Recharging Your Work Space

Last Minute Office Party Suggestions

Corrections or additions?

These articles were prepared for the

December 11, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Final Home For Dinosaur PCs

New Jersey is first again. As of Tuesday, December 17,

the toughest computer disposal regulations in the country go into

effect in the Garden State. Any disposal of more than 100 kilograms

— about eight monitors or CPUs — must follow these new

regulations

or the company doing the dumping is subject to a $2,000 fine. Old

computers must be taken to an NJDEP-approved facility, and records

of the disposal must be retained for three years.

Tens of millions of old computers are languishing in corporate

warehouses

and in closets in small companies. The useful life of a computer is

only three-to-five years, and a number of machines crash well before

they turn two. Computer manufacturers, with sales stuck in neutral

for the past two years, are perking up now that the number of

four-year-old

machines is soaring. In 2005, more than 63 million PCs are projected

to be retired according to a recent study by the National Safety

Council.

Green advocates point out that the 94 percent of old computers that

are sent to landfills represent an awful waste, and urge recycling.

In a ton of electronic boards there are 600 pounds of plastic, 286

pounds of copper, 90 pounds of iron, 40 pounds of nickel, and a pound

each of silver and gold. More ominously, there are substantial amounts

of hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium,

and environmentally-dangerous flame retardants.

Yet, it can be hard to get rid of computers at all, let alone to do

so in an environmentally sound manner. One challenge, especially for

small businesses, is psychological. It’s hard to throw away something

for which you paid $2,000 or $3,000 just a couple of years ago. Such

horrifyingly fast obsolescence is upsetting. Better to just slip the

pre-Pentium machines and 15-inch black and white monitors into a

closet,

with the thought of perhaps using them one day for spare parts or

for the use of a summer temp.

Another hurdle is the fear that someone with a lot of time on his

hands and a techno/blackmail bent will fish the machines out of the

garbage, steal secrets from hard drives, and use or sell software.

To ensure that this will not happen, hard drives need to be wiped

clean before disposal and software licenses should be transferred

to new machines.

Even after computers are stripped and all sentimental attachment

disappears

in the face of overflowing discard closets, disposal is still not

easy. But there are options. Newer computers and monitors may find

buyers on an online auction such as Ebay. Another option that will

bring in a few bucks is trading old computers in for new. Major

manufacturers,

including IBM, Gateway, and Dell, may extend a small trade-in

allowance.

An appealing idea, especially at this time of the year, when altruism

and tax deductions are on many minds, is to donate the old machines.

A computer the office techno geeks spurn could mean the world to a

poor student or to a displaced homemaker trying to develop job skills.

Share the Technology Computer Recycling Project is an effort by a

Rancocas-based non-profit (www.sharetechnology.org). It matches

those who need computers with those who have computers to donate.

Both sides can easily post requests and offers on the website.

Acceptable

donations include Macintosh Power PCs or better, Pentium level PCs

or better, working color monitors without screen burn or other damage,

inkjet and laser printers, scanners, modems, keyboards, mice, and

software, but only the original disks.

Another donation option is the Trenton Materials Exchange

(www.tmex.org),

which accepts computers of every age and condition at its warehouse,

at 800 New York Avenue in Trenton, on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment

(609-278-0033).

The Trenton Materials Exchange cleans the hard drives of stray files

and passes usable machines along to non-profits. It charges $5 for

each computer monitor to assist with lead and glass disposal fees,

but does not charge to accept terminals, typewriters, modems, cables,

answering machines, projectors, VCRs, or telephones. This is also

a place to dispose of old office furniture, and a good source —

even for the for-profit firms — of very low cost office essentials

ranging from electronics to supplies to desks.

Office computers that are clearly past their prime need

to be recycled. A number of companies specialize in picking up and

recycling computers. Those licensed to do so provide disposal records.

One company that has been doing this work for a number of years is

Back Thru the Future Micro Computers (www.backthruthefuture.com) in

Ogdensburg in northern New Jersey. Its extensive website provides

voluminous information on electronics recycling and links to other

recycling resources. The company also sells refurbished computers

and computer equipment at low prices.

Other New Jersey computer recycling companies include Supreme Computer

Wholesalers in Lakewood (732-370-4100). The New Jersey Department

of Environmental Protection’s website (www.state.nj.us/dep) includes

a complete list of facilities participating in a pilot project to

de-manufacture consumer electronics. They include NewTech Recycling

in Bridgewater (732-469-9774), HessTech in Edison (732-287-2442),

and Public Service Electric and Gas in Gibbstown (856-224-1637). It

also lists facilities that have approval to operate as recycling

depots.

