Tag: office

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.

Source: The Citizen 

R1 666 to rent an office chair for a month may seem a bit steep, but that’s exactly what the bankrupt state insurer is charging.

Are you sitting down for this?

The Road Accident Fund has pushed through a contract for the rental of 300 office chairs for almost half a million rand a month, in what amounts to R1 666 per chair, the Sunday Times has reported.

Another furniture contract with the same company, Gxakwes Projects, for R60-million, did not go ahead. Both contracts did not have a tendering process.

The fund is technically insolvent, with contingent liabilities totalling almost R190 billion, hence its attempts to make money by renting out office furniture.

The RAF takes R1.93 of every litre of South African petrol sold.

This has not helped them avoid a R34.7-million loss last year.

While the fund admits that renting furniture was “not the best option”, they say they need to do so “to settle claims immediately, resulting in a creditors book of about R8 billion.”

Transport Minister Blade Nzimande dissolved the fund’s board this week, declaring it dysfunctional and affected by “serious divisions”.

Gxakwes Projects, the company involved in the furniture contracts, has been red flagged by the National Treasury after a similar deal was entered into with Eskom, who wanted R24 million for the purchase of 9 217 chairs.

An inspection by the Treasury found that only 500 chairs were needed.

The attempt to secure a five year, R60-million contract without a tender was thwarted by some board members concerned that the “process is fraught with legal concerns.”

Reports of the goings on at the struggling state insurer are a bit like a car crash. As horrific as it is, you can’t look away.

Ideas are the new currency of modern economies and it is no more evident than in recent billion dollar idea success stories like Airbnb and Uber which are now disrupting established industries.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Increasingly companies are putting emphasis on new ideas to grow their business and stand apart from the competition.

“We live in an ideas age and business are recognising that fact and today’s offices must support the ‘cult’ of new ideas. And in comfort of course.”

These are the biggest office trends expected in South Africa in 2018:

Idea-centric offices

“Because ideas are so important to the new economy in 2018 so we expect to see more idea centric offices that enable creative thinking. Many people think creativity is just for creatives but it should facilitated and encouraged in all aspects the working life because it helps all areas of business,” Andrews noted.

“There is a misconception that creativity is a ‘light bulb’ moment but it’s not. Creativity is really a haphazard, tricky problem solving process that should allow people to work in groups but also alone. Offices should therefore create spaces where people can work in a creativity supporting way.

This year Andrews expects an even greater shift away from traditional ‘battery farm’ corporate workplaces to places that are more like creative studios – that means different kinds of workplaces that offer uninterrupted individual focus, developing ideas in a pair, generating solutions as a group, converging around ideas and allowing time for diffused thinking.

“These different options allow the mind to wander.”

Unconventional work area design

An extension of idea-centric offices is the unconventional work area design.

“These are not just for hipsters working at Google anymore. Unconventional work offices now offer meditation spaces, dressed-down conference rooms complete with sofas, bean bag chairs, vibrant colours, and lots of room for fun, stress busting activities like ping pong or foosball.”

Offices all over the world are adopting these new and unorthodox working and meeting spaces to attract young talent and make working spaces more fun and collaborative.

Home-style comforts

“We are receiving a growing number of requests to make South African offices more  relaxed and people friendly so people don’t feel they are sitting in a such a severe place,” Andrews adds.

Demand for homestyle comfort design is a sign that employers are listening to the desires of their employees and figuring out new, fun ways to get them to stay at work longer. This design trend is all about making offices feel more comfortable or homelike.

Dynamic spaces

Dynamic spaces is another big trend. They are typically defined by lightweight and moveable furniture with wheels, doors to open extra space, moveable green wall dividers and wipe boards or chalk boards. They are moveable, constantly fluctuating, engaging, and can transform from a space for company parties and activities to traditional conference rooms or meeting areas.

Said Andrews: “Dynamic spaces offer the opportunity for businesses to be a lot more creative with their space. Businesses are constantly changing and becoming more flexible, allowing colleagues and staff to try new things in innovative ways.”

Greenery & nature

More a long-standing design principle than a trend, this is not just about adding a few plants here and there around the office.

“This goes much further by integrating nature through the building in the form of textures, patterns, plants and natural lighting. Being close to nature and living plants instills a greater sense of calm in offices. While not new, we are seeing a strong increase in demand for green in the workplace,” Andrews concludes.

