In praise of the naked business

the thinker

I have a confession to make.

I run my business from a chair.  I’m not kidding.

Writing books. Preparing speeches. Blogging. Consulting with companies from all over the world. It all happens right here.

My chairIt wasn’t always this way.  I have loved having a private, beautiful, quiet office but when I moved a few years ago, I put off setting up the desk for a few weeks as our lives settled into a new home. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. I found that I didn’t need all that stuff. I discovered that my desk was simply a place to hold photos, books, and files and I can do all of that on an iPhone.

Consequently, my beautiful desk has remained under cloth sheets in the garage for four years. I have come to embrace the simple, mobile business life. The world headquarters for Schaefer Marketing Solutions is wherever I am sitting.

By contrast, I recently visited the glorious offices of a Fortune 500 Titan. Up on the 50th floor of a skyscraper, many of the private offices had a leather couch, beautiful art, and tasteful decor. Quite a shock to my senses. It occurred to me that they really don’t need any of that stuff. Just get a good chair and wi-fi would do it, right? They could profit from living in my world for a little while!

I’ve come to take pride in this simple business approach. I can beg and borrow a meeting room when I need it. I commandeered the family dining room when I had to spread out documents, outlines, and research while writing a book. I thrive with almost no overhead. I run a naked business.

Naked on the run

We have our house up for sale (time to down-size) and the unpredictable flow of potential buyers has disrupted my nakedness. The other day I had a solid morning of interviews to help promote my new book, Born to Blog. The hub-bub of the local coffee shop certainly would not do. I needed a very quiet space. So I moved my company headquarters to my father-in-law’s house.

“Do you have wi-fi?” I asked my elderly father-in-law.

“I believe so,” he said.

At that point, I should have known this was going to be trouble … but I went ahead and set up shop any way.

He did indeed have wi-fi and I began my first radio interview, which was to last 30 minutes. As soon as I got on the call his grandfather clock started gonging. And it was noon! 12 gongs! LOUD gongs!

I grabbed my laptop, and ran out the nearby door to his back deck to escape the clanging clock.

As I was concentrating on the interview questions, a neighbor with a snow-white handlebar mustache came wandering across the yard. “Is Orville home?” he yelled.  I frantically pointed to my headphones. He looked puzzled. I guess he thought I was hooked up to my computer as some sort of hearing aid because then he started to yell loudly at me, “Is Orville home?”

I ducked back into the house. The phone started ringing. Yes, he still has a home phone. And an answering machine. But not just any answering machine. This is an answering machine that yells “The phone is ringing!  The phone is ringing!” I cannot completely explain this. I think they must have bought this off a late night infomercial or something. “My phone is ringing and I can’t get up!” Or something like that.

I ducked back outside, still towing my laptop.  Another neighbor had just fired up his riding lawn mower. I ducked back inside the house desperate to find a corner of peace and quiet.

The phone was ringing again. A voice came on the answering machine. “Orville, I just wanted to let you know there is a strange man talking to himself on your back porch. Are you safe over there?”

I ran out the front door, as a huge garbage truck came barreling down the street. I ran back inside.

Seeing me run all over the house, my father-in-law concluded that my interview must be over. “Can I make you a salad?” he asked in his booming voice. I muted the call and explained to him that I was still working. As my mother-in-law started her vacuum cleaner.

I ran into the bathroom and closed the door.  Finally, I had a quiet space. Small. But quiet. The lights flickered. And when out. The power, and the wi-fi, was gone.

Naked revisited

OK. Maybe I do need that office.

I was traumatized by this experience, or maybe I am simply looking for an excuse to treat myself to a real office again. Perhaps I was a bit hasty about this naked business thing.

As we prepare to move again — hopefully for the last time in a LONG time — I’m re-considering the idea of a big ol’ manly office. A moffice. Or, I guess “mofo” for short? My mofo — a place to escape into business bliss!

I’ve proved that I can successfully create, consult, and coach on a global scale without the trappings of leather and fine art. However, as I enter the next phase of my career, it might just be enshrined in mahogany after all.  Moffice 2.0?

How do you work? Naked or covered up? Go.

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  • Deanysus

    I gotta say, the headline drew my eye. Overall, good read. Thanks!