These include Sterling Computer Recycling in Bridgewater

(732-271-3407),

Recycle America in Long Branch (732-870-2395), Service Partners in

Landing (973-770-4949), and Onyx Environmental Services in Flanders

(973-691-7330).

A good source of recycling information for consumers and businesses

alike is the New Jersey Solid Waste Policy Group at Rutgers

Cooperative

Extension (aesop.rutgers.edu/~wastemgmt/main). It lists

recycling

facilities by county and provides extensive details on hours.

Computer recycling is serious business, but a site that

makes one aspect of it almost seem like fun is FundingFactory

(www.fundingfactory.com).

This Erie, Pennsylvania, for-profit makes disposing of printer

cartridges

easy and lets companies feel good about recycling them. Register and

FundingFactory sends out boxes with pre-paid UPS stickers attached.

Just fill the boxes with cartridges and give them to a UPS driver.

Each shipment earns points, which can be given to a school the company

chooses. Schools redeem the points for computers, computer

peripherals,

and software. The site lists the point value for each type of

cartridge

along with the points needed to redeem any particular piece of

computer

equipment.

Appealing to the green side of business, FundingFactory’s website

tells visitors that half a gallon of oil is conserved for every laser

cartridge returned, and that each year 300 million cartridges are

thrown away, a number equal in weight to 30,500 elephants.

The slick website even has a fast-moving counter documenting how many

cartridges are thrown away in the U.S. since each visitor logged onto

its homepage. It is at least mildly diverting to watch how quickly

the number mounts up.

For some reason, FundingFactory does not want to release a complete

list of New Jersey schools enrolled in its program. A company

representative

did, however, divulge that 20 schools in or very near the 08540 zip

code (Princeton Township and parts of West Windsor) participate, and

that "hundreds" more New Jersey schools are in the program.

Upon registering, new FundingFactory users are presented with a list

of schools in their zip code and can choose the one to which they

want to donate their points. If a favorite school is not yet

participating,

users can bank their points.

FundingFactory just started accepting used cell phones, and awards

points for them too. The company says that 30 million cell phones

were retired in 2001 — a fact one would never intuit by visiting

any area shopping mall or restaurant, strolling any street or riding

any train.

Nevertheless, outmoded phones apparently are stacking up nearly as

fast as computers without CD drives, boxy computer monitors, and slow

printers. Drag them all out of the store room, the office coat closet,

and the junk drawer. Given the new consequences, now is the time to

recycle.

Top Of Page
Recharging Your Work Space

Situating an accountant’s desk so that he spends his

days looking out a window is just plain sadistic. This according to

Jeanette Schwartz, Feng Shui practitioner and owner of South

Brunswick-based Creative Concepts. She spends about half of her time

consulting with corporate clients on how to design offices that

promote

employees’ physical and mental health and ratchet up productivity

as well. A deskbound accountant pining for the out-of-doors is very

possibly not a happy accountant, or a productive one either, in her

opinion. If he must have a window, she suggests, make sure it is not

one that affords a spectacular view.

Schwartz speaks on "The Art of Space Clearing: Cleansing and

Recharging

Your Space" on Wednesday, December 18, at 7 p.m. at a Feng Shui

workshop at the South Brunswick Public Library in Monmouth Junction.

Cost: $8. Call 732-329-4000, ext. 286.

Schwartz lived in Queens until the age of 11 at which time her

parents,

German immigrants, decided they wanted to live in a more natural

setting.

The family moved to Oppenheim, a small town in New York State’s

Adirondack

mountains, where her father, a textile designer, consulted to the

many mills that were then in the area and her mother began a practice

as an herbalist.

"My parents were my greatest influence," says Schwartz. Not

only did they teach her to be in tune with her surroundings, but they

spoke both German and French at home, giving her a language base that

she found helpful after graduating from F.I.T. with a degree in

textile

design and completing two years at New York University in

international

studies. She spent some 10 years working for home furnishing companies

in design and marketing, frequently traveling to Frankfurt and Paris.

She began her own design business more than 10 years ago, and tilted

it toward Feng Shui, which, she explains, involves not magic and

mirrors,

but rather physics. In addition to working on the design of corporate

offices, she sets up gardens, consults with homeowners, and also does

trend forecasting for retailers and manufacturers.

