Make your office better in 2019

If looking around your office at motivational posters from 1988, psyche-ward green walls and rows of people slumped at rows of desks makes you want to run screaming for the exits, don’t worry, help is at hand.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says that despite so much evidence of the massive productivity and health benefits of more relaxed, people friendly spaces, many offices in South Africa are still quite dreary.

“But the good news is that it takes very little to make an office a much happier place to be. It’s a good time for business to use the new year as an opportunity to make offices charming to the eye rather than just utilitarian workplaces.”

Here’s how:

1. Make it feel like home

“There has been a huge movement toward the ‘home away from home’ style of office design called resi-mercial, a combination of residential and commercial design inspiration,“ Galloway-Gaul noted.

Employees need a work space that is separate from home but that doesn’t mean work can’t be comfortable and welcoming. Soft seating, coffee tables, bar height tables, kitchens, TVs all help to make people feel they are in a friendly place with familiar facilities.

2. Open the seating plan

We are all familiar now with the world’s biggest tech firms like Google, Amazon and Cisco Systems showing off all the super hip things they do for their employees. “Luckily you don’t need billions of dollars to break out of the work place mould,” said Galloway-Gaul. The lower cost concept of coworking brings an open seating plan and office structure that encourages cross-pollination of ideas, employees, and events in larger buildings. Instead of the same employees seeing each other every day, coworking spaces allow them to mingle with employees from other companies and used shared resources like gyms, canteens and conference rooms that smaller companies couldn’t afford alone.

3. More…. oxygen…please!

Trees, plants, and all things green not only bring some much needed vibrancy to normally bland, dull cubicles, but they bridge that gap between indoor and outdoor. “Plants not only look good and increase productivity they improve air quality and improve wellbeing. They also meet our human tendency to want to connect with nature, known as biophilia,” added Galloway-Gaul.

4. Embrace downtime

Bosses develop nervous ticks when you tell them employees need downtime during the work day. But they do. It’s good for their brains to take a break and relax.

If you can’t afford a water slide and a paintball hangar in the cafeteria, keep it simple. Said Galloway-Gaul: “Put a video game console in the break room or an old pinball machine in the lobby. Schedule theme days. It’s important to have fun with it.”

5. Hire a cutting edge architect – or plan B

A cutting edge architect comes from Sweden, wears black framed glasses for effect, sports a honey-coloured beard and wears a plaid shirt – and charges by the minute. But plan B can be effective too. Even a few quirky adjustments to the seating arrangement, furniture and lighting can make the work-space feel cool and unique in a way that excites employees to come in each day. It also fosters creativity.

6. Mix things up

While number 6 is not strictly an office improvement, it’s certainly a working life improvement. “While not everyone has the freedom to work at home, everyone should be given the opportunity, at least on occasion. The relaxation and freedom it offers suits many people. And it makes the office look a little bit fresher on your return,” said Galloway-Gaul.

7. Party like it’s 2999!

After hours parties and opportunities to relax and unwind are important to developing a creative, inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable. “It’s also important for people to get to know their colleagues in a more sociable setting,” Galloway-Gaul concludes.

Increasingly offices are beginning to look a lot more like our homes. But what is behind this popular global trend?

Linda Trim, Director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap said: “The term ‘resi-mercial,’ has been coined to describe this blending of residential and commercial furnishings and feel in the workplace. We are seeing greater numbers of requests for our installations to look more casual and more like home.”

Trim noted that it is all about about creating a space that people want to be in. When you think that we spend about a third of our lives working, no one wants to feel like they’re in an office.

“It’s not so much managing work, home and play but the blending of it.”She added that with more people using laptops instead of desktop computers, people are no longer tethered to a desk. “People pick up their laptops and will perhaps sit or lounge on a couch, much like they they do at home.”

More comfortable work space also appeals to younger employees Trim noted. “This is a really important consideration for companies in competition to attract and retain skilled workers.”

A mix of desks and couches is practical too – it makes it easier to do different types of work, from collaborative brainstorming sessions to heads down work.But it’s not just all about adding colourful sofas around the the office. Beyond the traditional desk, there are different sized couches, bar-tall tables let people sit or stand, and even work spaces that resemble a kitchen table or diner are popular.

“The right mix of furnishings can create an environment that increases employee engagement and satisfaction, which are considered key drivers to a company’s success. A space plays a role in the cognitive, physical and emotional well-being of workers. In that world, you have to think more about informal spaces,” says Trim.

