Tag: office

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.

The best tech for working from home

By David Nield for Popular Science

With a changing economy, more flexible job roles, and the continued spread of broadband internet, more and more of us are working from home. According to the most recent statistics, more than 5% of the U.S. workforce spends at least part of their office hours at home.

While this habit lets us avoid the stress of commuting and spend all day in sweatpants, the consequences aren’t all positive. With so many distractions at home, and no manager looming nearby, productivity can take a hit. To avoid this, we rounded up some apps and tools to help you stay on task. Include some of these in your home office setup to raise your productivity and motivation levels.

Play background noise
If you work best with a constant murmur in the background, you’ll find plenty of white-noise apps to provide that hum.
Pick the noises you want to hear, and the relative volumes you’d like them to play at. Preset soundscapes are designed to help with relaxation or productivity, helping to optimise your brainwaves to improve your cognitive function, helping you focus, relax, or drift off to sleep.

Track your time
Where does all the time go? With no boss around to check when you start work or take a break (or three), your routine can quickly stagnate. That’s why you need an app to help you keep track of how you’re spending your time.

Cut out distractions
At home, you’re surrounded by temptations like your snack-filled kitchen, potential Netflix binges, and, of course, the ever-present siren song of your smartphone. You need help tuning out these distractions in order to stay on track.

Include some break time

All work and no play is a recipe for burnout: If you don’t take the odd breather, your productivity will experience diminishing returns. You should take five minutes of rest for every 25 minutes of work, and you can also adjust these parameters to split your time differently.

You should use those break minutes to refresh your brain. If you’d prefer distraction to meditation, why not rest your eyes while listening to a podcast?

Stay connected
Even when you’re not in the office, you need to stay in touch with your colleagues. So apps that connect you with other members of your team are an essential part of working from home.

Improve your workspace
Besides the apps we’ve mentioned, you can also modify your physical home-office setup. A more comfortable working situation will make you more productive—and less vulnerable to distractions.

For your comfort and your health, you should make sure your chair and desk help you sit without straining your body. For example, keep your screen at eye level to avoid damaging your neck and back.
Consider building a custom computer desk designed to help you sit ergonomically.

In addition to your computer, you probably have a few other gadgets on that desk. You’ll want to keep them all charged to make sure a dead battery doesn’t make you miss a call from the boss.

Finally, illuminating your workspace is essential for both staying focused and reducing strain on your eyes. You can pick any lamp that fits your tastes and needs.

Written by Jason O’Brien for Training Journal 

The introduction of digital technologies into the workplace has brought with it a number of advantages. Businesses have solutions to improve productivity and reduce expenditure. Employees have greater flexibility and better tools to do their job.

However, the evidence suggests there are some downsides to the amount of technology we use in the workplace. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, sometimes limiting the amount of technology employees use can actually increase their productivity. Limits on tech can prevent fatigue and help staff avoid procrastination so they are worth taking a look at.

Tech affects our mental state

Technology may make our professional lives easier, but studies have been conducted that suggest it doesn’t make us healthier. Take this 2015 study of college students, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. It shows the link between smartphone addiction and negative physiological and psychological symptoms including increased blood pressure and anxiety.

In 2012, the University of Gothenburg’s research into smartphone and computer usage found that excessive use is linked to stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms. If users undertake excessive use of both smartphones and computers, the risk of these symptoms is heightened.

Affecting everything from attention spans to creativity, use of technology affects our ability to get a good night’s sleep. This in turn affects a business’s bottom line.

Sleep is the real issue that underpins the negative aspects of technology use. Affecting everything from attention spans to creativity, use of technology affects our ability to get a good night’s sleep. This in turn affects a business’s bottom line.

A 2016 study from Hult International Business School showed that a lack of sleep costs organisations $2,280 a year for every sleep-deprived employee. Without enough rest, the ability of staff to communicate effectively and problem solve is lowered – costing businesses money.

Help employees reduce usage

To combat the detrimental effects technology brings to the workplace, organisations are adopting the ‘Digital Detox’, an initiative that looks to reduce the level of exposure employees have to technology both in and out of the office.

For office-based workers, a computer is a necessary part of the job, but it means employees can clock up 30-hours screen time a week just at work. To bring this down, you could implement some of these work policies:

In the office

Active lunchtimes

Given all the distractions the internet provides us, it’s all too easy for staff to stay seated at lunchtime and use their computer for entertainment. To encourage people to get a break from the computer screen, you could organise recreational lunchtime events, particularly around exercise.

Put on a yoga class or find a local gym that could offer discounted rates to your staff – anything that gets people engaged and active. Exercise has been demonstrated to improve our ability to shift and focus attention. An active mind will help staff return from lunch ready to refocus on the afternoon’s tasks.