Predicting trends is not all that difficult, she says, explaining

that "history repeats itself, a decade comes back every 20 years

or so." Styles and colors from the ’80s are big now, she says,

but style also is being influenced by an air of uncertainty. As a

result, colors are subdued and golds and silvers are used only in

small doses. With war looming and security concerns at highs not seen

since debates over fall-out shelter were big (Do you allow neighbors

to share your store of canned foods?), she finds a focus on nesting

and a surge in the popularity of uniform-motif clothing.

Back in the office, Schwartz is finding executives cautiously

enthusiastic

on the idea of using Feng Shui to boost health, morale, and

productivity

— as long as they are assured that tinkling bells and Far East

icons are not essential to the scheme. Here are some of the ways in

which Feng Shui can work at work.

Don’t move like you’re in a dollar store. Retailers, and

especially discounters, like to move their customers counter

clockwise,

says Schwartz. This side of the Equator, humans naturally prefer to

move clockwise, and programming them to go the other way makes them

less efficient shoppers. Less efficient shoppers are what retailers

are after, for they tend to buy more.

Employers, however, do not benefit from wasted movement, and would

do well, says Schwartz, to set up their offices so that the flow of

tasks goes clockwise.

Turn down those electro-magnetic emissions. All electric

devices give off emissions that are harmful, says Schwartz, pointing

out that two office staples — computer monitors and fluorescent

lights — are big offenders. Natural light is preferable whenever

possible. Desk lamps are good substitutes for overhead fluorescents

too.

If none of this is possible, employees can protect themselves to some

degree by turning off the computer when it is not in use, and by

taking

frequent breaks to go outside and stand in the grass, "barefoot

if possible," says Schwartz.

Use mirrors. One of the most common, and most damaging,

office practice, is also one of the most easily remedied. "Do

not sit with your back to the door," says Schwartz. Cube dwellers

may not even realize it, but when they are typing away and someone

comes up behind them, they experience a "fight or flight"

response. We may have 108 channels on our televisions and cross oceans

with little thought, but at our cores, the instincts of primitive

man remain.

Adrenalin starts to pump whenever anyone approaches, unseen, from

behind. So, says Schwartz, employees should face out, or at least

be positioned sideways, with an eye toward their doors. When this

is not possible, she suggests affixing a mirror to the wall in front

of each employee so that he can see who is approaching from the rear.

Employers and workers alike have told her that this one little step

makes a huge difference.

Neutralize the boss with lavender. Our primitive selves

are programmed to respond to scent. Aromatherapy can create powerful

changes at work. If someone is prickly, difficult to work with,

consider

placing an atomizer full of a soothing scent such as lavender, or

perhaps vanilla, near his desk. To energize the troops, go for citrus

scents.

Think carefully about color. Schwartz swears that a recent

study demonstrated that even the blind are sensitive to color. In

the study, she says, one group of blind youngsters was put into a

red room, while another group was put into a blue room. Researchers

found that after a time in the red room, the youngsters’ blood

pressure

was elevated.

This heightened response might be just what an employer wants,

especially

in areas where creative thinking is important. Blues and greens could

be used where employees need to work quietly. Schwartz is not a big

fan of the beige and pale grey many employers tend to favor. She

believes

that by ignoring color they are missing out on an important way to

achieve peak productivity.

Decorate with performance in mind. Throw out those

watercolors

of couples lounging under palm trees, looking out over a turquoise

sea. Shred those posters of skiers schussing through powder, framed

by gorgeous pines and backlit by the sun. This sort of art only makes

employees yearn to be at the beach, on the slopes, anywhere but in

their cubicles. Schwartz favors those inspirational posters instead.

If employees can’t stomach that rah-rah stuff, she says another good

idea is to spread the company name around, perhaps paired with

projects,

clients, and achievement awards. The idea is to keep everyone’s mind

on work.

Keep a little of the family on the desk. Likewise, individual

desks should reflect ongoing work. That doesn’t mean the family needs

to be banished, though. Schwartz suggests placing a smallish family

photo, or a little collection, in the right hand corner of the desk.

(In Feng Shui philosophy, right hand spaces are for love and family.)

Don’t paper the walls with the baby’s latest photos, she says, or

all you will be able to think about is getting home to him.

Bring in the outdoors. Fill an office with as many plants

as possible. They clean the air and lift the spirits. Good choices

for the office, says Schwartz, are unkillable specimens such as spider

plants or bamboo.