Trim adds that home-like offices reduced the sense of hierarchy in offices. “Previously the ‘boss’ would have his own office in the corner while workers sat in rows somewhere else. A more casual environment does away with this old fashioned rigidity and can therefore reduce the tension in the workplace.”

The office you choose for your business has a direct impact on your employees, your clients, and of course your bottom line. But getting this incredibly important decision wrong could mean devastating consequences.

Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, says that picking the ideal work environment is a complex, time-consuming process.

“But if you can avoid these six common mistakes, there’s a good chance that your next office will deliver the commercial benefits you’re looking for.”

1. Forgetting about future expansion
All business owners have their sights set on growth. But all too often, they choose their office space based on their current business needs.
Says Trim:” It’s important to think about the future when leasing an office. If you’re signing a medium or long-term deal, your options could be very limited if your business grows but your space is inflexible. You might end up having to lease a second office, which is not usually a cost-effective way to do business, and can undermine team cohesion and culture.”

2. Not thoroughly checking the condition of the office
It’s not enough to simply walk around an office and quickly assess its condition. You need to check everything carefully. And you need to ask a lot of questions.
Will needed repairs be carried out before you move in? Are there sufficient power outlets? Is the office wired for data? Are all areas of the office space heated and air-conditioned?
“Only when you’ve carried out a thorough inspection should you consider signing a lease,” Trim advises.

3. Underestimating the importance of design
Some business owners think that, as long as the space is big enough, any old office will do. But studies actually prove that well designed spaces help increase productivity and creativity.
“If you want to take your employees to be happy, it’s critical that you look for offices that were thoughtfully designed to engage modern workers,” says Trim. Good design for example includes good lighting, ergonomically friendly furniture and tailor made areas for different work functions.

4. Making leasing decisions based on price alone
Every business owner wants the best possible office deal they can find.
But cheaper doesn’t always mean better. “And, in many cases, choosing the least expensive option can end up costing you a lot more over the long run—particularly when you think about the impact a less-than-ideal office can have on employee engagement,” Trim warns.
“When choosing an office, there are many factors to consider: how close the space is to public transportation, the image of the building, the safety of a neighbourhood, the availability of nearby top talent, what amenities like gyms are available, and more. Overlook any of them and you may end up regretting your decision.”

5. Thinking only about desk space
Very few businesses these days keep their employees tied to their desks all day.
Productive teams get opportunities to relax in leisure or communal areas. And group working is usually more effective in breakout areas—away from desks.
Says Trim: “Consider how your business operates and how your employees go about their daily duties. While desk space is important, there are other open areas that your business will probably need for meetings, collaboration, and inspiration. And they will need quiet areas too for focused work.”

6. Not negotiating terms
Landlords and leasing agents often know when someone doesn’t have much experience in business. Some of them tend to quote artificially high prices at first. Others initially withhold special incentives and inducements.
“If you don’t haggle over the price or ask questions about incentives, odds are you won’t be offered the best deal possible. Go into the process with knowledge of the local office rental market and don’t be afraid to push back a bit,” Trim concludes.

By Jade Scipioni for FOX Business

Accidentally slip some of those new office pens into your bag to save a couple bucks? Discretely tuck some of your employer’s new manila folders into your briefcase?

If so, join the club of office thieves whose numbers have been on the rise over the last 15 years.

According to data from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiner, office stealing of non-cash items – ranging from scissors and notebooks, to staplers and paperclips – has ballooned to 21% of corporate-theft losses in 2018 from 10.6% in 2002.

The Atlantic, which was first to report the trend, added that most workers aren’t even coy about it, with more than 52% of workers admitting they steal company property in a survey from 2013.

Hot items include scissors, notebooks, staplers and tape, especially during the gift-wrapping holidays.

The uptick has even forced managers to routinely stock up on 20% more supplies in order to account for lost items right off the bat.

Mark Doyle, the president of the loss-prevention consultancy Jack L. Hayes International, told The Atlantic that there are a few factors to blame for office ransacking.

He points to the decrease in supervision and the uptick in employees working from home for the increase.

By Helena Wasserman for Business Insider SA

The American office-sharing giant WeWork will open its first office on the continent in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

WeWork offers large shared workplaces for individuals and companies who don’t want the hassle and cost of maintaining their own offices.

