Out With the Old, in With the New

Sterling Offices

The Sterling team has worked tirelessly the last 30 days to transform our Silicon Valley headquarters from a dated and dark cube farm to a modern dog friendly workplace. The fast-moving makeover was initiated with a simple question. How can we create a workspace that is both functional and collaborative without moving?

The answer: Start over. Completely.

So with an empty floor plan, I began sketching out ideas. The old office, which once accommodated eight people in the open area, needed to fit at least 12 workstations and include space for reviewing design work, hosting brainstorming sessions and watching videos. With the help of fellow Sterlingers, we were able to transform our existing 3,500 square foot office into a modern creative studio with double the capacity.

The new layout came together well because we focused on three core objectives:

  1. Create more collaborate workspace
  2. Streamline line workstations
  3. Bring everyone together

By moving individuals out of offices and into the open area, we freed up space for teams. Workstations got smaller and smarter because did away with huge L-shape desks and opted for taller workstations that give Sterlingers the option to work standing up. And instead of looking at the backs of our colleagues we now face each other, and the new Apple-powered work theater.

Painting Sterling Office

We did more than just swap out the furniture though. We painted huge dry-erase and magnetic work walls and updated our lobby with a color appropriately named Swagger. There is a new center lounge area, with one more lounge to come later this month. And we had to add a few fun elements, like a mini-basketball hoop and portable Ping-Pong for the new conference tables strategically placed throughout the office.

Needless to say the response to the new digs has been overwhelmingly positive. There is a new energy and sense of pride coming from even the newest Sterlingers. And the upgrades won’t stop with our office makeover. Our creative team is working feverishly to launch Sterling’s new website and logo later this month, so stay tuned for more on the exciting changes at Sterling.

Wild Cards



Here’s a small sampling of business cards, collected over the past couple of years, from Marianne O’Connor. They were all fished out of her desk as we remove the last vestiges of Sterling’s old furniture to make way for some exciting changes in our Silicon Valley headquarters. Most California employees will be working remotely over the next couple of days as wall get painted (apparently “Swagger” is a real color, at least as Kelly-Moore is concerned). New furniture, magnetic walls, an Apple-powered work theater, and significantly more collaborative work spaces are on the way.

That’s the Spirit

We’ve all seen Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, that heartwarming and inspiring black-and-white film classic where Jimmy Stewart discovers the amazing impact that his life decisions have had on his friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors. Always the guy who put others’ needs first, George Bailey never got to travel the world, go to college, or even join his friend Sam Wainwright in a highly lucrative business career. Yes, one lonely Christmas eve, George found himself “worth more dead than alive,” at last from a financial perspective.

On the off-chance that you haven’t seen the film, I won’t ruin the ending; however, I think we’d all do well to see this movie at least once a year. Why? Because it provides an excellent antidote to Black Friday’s shopping mayhem and Cyber Monday’s $1.5B online spending spree, as well as a welcome respite from the overindulgence that characterizes the holidays in countries like the US.  It’s time we center our thoughts on the right things, the things that REALLY matter. Not what kind of car we drive, house we live in, clothes we wear, or presents we lavish on our loved ones (and ourselves), but rather how we give our time and attention to others less fortunate than we are.

I am not referring to things like Starbucks’ recent promotion of 2 holiday beverages for the price of 1; while a nice gesture for those in need of a caffeine or sugar fix, it’s not really helping anyone in need (and, if we’re honest, it’s really more of a ploy to get people into the stores to buy other merchandise like mugs, CDs, gift cards, etc.). No, what really gets my attention is people and organizations focused on taking action that directly improves the human condition. Whether it’s 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith who gave up her birthday presents to raise funds for clean drinking water; or a teen named Justin Churchman, who took the initiative to build 18 houses in Juarez, Mexico by his 18th birthday; or professor-turned-activist David Batstone, who is actively working to abolish human trafficking.

But I’m far from alone in seeking a Black Friday/Cyber Monday antidote. An idea called #GivingTuesday, incubated out of NY’s 92nd Street Y, has grown to include more than 2,000 U.S. organizations. It is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations. That’s one national holiday I could really support! (Pun intended.) This past Tuesday, they hosted an inaugural tweet jam to discuss giving during and after the holiday season. You can check out the discussion on the hashtag #GivingTuesday and #GNO. Also, if you’d like to share your thoughts on giving and the best and worst this holiday season has to offer over, just join in the conversation using #ThatsTheSpirit.

Now, if you already have a favorite charity or two and want to connect with your friends privately, there’s a new site called Gudville (disclaimer: Gudville is a Sterling client) that just emerged from private beta. In Gudville, you can raise or donate money, organize volunteer time, sign a petition or conduct a poll. It’s early days yet for this new “private social action network,”  but spending some of my holidays working on things I care about with the people in my life that I care about … well, that sure beats fighting for parking spaces at the local mall so I can get more stuff I really don’t need or have space to store.

Follow Marianne on Twitter @marianneoconnor.

Happy TweetsGiving!

Thanksgivingdinner

What is Thanksgiving all about? Is it about stuffing yourself until you’re sure you’re going to explode, but instead you just go take a nap? Or maybe Thanksgiving is about the football – rooting and cheering for your favorite team until your voice is hoarse or playing your own game out on the front yard. Is it the yams? And the pumpkin pie, pecan pie, turkey, cranberry jelly, rolls, mashed potatoes, stuffing… well, you get the idea. All these things make up Thanksgiving traditions, but are they really what the day is about? It’s important to remember the best part of Thanksgiving is spending time with loved ones and expressing thanks for the various ways your life has been blessed.