Tech-free meetings

Communication tools and applications make it easy to chat to colleagues no matter your or their location – but as a result, face-to-face interaction has become a bit of a lost art. Meetings are a great opportunity to ditch digital communications and rediscover vocal interchanges.

Adopt a meeting or two each week that specifically sets out a no-tech policy.

Inadequate communication between employees reportedly costs large businesses $62.4m a year. Communicating over digital channels like email doesn’t allow for facial gestures and tone of voice, making misinterpretation common. Encourage personal, face-to-face communication to minimise these effects and grow your team’s interpersonal skills.

Out of the office

Encourage a ‘leave in the office’ policy

Given the impact technology has on our stress levels and sleep patterns, organisations should look to minimise the level at which employees take their work home with them. Some office cultures expect this of their employees despite evidence suggesting it’s likely to have a negative impact on productivity in the long-term.

You might not want to go as far as France, who have enshrined in law the right to avoid checking work email out of hours, but encourage staff not to engage in too much work activity in their own time. The blue light emitted from our smartphones and computers suppresses melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep cycles.

Given the effect poor sleep patterns have on productivity, the more you allow your employees to switch off at home the more they will be able to focus when in the office.

Improve employee sleep to improve employee focus

A good night’s sleep is the key to having an engaged, focused and happy workforce. Too much exposure to technology makes it more difficult for us to achieve this – either through negative psychological symptoms like increased anxiety or stress or by suppressing the hormones we need for better sleep.

But organisations can help. Adopt a Digital Detox policy and help reduce the things that cost your employees valuable sleep. The result could see your company’s productivity increase.

It’s a odd-sounding word that’s often mistaken for something illegal or someone who likes books, but biophilia is simply humankind’s innate connection with nature. And it is a trend growing more popular in South Africa’s offices.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says biophilia helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us, why a garden view can enhance our creativity and strolling through a park have restorative, even healing effects.

“Simply put, humans are programmed to feel good in nature. And nature has a powerfully positive effect on our well-being. Globally urban designers and office designers are incorporating the phenomenon into their work. They want to bring it to where we spend about a third of our lives: the office.”

Says Andrews: “Natural light, wood grain, living walls, plants and outdoor seating are just a few ways to bring elements of nature to the workplace. We are increasingly being asked to incorporate nature into the work we do across South Africa.

“In the workplace, it is therefore about tricking our brains to feel like we’re in a natural environment by triggering underlying patterns that we’re programmed to recognise and feel good in.”

With the emergence of the green building movement in the early 1990s, linkages were made between improved environmental quality and worker productivity in research by Browning & Room 1994. While the financial gains due to productivity improvements were considered significant, productivity was identified as a placeholder for health and well-being, which have even broader impact.

The healing power of a connection with nature was established by Roger Ulrich’s 1984 landmark study comparing recovery rates of patients with and without a view to nature. Environment psychologist Stephen Kaplan noted that people with a view of natural elements, such as trees, water or countryside, report greater levels of wellbeing than those looking over more urban settings.

Andrews noted the last decade has seen a steady growth in work around and the intersections of neuroscience and architecture, both in research and in practice and that even green building standards have begun to incorporate biophilia, mostly for its contribution to indoor environmental quality.

Andrews described a biophilic design in the office.

“Whether your preferred environment is the desert, forest or ocean, nuanced design can encourage recognisable connections to nature.”

Biophilia is also about different hues, textures and colours Andrews adds.

“People have this preconception that nature is green. But biophilia can also be inspired by say rich desert colours.

“If you design a space the right way, people will want to spend time there, engage more frequently with colleagues and then also be more engaged with their work,” Andrews concluded.

The term ‘biophilia’ was first coined by social psychologist Eric Fromm in 1964 and later popularised by biologist Edward Wilson (Biophilia, 1984). The denotations have evolved from within the fields of biology and psychology, and been adapted to the fields of neuroscience, endocrinology, architecture and beyond.

Is your office too loud for introverts?

It is estimated that between a third and a half of the population are introverts, but workplaces seem to increasingly favour noisy extroverts, often to the detriment of those who prefer to work in quieter environments.

Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, says that with the rise of the open plan office and the culture of speaking often and loudly as a way to gain career advancement, many offices risk sidelining up to half their workforces.

“Our goal as designers is to create places in the workplace that allows everyone to work more effectively, not just those with the most to say.”

It is important for offices to embrace flexibility for introverts.

“It is imperative to remember not all introverts are the same. Some prefer visual privacy to focus and recharge, therefore a booth or screen can provide the needed barrier for added comfort.

“On the other hand, our experience shows that introverts and extroverts alike require audible privacy to focus, yet some prefer not to be isolated. This has led to the popular concept of library-like settings, where employees can easily plug-in and work silently in a shared environment.”

She adds that some introverts thrive in an isolated environment. “A small focus room that is set up with multiple screens, a comfortable work surface, whiteboard and natural light will allow those people to quickly focus.”