It is renowned for creating comfortable, millennial-friendly surroundings, which include having open lounges and plush sofas, as well as free coffee, craft beer on tap and even mouthwash in the bathrooms.

All WeWork offices have lounges and conference areas.

Offices typically have private phone booths and a communal kitchen. Some even have gyms, as well as ping-pong, pool and foosball tables.

Fast internet comes standard as does “business-class” printers, front desk service, fruit-infused water and access to office supplies. Buildings are typically open 24 hours a day and offer package delivery services.

WeWork offices also offer free coffee.

Launched in 2010 in New York, WeWork has been called the most hyped start-up in the world after Softbank announced a plan to invest $16 billion into the privately-held company last year. The investment would have made WeWork the second most valuable start-up worldwide, but the Japanese behemoth has since cooled on its plan, scaling down its commitment to only $2 billion.

Still, WeWork is massive. The company has 400 offices in 100 cities, with 400,000 members who pay monthly fees to use its offices. It’s the biggest office tenant in both New York City and London.
The majority of WeWork members work for themselves – but almost a third of its members are businesses, who rent space for their employees.

WeWork office decor has been described as “startup kitsch”.
Its first South Africa office will be at the brand-new Rosebank Link building located at 173 Oxford Road. WeWork will rent it from Redefine Properties, under a revenue sharing agreement.

A Redefine representative said the building should be ready for occupation by August. WeWork will occupy six floors.

Up to 2 000 members could be accommodated in its office, and there will be a gym and restaurants in the building, as well as a Food Lovers Market. The building has direct access to the Gautrain station through “a landscaped pedestrianised thoroughfare” that runs underneath the offices.

WeWork has not yet confirmed local membership costs. In India membership for a “hot desk” (meaning you won’t have a dedicated place to sit) costs R1,100 a month, while a dedicated desk comes to R2,000 and a private office is close to R4,000. In the US, membership fees are much more expensive, with a hot desk starting at around R5,000 a month.

Africa is the only continent WeWork hasn’t yet entered, but Eugen Miropolski, managing director of WeWork International, tells Business Insider South Africa there is “huge potential for WeWork in Africa”.

“South Africa makes sense for us from a global expansion perspective: we’re entering a new continent in a country which has close ties to other major WeWork communities such as Europe where we have a strong community of over 60 000 members,” Miropolski says.

The Rosebank WeWork space will be specifically designed to reflect the Joburg culture, he added. A local team will be hired to “programme” the space. “They have to be connected to the culture.”

He hopes that the WeWork space in Johannesburg will bring together “a community of creators from diverse backgrounds including entrepreneurs, startups and large corporates” which will spark collaboration and help to grow the businesses.

Move over co-working: pro-working is here

Think of pro-working as co-working’s mature older sibling – one who is better dressed and much more sophisticated.

Linda Trim, director at FutureSpace, says, “Pro-working is rapidly growing in popularity with professionals and businesses worldwide that want a shared workspace that meets their polished image.”

She adds that pro-working has introduced a new kind of shared work spaced that is more advanced than co-working and which focuses more on services than just the space, much like a five star hotel.

“There is now a clear and growing distinction now between co-working spaces which tend to cater to freelancers, and pro-working offices which offer a more formal, luxurious environment with facilities to match.”

In the past few years, many long-established and professional businesses became conscious of the benefits that sharing a work-space has to offer: reduced cost office space; collaboration; networking; and exchanging skills and knowledge.

“The problem they faced was that many locations on the market just didn’t fit with their identity. They were utilitarian and geared towards freelancers as well as more informal startups and lacked services like the latest technology and formal spaces in which to meet clients.

“They were hip and often grungy and clearly not the best fit for professionals who want their workspace to match their image – and not be distributed by endless games of ping pong,” Trim notes.

But now that companies and consultants operating on a more traditional structure are learning about the benefits of sharing workspace with like-minded businesses, the market is looking to accommodate their needs.
As much as pro-working is a play on co-working, it has evolved from a typical serviced office set up, but with the added element of the best boutique hotel hospitality such as concierge services, personal assistants and access to gyms.

Says Trim: “In addition, the pro-working offering is inspired by the community spirit that co-working has brought to modern office life. Pro-working aims to allow formal businesses to create communities with compatible professionals.

“Co-working made this transition effortless for lone workers and small companies who depended on flexible work options. And now pro-working is doing the same for the professional set.”

