our business beside one another. Perhaps the cubicle is coming full circle.
In addition to these suggestions, I’d also recommend a printer/scanner, a quality laptop bag (or backpack if you’re a biker and/or walker) and a screen protector/mousepad. To my fellow remote office friends: What am I missing?

Rags to Riches and Back to Rags Again

Rags to Riches and Back to Rags Again

I love a good rags-to-riches story. Sam “Walmart” Walton sold magazines and milked cows in small-town Oklahoma before building the world’s biggest company. Howard Schultz forged his place in American folklore by brewing the coffee shop movement after a hand-to-mouth childhood in Brooklyn’s worst neighborhood. They each made the leap from obscurity to prominence. Mired in adversity, they clawed their way to triumph. But it is a grand charade to suggest that riches alone are better than rags.
Success is a fickle concept. We treat it like a GPS destination. Kick the car in gear, turn right at the T, and pull into the driveway after the rusty garage. Follow this route and you will surely arrive. But success looks nothing like a script. And it can be deceiving. He had everything a man could want or imagine, I muse. But with success, you can’t know it when you see it.
“I’ve gone from village to palace,” exclaimed Ashok Khade. Born in a mud hut without much food, Ashok’s childhood was like a very long walk up a very steep hill. As part of the “untouchables” caste, the lowest of Indian classes, his future was destined to look like his father’s—a grueling life spent cleaning sewers or sweeping streets. But Ashok’s story unfolds just like Sam Walton’s. He studied hard, worked tirelessly and bootstrapped his oil business into a $100M Indian powerhouse.
Ashok arrived. He traded in his rickshaw for a beamer. The oil tycoon now stays at 5-star hotels, adorns his mother with opulent gold jewelry and makes deals with sheiks from Abu Dhabi. The journalist pronounced Ashok’s concluding verdict: “The untouchable boy had become golden, thanks to the newest god in the Indian pantheon: money.”
From a mud shack to the presidential suite, Ashok followed the roadmap to success. And he arrived. He now revels in his wealth, indulging in the finest of luxuries, hoarding his wealth and “living the dream.” But, Ashok has simply gold-plated the chains of poverty.

Ashok should listen to the sage advice of his forbearer. John Rockefeller, also a peasant-turned-oilman, bemoaned, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” At the peak of his success, Rockefeller topped the charts as the wealthiest person in the world. He had no equal. If success were a map, he would be the mapmaker. But, Rockefeller mourned what we are afraid to admit: Success has nothing to do with prosperity. You can indulge in every luxury and still hate waking up in the morning.
Yet we keep peddling the empty promise that a life of prosperity will soothe the wounds of the heart. It won’t. Rockefeller knew it and it shouldn’t surprise Ashok that his newfound riches are like whitewashed tombs.
There is a rags-to-riches story I love more than the rest, however. It is a story of a poor shepherd boy abandoned by his brothers and sold into the hands of a royal Egyptian family. Thrown in jail for years, the poor farmhand persevered and wrote his rags-to-riches story, advancing from the fields to the royal suite.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command. – Genesis 41:41-43

From sheering sheep to gracing the throne of the modern world, it was in ancient Egypt where we see rags-to-riches in its purest form. Joseph knew he was not blessed simply to surround himself with frond-waving servants and Egyptian delicacies. He was blessed to bless. “And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.” (vs. 57) It was from this position of power and wealth that Joseph rescued the whole world on the brink of collapse. From poverty to generosity: A true rags-to-riches story.

Fight the Coffee Purchase Guilt!

Visiting the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle last week was like a party for my senses. Delectable sights, sounds and smells emanated throughout the re-purposed historic train station Starbucks calls home. As part of my MBA program, my cohort had the privilege of visiting with several Starbucks executives–and tasting lots of delicious coffee, of course. Sadly, however, despite my hopes, there were no vanilla latte water fountains. The visit has got me thinking.
Have you ever been a part of a church service or conversation when someone said something like, “You selfishly spend $20/month on coffee purchases — imagine what good that money could do if you gave it to a non-profit!” I’ve heard it many times and am sure I have even said it more than once. There is some truth to that comment, and I am not writing this post to justify excessive consumerism, but I am increasingly convinced that is a misleading admonition.
Your purchases, be it for your favorite coffee, the car you drive or the computer you are using right now, are doing good. Did you know that Starbucks provides wages and health insurance to over 115,000 individuals people and are supporting over 75,000 rural coffee farmers throughout Latin America and Africa? Learning about the Starbucks Farmer Support program (see video below) was like watching a HOPE International marketing video — incredible how much of an impact the gourmet coffee craze is making on the lives of poor rural farmers.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlQenGBQaf0&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0]
Many times we assume that all our spending is selfish and detrimental to the world…as if only money given to charities is “money well spent.” That’s just not true. Look at India, Chile, Brazil, Hong Kong and even Rwanda. These countries are seeing massive numbers of people’s livelihoods improved and are seeing the flourishing of many of their communities. Many factors have contributed to these countries’ collective emergence, but the engine of entrepreneurship is leading the charge. We often judge the worth of businesses by how much they give charitably to charities. In my view, the primary good they contribute to our society is their provision of valuable products, services and meaningful employment to the world–from the smallest “mom and pop” shops to the world’s largest companies. Their donations are great too, but it’s their inherent value which is doing the most good.
Next time you buy your white chocolate mocha, use your Blackberry, or read your Bible, think about the people whose livelihoods, perhaps across the globe, you are supporting. Sip that latte with your chin-up. Your habit is putting food on the table for over 75,000 rural farmers in the developing world.
Dig into the ethical policies of your favorite companies, as you are voting with each of your purchases and charitable donations. Are you voting for candidates you believe in?