Tweetsgiving_logo

For the last two years, the non-profit, Epic Change, has taken the spirit of Thanksgiving and translated it into TweetsGiving, a global celebration to change the world through the power of gratitude. For 48 hours, people all over the world are encouraged to express their thanks publicly through social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and various blogs. In addition to spreading messages of gratitude, people are invited to make contributions, both big and small, to Epic Change. During the inaugural TweetsGiving last year, Epic Change raised nearly $11,000 in 48 hours and built a classroom in Tanzania with the money. This year, TweetsGiving has already raised over $16,000 in just over 24 hours. The money raised this year will help to build other classrooms, a cafeteria, a library and a dormitory/orphanage for the same school in Tanzania.

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As a former elementary teacher, I will always have a soft spot for children and schools. I believe education – in a safe, nurturing environment – should be available to everyone. Maybe that is why I am so drawn TweetsGiving, Epic Change and the Shepards Junior School in Tanzania. All I had to do was look at the photos and videos of the adorable students, to get the inspiration do anything I could to help. Fifth graders at the school are even on Twitter, dubbed the TwitterKids, and supporters are invited to tweet with the kids.
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The best part is simple blog posts like this one will help Epic Change in their endeavors. So lend your support by spreading your gratitude to your network and let them know about TweetsGiving: tag tweets, status updates, pictures, videos and even songs with the hashtag #tweetsgiving. In addition to messages of gratitude, you can make a donation. Contributions big and small are welcome and needed! There is less than 24 hours left of TweetsGiving, so unleash your gratitude now!

Happy TweetsGiving and have a lovely Thanksgiving tomorrow. Enjoy your turkey, pie, football and loved ones!

How Ya Gonna Keep ’Em Down on the Farm … ?

Paree sheet music
The One Laptop Per Child initiative begun by Nicholas Negroponte at MIT has become the poster child for international development through the spread of technology at a grassroots level. Its mission: to equip poor schoolchildren in developing countries with laptops costing less than $100 (although the initial XO model currently costs double).

NPR recently ran an interesting two-part series on the one of the initial rollouts, in an isolated village high in the Peruvian Andes. It describes the benefits as well as the challenges involved in bringing 21st century technology into the lives of schoolchildren who live for the most part without electricity at home.

What jumped out at me was a comment from a Lima university professor, who feared the program would exacerbate the brain drain from rural areas. Exposed by the Internet to the world outside their village, children will learn skills beyond those needed on the farm, contributing to their sense of dissatisfaction and desire to migrate to cities. This condescending argument struck me as similar to the one espoused by medieval landlords, antebellum plantation owners, and Industrial Age factory owners when they made it a punishable offense to teach serfs, slaves and sweatshop toilers to read. To quote a lighthearted, WWI-era song: “How ya gonna keep’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?”

Where might the president-elect be today if his father’s teachers had held the same attitude? You never know from what soil the next great leader may spring, if given the right opportunities.

Everybody Deserves a Home

Hfh_sf Last night I attended an orientation session for Habitat Humanity San Francisco. What an experience! After hearing stories and watching videos, it was pretty evident how a decent home makes such a difference, and provides a strong foundation for a family. Sterling’s three offices are currently attending orientations and scheduling weekend times to be a part of a build site this fall and it’s going to be awesome to have something tangible to look at in the future and know that "there’s something here that we’ve helped to make."

There were about two dozen folks at the orientation and we started the evening by introducing ourselves. It warmed my heart to hear the different stories about why they came… there were a few college grads looking to keep busy while searching for that "real-world" career, a few unemployed workers looking to fill up their free time, folks with relevant skills seeking to bring their talents to a worthy cause, and lifelong volunteers reaching out to a new community. What gave me chills is the number of SF residents who just said "I (heart) SF and I want to give back to the city." Some were natives, many have lived here going on 8, 11 years. It was just great to see the interest. Some people hadn’t even heard of Habitat, but came along to support friends or loved ones.

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Bingo Night at Laguna Honda Hospital

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Last Thursday, some of my fellow Sterling co-workers and I helped out at Laguna Honda Hospital with the monthly Bingo Night that’s organized by Hands on Bay Area. Let me tell you, what a fun and interesting evening we had! We arrived to the hospital, equipped with prizes and ready to play. After receiving a quick orientation from the Hands on Bay Area project leader, we each joined a table or picked a certain resident to sit with and keep company. Unfortunately, I didn’t  bring much luck to the people at my table since there wasn’t a single resident who was able to call out Bingo! Actually, one woman did, but it was a false alarm. In any case, I still like to think I brought them great company.

The hospital had a pretty cool Bingo room with their giant Bingo "score board" lit up on the wall. They also had a big box that held and spun all the numbered Bingo balls, which I have to say, made me feel like I was on TV watching the drawing of the California Super Lotto.  Fun times indeed. 

Overall, the night was a wonderful opportunity to visit the residents, keep them company and cheer them on. It turned out to be a much more fulfilling and enjoyable experience than I think any of us anticipated. It was great getting to interact with the residents, see their smiles when they won and especially how much joy the "simple things" brought them. We all agreed that this was something we’d definitely do again!