Trim also notes that one of the key workplace trends today is to really invest in your people and make sure they are happy and able to produce their best work, which is why the shared market is such a hit the world over.

“Pro-working places are particularly appealing for companies that want to expand because the offices are ‘on-demand’ – there is no need for lengthy procurement processes or FICA (Financial Intelligence Centre Act) requirements,” says Trim. “They also offer extreme flexibility in that the office space is there for as short or long a time as you want it.”

FutureSpace offices in Katherine Street and Rivonia Road in Sandton host many of South Africa’s most successful companies, as well as international start ups that needed to quickly get up and running.

Such is the demand, FutureSpace plans to open several new offices in 2019.

The pod — a small, free-standing box or space that is typically soundproof and designed to fit just one or two people — is taking over offices in South Africa according one of the country’s biggest office space and furniture consultancies.

And there is good reason for the rise in its popularity.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Privacy pods that allow you to meet or talk on the phone without others overhearing, or work in complete silence, have been installed in many offices ranging from start ups to large companies with thousands of employees.

“We have experienced rising demand for pods over the past few years and expect them to become increasingly popular in offices in South Africa.”

One of the biggest reasons for companies installing pods in their public spaces is people’s need for silence and privacy.

“We all need periods of silence, especially at work,” says Galloway-Gaul. “Working and commuting in busy urban environments is putting a lot of noise and busyness pressure on our lifestyles.”

People around the world tend to spend increasing numbers of hours at work compared to decades past, and because of the rise of open plan offices we need the option to go somewhere quiet and carry on working.

“While many people like open plan offices, others find in makes for a more difficult work environment by creating more stress, reducing productivity and lowering job satisfaction. Most people struggle with concentration anyway, even without interruptions and elevated noise levels,” she adds.

Privacy pods are an ideal solution and easily installed.

“They do away with the need to build entirely new private rooms, can be added and removed according to need and as they are small, can be slotted in without making much change to the overall offices space or aesthetic. They are also much more cost effective and far less disruptive than making wholesale changes to an office,” says Galloway-Gaul. “Companies can still have uncluttered open offices and accommodate those who need quiet.”

Another reason behind the rise of the pod?

“An increased focus on wellness,” says Galloway-Gaul. “There are a lot of introverts in the world that need a place to go to think and recharge,” she says. “And even those who aren’t, may want a few moments of peace every so often.”

Productivity is another factor.

Pods make it more convenient for people to work more, thereby increasing productivity. Productivity in the workplace is vital to support an efficient business and enhance the bottom line, but it is apparent that a lot of employees feel that they are sometimes restricted by the environment around them.

Says Galloway-Gaul: “Organisations must create as much choice as possible to enable employees to vary noise levels to meet their needs depending on what they’re working on.

“There is a growing demand for pods around the world. It’s a growth area and one that could be a disrupter to how companies plan their spaces.”

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

The National Minimum Wage Act (NMWA) provides for, amongst others, a national minimum wage; the establishment of a National Minimum Wage Commission; a review and annual adjustment of the national minimum wage; and the provision of an exemption from paying the national minimum wage.

Who does the NMWA apply to?

The NMWA applies to all workers and their employers, except members of the South African National Defence Force, the National Intelligence Agency, the South African Secret Service; and volunteers who perform work for another person without remuneration. It applies to any person who works for another and who receives, or is entitled to receive, any payment for that work whether in money or in kind.

What is the national minimum wage?

The national minimum wage is R20 for each ordinary hour worked. There are, however, certain exceptions to the national minimum wage amount of R20 per hour.

Farm workers are entitled to a minimum wage of R18 per hour. A ‘farm worker’ means a worker who is employed mainly or wholly in connection with farming or forestry activities, and includes a domestic worker employed in a home on a farm or forestry environment and a security guard on a farm or other agricultural premises, excluding a security guard employed in the private security industry.

Domestic workers are entitled to a minimum wage of R15 per hour. A ‘domestic worker’ means a worker who performs domestic work in a private household and who received, or is entitled to receive, a wage and includes: a gardener; a person employed by a household as a driver of a motor vehicle; a person who takes care of children, the aged, the sick, the frail or the disabled; and domestic workers employed or supplied by employment services.

Workers employment on an expanded public works programme are entitled to a minimum wage of R11 per hour from a date that will be determined by the President in the Government Gazette. Expanded public works programme means a programme to provide public or community services through a labour-intensive programme determined by the Minister. And funded from public resources.

