Tag: work

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.

The future of work in a digital world

By Cathy Smith, MD at SAP Africa

The digital age, and the new technologies it’s brought with it – blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality – is seen by many as a threat to our way of life as we know it. What if my job gets automated? How will I stay relevant? How do we adapt to the need for new skills to manage customer expectations and the flood of data that’s washing over us?

The bad news is that the nature of work has already changed irrevocably. Everything that can be automated, will be. We already live in an age of “robot restaurants”, where you order on a touch screen, and machines cook and serve your food. Did you notice the difference? AmazonGo is providing shopping without checkout lines. In the US alone, there are an estimated 3.4 million drivers that could be replaced by self-driving vehicles in 10 years, including truck drivers, taxi drivers and bus drivers.

We’re not immune from this phenomenon in Africa. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that 41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation, compared to 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria and 52% in Kenya. This doesn’t mean millions of jobs on the continent will be automated overnight, but it’s a clear indicator of the future direction we’re taking.

The good news is that we don’t need to panic. What’s important for us in South Africa, and the continent, is to realise that there is plenty of work that only humans can do. This is particularly relevant to the African context, as the working-age population rises to 600 million in 2030 from 370 million in 2010. We have a groundswell of young people who need jobs – and the digital age has the ability to provide them, if we start working now.

Make no mistake, there’s no doubt that this so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is going to disrupt many occupations. This is perfectly natural: every Industrial Revolution has made some jobs redundant. At the same time, these Revolutions have created vast new opportunities that have taken us forward exponentially.

Between 2012 and 2017, for example, it’s estimated that the demand for data analysts globally grew by 372%, and the demand for data visualisation skills by more than 2000%. As businesses, this means we have to not only create new jobs in areas like data science and analytics, but reskill our existing workforces to deal with the digital revolution and its new demands.

So, while bus drivers and data clerks are looking over their shoulders nervously right now, we’re seeing a vast range of new jobs being created in fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), data analysis, computer science and engineering.

This is a challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, where our levels of STEM education are still not where they should be. That doesn’t mean there are no opportunities to be had. In the region, for example, we have a real opportunity to create a new generation of home-grown African digital creators, designers and makers, not just “digital deliverers”. People who understand African nuances and stories, and who not only speak local languages, but are fluent in digital.

This ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds, as it were, will be the new gold for Africa. We need more business operations data analysts, who combine deep knowledge of their industry with the latest analytical tools to adapt business strategies. There will also be more demand for user interface experts, who can facilitate seamless human-machine interaction.

Of course, in the longer term, we in Africa are going to have to make some fundamental decisions about how we educate people if we’re going to be a part of this brave new world. Governments, big business and civil society will all have roles to play in creating more future-ready education systems, including expanded access to early-childhood education, more skilled teachers, investments in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills, and providing robust technical and vocational education and training (TVET). This will take significant intent not only from a policy point of view, but also the financial means to fund this.

None of this will happen overnight. So what can we, as individuals and businesspeople, do in the meantime? A good start would be to realise that the old models of learning and work are broken. Jenny Dearborn, SAP’s Global Head of Learning, talks about how the old approach to learning and work was generally a three-stage life that consisted largely of learn-work-retire.

Today, we live in what Ms Dearborn calls the multi-stage life, which includes numerous phases of learn-work-change-learn-work. And where before, the learning was often by rote, because information was finite, learning now is all about critical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity and innovation and even the ability to un-learn what you have learned before.

Helping instill this culture of lifelong learning, including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure, is something that all companies can do, starting now. The research is clear: even if jobs are stable or growing, they are going through major changes to their skills profile. WEF’s Future of Jobs analysis found that, in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required across all occupations will be different by 2020 compared to what was needed to perform those roles in 2015.

This is a huge wake-up call to companies to invest meaningfully in on-the-job training to keep their people – and themselves – relevant in this new digital age. There’s no doubt that more learning will need to take place in the workplace, and greater private sector involvement is needed. As employers, we have to start working closely with should therefore offer schools, universities and even non-formal education to provide learning opportunities to our workers.

