Last year, having a home office went from being a luxury to a necessity for a huge part of our population discovered the world of telecommuting. Work-life balance took on a whole new meaning as we tried to be productive while having children, pets and partners around 24/7.
Although we are all hopeful that more people will be able to safely return to their traditional workplaces in 2021, it’s likely that home offices will be with us for the immediate future. QC Office would like to offer some suggestions on setting up your workplace for success in the new year, whether you are in a traditional workspace or doing your job from home.
It’s easy to imagine that the biggest distraction while working from home is a constant stream of children needing your help or attention while you are trying to work. That can be true, and many parents and caregivers have come up with solutions to let their loved ones know if and when they can be interrupted. (Our favorite? A door sign that announces, “Mom is working. Do not disturb unless (1) you’re bleeding; (2) the house is on fire; (3) the Amazon guy is Jason Momoa.”)
However, the biggest time culprit for most people, whether working in the office or at home, is notifications. It is so tempting to stop everything, read and respond to emails, tweets, slacks, texts or more the moment you see that pop-up on your computer or hear the “ping” of your phone. The reason these interruptions are so insidious is because they not only cost you the time it takes to read and respond to these messages; they also derail your train of thought and flow and it can take up to 20 minutes to get back in “the zone.”
The easiest solution? Shut off those notifications if possible and then set up two or three times a day when you check and respond to emails and social media.
Clear the Clutter.
A well-organized workspace can help us concentrate and work more efficiently according to neuroscientists. When we have clutter, we get distracted because the various visual stimuli compete for our brain’s attention.
However, the amount of neatness or organization we need to get work done will depend on the type of work we are doing and our personalities. For some people, clutter can be debilitating. Others find a little clutter helpful. This is particularly true of “right brain” workers such as writers and artists, where multiple visual stimuli can inspire connections and creativity. The key is finding the tools you need to organize your workspace so that it works for you. Tools like drawer organizers, folder trays and desk caddies can help you keep everything in its place.
Regardless of your tolerance for clutter, here’s a couple of hints for keeping things under control in your workspace. Once a day, clear out anything on your desk that doesn’t have to do with work – coffee mugs, utensils or your child’s homework. Then once a week, get rid of any paper you’ve accumulated that you really don’t need.
Your Desk Is Important.
We’ve talked about items on your workspace, but now let’s consider the desk itself. There’s an impressive range of desks out there in terms of materials, costs and utility that can be tailored to your workplace or home office needs.
For example, if you have a dedicated room that serves as your office, an L-shaped desk will provide you with two large work areas. If space is tight, a mobile laptop caddy might be the answer. There are traditional desks that you sit at and desks that can be raised and lowered to give you the option of standing while you work.
“It’s important to remember that most office furniture is available in smaller sizes that are better suited to home offices,” said CT McMurray, sales manager at QC Office.
Your Chair Is Even More Important.
If you don’t plan to stand while you are doing office work, your most important investment might be your chair. Face it – if you are not comfortable in your chair, you will constantly find reasons to get up from it and that’s not conducive to getting work done. Meanwhile, besides comfort, you are going to want support. Hours of sitting can put stress on your back, so investing in an ergonomic desk chair will spare you pain and stiffness in the future.
It’s not what we typically think of in terms of office décor, but the color in your workspace does play a role in how you work. If you are working from home, you have a lot more control of the color of your walls and can personalize your space more. Much of your color palette will depend on personal preference, but there are studies that have associated color with workplace productivity.
Blues tend to be calming in a hectic environment, although they can also be associated with the cold, so you might want to use accents of warmer tones like brown or green to balance it out. Green is also a peaceful color and has the additional benefit of reducing eye strain. While all-white offices can feel a little clinical, the use of large sections of white can make a smaller office look bigger.
We hope your workspace in 2021 is a place where you can feel productive and enjoy the success of your labors. If you need any help in freshening up your space, getting more organized and having supplies delivered to you, please give QC Office a call at (928) 527-3223 or online at qcoffice.org.
You might have seen this in the news recently…
When this year’s 75-foot Norway Spruce Christmas Tree was delivered to Rockefeller Center this year, it showed up looking a little worse for wear. It was bedraggled and a bit scraggly. It was shedding its thin needles all over the place. It was described as a really tall Charlie Brown tree. Lots of clever comments were made in the news and on social media about it being a perfect metaphor for the year 2020.
But the tree’s symbolism was transformed when a tiny saw-whet owl was discovered inside its branches as the tree was being set up. The little raptor had probably made the two-day, 170-mile journey from Oneonta, N.Y. to Manhattan stuck to the tree’s base. Other than being a little dehydrated and hungry, she was fine. After a check by a vet to make sure it was healthy, the owl (now named Rockefeller) was successfully released back into the wild.