She adds that offices always faced the challenge of workstation distractions. “People still often prefer to work at their desk, especially those who have items they frequently use stored there. This can be especially challenging for introverts, because of distractions like colleagues on their phones or a group collaborating nearby,“ Trim notes.

The solution is to work with targeted individuals to create flexible workstations that offer the appropriate amount of storage, visual privacy and posture customisation.

“These factors are easily modifiable allow people to curate an environment that meets their needs and maximise individual productivity. We are also mindful of the importance of giving employees enough space between workstations,” says Trim.

But even when offices are well designed to cater for introverts working solo, there are still many instances they have to collaborate with colleagues and this creates a further challenge for the office.

“A solution is to hold meetings in a quiet room with seats organised in a myriad of forms within the room. This design creates a more inviting atmosphere and allows for more options, unlike the typical individual focus room. Therefore, the introverted users feel included as part of a group rather than excluded, isolated or on display.”

Because introverted leaders tend to carefully listen to their colleagues, they are often more successful in one-on-one meetings in areas without distractions.

“We recommend having two configurations of space. The first should include seating at a height that makes note taking or reviewing work easy, the second should include lounge height furniture for more conversational meetings.”

Trim added that research also indicates introverts are more successful when they host industry or client events in their own space, as attendees will seek them out as the key person to engage with.

“Designing a space that can easily accommodate events could be an area that has a variety of uses as well,” she concludes.

By Michael Holder for BusinessGreen

Upcyclers turn old desks, chairs, and carpets into new office furniture, saving money and delivering environmental benefits.

Making sure products and materials can be used again – rather than going to waste – is good for for both businesses and the environment. That is the premise that underpins the concept of the “circular economy”, an emerging sector the government estimates could deliver £23-billionn a year of benefits to UK businesses if resources were used more efficiently.

For example, one third of our office furniture – 300 tonnes per day – ends up in landfill.

Firms such as Rype Office create sustainable furniture from items that would otherwise get thrown away and is employing ‘upcyclers’ across its growing business to help turn the circular economy vision into a reality.

Cities all around the world are becoming job creating entrepreneurial hubs in their own right thanks to a rise in digital connectedness and spaces for like minded people to work in stimulating environments.

Linda Trim, director at FutureSpace, says: “If cities want a chance at economic development they first need to focus on attracting and keeping good people. We need to figure out ways to make people happier, safer, healthier, more productive and able to function better as human beings. This is why cities need shared workspaces and coworking now more than ever.”

Shared workspaces are hubs of innovation
In a rapidly moving world, there is huge demand for innovation from disruptive ideas to build businesses, create jobs and attract talent. Innovation also tends to inspire further innovation as is evident in places like Silicon Valley.

“This virtuous cycle comes from the ability to look at a problem in a new way. And for this, nothing is better than the diversity of perspectives you get in a coworking space. Some of the most disruptive concepts and applications come from people outside the industry. For example Netflix, hosted a $1m Innovation Contest to improve their movie recommendation algorithm.

A team comprised of researchers from the United States, Austria, Canada, and Israel took home the $1 Million prize for their matching algorithm that improved recommendations by 10%.

“That’s why it’s so important to have spaces where people of different backgrounds can interact.”

But it’s not just entrepreneurs and small businesses who benefit. Large corporations are setting up satellite offices in coworking spaces too. They want to immerse their employees in a more progressive culture, where they can share ideas with people outside the company and industry. These new ideas may kick off a cycle of innovation within the corporation.

“Corporations also look to hire and develop new talent within shared workspaces. They might even seek to acquire an entire startup if it makes sense. By setting up in coworking spaces, corporations give themselves access to ideas and talent they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Shared Workspaces as an Economic Development Tool
Shared workspaces have a direct and indirect impact on the 3 key economic development stakeholders: entrepreneurs, corporations and the cities themselves.

“Entrepreneurs need a supportive ecosystem to thrive. An entrepreneur can often find these things in a coworking space and through the connections they make there. Shared workspaces therefore are an incubator for new businesses,” says Trim.

New businesses create jobs and are economic engines for cities. Corporations grow by acquiring those new businesses, or partnering up with them to create breakthrough innovations. This collaboration creates more density, vibrancy and resources that help the cities thrive.

Trim adds the trend for mobile working was also driving the demand for coworking places as fewer companies around the world want people to come in to an office each day.

“These rapid changes carry serious consequences for cities as well as workers. Namely, how do we help workers feel connected when they can work from anywhere in the world? Cities that want to compete for talent need more coworking space.”

By Maria Dermentzi for Mashable

Plastic Whale is a professional plastic fishing company that offers boat trips during which tourists — while sightseeing — will pick up plastic from Amsterdam’s canals. The plastic bottles that are being collected get turned into office furniture, in collaboration with Vepa.