We can also drive a far stronger focus on the so-called “soft skills”, which is often used as a slightly dismissive term in the workplace. The core skills needed in today’s workplace are active listening, speaking, and critical thinking. A quick look at the WEF’s “21st Century Skills Required For The Future Of Work” chart bears this out: as much as we need literacy, numeracy and IT skills to make sense of the modern world of work, we also need innately human skills like communication and collaboration. The good news is that not only can these be taught – but they can be taught within the work environment.

It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but to be successful in the Digital Age, businesses are going to have to go back to what has always made them strong: their people. Everyone can buy AI, build data warehouses, and automate every process in sight. The companies that will stand out will be those that that focus on the things that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning – uniquely human skills.

I have no doubt that the future will not be humans OR robots: it will be humans AND robots, working side by side. For us, as business people and children of the African continent, we’re on the brink of a major opportunity. We just have to grasp it.

It’s been called the new cancer and it’s killing us. Sitting hunched forward looking at a screen all day causes a laundry list of health issues, from heart and brain damage to back, hip and neck problems.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that such is the growing awareness of the dangers of sitting, that in addition to ensuring correct ergonomics for desks and chairs, she increasingly works with movement specialists like Monja Boonzaier, who helps employees preserve their health in the office.

Boonzaier (who teaches locally the internationally accepted Feldenkrais Method of body awareness and movement) says that although many people understand how bad all day sitting is, much of the advice on how to combat it “is impractical and wrong.”

“For example, people are advised to sit leaning back. But how can you sit back in chair and work on a computer? A lot of advice is also centred around having a strong core because you need those muscles to hold you upright.

“It’s a good theory but people know from their own experience a strong stomach does not make you sit upright. If you watch someone who has been told to sit or stand straight they cannot maintain this ‘correct’ position without a continuous effort. As soon as their attention shifts to an activity that is interesting they will slump back to their original posture.”

Boonzaier says that dynamic sitting is a powerful solution and is increasingly taught the world over as a way to combat the ill effects of sitting all day.

“We recommend arm and wrist stretches, doing side bends to the left and the right to stretch lower back pains, and also doing glute stretches like lunges or swinging each leg forward and back while standing. You should also regularly roll your feet, rock your pelvis back and forth, shift your weight to the left and right sides of your seat, and press each ear to its nearest shoulder. “

Boonzaier says this only take a few minutes and suggests doing a few of them every hour as it will dramatically reduce joint stiffness and back pain. “Ideally people should also get up from their desks and walk around the office or up and down the stairs every hour too.”

Trim, however, warns that stretching at work doesn’t mean you can skip exercise. “The three best exercises to combat sitting for long spells are squats, lunges and wall sits. The best thing about these exercises that you can do them anywhere, you don’t need a gym.”

Trim adds that ergonomically friendly desks and chairs was also fundamental to good office health. “Amongst other things, this means having an adjustable chair that supports your spine and allows you to sit with feet flat on the floor and thighs parallel to the floor. Desks should have clearance for your knees. Computer monitors should be placed directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard.”

There is another often overlooked aspect to sitting all day – we forget to breathe.
“Bad posture and stress at work often makes us forget to breathe properly. Every hour, take a few moments to take three or four really deep breaths. Breathe in deeply and then out slowly and press the breath out of your lungs. This can be done while stretching.”

Offices don’t just have an aesthetic impact on us: we are also influenced by how we sense sound, touch and smell at work.

“Together, the perception of all these senses help or hinder our ability to focus and concentrate. And this is particularly true of sound in the workplace,“ said Linda Trim, Director at workplace specialists Giant Leap.

“Everyone has had the unhappy experience of trying to get something important done when colleagues are making a lot of noise.

“Loud noise has definitely become one of the greatest irritants at work.

“Studies by architecture firm Perkins & Will showed how important workplace acoustics are to performance and satisfaction, and that good acoustic design equals good business.

“In 2016 it showed statistically significant changes in creativity scores associated with different acoustic conditions,” Trim notes.

Workers reported that they were more creative when office noise was masked “white” noise. A 2005 study on office noise and employee concentration by Banbury and Berry, showed 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.

“Interestingly researchers also found no evidence that people become used to these sounds over time. So people don’t just get accustomed to noisy offices, they are consistently bothered. And in extreme cases it can cause them to resign,” said Trim.

