Offices would be better if they were more like cars

Offices would be much better places to work if they were more like cars.

“New car models are often embedded with technologies that make driving easier, safer and more fun.

“Sensors tell drivers if there is a truck in their blind spot or if they are about to back into another car when parking. Some cars allow drivers to safely take their hands off the wheel. Increasingly, more will be Wi-Fi enabled. The car doesn’t just provide transportation anymore—it actually helps people be better drivers,“ says Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office.

“So why can’t we embed technology in the office to help people feel, work and think better?

“A lot more people will drive a smart car to go to work in a dumb office. But this simply has to change and it will change.”

People used to think that technology would make offices obsolete—but the opposite is happening. Technology will be embedded in offices so it actually helps people work better and makes the workplace even more relevant.

“It will help people cope with the sense of overwhelm they often feel as work has intensified and the pace of change has accelerated. It will also help organisations design the kinds of spaces that workers love to work in versus have to work in.
Technology will be embedded in offices so it actually helps people work better and makes the workplace even more relevant.”

Work is fundamentally more complex than ever before. Workers who used to be assigned to a single project team now find themselves juggling multiple teams and tasks, constantly switching from one set of tasks to another, transitioning from one work mode to the next and orchestrating their way through a maze of meetings. The constant focus-shifting wastes time and drains energy.

When it comes to technology workers are already familiar with such mobile phones, laptops and Wi-Fi, this has had the impact of freeing employees who used to be tethered to their desks.

“It’s liberating—people have more choices about where and how to work.”

But it has also caused information overload as data has multiplied exponentially. And increasing globalisation brings new ideas and team members from all over the world.

“For example, video-conferencing makes collaboration across time zones easier. But it also means that you can’t just book one conference room for a meeting—now you need to book multiple spaces for your global team’s video call. So collaboration improved, but meeting scheduling got more complicated.

Think about a conference room that can alert you before the meeting ends, to make sure you wrap up what you need to accomplish before the next group stands impatiently outside the door, waiting for you to get moving.

“What if it could also recognise you and bring up notes from your last team meeting and adjust the lighting to the levels you prefer?

“And what if offices had a data stream that knew which rooms are always busy and which rooms no one seems to like. With this information, organisations can better understand what’s working and what’s isn’t.”

Just as technology in today’s cars is improving the driving experience, tomorrow’s office will harness the power of emerging technologies.

“It will allow people to more easily navigate the complexity of work as well as help organisations create better work experiences for individuals and teams” Andrews concluded.

Open plan: the suboptimal office?

Although the current work zeitgeist is for open plan offices, further thought is needed to keep different types of office workers happy throughout the workday.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says the open plan office has been around since the 1960s when it was first introduced in Germany to boost communication and de-emphasise status.

“As the idea took hold in North America in the decades that followed, employers switched from traditional offices with one or two people per room to large, open spaces.

“Right now, it is estimated that roughly two-thirds of U.S. workers spent their days in open-plan offices. South Africa has a similar experience.”

But as the layout became commonplace, problems emerged.

A 2002 study of Canadian oil-and-gas-company employees who moved from a traditional office to an open one found that on every aspect measured, from feelings about the work environment to co-worker relationships to self-reported performance, employees were significantly less satisfied in the open office.

One explanation for why this might be is that open offices prioritise communication and collaboration but sacrifice privacy.

“A reason for this is that ‘architectural privacy’ (the ability to close one’s door) went hand in hand with a sense of ‘psychological privacy’. And a healthy dose of psychological privacy correlates with greater job satisfaction and performance.” Trim noted.

With a lack of privacy comes noise—the talking, typing, and even chewing co-workers.
A 1998 study found that background noise, whether or not it included speech, impaired both memory and the ability to do mental arithmetic, while another study found that even music hindered performance. There’s also the question of lighting.

Says Trim: “Open offices tend to cluster cubicles away from windows, relying more on artificial light. Research has shown that bright, overhead light intensifies emotions, enhancing perceptions of aggression which could lead to a lack of focus during meetings if arguments get heated.”

Another under-appreciated twist is that different personality types respond differently to office conditions. For example, a study on background music found its negative effects to be much more pronounced for introverts than for extroverts.