Increasingly companies are seeing the workplace as a strategic tool for productivity and collaboration by introducing workplace innovations that make offices much more appealing places to work.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, said: “What makes an office environment great is different for every company. But these are six innovations we are seeing in offices around the world and increasingly in South Africa.”

Overlap zones
“A way to encourage spontaneous collaboration among employees is designing space to allow for “overlap zones,” which make it more likely employees will run into each other,” says Andrews.
Research from the University of Michigan showed that when scientists worked in a space where they ran into one another they were more likely to collaborate. The data suggests that creating opportunities for unplanned interactions among employees both inside and outside the organisation actually improves performance.

Samsung built an office that includes large outdoor areas sandwiched between floors that encourages employees to hang out and mingle in shared spaces. Online clothing store Zappos purposefully planned to build a smaller office for their U.S. headquarters to increase the number of probable interactions per hour per acre.

Configurable desks
Said Andrews: “We are seeing greater demand for desks there fit together like puzzle pieces. They can be moved, reworked and reattached as employees see fit. It matches their immediate needs such as working solo for a collaborative project.”

Music rooms
“One way to boost employee productivity at the office is to foster a positive company culture,” Andrews notes.

It’s not prevalent in South Africa yet but overseas music rooms are proving popular, as long they are soundproofed! At LinkedIn’s headquarters in Mountain View, California employees can play in a room that’s stocked with high-end music equipment like drums, guitars, keyboards, AV equipment, microphone stands, and even stage lighting.

The program improves the company’s marketability to potential employees, especially musicians, both as a specific perk and means to demonstrate the company is not like all the others.

A monitor revolution
We could be entering a new age for office monitors in 2018. “The past year has seen many offices upgrade their screens to 32-inch or even bigger screens and the latest models feature almost border-less edges or even a curved display.”
Besides the significant productivity advantages, companies are also beginning to deeply consider how their technology impacts on the look and feel of the workplace.
Monitors and other technology have become more prominent, as more workplaces opt for sit-stand desks, the back of the screen and the cables are more visible. These latest screens create a sleeker, modern look across the workplace, in turn, organisations are also choosing support tools with aesthetic appeal and that hide cables.

A superdesk
Designing an office space around the “open office” concept is one thing. But what about creating a shared desk for your company’s entire staff?
To represent their collaborative approach to work, marketing company the Barbarian Group built a 400 square meter desk that weaves through their office headquarters in New York City, which can sit up to 170 people at once.

“Of course this might note be practical for employees who want to work in a quieter spaces but it does create a fun sense of oneness,” says Andrews.

Plants and greenery
It isn’t too hard to believe that spending time around nature and sunlight and fragrant greenery is good for you. But now, there’s scientific research to back that claim. A 2014 study in Journal of Experimental Psychology by Nieuwenhuis et al showed that adding plants and greenery in an office can help increase employee productivity by 15%.

“Office landscaping helps the workplace become a more enjoyable, comfortable and profitable place to be,” Andrews adds.

For example, Google’s office in Tel Aviv, Israel has an indoor orange grove that turns an otherwise normal, collaborative space into a relaxing area that makes you feel like you’re sitting outside on a park bench.

Great offices are not merely well decorated and thoughtfully designed, but also have a profound effect on workers’ productivity and their sense of well-being.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office says, “It’s one of the main reasons why there’s a trend the world over for companies to make over their boring and old furniture by including stylish, pleasing chairs, couches and desks which is transforming utilitarian, drab spaces.”

Here’s how great office space can enhance productivity in the work place:

Boring furniture will make you lazy – and bored
Being surrounded with boring furniture, individuals oftentimes lose interest in work and lead to a drop in productivity “Even if we don’t think dull workplaces impact productivity they do by creating a subconscious listlessness that is associate with dreary surroundings,” Andrews says.

Vibrant colours bring enthusiasm
Lots of offices are choosing furniture and fittings in bright colours. “Bright colours assist in lifting a person’s mood. It’s a good way to alleviate stress, as well as increase productivity,” says Andrews.

Standing desks making your healthier
Several studies have discovered a link between the amount of time an individual spends sitting and her or his odds of developing diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

For example, one 2010 Australian study, discovered that for every additional hour participants spent sitting on a daily basis, their overall threat of dying within the study period (7 years) increased by 11%.