According to another study by Witterseh et al on the effects of noise distraction in the workplace, 68% of those surveyed become frustrated when sound levels creep just above normal conversation, and they also reported increased fatigue and difficulty in concentrating.

Says Trim: “Often the reason why background sound distracts us is because we try to work out which sound to focus on, and what sounds to ignore. If nearby speech is not relevant to your team or your work, it becomes even more distracting.”

To increase concentration and in the workplace, Trim said that companies should pay as much attention to acoustics in the office as they do aesthetics to create a productive workspace and keep employees happy.

“For example, introducing white noise in all areas will mask all conversations, so it needs to be applied strategically. Office spaces that have variety of individual, small group, and collegial areas can help the issue, especially when un-assigned seating is enforced so individuals can choose where they wanted to work according to their chaning attentional needs.”

Trim adds that increasing numbers of South Africa companies are also installing sound proof booths so people can make calls without disturbing others.

“Today there are many advanced, affordable products to be used in placing acoustics in the office such as light fittings, suspended ceilings, wall coverings and office furniture. Using materials that absorb sound is key. Carpeting, screens or walls covered in fabric, acoustical panels or drop ceilings with acoustical tiles can help neutralise sound issues,” Trim concludes.

How to keep on top of your e-mails

They are one of the biggest distractions of office life, pinging into your inbox every few minutes.

But ignoring your emails, even if you get hundreds a day, is not the best way to be more productive.
Checking just a few times at work has the opposite effect, a review by Kingston University has found, and will probably just make you more stressed.

Ignoring your emails, even if you get hundreds a day, is not the best way to be more productive. Checking just a few times at work has the opposite effect, a review by Kingston University has found, and will probably just make you more stressed, even if you get hundreds a day, is not the best way to be more productive.

Checking just a few times at work has the opposite effect, a review by Kingston University has found, and will probably just make you more stressed.

The four steps

1) Delete or file away emails whenever you check  your inbox – by reducing inbox clutter, people report feeling less overloaded.

2) Switch off email alerts – interruptions can have a negative impact on our efficiency, but make sure that you are still logging on every 45 minutes or so – to stay on top.

3) Use the ‘delay send’ function when sending email out of hours – this means recipients only receive their email during normal working hours. While you are taking advantage of the flexibility of email, you aren’t imposing this on the recipient.

4) Review your personal email strategies – are your emails purposeful and efficient or are they habitual and reactionary? The best advice is apparently to log on every 45 minutes to stay on top of new emails and work priorities.

The review’s author, Dr Emma Russell, Head of the Wellbeing at Work Research Group at Kingston Business School, says: “People use email to help them get their jobs done. Most people say they couldn’t imagine being able to do their work effectively without it, and very few send non-work critical email during their working day.”

The review highlights three popular myths which are not backed up by the academic evidence.

Email myths
The review highlights three popular myths which are not backed up by the academic evidence.
The first is that emails are a ‘time-wasting distraction from “real” work’, while in fact recent studies show up to 92 per cent of emails received are critical to people’s jobs.

Another is that we should limit ourselves to checking email a few times a day, such as in the morning, at lunchtime and before leaving work, which in fact makes people feel less in control.

The third myth is that emails stop us getting on well with other people, because of ‘back-covering’ messages, for example, cc’ing in colleagues who people want to implicate in mistakes.

However studies show the cc’ing culture of copying people into emails in facts forges rewarding relationships by keeping workmates informed and in the loop.

Dr Russell wrote: ‘The same participants also reported that processing more email resulted in greater perceived coping – actually dealing with email and keeping on top of it helped workers to feel in control.”

The study was commissioned by Acas, the mediation service which also provides workplace training.

By Victoria Allen for The Daily Mail

Open plan: the suboptimal office?

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

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

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

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

But as the layout became commonplace, problems emerged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s a company to do?

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

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

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

The way you dress says a lot about you – especially in the workplace. Dress codes differ across sectors (that’s a reality), but the general rule is: at work, keep it professional.

The way we dress at work not only affects how others perceive us, but affects the way we feel. Research shows the way you dress can significantly increase your confidence which results in increased productivity – what psychologists call ‘enclothed cognition’. Even if you’re not into fashion, it’s something to consider.