Workers who have concluded learnership agreements contemplated in section 17 of the Skills Development Act 97 of 1998 are entitled to the allowances contained in Schedule 2 of the NMWA.

Employer’s should note that, within 18 months of the commencement of the NMWA, being 1 January 2019, the National Minimum Wage Commission, will review the national minimum wage of farm workers and domestic workers, and within two years, determine an adjustment of the applicable national minimum wage. The national minimum wage in respect of workers in the expanded public works programme will be increased proportionately to any adjustment of the national minimum wage.

How is the national minimum wage calculated?

The calculation of the national minimum wage is the amount payable in money for ordinary hours of work. It excludes:

  • any payment made to enable a worker to work including any transport, equipment, tool, food or accommodation allowance, unless specified otherwise in a sectoral determination;
  • any payment in kind including board or accommodation, unless specified otherwise in a sectoral determination;
  • gratuities including bonuses, tips or gifts; and
  • any other prescribed category of payment.

‘Ordinary hours of work’ means the hours of work permitted in terms of section 9 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA) (currently 45 hours per week) or in terms of any agreement in terms of section 11 or 12 of the BCEA. worker is entitled to receive the national minimum wage for the number of hours that the worker works on any day. An employee or worker who works for less than four hours on any day must be paid for four hours on that day.

This is applicable to employees or workers who earn less than the earnings threshold set by the Minister over time, presently being R205,433.30. If the worker is paid on a basis other than the number of hours worked, the worker may not be paid less than the national minimum wage for the ordinary hours of work.

Any deduction made from the remuneration of a worker must be in accordance with section 34 of the BCEA, provided that the deduction made in terms of section 34(1)(a) of the BCEA does not exceed one quarter of a worker’s remuneration.

Does a worker have a right to the national minimum wage?

Every worker will be entitled to payment of a wage not less than the national minimum wage. Employers will be obligated to pay workers this wage. The payment of the national minimum wage cannot be waived and overrides any contrary provision in a contract, collective agreement, sectoral determination or law.

Must a worker’s contract of employment be amended in light of the NMWA?

The national minimum wage must constitute a term of the worker’s contract, unless the contract, collective agreement or law provides for a more favourable wage. Employers should thus, where applicable, amend their contracts of employment to make reference to the national minimum wage. An employer should note further that a unilateral change of wages, hours of work or other conditions of employment in connection with the implementation of the national minimum wage will be regarded as an unfair labour practice.

When does the provisions of the NMWA come into effect?

The NMWA will came into operation on 1 January 2019. Section 4(6) of the NMWA, which prohibits the payment of the national minimum wage being waived and further provides that the national minimum wage takes precedence over any contrary provision in any contract, collective agreement, sectoral determination or law, operates with retrospective effect from 1 May 2017.

Can an employer be exempt from paying the national minimum wage?

An employer or employer’s organisation registered in terms of section 96 of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (LRA), or any other law, acting on behalf of a member, may apply for exemption from paying the national minimum wage. The exemption may not be granted for longer than one year and must specify the wage that the employer is required to pay workers. The exemption process provided for in the regulations to the NMWA must be complied with when doing so.

An employer or a registered employer’s organisation may assist its members to apply to the delegated authority, for an exemption from paying the national minimum wage.

The application must be lodged on the National Minimum Wage Exemption System.

An exemption may only be granted if the delegated authority is satisfied that the employer cannot afford to pay the minimum wage, and every representative trade union has been meaningfully consulted or if there is no such trade union, the affected workers have been meaningfully consulted. The consultation process requires the employer to provide the other parties with a copy of the exemption application to be lodged on the online system.

The determination of whether an employer can afford to pay the minimum wage must be in accordance with the Commercial, Household, or Non-Profit Organisations Financial Decision Process outlined in Schedule 1 of the Regulations to the NMWA.

The delegated authority may grant an exemption from paying the national minimum wage only from the date of the application for the exemption. The exemption must specify the period for which it is granted, which may not be more than 12 months.

The delegated authority must specify the wage that the employer is required to pay workers, which may not be less than 90% of the national minimum wage.

The delegated authority may grant an exemption on any condition that advances the purposes of the NMWA.

An employer exempted from paying the national minimum wage must display a copy of the exemption notice conspicuously at the workplace where it can be read by all employees to whom the exemption applies. Further, a copy of the exemption notice must be given to the representative trade union, every worker who requests a copy, and the bargaining council.