“Even the office coffee machine could be hurting some employees. Although a moderate dose of caffeine was found to enhance long-term information retention and was ranked as the most important thing in the workplace by an Inspiration Office survey in 2016, caffeine has previously been shown to hinder introverts’ cognitive performance during the workday.”

A recent craze is the standing desk, inspired by the widely reported health risks of sitting all day. One study found that people who sat at least six hours a day had a higher risk of premature death than those who sat three hours or fewer—regardless of physical-activity level. But being on one’s feet presents its own health risks: standing for more than eight hours a day has been tied to back and foot pain.

So what’s a company to do?

“Give employees their own private offices, with plenty of sun, and turn off the overhead lights.

“Supply the introverts with noise-canceling headphones and decaf, but pump the extroverts full of caffeine and even let them listen to music now and then.

“And don’t let anyone sit too much—or stand too much.” Trim adds.

Despite the well worn office mantra of group work being central to success, businesses often struggle to offer effective collaborative spaces. This is according to Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy.

Says Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office: “Historically, most collaboration in South Africa has occurred through formal, scheduled meetings having many participants.

“As a result, organisations have had years of experience building conference rooms and other formal meeting spaces. These spaces were designed to facilitate large group work processes, efficient client exchanges of information and decision making.”

Andrews notes that the need for innovation, improved productivity and particularly speedy decision making are the principal drivers behind the charge towards collaborative, less structured workspaces.

“This is especially true when you consider 70% of great, innovative ideas at work come from people collaborating,” he says. “The search for competitive advantage through innovation and effective decision-making has led many organisations to highly value group-oriented work and workspaces.”

Today’s collaborative spaces fall short of expectations, driven by a lack of spaces to support the most valued types of collaboration, and a lack of adaptability of both furnishings and technology within the spaces.

“While the most highly prized collaborations are informal in nature, they need to be supported with the right design characteristics such as convenient location, support for social and small group work interactions, and casual look and feel.”

Most organisations consider the social component of work separate from “work” spaces. To foster social interaction, some copy the obvious characteristics of successful public spaces (the café, bar, market, lounge) mistakenly hoping that the variety of social interactions occurring in the public versions of these spaces will translate to a business setting.

However, organisations have few insights into supporting innovation other than to encourage as much interaction as possible and “wait for the magic to happen”. Organisations know their group spaces are under-performing, but do not know how to respond.

Andrews says that while the trend to establish comfortable, informal collaborative spaces within offices has taken hold in Europe and particularly in the US over the past few years, and to some degree in South Africa, he expects the trend to accelerate here in 2017.

“The economy is sluggish and adding a collaborative space in an unused office area means you can enhance office facilities without taking on extra spaces and bumping up the rent or spending a lot on expensive office reconfiguration.

“Another advantage is because these spaces typically consist of things like screened off areas, perch tables with high stools, booths with comfortable ottomans and chairs, they are easy to move to a new office.”

Andrews says that the types of collaborative spaces offered continue to evolve- the most rapidly growing categories support brainstorming, small unplanned meetings, videoconferencing and project team work.

“In the future, most collaborative spaces will offer features that facilitate connection to technology, sharing of visual information, adaptability to changing work process and amenities such as food, beverages and daylight,” he concludes.

Hay fever? Get an aircon

The sun is rising a little earlier and things are heating up around the country, signalling the onset of spring knocking at our doorstep.

To most of us, this means no more wearing layers upon layers of clothes while out. For others it signals the beginning of a period where hay fever unleashes a relentless onslaught of sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose, or itchiness in your nose, the roof of your mouth, throat, eyes or ears, enough to incapacitate even the toughest individuals.

All these uncomfortable conditions can definitely lead to a loss of productivity in the workplace, put a dampener on your mood and leave you none-too-keen on enjoying the spring weather.

The biggest spring allergy trigger is pollen. Trees, grasses, and weeds release these tiny grains into the air to fertilize other plants causing millions of people around the world suffer from their effects.