  • Oh my goodness, this made me laugh til the tears ran down my cheeks! My take? Naked and office, and then you can always make the choice, based on your mood that day. Cheers! Kaarina

  • Ok, that was the best story Mark! Not quite to that extent, but I have totally been there while trying to get work done at home with my two small girls around. I relish coming into my office for that very reason. But, the idea of simplicity and working from a comfy chair has its own appeal. Next time you are in NYC, stop on by, and you will have a quiet place in the midst of Times Square madness. 🙂

  • Ah yes. The back-up plan, eh? Very savvy solution!

  • Oh that would be great. I am usually in the city at least once a month but do not have anything scheduled for the summer. Maybe September? Look forward to it!

  • Headlines are important : )

  • I think offices are less about needing the space but about creating an environment of productivity. My wife and I live in a small apartment so I don’t really have an “office space.” What I do have is a desk. When I’m at that desk, I’m doing something productive. That’s my space reserved for work and thinking.

    The chair option sounds great and relaxing. It’s amazing how many things that we really don’t need to be productive. Some of my most productive times have been working on a flight, a place not known for its room 🙂

  • Thanks a lot Mark for making me laugh in this rainy day (May used to be very sunny and warm here in Rome, but today it looks like november).

    I am…naked right now, but looking forward to having a real office and the freedom to decide every day where to work from!

    Have a great day 🙂

    Giuseppe

  • HAHA! I know EXACTLY what you mean, Mark. This is why I get very little done when I’m at my parent’s house in Missouri. The noise. The people. The distractions. I’ve run around their house before trying to find a quiet to take calls. Very hard indeed.

    It’s funny – people glamorize the idea of working from a coffee shop (or anywhere, for that matter) and that just doesn’t work for me. The chairs are uncomfortable. The wi-fi is slow (or sometimes, gets turned off!). It’s noisy, making it impossible to take calls. Outlets are sparse. You get the picture.

    So, while I have a similarly “naked” business where I work from home, I’ve invested more in my office. I completely remodeled my closet to better maximize shelving and file storage. And, my next investment will be a stand-up desk so I can work standing or sitting. It’s all about creating an environment that’s conducive to working. And, for everyone, that’s going to look a little different.

  • This is a very key idea. What I find is that when the family sees me in “the chair” they don;t connect the fact that I am “in the office.” That’s a problem not having a designated productive space. Thanks for the great comment Drew! Good to hear from you!

  • Glad you enjoyed it Giuseppe. Thanks for letting me know!

  • Yes, yes, yes. All of that! I am finding that I need a designated space to draw a line around the “area of productivity!” And I MUST have great wifi!!

  • I’m actually a fan of leaving the house. Granted, my full-time position is in an office separated from my house by 60-minutes of mind-numbing traffic. But when I’m doing my freelance work, I still prefer to get up and go to a coffee shop (unless it’s 11pm at night, which is actually the most common time I do freelance work). There’s something about moving to an unfamiliar place, or at least less familiar than my house with a cat that insists on sitting on my keyboard, that makes me more productive.

  • Jill Van Nostran

    With 3 kids at home while I’m working, I can completely relate. Thankfully, they’re usually on the other side of the house in the playroom or outside with the nanny. But still. Never seems to fail that when I’m just starting an important call, someone starts crying loudly or banging on my door. Also, my husband is begging me to move back to K’ville. Maybe I should move into your house… ? 🙂

  • MrTonyDowling

    You built up quite a picture there Mark! Very entertaining read today!
    I manage both, my corporate office is needed for my proper job, meetings, interviewing and coaching and all sorts. My blogging and conference stuff is done everywhere and anywhere – best of both worlds I guess?!
    The tools are key thought – where ever you are, if your connection keeps dropping or you’ve power problems things are quite different 🙂

  • Your chair office sounds like excellent feng shui! For the Moffice 2.0, you will have learned to rid the space of unnecessary clutter, so it should still offer you excellent feng shui.

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud on this cloudy Pennsylvania Monday.

  • Funny! I have worked at home and sometimes still do (as I did with a recent bout with the flu that I didn’t want to share with my co-workers). Even if I was self-employed I like the idea of “going to work” somewhere different from home. Of course there are those rent-by-the-hour-or-day office suites in town.

  • Brooke Ballard

    This was AWESOME to read. I’m in my office – which is pretty simple – laughing hysterically. I’ve had a similar experience at my grandparents’ house a Christmas or two.

    There are days when I work from the couch or the dining room table. I like to mix it up. Being mobile, or on a laptop, can afford us that mobility; the notion that we should be chained to a desk is “old school” in my mind. Go where you’re productive. Go where the day takes you. Go naked or fully clothed – as long as you’re getting the work done who cares?