It was a holiday miracle.
We’d like to think that’s the real metaphor for 2020. It certainly rings true for those of us in the nonprofit sector. Faced with greater demand and fewer resources, charitable organization still were able to make a difference. They adapted and, sometimes, found miracles in their work.
At Quality Connections, our work had to scale down dramatically because of the pandemic, but we were still able to help 243 individuals with disabilities learn, grow and find greater independence in 2020. That included training 78 workers through Quality Connection programs, placing 16 workers in jobs in the community; supporting 20 workers after they obtained positions by visiting them at their place of work; supporting 16 adults in our residential program; and having almost 50 adults with disabilities attend QC Learning, our Montessori-based education program.
That last item was one of our miracles this year. After months of having to suspend our classes, we were able to move the program to the Frontiere this summer and provide a few months of in-person instruction. The space allowed us to conduct the classes outside in a socially distanced manner and our adult students loved exploring the property near the Rogers Lake County Natural Area. After regrouping briefly in socially-distanced pods for a few weeks to do training on how to use Zoom, we are now doing online classes for these students.
Other local nonprofits shifted so they could still make a difference during challenging times. Flagstaff Family Food Center, like most for-profit restaurants, took their in-person meals and turned them into a massive take-out operation. Cancer Support Community of Northern Arizona moved all of its programs online to avoid exposing an already vulnerable population to Covid-19. Organizations banded together to provide emergency childcare for essential workers.
None of these services could have been provided without the generosity of individuals who, despite the economic challenges of 2020, made it a point to donate to these causes. Fortunately, at both the federal and state levels, the tax code is making it easier to find the money to give to charitable organizations.
One of these tax benefits is new and a direct result of the pandemic. When the CARES Act was passed in April, most of the news coverage was – understandably – focused on the financial benefits to individuals and businesses. There were lots of stories about the $1,200 stimulus checks, the expanded unemployment benefits, and the forgivable loans to small businesses so they wouldn’t furlough workers.
Another provision of the CARES Act, however, allows for deduction of up to $300 on your federal taxes for charitable giving. Previously, donations could only be used if taxpayers itemized their deductions. With the changes under the CARES Act, you can reduce your adjusted gross income by up to $300 even if you use the standard deduction on your taxes.
A slightly different form of tax relief for donations is available on your Arizona state income tax. The Charitable Tax Credit isn’t a deduction, but a dollar-for-dollar credit reducing your tax burden. So if you give $100 to qualifying organizations, you get a $100 credit. (The maximum for individuals is $400 and $800 for couples filing jointly).
Also, this state tax credit is separate from the Public School Activity Tax Credit and the Private School Tuition Tax Credit, so you can claim them all during the same tax year. After the year we’ve all had, these deductions and credits are a silver lining that are good news both for taxpayers and nonprofits.
As we close out 2020, all of us at Quality Connections would like to thank you for the support you’ve shown all our local nonprofits and wish you the happiest of holidays. Here’s to 2021 and the hope that it holds better times for all of us.
When we started Quality Connections in 1999, there was a man who was our inspiration and who represented all we wanted to accomplish. His name was Ben Sutcliffe and he was the college roommate of our co-founder, Armando. He also happened to have Cerebral Palsy, which limited his physical abilities, but not his mental capacity.
Ben had two things he wanted more than anything: a girlfriend and a job. After Quality Connections was formed, Ben became out Webmaster, uploading products onto our website using his communication device.
(He ultimately met and married the love of his life – Armando was his best man).
Ben’s story illustrates why we do what we do at Quality Connections. We sincerely believe that when we empower people with disabilities and remove the barriers that keep them in the workforce, everybody wins. The individuals who find employment, of course, and our community which benefits when they pay taxes. Businesses also benefit: a 2018 study by the business services company Accenture reported that companies that actively seek to employ people with disabilities outperform those that do not with higher revenues and net profits. Other studies indicate that individuals with disabilities stay in their jobs longer and have lower absenteeism than other employees.
Our employment and training services are as unique as the people we are helping. There’s no “cookie cutter” approach, because we are serving people with a wide range of disabilities and life experiences. An individual might have a physical disability, a cognitive or developmental delay, a visual impairment or suffer from anxiety.
Our first step is assessment. What skills does the person have, what work are they interested in and what barriers are keeping them from employment in that field? Do they need help with “soft skills” or additional outside training or a certificate to qualify for a particular line of work? How will they get to the workplace?