As much as there are external triggers such as pollen and dust, there are also internal triggers from within your own home. These allergy triggers can include dust mite droppings, animal dander, cockroach droppings and molds, just to mention a few of the really nasty ones. On top of these there are also germs in the air that we pass on to each other in spaces like offices or even at home.

With exposure to some kind of allergen or floating bacteria an imminent reality, one would need to live in a bubble to not suffer those effects. The latest conventional air conditioning units might be able to protect you from most of these elements but research has revealed that they may be making you sick – by collecting and harboring harmful germs that then get re-circulated into your home or office. The bacteria gets trapped in the filters and begin to multiply before eventually reentering your home.

So how do we battle all these bacteria? Using an air purifying system works effectively on airborne, adhesive and in-filter trapped micro-organisms such as bacteria and viruses thus providing a cleaner living environment.

By Nelmarie Kapp, product marketing atPanasonic South Africa

Human spam: the scourge of the modern office

Such is the extent of “human spam” – the endless interruptions from colleagues – that many offices are now creating “do not disturb” zones so people can get quality work done.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, workplace specialists who consult across Africa, says it is increasingly common for companies to set up zones or rooms where absolutely no noise is permitted.

“They are essentially filling stations for the mind. We hear from companies than many people complain of only being able to get work done after 5pm when everyone else goes home. People try and work but find it hard to do more than a few minutes continuously because they are interrupted by the phone ringing, people watching funny videos on Facebook, other colleagues coming over to ask questions or the general hullabaloo of the office.”

Trim says it is absurd that so many people commute in to an office specifically to work and then are only really be able to get down to it once colleagues had gone home.

“We’ve also seen a trend in people taking work home to they can work in peace.”

To counter this and enable greater office productivity, Trim says they have been installing “quiet zones” which are reminiscent of old fashioned libraries in their rules.

“Typically this would be a room, a booth or an area where no talking, no cell phones or other disturbances are allowed. They are designed for when people really need to knuckle down and get work done free from the human spam of colleagues.”

Trim says they have designed and installed more than a dozen quiet zones this year alone and expect to see the number rise in the years ahead.

She notes that they are not intended to encourage some people to permanently work in them but rather provide a place for short, intense period of work where concentration and thinking is needed.

“Companies have noted that these zones improve productivity because someone can go and knock out a particular job in an hour say. The same work in the general office area often takes three or four times as long because of all the interruptions.

“But it’s more than that. The quality and accuracy of work tends to be higher too.”

Trim also notes that it also seemed to be a boon for keeping colleague relationships sweet: “Instead of sitting at a desk fuming because someone won’t keep quiet, a worker can simply slip away to a quiet space.”

She adds than quiet spaces are “plug and play” – completely ready for work.

“Typically, have good Internet connectivity, clean uncluttered worktops and calming, pared down furniture.”

Reclaimed wood makes a comeback

A Cape furniture designer is recycling discarded cellar items into pieces of masterfully crafted furniture by breathing new life into old wine barrels.

For the past 17 years, Vinwood has been crafting unique indoor and outdoor furniture from reclaimed French oak, sourced from the winelands of the Western Cape where it was once used as wine barrels and casks. The furniture gives homes a welcoming ambience with Vinwood’s simplistic, functional yet timeless designs.

“The casks and tanks that we salvage date from the past two centuries and we preserve the character of these giants by carefully incorporating the markings and numbering on the staves left by the craftsman who made these items decades ago. The barrel, and stave numbers can be seen on the edges of our Reserve Range tables, making each piece a collector’s item,” says CEO Jianni Geras.

Vinwood’s manufacturing process relies largely on skilled labour, as the nature of the curved barrel timber demands hand selection and hand crafting.

Encapsulating the history and romance of the wine that the wood used to cradle within it, wineries such as Spier, Boschendal, Bilton, Devonvale, Whalehaven, Jordan and Zorgvliet have commissioned Vinwood for unique pieces of furniture.

“Green living is a big trend in South Africa and identifying a gap for unique items which become conversation starters, together with looking remarkable in the home makes our furniture a logical solution,” Geras says.

“We take pride in the fact that 90% of our material is re-cycled timber and from an environmentally sustainable source. The 10% new oak that we use is also from sustainable forests in North America, although it is not recycled wood.”