Any affected person may apply to the delegated authority for the withdrawal of an exemption notice by lodging an application on the online system in the prescribed format. Before the delegated authority makes the decision to withdraw an exemption notice, the delegated authority must also be satisfied that the employer has been consulted, and the representative trade union or affected workers have been given access to the application lodged.

If an exemption notice is withdrawn, the delegated authority must issue a notice of withdrawal on the Exemption System.

What is the role and responsibility of the National Minimum Wage Commission?

A National Minimum Wage Commission is established by the NMWA. The Commission must review the national minimum wage annually and make recommendations to the Minister on any adjustment of the national minimum wage. The recommendations must consider: inflation, the cost of living and the need to retain the value of the minimum wage; wage levels and collective bargaining outcomes; gross domestic product; productivity; ability of employers to carry on their businesses successfully; the operation of small, medium or micro-enterprises and new enterprises; the likely impact of the recommended adjustment on employment or the creation of employment; and any other relevant factor.

Jacques van Wyk is director and labour law specialist at Werksmans Attorneys.

By Nicole Norfleet for Seattle Times

To appeal to more workers, many companies and building owners are re­designing and renovating their offices. Modern kitchens with high-top seating, collaboration areas made for informal meetings and adaptable office furniture with standing desks have all become the new standard for office renovations.

While many of those features are predicted to still be prevalent in 2019, architects and designers say new design trends have emerged, with some clients investing in more privacy for their open offices, heavily branded design that reflects their company ethos, and more adaptable layouts.

Branded environments. Many clients want their workspace to reflect their company, a marketing tool that helps organizations stand out to prospective clients as well as a way to reinforce company culture among employees.

“They are really coming up with unique ways to define themselves,” said Natasha Fonville, brand manager of Minneapolis-based Atmosphere Commercial Interiors. “That beautifully branded experience is really going to keep trending and keep elevating the spaces around us.”

At the new downtown offices of Sleep Number, the company’s emblem is throughout the space on the wall and ceiling with Sleep Number settings on some of the tables.

At Field Nation’s new Minneapolis offices, a network of orange piping that runs electricity to light fixtures was designed as a representation of a technological network.

No receptionists
Some companies have decided to do away with front-desk receptionists, sometimes using technology to direct guests to where they need to go or having a more informal entry area.

Betsy Vohs, founder and chief executive of design firm Studio BV in Minneapolis, said 75 percent of her clients don’t really need a receptionist to answer calls or greet guests. “Having them at the front desk isn’t the best use of their time and energy,” Vohs said.

At the new Hopkins offices her firm has helped to design for Digi International, the company opted to skip the front-desk receptionist and use the space for an entry lounge with a coffee bar and a digital kiosk.

This past summer, Studio BV designed the offices of Field Nation, which also doesn’t use receptionists.

More agile space
Adaptable space has also become more of a priority as many companies have reduced the square footage dedicated to individual employees. With workers more nomadic, many new offices are currently designed to allow for rearrangement of the furniture layout and changes to walls and partitions.

“I think it’s just a sign of our times that workplaces are being so agile and really adapting to how people work best … and that’s always evolving,” Fonville said.

At Atmosphere’s downtown office, the walls are moved about once a year. For example, the company recently noticed that employees weren’t using some of the office enclaves, so leaders decided to take out a few walls to allow for more breathing room and larger meeting areas.

Audio privacy
As offices have become more open, one side effect has been that sound can carry throughout the space, making audio privacy a concern. Many new offices have private call rooms. Companies also have requested other sound-dampening materials such as acoustic foam, felt, drapery and carpet, Vohs said.

The renovated offices of Gardner Builders in Minneapolis, which Studio BV helped design, feature cubbies wrapped in acoustic foam.

The recently renovated RSM Plaza downtown has similar cutouts in its lobby. Some companies go as far as installing white-noise machines throughout their offices.

Move over, millennials
Much has been said about how current offices have been designed with millennial employees in mind, but designers have already begun to shift gears to interpret how the younger Gen Z might use their spaces. After millennials, defined as being born between 1981 and 1996, Gen Z is the newest defined generation. Gen Z is believed to be more realistic, social change-oriented, tech-integrated and interested in on-demand learning, said Rich Bonnin, a design principal at HGA in Minneapolis.