Research also suggests it takes just seven seconds to make a first impression. Fashion missteps can create misconceptions about your skills or how seriously you take your job. If your wardrobe is holding you back, it might be time to revamp this year. Here’s why:

What not to wear
Company dress codes are a good guide as to how to dress in the workplace. Informal attire in a corporate can suggest you value comfort over anything else and send the message you’re in cruise-mode. Casual attire might be well-received in certain workspaces, if everyone is on the same page. It’s about knowing what the boundaries are, so you don’t overstep them.

When you join a company, ask management or HR for guidelines on the general dress code and use them as a starting point. If you’ve been with the company for a while, it’s never too late to start over and it’s worth asking what the dress code in the office actually is, to find out if you’re on track.

The new formal
Workplace research shows more offices are moving towards ‘business casual’ in place of suits, but often the rules aren’t clearly defined. Even experienced professionals sometimes have trouble deciding what’s appropriate. If there are grey areas (or the dress code seems to be shifting), chat to colleagues or management to get a more definite idea of what’s appropriate, before going full tracksuit-and-trainers.

No end to the ’80s
Vintage styles are having a revival, but it’s wise to mix old-school trends with modern clothes. Dressing like it’s still the 1980s can give the impression you’re out of touch and find it difficult to embrace change. If you’re into vintage, mix it up with classic pieces to keep it professional.

Work wardrobe goals
It may be tempting to don a different look for each day of the week but it’s not always sustainable. In fact, Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg swears by t-shirts and jeans every day to eliminate unnecessary decisions and implement routine. Although a ‘one-look-every-day’ approach is a bit extreme, there’s value in simplicity.

A minimalistic wardrobe is about quality over quantity. Stick to fewer quality items that last longer and look more professional. A capsule wardrobe will save you infinite time deciding what to wear in the mornings – and you have less chance of committing a serious office-wear faux pas.

The right fit
Believe it or not, psychologists say poorly fitting clothes give the impression the wearer is unrealistic about their abilities. If clothes are too small, it suggests the wearer is lacks confidence. Oversized clothes allude to the fact that the wearer is trying to hide from the spotlight. Buy clothes that fit. And if your weight fluctuates – adjust accordingly.

Start the New Year with an objective assessment of the message you’re sending to colleagues. You want to be known for the things you say and do, not your outfit malfunction.

Studies show 53% of South Africans don’t take their annual leave. SA may be a hard-working nation, but these religiously diligent habits have a downside.

Not all employees jump at the chance to take their annual leave for various reasons, including fear of falling behind at work or disappointing their manager. However, employees who take adequate time to rest make for a healthy business and taking leave should be encouraged. Here’s why:

Down with stress
By taking a break, employees get a chance to re-energise mind and body. Studies confirm after a holiday, employees are less stressed and can manage work responsibilities more efficiently. Accumulative workplace stress can lead to headaches, anxiety, high blood pressure and depression – all reducing work performance and productivity.

Workplace productivity
A rested mind and body boosts productivity and creativity – and allows employees to approach tasks with perspective and a fresh mindset. Recognise hard work and targets met by offering incentives that extend annual leave (bonus leave days).

Giving an extra annual leave day on an employee’s birthday or offering a half day for overtime worked highlights the importance of taking time off to recharge. The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously – we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.

Decline in absenteeism
Encouraging employees to take annual leave is also linked to individual and organisational well-being. A healthy and happy employee is less likely to be absent on an ongoing basis. Stipulate a date by which employees should use their leave, reminding them to book for busy periods like school or summer holidays. Consider closing during a major holiday period, if possible, and encourage all employees to take leave.

Positive energy
Research shows recharging promotes a positive outlook towards new projects and challenges. Moreover, this positivity is often infectious and can be felt throughout the business. Instil a holiday-friendly atmosphere by responding positively when an employee applies for leave. They’re less likely to apply for leave if they feel it’s frowned upon or discouraged.

Creating an environment that encourages taking accumulated holiday leave offers the opportunity to improve the mood and productivity of employees. It can also help better manage your workforce. Managers can avoid last-minute holiday requests by making it easy to apply for annual leave and responding to requests in a positive way.

A happy team is more engaged and likely to view their jobs as meaningful work to be pursued for the long-term. As much as business owners want to grow a workforce of super-human employees, humans need to rest. For real growth, give employees the leave they deserve.

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