The large range consists of patio and cellar furniture, coffee tables, lounge and occasional seats, dining room tables and chairs, high chairs, as well as kitchen accessories.

What makes an office not just mediocre, but exceptional? How can a design that has all the functional elements be taken one step further?

It comes down to the little finishing touches. The splash of colours and textures. The furniture and art. The detail that is incorporated into the design. These finishing touches bring together the elements of a room and set the tone for the space.

Choose a design company, such as Giant Leap, who knows how to carefully choose these features, spending time pulling together the overall design of a room.

In 2016, Giant Leap has seen certain trends coming through with these finer details. A lot of natural materials, textures and neutral colours have been incorporated in the design and accessories. Pops of colour are brought in through aspects such as the art, scatter cushions for the furniture and the objects that may be placed around the room. At the moment, favoured materials are copper, brass, wood and marble.

An integral part is also ensuring that the overall design works with the finishing touches. Some offices have been designed with intentionally exposed elements, such as exposed roof beams or unpainted concrete. In these instances, the accessories or finishing touches will tie the space together and highlight the design. The finishing touches work hand-in-hand with the design to enhance the space and ensure that it leaves a positive impression.

Although lighting may not be considered a finishing touch, it is! The use of floor lamps, table lamps and pendants can provide a warmer, calming atmosphere, affecting how a space is perceived. It’s an important part of the design that can really tie together the tone of a room.

Ensure a design that is exceptional from floor to ceiling by inspiring creativity, enhancing productivity and focusing on the finer  details.

Think desk workers spending their days in front of a computer aren’t likely to get injured on the job?

Think again.

More than half of all workplace injuries are related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) — injuries that are common among those who engage in repetitive motion activities as typing on a computer keyboard.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, says that even the seemingly ‘safest’ jobs lead to employee injuries and a large cost to the bottom line of business.

“In fact, nearly 60 percent of employees doing office computer work say they have wrist pain.

“Long days hunched over keyboards can lead to cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) and lower back ailments.”

Here are some other common complaints:

  • Muscle fatigue or pain. Working for long periods in the same position or in awkward positions can put stress on hands and wrists and lead to injury.
  • Eye strain. Sitting too close to — or prolonged staring at — a monitor can reduce eye blinking and may lead to dry or aching eyes.
  • Lower back pain. Using laptops or non-adjustable office furniture can cause employees to work at awkward angles and lead to back stress.

Andrews notes that several trends make CTDs a special concern for today’s typical office workers.

“So many employees use computers all day and then also sit down at the computer at home to surf the Internet or even catch up on work.

“Secondly, specialised jobs are on the increase the world over. This means more people are doing the same thing all day. And finally, people are living longer and also working longer which means many more years of wear and tear on the body.”

According to South African workplace research company Know More, only 40% of 10 000 South African workers surveyed feel that their workplace environment supports their wellbeing.

And this doesn’t just exact a physical toll on employees, it can have a significant impact on businesses’ bottom line.

“For example,in 2003 in the US, the average medical claim associated with a CTD was over $43 000. Now it’s over $50 000. And that doesn’t even include the hidden costs for employers of lost productivity when an employee is injured or the cost of hiring and training a replacement worker.”

So what’s a business to do?

“Don’t think that a desk and chair is all that employees need,” Andrews advises.

Ergonomics, or the process of safely and comfortably relating workers to their work- spaces, can help by reducing the likelihood of work related injuries through greater emphasis on a well designed workspace.

“Studies have shown that a well-designed office space can increase efficiency by up to 36%.”

Andrews adds that Inspiration Office has increasingly installed several ‘collaborative spaces’ with furniture like couches and coffee tables.

“These are designed not only for teamwork, but also to encourage people to move around and change their workstations to reduce repetitive actions during the day.”

Moving is particularly important: according to the same Know More survey, only 21% of South African office workers feel that their workplaces offer sufficient areas to allow physical activity.

It needn’t be costly either. “When one considers that in most organisations 80% of the budget is allocated to people in the form of salaries, while only 7% is allocated to space, by leveraging the smallest cost line item better – businesses can obtain a return in efficiency in the biggest cost line item,” says Andrews.