Sometimes, our work involves helping clients get over the fears they might have about being in the workplace, such as concerns about being mocked or made to feel uncomfortable about their disability. We dive into why they are worried and how they can deal with that fear or what to do if situations like that arise.
We also help with the nuts-and-bolts typically associated with finding employment: online job searches, how to write a resume and cover letter, what to say in an interview. We hold mock interviews before the real interview and we’ll even accompany them as long as the employer allows us to be there, which they will about 99% of the time.
Once an individual is successfully placed in a job, we follow up every week to check in with that individual and his or her employer to make sure this new relationship is working out.
Some of the people we work with and train may ultimately come to work for Quality Connections. You might have talked to them when you phone our QC Office call center or seen them when they come to deliver your office supplies.
Ultimately, however, we want to ensure that when a client finishes with our services, they can enter the workforce successfully, regardless of the barriers they initially faced. We want them to have the success we all feel when we find meaningful employment. And we want them to be confident that they can do it on their own, from the application process to interviewing to landing and keeping that position.
For a service that is all about helping others try to find employment, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job.
Businesses that engage as a partner with the community, particularly ones that financially support local causes or encourage their workers to volunteer, are often described as “good corporate citizens.”
At Quality Connections, we are working to take being good corporate citizens to the next level by embracing a philosophy called conscious capitalism.
You might be wondering “What is that?”
Simply put, it’s taking the impulses of being good corporate citizens, but then expanding them to all facets of our day-to-day operations.
We sincerely believe that business is a force for good; it allows us to create value, it creates jobs, it can even lift people out of poverty. But making money just for the sake of making money isn’t enough; businesses do better for everyone if they are tied to a high purpose.
At Quality Connections, we are proud of running a competitive office supply business, but our higher purpose is our education and workforce training programs for those with disabilities that are made possible because of those profits.
In addition to a higher purpose, conscious capitalism asks companies to be aware of their impact on society and the natural environment. It’s often expressed as having a triple bottom line of “Profits, People and Planet.”
Here are the four main principals of conscious capitalism:
1. Have a higher purpose: Profits are great (and necessary) but they are a tool, not a source of inspiration. The deeper purpose of a business is what truly engages people.
2. Stakeholder orientation: Understand your business has an “ecosystem” that includes customers, employees, suppliers, investors, shareholders, communities, and the environment. They are interconnected and they all are important to your business.
3. Conscious leadership: It’s essential to have leadership that keeps your company’s higher purpose front and center.
Conscious culture: All of these elements ultimately create a conscious culture that builds trust, care and cooperation and fosters accountability, transparency, integrity, and fairness.
Studies show that conscious capitalism is just good business; companies that work towards these principles enjoy increased harmony between employers and employees, better customer satisfaction and loyalty, and more community engagement.
It’s so good to have QC Learning back and in person.
As many of you know, Quality Connections has helped individuals with disabilities become independent, productive members of our community by providing them with employment opportunities, job training, and practical life learning programs.
This includes QC Learning, a weekday adult day program that uses the Montessori approach to guide lessons on life, communication, and social skills. It was a piece of our puzzle that was missing, until recently, because of coronavirus.
In our limited space, how could we safely provide this service for all our adult learners?
Last month, however, we were able to start again in a temporary location that not only allows our clients and staff to adhere to social distancing norms, but also seems uniquely suited to the Montessori approach.
We began classes at the Frontiere property, a rustic event venue about 10 miles southwest of Flagstaff with amazing views of Rogers Lake and the San Francisco Peaks. The area is filled with a variety of wildlife and it’s common to see elk, mule deer, prairie dogs and even bald eagles there.
This special setting only enhances the Montessori experience for our adult students. One of the pillars of this educational method is the sensorial approach to learning about the world around you. Students are encouraged to learn to notice details like color, shape, texture, smell, sound, weight, and temperature.
“Instead of hearing about what a tree is, they’ll be able to see and touch a tree,” said Vicki Barber, the QC Learning Director. “Instead of seeing pictures of birds, they’ll be able to watch real birds with binoculars. Marie Montessori believed that the outdoors should be your classroom.”
In the Montessori method, students chose an activity from within a prescribed range of areas like language, math, time skills and practical life skills. There is a book of lessons with pictures and the students pick what they want to pursue on any given day.
“It allows us to tailor each student’s instruction,” said Barber. “We find out where they are, and we follow the learner. It’s as much about guiding them as teaching them.”
You can tell from our photos how exciting and engaging our adult learners are finding this new setting; it’s like a field trip every day.
Quality Connections plans to rent the Frontiere property through November for our QC Learning classes. After almost six months of being closed due to COVID-19, it is extremely rewarding to be back with a solution that is safe for our students and puts them once again on the road to discovery and increased independence.