Says Andrews: ”A 2012 study discovered that if the average person in America decreased her or his sitting time to 3 hours a day, life expectancy would increase by 2 years.”

Keep it clean, and orderly
“Cleanliness and order are very important factors for an office that feels good to work in,” noted Andrews. “ A disorganised office deprives workers of the enthusiasm and send a message than sloppiness is OK.”

A clean and orderly office, helps to keep workers comfortable and productive.

Fixed spaces for handy items
A good idea is to always keep things in their place, as well as keeping them handy.

“Often workers put off their work because they need to get up and go to an additional place for finishing the task or wonder around trying to find something like a stapler. Keeping items handy won’t just speed work up, but it also makes you more productive,” says Andrews.

Where possible let the daylight in
“We all know the uncomfortable feeling of being stuck in a windowless room under fluorescent lights during daylight hours,” says Andrews. “Lack of natural light has profoundly negative effect on people’s health and therefor productivity.”

In a study entitled Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life researchers at the Neuroscience program at Northwestern University in Chicago, reported that the detrimental impact of working in a windowless environment is a universal phenomenon.

It concluded that there is a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life.

“Employees who did not have windows reported reduced scores than their counterparts upon life quality measures associated with vitality and physical problems. Also, they had poorer outcomes within measures of overall sleep efficiency, sleep quality, daytime dysfunction, as well as sleep disturbances,” Andrews added.

Furniture installed by Inspiration Office is created in South Africa by AngelShack. It is German designed but locally produced to international standards. All furniture is VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds such as adhesives and dyes) free, made from sustainable material and coated with anti-microbial finishing.

AngelShack is one of the first companies in the world to apply this anti-germ technology.

Most annoying office habits revealed

A major study by Rubbermaid in Canada has revealed the most annoying breakroom habits of office workers.

Top of the list of annoying office behaviour is leaving a splattered microwave (37%), followed by dishes piled in the sink instead of being put in the dishwasher (28%), and co-workers heating up or eating foods with strong odours (21%).

More than 1000 Canadian office workers surveyed by Angus Reid Forum on behalf of Rubbermaid found that nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) believe that men are the guilty parties and leave the most mess in the kitchen.

Junior employees and interns are also being blamed, with 65% and 56% of respondents respectively citing them as the mess-makers.

When asked whether they themselves have left a mess without tidying up after themselves, only one in 10 respondents (6%) admitted they had.

Of those surveyed, 68% stated they have never confronted a co-worker about leaving a messy kitchen, and only 15% have directly spoken to the person they believe committed a kitchen faux-pas. Other tactics used by workers to address a colleague include leaving a note posted in the kitchen (13%), sending an all-staff email and hoping the intended recipient gets the message (10%), leaving the suspected colleague an anonymous ‘post it’ note on their desk, and telling their boss or manager (both 2%).

Other survey findings include:

  • 44% of Canadians who work in offices with shared kitchens bring their lunch to work every day;
  • 29% of millennial respondents don’t bring a lunch to work so they don’t have to eat with colleagues, which they prefer not to do;
  • A third of female respondents (33%) have complained or gossiped about a co-worker who they believe leaves messes in the office kitchen; and
  • 57% of those who rarely or never bring their lunches to work cite that the office microwave has “more splatter stains than an episode of CSI”.

Source: Stationery News

Office tech fails cost nine working days a year

UK workers are losing on average nine working days due to technology failing around the office, a new survey by Ebuyer.com has revealed.

The survey of UK office workers, conducted by the UK’s largest independent online tech retailer, revealed that one in ten workers wastes up to 30 minutes a day due to technology not working in the workplace, with the average time lost totalling 15 minutes and 17 seconds.

With 253 working days in 2018, this totals over nine working days being lost next year – a staggering number, especially for small businesses.

Workers in the legal sector lost the most amount of time each day due to technology issues, spending an average of 17 minutes and 10 seconds waiting for issues to be resolved. Those working in the IT industry lost on average 17 minutes.

Engineering and manufacturing workers also featured in the top three, losing on average 16 minutes, 44 seconds.