Get rid of the stickies. Employees tend to think that

putting Post-it reminders of upcoming meetings, project deadlines,

and clients’ phone numbers all over the place is a good way to keep

on top of things. Not so, says Schwartz, calling the little rectangles

a huge distraction. "Keep one list to the left of that desk.

That’s

it," she says. Visual clutter saps energy, creates confusion,

and diffuses effort.

Think twice about getting a PDA. Schwartz has observed

an interesting phenomenon. "At about age 39 or 40," she says,

"people fall in love with electronics." Many buy more than

they can use. The result can be frustration. "You get a PDA,"

she says, "but you can only figure out how to work two of its

functions. Then, every time you pick it up, you think `I really should

find the manual and spend an hour with it.’" No one ever follows

through, and many people suffer so much guilt and frustration at being

unable to get the most of the thing that it ends up doing more harm

than good.

Toss memos fast. The best way to deal with mail is to

look it over on the way back from the office mail cubby, and throw

away the junk on the way back to the desk. Useful items should be

acted on, or put in their proper places, right away. When there is

any indecision about whether it will be necessary to refer to a memo,

adopt a two-day rule. If you don’t need it within two days, throw

it away.

Organize back-up materials. All of those reports, catalogs,

news clippings, letters, and print-outs for each project should be

filed in clearly marked folders. If they are not needed for six to

nine months, toss them. Nothing drains energy and gums up work faster

than a growing pile of miscellaneous papers, unless it is multiple

piles of miscellaneous papers, old trade journals, and year-old

print-outs.

Just seeing the mess triggers an urge to run away, not to get down

to work.

Corral those paper clips. How much time is wasted playing

hunt-the-scissors? This popular office pastime, along with who’s seen

the tape? and where did my pens go? cuts into productivity big time.

By the time basic supplies are found, the hunter is frustrated,

worked-up,

and way out of focus. Put all the essentials into clear plastic

containers,

says Schwartz. Not only will they be easy to spot, but the

organization

scheme just might deter marauding co-workers.

Make sure everyone is comfortable. In many offices, new

employees inherit hand-me-down desks and chairs, says Schwartz. Yet,

she says, if you seat a worker in a chair that does not fit, you

pretty

much guarantee yourself an unproductive worker.

Few of these measures are expensive. Neither, points out

Schwartz,

are they offensively New Agey. The basic idea is to make that poor

windowless accountant so efficient that he will not have to spend

his days dreaming of the outdoors, but will actually be done early

enough to get there.

Top Of Page
Last Minute Office Party Suggestions

For some companies, the holiday party is an unvarying

tradition, held in the same place, using the same format, for the

same group every year. Other companies — including a good many

small companies — use a more seat-of-the-pants approach. We’re

guessing some of these companies are still holding discussions on

venue, invitees (clients? spouses? children?), theme, date, and style.

Here are some last minute suggestions from Alison Donald and

Kate Kaeli, the principals of the Princeton event planning company

KMA, which organized last year’s Communiversity festival in downtown

Princeton:

Think outside the cubicle. While planning a party in the

office may seem cost-effective, it will be tough for employees to

get in the holiday spirit when computers and piles of work surround

them. Instead, move your party to another, more festive location.

In addition to banquet halls, hotels, and restaurants, consider

museums,

wineries, theaters, art galleries, or ice rinks.

Keep the peace. Make sure employees understand who is

invited to the holiday party. If the event is scheduled for afternoon,

it’s understandable if it’s an employee only affair. However, if it’s

an evening event, allowing your staff to bring a spouse or guest could

be a good idea. A weekend brunch may be the perfect setting if you

are planning a family event that includes children. Whichever you

choose, be sure to word it clearly on the invitation to avoid any

potentially uncomfortable situation.

Plan some fun. Include festive decorations, great music,

and fun activities into your plans for a more memorable event. Whether

it’s a scavenger hunt or gift exchange, always have a game or activity

to keep the party going. If your event is a family affair, be sure

to plan activities for the youngest guests.

Be responsible. When making a decision about whether or

not to serve alcohol at your holiday party, consider your company

policy as well as the time of day and guest list. If you do choose

to serve alcoholic beverages, make sure your caterer has a liquor

license, liability insurance, and a staff trained in alcohol

awareness.

Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to set up a

designated

driver car pool or book rooms at a hotel.


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