  • Love this post, Mark–I’ve had those moments, and your tale of a day at your father-in-law’s house had me in stitches. Thanks for sharing!

    And, when I’m not working from a hotel or a plane, my “office” is a barstool at our kitchen counter (or, when the weather gets nicer, an adirondack chair on our 18th floor deck).

  • Morgan

    Wow! I was laughing and cringing at the same time! It’s difficult to work from home sometimes. To be quite honest, I thought I was cut out to work from home, but the mere ACT of LEAVING the house to an office (even if that office happens to be a park or library, or an actual office), it helps me work a lot more effectively. And in your case, having your own devoted space can be helpful in certain situations. 🙂

    Moffice 2.0 sounds like a lovely plan!

    Good luck!

  • Currently work pretty naked. Also looking forward to the next move, when I intend to create a combo office-man cave. As for all the corporate trappings – who needs it??

  • Sometimes even having an “office-y” office doesn’t help. Our very first office was next to a brewery, where they would roll kegs down the hallway every Friday afternoon to the truck. We had another office building where one of our neighbors was a holistic healer and we would have to walk through clouds of moxa smoke to get to our suite, and now we have an interior design business neighbor who is constantly building out their suite!

    Sometimes my porch at home is more productive…

  • Good point. I was talking to this sleep doctor and he said you need to reserve your bed for sleeping. If you use it for watching TV, eating, reading, you are less likely to associate it with sleep. Makes sense for an office, too?

  • Yes. Please do that. I can make you a deal ! : )

  • My observation is that Europe is still more formal and traditional with work space. Is that changing?

  • Yes, I definitely am in the clutter-free mode when I work. It’s distracting! Happy to have made you smile : )

  • Very much so!

  • Yes, I have looked into them but what I really value about working from home is the productivity gain by not having to travel. Or shower. Or get dressed. OK. Maybe that was too much information.

    But the point is, I can save two hours a day or more by not commuting and that is incredibly powerful.

  • Try it with two girls under 7. When we worked together most of our work took place with me sitting on the master bathroom floor behind two locked doors. The one door on my girl cave/office wasn’t sufficient distance from the rabble. 🙂

  • The only requirement I have is quiet, really. If there are conversations going on in the next room, or a TV I find it hard to concentrate. Other than that, I am one mobile dude. : )

  • It’s funny. I have a very lovely deck overlooking a forest. You would think this would be an ideal place to work. But then I can’t see the computer screen because of glare. Or the sun starts beating on me. Or the bugs come out. Or I see a pretty bird. Or a squirrel starts some antics. There are too many shiny balls. Hopefully I will have a better outdoor system at the new house : ) Always honored to have you comment Tom!

  • I do think there is a moffice in my future. Thanks so much for commenting Morgan!

  • A-ha! You have seen through my ultimate plan. The office that BECOMES the man cave. Luckily, my wife does not read the comment section. Let’s keep this between us Steve. : )

  • Until very recently I worked from a home office. During the school year it remained mostly quiet until the kids got home and then things sometimes would take a turn.

    There were conference calls made with a half dozen kids and three dogs barking, fighting, screaming, crying and or laughing in the background.

    And now you know why it wasn’t unusual to find me working in the dead of night when the kids and dogs were asleep…mostly. 😉

  • Great story. I have an office in town right beside a gym which I love! As I do more and more work with people in the US I quite often have to get on a call in the evening so I can relate to your ducking and diving! My kids have a perfect knack of coming into the home office as soon as the call starts so sometimes I have to run upstairs with my laptop in hand still trying to talk seriously on a skype call!!!

  • That story was riotous. I gotta thank you for sharing…

  • Thanks for that real-life perspective Rosemary!!

  • Ha!! I can picture that!

  • That would drive me nuts. I need peace with my quiet! : )

  • Yup. A office on the run. A memorable Skype call was with a guy in Europe and his little boy kept peeking over the desk to see me on the call!

  • My pleasure!

  • This is hilarious now but probably not so funny while it was happening. As funny as it would be to have the whole thing on video, there’s no need. Your vivid story had everything but maybe a barking dog and a siren.

    Mark, you’ve been to our creative campus of six old homes converted to offices. So you’ll understand when I say we’re convinced that our landscaping crew coordinates their blowers according to our conference calls and webinars. And then there’s the train that runs on the same irregular schedule right across the road. It’s adds character to every call when they blow their horn for us. I usually just sing a line from Petticoat Junction and tell our client I’m calling from the top a phone poll like Mr. Douglas from Green Acres.