The industries that saw workers lose the most time due to office tech fails were:

• Legal (17 minutes, 10 seconds).
• Information technology (17 minutes, 2 seconds).
• Engineering and manufacturing (16 minutes, 44 seconds).
• Recruitment and HR (16 minutes, 26 seconds).
• Marketing, advertising and PR (15 minutes, 59 seconds).
• Accountancy, banking and finance (15 minutes, 40 seconds).
• Property and construction (15 minutes, 28 seconds).
• Healthcare (15 minutes, 23 seconds).
• Teaching and education (15 minutes, 9 seconds).
• Public services and administration (15 minutes, 8 seconds).

In an ever increasing digital world, it is no surprise that internet connectivity issues was the most common tech fail in UK offices, with 44% of workers claiming this has affected them in the last six months.

Computers and laptops crashing was the second most common tech fail (41%), followed by the printer breaking (40%).As businesses look to implement measures throughout the company in line with GDPR, which comes into effect from May 2018, a worrying amount of workers claim they have accidentally sent an email to the wrong person (15%), with a further 7% losing time at work due to the work system being hacked.

Over 6% of workers have accidentally clicked on a spam email – a sure fire way to cause a headache for the company’s IT team.

Dave Jones, product buyer at Ebuyer.com, said: “The research we conducted has revealed some really shocking figures. Over nine working days lost to technology is sure to have a huge impact on businesses, especially small businesses and start-ups.

“Making sure that technology is regularly updated will stop issues with computers regularly crashing, and having systems backed up on servers should keep time lost to a minimum. Keeping equipment around the office updated and replacing old and slow technology may cost in the short term, but the time saved will soon balance this out.

“Keeping office supplies stocked is also a quick and easy way to keep time lost to a minimum, as over one in seven (13%) workers lost time in work due to the printer running out of paper.”

By Nick Ismail for Information Age 

Open plan layouts are the Marmite of the office

Open plan offices are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. And they continue to strongly divide opinion in the workplace.

But one thing is for sure, they are likely to be around for a while as businesses struggle to balance the tension between the need for immediate collaboration and the demand for individual, quiet spaces where people can concentrate.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that his company continues to install both open plan offices and private office spaces in equal measure despite the growing global pushback against open plan.

“It’s a horse for courses situation. There is no cut and dried winner in the debate. It really does depend on whether open plan is best for your employees and the way they work rather than a philosophical debate.”

Andrews does acknowledge however that there is a growing body of recent evidence that shows open plan makes it harder to work.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that studied 40 000 workers in 300 US office buildings concluded that enclosed private offices outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of Indoor Environmental Quality – namely in acoustics, privacy and proxemics (how uncomfortable people feel when forced into close proximity to other people) issues.

Said Andrews: “Benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.”

Another study by SP Banbury and DC Berry showed that loud noise has become one of the greatest irritants at work. It revealed that 99% of employees reported that their concentration was impaired by various types of office noise, especially telephones left ringing at vacant desks and people talking in the background. A further study showed that 68% of those surveyed become frustrated when sounds levels rise above normal conversation level.

Even employees at Apple, which just spent $5 billion and six years building a centralised campus around the open-plan office concept, are reportedly dissatisfied. Some are said to have insisted on their own space outside of the new spaceship style building.

“But, just like a taste for Marmite, many businesses have a definite passion for the lack of walls or other physical barriers in open plan offices.

“Open spaces makes it easier for employees to interact with each other on a regular basis. The constant intermingling not only generates a sense of camaraderie, it also enhances the flow of information and teamwork.”

Andrews noted than another benefit which may not immediately spring to mind is that of budget.

“Having an open plan office can save the company money, as costs are reduced on construction, utilities and office equipment. It is more efficient to have everyone in one room in terms of utility bills and office supplies. It also provides the best flexibility to accommodate extra capacity for when the company grows as desks can easily be reconfigured.

“It really comes to how your company works best,” Andrews concluded.

Don’t just sit there!

Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.

And there’s a direct relationship between time spent sitting and your risk of early mortality of any cause.

Richard Andrews, Managing Director of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy, said that most workers have gotten so used to the notion of sitting all day, they don’t even think about the damage it could be doing to their bodies.

“Our analysis shows that people sit in a car or bus to get to work and once there, sit at their desks, sit in meeting rooms and even sit in the canteen for lunch. And what compounds the problem these days, is the culture of answering emails after work hours.