“These aren’t the decision-makers now, but they will be,” he said, at a recent broker event at the St. Paul Curling Club organized by real estate company Newmark Knight Frank.

Gen Z workers are more likely to value face-to-face interactions, shared space, choice-rich environments, security and the natural as well as the digital experience, he said.

Wellness
More architects have begun to incorporate design standards to advance workers’ health and well-being. WELL certification is still a relatively new concept that explores how design can help workers live better through improvements in air, water, light, fitness and other areas.

“It has kind of become the new LEED,” said Derek McCallum, a principal at RSP Architects in Minneapolis, which now has WELL-certified staff.

The 428 office building in St. Paul was WELL gold-certified and has high-level air filtration close to hospital grade, added water filtration, and a prominent and open staircase to promote physical activity.

Engaging employees
Companies are studying and surveying their employees more to make informed design decisions.

For the new headquarters for Prime Therapeutics in Eagan, external consultants studied the company’s previous offices to determine how much square footage per person was being used and the operational costs of the space.

They interviewed employees and observed to how they worked. Data showed that desks were sitting empty about 60 percent of the week, with people opting for shared spaces, said Kim Gibson, the company’s senior director for real estate workplace.

“We really wanted to understand how people were working and the things that they desired to help make them more productive,” Gibson said. The data helped Prime Therapeutics and architecture firm HGA create different spaces to accommodate workers, such as one-on-one spaces and private “oasis rooms.”

Amenities, amenities, amenities
The amenities race continues for many multi-tenant offices, with landlords investing heavily in community space and building perks such as modern gyms and lounges with high-end furniture. Many downtown Minneapolis office buildings have undergone recent rehabs of their amenity spaces, including RSM Plaza and the AT&T Tower.

Piedmont Office Realty Trust, the owner of U.S. Bancorp Center, plans to spend about $7.5 million to create a tenant-amenity space on the top floor of the tower. The building is more than 98 percent leased, but the company wanted to continue to improve the building, said Thomas Prescott, executive vice president of the Midwest region of Piedmont.

“It’s the right thing to do, enhancing our asset,” he said. “We’re excited. We’re making a significant investment in a building that’s mostly leased.”

A large stairway will lead up to the space that will feature a full fitness facility, tenant lounge, conference area and a game room with a golf simulator.

Dismissals require relevant evidence

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting 

Even if an employee has committed murder, dismissal will not be upheld by the CCMA or a bargaining council where there was insufficient evidence brought to prove guilt.

Providing convincing proof of guilt is a factual and skilful exercise requiring:

  • Testimony that is not contradictory;
  • Evidence that, after having been challenged by the accused employee, still holds water;
  • Documents that are validated and that clearly show up the employee’s misconduct;
  • Evidence that is corroborated by other evidence;
  • Testimony from credible witnesses;
  • Evidence derived from thorough and honest investigation; and
  • Evidence that makes the truth look like the truth.

Thus, proving one’s case depends on the bringing of evidence that will persuade the presiding officer that one’s allegations or claims are true and genuine.

However, it is not enough to bring strongly supported or incontrovertible evidence. Parties need to further ensure that the evidence they bring is relevant to the case.

For example, if an employer wishes to convince an arbitrator that an employee stole petty cash it is pointless for the employer to bring solid proof that the employee’s work performance is poor because this is irrelevant.

At the same time it is most infuriating for parties who have gone to the trouble of collecting genuine, solid and relevant evidence only to see the arbitrator ignore this evidence.

Fortunately the parties do have recourse to the Labour Court if a CCMA arbitrator disallows or ignores relevant and legally permissible evidence in making his/her award.

It is not always easy for the presiding officer to decide if evidence is relevant or not because:

• the presiding officer may nor be properly trained to be able to understand what is and is not relevant.

• of lack of clarity of the evidence itself.
• the evidence may only be indirectly relevant to the case. For example, the employee may have been dismissed for poor performance of his/her work. However, the employee might tell the arbitrator that the employer has been victimising him/her for weeks on end. While this seems, on the surface, to be irrelevant, the employee may be able to show that it was the victimisation that caused the poor performance or that the poor performance allegations are false and are part of the victimisation campaign.

It is therefore crucial that parties ensure that they bring their evidence in such a comprehensive, clear and persuasive manner that it cannot be ignored by a fair arbitrator or disciplinary hearing chairperson.

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