For instance, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests measure such as leaving enough room for range of motion, adjusting desk chairs to individuals, positioning monitors so eye level is at the top of the screen and finding a pointing device, such as a mouse, stylus or tablet, suited to the individual.

There are many other simple things employers can consider to help protect their workers and their pocketbooks. For example:

  • Stress the importance of good posture at the computer;
  • Use smart lifting techniques and tools that can make the job easier;
  • Appoint someone on your staff to take responsibility for safety issues. Have this person understand ergonomics best practices, review resources provided by your workers’ compensation insurance company, train employees, and make changes to workspaces as needed; and
  • Take breaks throughout the work day to walk about.

Major risk factors that add to cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs):

  • Static posture
  • Awkward posture
  • Repetition
  • Force and/or vibration
  • Extreme temperature

Safe behaviours that limit CTDs:

  • Good posture
  • Correct workstation setup
  • Occasional rest breaks
  • Task variation
  • Proper lifting techniques

“Common sense measures can go a long way to preventing these types of injuries, “Andrews adds.

South African companies are following the global trend of leasing office furniture rather than buying it in an effort to be more capital efficient and improve cash flows – a move consistent with the “rent, don’t buy” economy.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy with head offices in Johannesburg, said that since Inspiration Office pioneered furniture leasing in South Africa in 2013 through its financing arm, the company has seen a 30% spike in South African business leasing rather than owning office furniture.

“We expect this trend to continue as the economy remains sluggish. It’s very efficient to pay a small monthly amount for a few years rather than have a large cash outflow for furniture that is often quickly out of date.

“Furniture leasing is an operating expense rather than a capital expense thereby improving cash flow. For example a chair worth R4 000 can be leased for around R3 a day for a five-year period.”

Andrews notes that in the US, often a leading indicator of international offices trends, office furniture leasing has now superseded sales over the past three years and is growing at a rate of nearly 20% a year. And the total value of the furniture leased in the US in the past 20 years has now topped $1,5-billion.

“We’ve noticed a similar trend in Europe as well as small but growing demand for leasing in other African countries too.”

Andrews also said that office spaces are getting smaller and more efficient as business embrace the mobile working trend and workers share space by hot-desking.

“Because employees are now working remotely – or on gadgets like the iPads and very small laptops,offices need smaller furniture. And leasing it enables business to be nimble about downscaling large, bulky furniture, freeing up office space and saving money.

“Ironically desks in many companies haven’t changed in size for the past 30 years since the days of deep monitor computer screens and paper file storage. We have smart cars, smart devices but offices in the main have remained ‘stupid’.”

Andrews added that the shift towards leasing furniture over buying, is consistent with societal trends of renting rather than owing.

“People lease their cars, or in some instances have gotten rid of their cars altogether to only use Uber. Some people rent their homes, companies ‘rent’ people by using freelancers or hire people for short term projects. The trend towards renting over owning is one that can be seen everywhere.”

Furniture lease periods in South Africa are typically for three, four or five years. At the end of the term, businesses can buy the furniture, lease new furniture, or opt to have it recycled ensuring green disposal of unwanted desks, chairs and storage units – the most popular items leased.

Andrews concluded that many of South African’s top companies have taken to leasing and he expects the trend to continue.

Next time you finish washing your hands in a public bathroom, you may want to think twice when you choose between a jet hand dryer and paper towels. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, jet air dryers spray 1 300 times more viral plaques than paper towels.

Some viral plaques (clumps of viruses) were launched nearly 10 feet from the dryer itself, Popular Science reported. The study, which was published in January, was trending on Monday.

Researchers at the University of Westminster compared paper towels, warm air dryers and jet dryers.

Participants were asked to dip their gloved hands into a solution of a harmless virus, MS2. They then gave their hands a quick shake and tried one of the three drying methods, Popular Science reported. Next, samples were collected from the air and surfaces at different distances from where the drying took place.

The study authors observed that jet dryers spread up to 60 times more germs than the traditional hand dryers and 1 300 times more than standard paper towels.

The research did not test the different drying methods’ distribution of bacteria, which are much larger and can cause disease.

Source: www.foxnews.com

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