    I never thought of it that way before, but I suppose we run a naked business too.

  • Mark, another great post, interesting read. I had an office / shared space with a client back in late ’90’s – since that venture went away I have had an office in my home (13 years now) but also increasingly working in the mobile space.. I’ll always maintain the desk (usually kinda cluttered) and separate room as I have found it helpful psychologically. I try not to be “at work” in the living room, even though I can. I find that I am more productive at writing, in particular, when I walk in at sit down at my desk computer. It signifies to my mind that it’s time to focus and get to work.
    Best to you for the week ahead, thanks – Trace

  • I wrote a similar post. I used to think my office was wherever my MacBook used to be. Now it’s wherever my head is — because my work takes place in my head. http://www.diannahuff.com/2013/02/how-i-work-hint-im-no-longer-tied-to-a-desk/

  • Definitely hear you on that-lots of time wasted looking at a very accident-prone roadway. I have found I have to shower and dress-not in a suit and tie mind you-to get into work mode.

  • This was great! I laughed and laughed. Thanks @markwilliamschaefer:disqus ! Seems like having a “back-up tested plan” is critical to keeping your nakedness as primary!

  • Even better, by then we will be in our new office. It will be a real treat!

  • MrTonyDowling

    Not sure, as in my experience its always been ok to use the coffee shops / flexible offices?
    It maybe that it’s pretty flexible compared to what it’s been, and I’ve not noticed before!

  • Come to think of it, I could mistake you for Uncle Joe on that TV show : ) I do enjoy that train!

  • Very interesting the role that symbolism plays in our work space. That has been mentioned a few times in the comments. Thanks Tracy!

  • Wow. You are getting REALLY naked. I know that can be taken out of context but I think you know what I mean! : )

  • The Plan B Moffice : )

  • Oh my word…that was great!!! I run our office completely naked. When you’re working with coders, their hours aren’t exactly 8-5. I want them at their best, even if that means websites are being developed at 2 in the morning by people in jammies.

  • LOL — thanks Mark. 🙂

  • There you go. Sounds like a strategy! Flexible and naked. A good business model, among other things.

  • For the past 9 years I have worked from home when I am not traveling. I sit in a chair similar to yours Mark. When I am on a call and my dogs bark I explain I work in a pet friendly office. Most people respond with ‘I wish I had a job like yours’. I can’t imagine having it any other way. There was one time when I was having work done in my yard that I did resort to sitting in a closet because the noise. It was a small sacrifice to make.

  • Naked in the Moffice.
    – Sounds like a blog post in the works, Mark.

    I had a home office years ago, but the kids (along with the neighbor’s dogs) drove me out. Now that they are older I could work to create the ultimate man cave / man office, but I have a feeling I would drive my wife insane.

    Seriously, I have to have an office away from home. Even with limited distractions I get more done when I’m not at home. Why? Well, when I’m at home I start thinking about all the fix-it things, chores, etc. that need to be done around the house. Plus the refrigerator is always there 😉

  • Ha! Thanks for sharing Tracy!

  • I’m pretty disciplined in that way. In fact, the challenge for me sometimes is to STOP working (as I reply to this comment at 10 p.m.! ) But it’s fun for me.

  • This is classic for today Mark and I can certainly relate. I have downsized but not yet naked, I do have an in home office that is a not much larger than a broom closet! However I am often sitting elsewhere with iPhone in hand as I am at this moment. In my world it is invigorating to be so mobile as you have shared, even with an occasional Laurel and Hardy moment.

  • LOL! You gave me quite the chuckle picturing you running around the house trying to escape all the noises that come from an environment that doesn’t understand this type of working model!

  • Mark, I enjoyed your interview on Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels podcast. If that was the interview you described in this post, it didn’t show. Good luck with the new book!

  • Re: Europe more formal with workspace – I think the setup in the UK is the same as in America. Remote working over Skype has been the game changer, particularly when both parties are happy to go by voice alone and leave the video picture out.

    Maybe it’s do with the nature of working as an independent consultant? For in person meetings we meet in coffee shops, at offices of clients and in hotel lounges. When I was a salaried lawyer there was a lot more formality involved in meetings.