The ideal office has seven distinct zones

Despite sleek computers standing on desks, offices are a place where time seems to have stood still. Many are fundamentally the same as they were a century ago.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says things like desks, chairs, filing cabinets, telephones are still the building blocks of most offices. But now “must have” design concepts are emerging, illustrating what good offices should look like.

“We spend six to 10 hours a day at work so increasingly there is more thought being put into how we work. It’s now widely accepted that the atmosphere and architecture of our workspaces influences our productivity.”

The ideal office consists of seven different zones, each providing for one aspect of our working environment.

Home base or quiet area
The home base, or quiet area, is closest to the classic “chair and desk” concept, just without the background noise. “This is a place where you can fully concentrate on your work, write that important email, develop concepts and ideas, take planning for that crucial process one step further. When you sit here, you can be sure that you won’t be interrupted,” says Trim.

Open plan
Focused on supporting communication, the open plan area is a cousin of the home base area. Sitting down here says, “Yes, I’m working, but feel free to talk to me.” With an open and inviting design, this area is ideal for productive teamwork for groups of two or three. If more team members are involved, a meeting room featuring a long, central table provides the best solution.

Break out
“An open break-out area is invaluable for every office,” Trim notes. It’s the perfect place for some informal chat and informal work with a coffee or a snack. This area is also ideal for colleagues who don’t come in to the office often and just want to catch up on their emails or prepare for a meeting.

Confidential talk
The best place for a confidential phone call or an important one-on-one meeting is the so-called “refuge” area. These places are often equipped with mobile and flexible furniture, a white board that’s integrated into the wall and a computer screen.

They can also be enclosed by glass walls that give the impression of a generously proportioned telephone cubicle, emphasising the intimate and confidential character of this area.

“It’s the place to go for important business meetings or a discrete conversation with your bank manager about your overdraft.”

Meeting room: conferencing, workshops and training sessions
Despite the trend of people working in different ways in different spaces, there is still a need for the good olde, traditional meeting room. “When decisions need to be made, presentations attended and training carried out, a dedicated meeting room is a must have,” says Trim.

Space to stretch legs
It’s well known how sitting all day is hard on the body and mind. “If budget allows, it’s very healthy to have some space in the office that is just that, space. It’s not serving any other purpose other than an area to give people somewhere to simply move around in.”
In the office world, where tasks tend to be static, there’s nothing better than a bit of movement now and again to stretch one’s legs.

But what if your office space is too small? “Try walking down the corridors or up and down the stairs a few times,” Trim advises.

Resource room for equipment, stores
There are few things as testing in an office as being stuck near a photocopier or the stationery cupboard.
“Businesses often the make the mistake of storing equipment and supplies in break rooms or confidential chat rooms which is naturally very disruptive to staff trying to use them. It seems obvious, but make a room for stuff and only stuff,Trim concludes.

By Sarah Wells for TechCrunch

If you’re endlessly distracted by your co-workers in the gaping open office space you all share, you’re not alone. Compared to traditional office spaces, face-to-face interaction in open office spaces is down 70 percent with resulting slips in productivity, according to Harvard researchers in a new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B this month.

In the study, researchers followed two anonymous Fortune 500 companies during their transitions between a traditional office space to an open plan environment and used a sensor called a “sociometric badge” (think company ID on a lanyard) to record detailed information about the kind of interactions employees had in both spaces. The study collected information in two stages; first for several weeks before the renovation and the second for several weeks after.

While the concept behind open office spaces is to drive informal interaction and collaboration among employees, the study found that for both groups of employees monitored (52 for one company and 100 for the other company) face-to-face interactions dropped, the number of emails sent increased between 20 and 50 percent and company executives reported a qualitative drop in productivity.

“[Organisations] transform their office architectures into open spaces with the intention of creating more [face-to-face] interaction and thus a more vibrant work environment,” the study’s authors, Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban, wrote.

“[But] what they often get—as captured by a steady stream of news articles professing the death of the open office is an open expanse of proximal employees choosing to isolate themselves as best they can (e.g. by wearing large headphones) while appearing to be as busy as possible (since everyone can see them).”

While this study is far from the first to point fingers at open office space designs, the researchers claim this is the first study of its kind to collect qualitative data on this shift in working environment instead of relying primarily on employee surveys.

From their results, the researchers provide three cautionary tales:

  • Open office spaces don’t actually promote interaction. Instead, they cause employees to seek privacy wherever they can find it.
  • These open spaces might spell bad news for collective company intelligence or, in other words, an overstimulating office space creates a decrease in organizational productivity.
  • Not all channels of interaction will be effected equally in an open layout change. While the number of emails sent in the study did increase, the study found that the richness of this interaction was not equal to that lost in face-to-face interactions.

Seems like it might be time to (first, find a quiet room) and go back to the drawing board with the open office design.

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