“This can easily addd an extra hour of sitting to the day. This means workers will typically sit for between 10 and 12 hours a day without even realising it. And it can have a devastating impact on peoples’ health – even if they exercise frequently.”

One study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of a with those who logged more than four hours a day of screen time.

Those with greater screen time had a nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause and about a 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack.

Andrews added that if there was ever doubt of the effects of sitting, most people ‘shrink’ during the day. The reason lies in the vertebral column, specifically in the inner part of the vertebral disc. The discs in the spine are composed of a gelatin-like material which provides cushioning and protection to the spine.

“It’s your body’s shock absorber. And with the pounding your vertebrae take during the day with by sitting, it needs time to rest, rejuvenate and elongate again. Sitting for hours literally causes us to shrink a little during the work day.

“There is however a simple way to combat the negative effects of sitting on our health, “ Andrews noted.

“People in offices should take a movement break every 30 minutes. No matter how much you exercise, you still need to do this. Research shows that people who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time had the lowest risk of early death.”

Andrews said that while people know they need to move more, guidelines on what the entails should be more specific and should be put up in every office and encouraged by management.

“For every 30 consecutive minutes of sitting, stand up and move/walk for five minutes at brisk pace to reduce the health risks from sitting.”

Study results indicate that those who frequently sat in stretches less than 30 minutes had a 55% lower risk of death compared to people who usually sat for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.

People who frequently sat for more than 90 minutes at a stretch had a nearly two-fold greater risk of death than those who almost always sat for less than 90 minutes at a stretch, he said.

Andrews added that an added benefit of moving every 30 minutes was to encourage older workers to move.

“As we age we tend naturally to become more sedentary, but this increases the risk of poor health. Everyone will benefit from moving every 30 minutes. It’s important people just make it a habit.”

What time do you power down your laptop at night? Look at the plug next to your bed. How many devices are plugged in there? Your answers to these questions have probably revealed you’re at the office more than you’re actually in it, tucking into some bite-sized admin with breakfast at the corner café or catching a quick IM meeting from the back seat of an Uber. Your staff are no doubt doing the same. So, how do you restore work-life balance to encourage happy, healthy and motivated employees when everyone’s overflowing inbox is tagging along home with them? Make them feel at home with a lifestyle-focused work environment.

At the moment, a fundamental shift away from hierarchically designed offices, toward more inclusive, collaborative spaces, is taking place. One major reason for this is the growing platoon of Millennials in the modern workforce. These super-social and adept multi-taskers like open plan coffee-shop style environments, tech bedecked meeting hubs, acoustic pods, and even working from treadmills or barber shop chairs is not an unusual request these days. As a result, more and more companies are starting to mimic the trendy offices of the Googles and Facebooks of the world. But what if that doesn’t align with your brand… and your older staff just can’t comprehend the idea of morning meetings in an indoor treehouse?

Embracing lifestyle-focused work spaces doesn’t mean your office needs to look like a children’s playground. It’s simply about making the office more flexible to your employee and business needs. That means the first step to an ideal workspace is to understand your company requirements, culture and staff. Traders are bound to their workstations, attorneys require privacy, creatives like space to throw ideas around in, and so all the lifestyle-focused workspaces for these kinds of employees will need to be different to efficiently support the way in which they operate. However, there are a few minor changes that we’ve noticed can help to streamline any and every office, improving efficiency while giving it a homey air.

Comfortable soft seating hubs, intimate task lighting, quiet areas, private spaces, warm colour palettes, and the smell of brewing coffee are just a few minor tweaks that make most staff feel at home in the office. But another major stand-out benefit and consideration of lifestyle-focused work spaces is scalability. Lifestyle focused spaces allow for expansion without the costs of a new workstation for each new staff member. Instead, employees may move around an environment, without desk ownership, working from a pod or quiet room, canteen or bar-height collaboration table.

A lifestyle focused workspace that looks and feels more welcoming and comfortable will put your staff at ease, make their work-lives more meaningful and encourage them to invest more passion and drive into a company that is investing in their in-office experience and overall work-life balance. After all, home is where the heart is. Start your journey to a more lifestyle-focused workspace today and get more heart from your staff, as well as a responsive and agile office that changes and grows around you, instead of the other way around.

By Robyn Gray, Associate Director for Tétris South Africa

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