  • OMG that was the funniest mental image. Ever. But can I tell you how many times I”ve had to take a business call in my bathroom because the two doors that separated me and whatever noise was on the other side (usually my kids). The funny thing is that Adrienne and I were just having this discussion last week as we talked about redesigning our office space. Like you, I couldn’t care less about desks.. if just holds “stuff”. Cool stuff, but stuff nonetheless. Since moving out of my home office, I have found that I spend less time at night working and for that my kids are happy. I guess it’s all about the business that you get done when you get down to business. Where it happens is up to you 🙂

  • FUNNY. But seriously, I like it. We have lives, kids or dogs who bother us while we’re on Skype and I think it adds character! I did finally succumb to a desk a while ago but I stay on the go when I need to – sometimes I belong in a coffee house or the gym’s cafe! I almost need to stay on the go to stay stimulated!

  • That is EXACTLY what it felt like! Good characterization Randy.

  • Yes, even my close family really has no idea what I do for a living or that I could be possibly working from a leather chair!

  • No, that was not the one, but i am sure the interview I did had a few gongs!!

  • Perfectly said. That theme would make a great blog post!

  • Oh not me. I need to stay put! All that moving wastes time and distracts my attention. You are clearly being conditioned another way, which is a good thing in this world!

  • OMG you made me laugh so hard! I’m working on my couch as I type this comment. I do have a home office, with a desk, etc., but lately I’ve found that especially when I have a lot of writing to do, the couch is the place for it. It’s perfectly quiet, there are no distractions, but it’s easier on my butt. Which makes a difference. 😉

    Recently I’ve been looking at part-time office spaces in DC… you know, the type where you can rent an office for X dollars a month. They’re very nice, but more and more, going into an office with four walls – ok, 3 walls and a door – is less and less appealing. If I’m going to get off my butt and go into the District, I’d much rather be in a communal space… I can get all the “alone” time I need at home. Even if I don’t know anyone in that space, the energy of the people around me makes me feel good… and when I feel good, I work well. I don’t know if that would qualify as a “naked” way of doing business… perhaps semi-clad?

  • I’ve found that for me there’s something psychologically helpful about sitting at a desk. I do a lot of reading in a chair without a desk, but when I have writing to get done I almost have to sit in a desk or I really struggle to get things done.

  • Mark — this is why I love this new world of work we’re all a part of. When I quit my job to start my own business, I made a list of all the things I didn’t need — that list included an office with a desk, chair, file cabinet, bookshelves, etc. but it also included Apple products (gasp!). I could argue that all of those things could help me in some way but I couldn’t say that I NEEDED them. All I really needed to start was a computer and wi-fi and the initiative and discipline to get things done.

    I started to add a lot of those things as I brought in income (I especially enjoy my MacBook Pro) but they have always been wants vs. needs.

    I really love the simplicity of your command center (chair). Imagine the hours saved (and money earned) from not having an office to clean!

  • Well said. A hybrid approach. Also I can confirm that anything that is easy on your butt will enable productivity. Why this has not been a product tag line yet I will never know. “We’re easy on the butt.” That is just gold waiting for somebody to claim it. : )

  • There’s that symbolic image again. Interesting comment Jake.

  • Years ago all my best work was done after 10 p.m. 😉

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  • Jayme Soulati

    OMGOmg…that is the funniest blog post I have ever read. That prompted a total belly laugh, Mark!

  • LizReusswig

    Just getting caught up on my reading and I’m still laughing – out loud, belly laughing! …great post on so many levels!!

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  • Great post! Can completely relate. Sometimes the house has been so quiet I go to the local cafe just to have a bit of human interaction whilst working, but as soon as you need the peace and quiet you can be assured that’s the day your phone rings constantly, the bin men seem to spend the day going up and down the street and the next door neighbour decides to cut their grass.

    I find I need the desk and office chair in order to fully concentrate, and we have one in our spare room. Sitting at that desk means work. Sitting in the livingroom I can see the dishes need done, suddenly the TV definitely needs dusted immediately and the chocolate biscuits stare at me from the kitchen cupboard. For me, that desk help me to stop procrastinating when I’m putting something off. If I am doing something that is easy or I’m excited to do, I can happily work from the couch, otherwise desk all the way.

  • Midge

    That was a funny post and one that all home office business owners can relate. We work from home overlooking a beach on one side and harbour on the other! Very gorgeous…most of the time it works a treat. However, there are times when my partner is on the phone to a client and the dog starts coughing and regurgitating, he’s a doberman so it’s very loud and sounds like someone vomitting! I always has a fear that the client will think it’s me in the background being sick .. We often think we could come clean and say its the dog…but mostly we laugh hysterically and get on it with. One of the downsides of a home office?

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