Approximately 15% to 20% of people are neurodivergent, a collection of conditions that includes autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.
Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, says: “Heightened awareness of neurodiversity is leading to a range of more inclusive policies and procedures in the office space the world over.
“Organisations are increasingly making physical and cultural adaptations to create physical work environments that support the full range of employees from neurotypical to neurodivergent.
“Employers are beginning to recognise that, in addition to simply being the right thing to do, accommodating neurodiverse people can provide a significant competitive advantage. Neurodivergent employees often tend to have exceptional capacity for creative problem solving and greater attention to detail.
Creating work spaces that accommodate everyone’s needs can seem overwhelming.
“We recommended several design interventions, from improving acoustics and lighting to introducing access to nature. But one simple, often neglected element employers might want to think about when considering the environment they provide to employees is the colour of the walls.”
Instead of using paint as a decorative or branding element, Trim suggested thinking about its emotional and psychological effect on neurodivergent staff. She cautions against using bright colours and bold artwork in rooms meant for focused work.
“Loud colours can actually be oppressive for workers who tend to get overwhelmed easily.”
A 2016 study in Frontiers in Psychology indicated that yellow is the most fatiguing and most sensory-loaded colour. Researchers said a yellow room can be punishing for people with autism spectrum disorder whose sensitivity to sensory stimulation is already enhanced.
Trim also notes the common corporate decorator instinct of painting surfaces to match a company’s brand colours.
“Colours that work on logos don’t necessarily work in environments. For example, painting walls electric orange, once a very popular branding colour, can make someone agitated or even hungry.”
Trim notes that overstimulated environments are typical of tech headquarters in places like Silicon Valley. “They want you to be there for long hours but they’ve been proven to stress people out. If you’re absolutely compelled to use company colours in interiors, introduce it in small doses, like desk accessories or pillows.”
This doesn’t mean offices have to paint everything in white.
As a general guideline, light greens and blues are the most welcoming colours for workers with sensory issues. Some neurodivergent workers actually need more stimulus too.
“People who are neurodivergent often need areas where they can get their energy out; game rooms aren’t not just fun social spaces. Those are absolutely critical for people who have excess energy. These are areas where companies can safely introduce brightly coloured walls.”
As over-indebted consumers reduce their spending, entrepreneurs are facing increasingly challenging circumstances.
A whopping 90% of entrepreneurs surveyed in a new report said that business was tough, with several saying they were taking pay cuts just to survive.
The Retail Capital Roll with the Punches report surveyed over 700 entrepreneurs.
According to the report, SMEs must work smart and make changes if need be, because it is not “business as usual”.
Retail Capital CEO Karl Westvig has 10 tips for entrepreneurs wanting to move “from panic to profit”.
1. Speed up cash flow
Speed up your inflows by having arrangements with bigger clients. If you have corporates or bigger companies on your book, ask for preferential payment terms and try to convince them to support you as an SME, as it is really their responsibility to assist.
2. Protect cash flow
If you can, reduce expenses and look at your overheads. Don’t get caught in the trap of a few consecutive months of overspending which could become the norm.
3. Build a data bank
This is a valuable asset for you, as it opens up new channels of funding. One of the biggest constraints for SMEs is funding.
If funders have data that is reliable and gives a track record of how the company operates – trading patterns, turnover levels, card vs. cash – this information can be leveraged to gain access to funding.
4. Know your funders
It is up to you to position your business in a way that speaks to the funders’ requirements. Importantly, there are also different funders for different stages of the business’ life cycle.
Get involved with an entrepreneurial community that is on the same journey as you, but not necessarily at the same level. Find one that exposes you to more mature businesses from whom you can learn.
6. Change direction
If you have a bad business model or it isn’t working, change direction. There is no straight curve, and it’s important that business owners understand that.
A tough market provides the opportunity to re-evaluate what matters to you as a business owner and your clients. You need to understand what’s most important to ensure that what you are offering stays relevant.
8. Embrace digital
More and more people are buying online and doing comparisons, so the more you embrace the opportunities that these online channels present, the better. There are plenty of tools available online – you just need to do some digging.
Having a positive attitude is essential. See the opportunity among the challenges and look for those gaps. You also need perspective when you face the challenge of rising costs, tighter margins and lower demand.
It can all be seen as an existential threat and you might want to put your head in the sand. Or you can process it and take it up as a challenge.
10. Be nice
People will do business with you if you’re a nice person, grateful and forgiving.
According to the promulgation of the amendments to the Unemployment Insurance- and the Basic Conditions of Employment Acts during 2019, parents are now entitled to take ten (10) days Parental Leave per annum.
Payment for the aforementioned leave can be claimed from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Such payment will be determined by the Department of Labour. Employers are therefore not legally obliged to pay employees for time off due to Parental Leave. The payment for Parental Leave is therefore similar to that of unpaid Maternity Leave as regulated by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
Parental Leave will apply to all employees who do not qualify for maternity leave. These employees will be entitled to ten (10) days unpaid Parental Leave when their child is born or when an adoption order is granted.
In cases of adoption of a child under the age of two (2) years, the adoptive parent will be entitled to ten (10) weeks of Adoptive Leave (two months and two weeks). Where there are two (2) adoptive parents, the one will be entitled to ten (10) weeks Adoptive Leave and the other will be entitled to ten (10) days Parental Leave.
In the event of a surrogacy agreement, the one parent will be entitled to ten (10) weeks Commissioning Parental Leave whilst the other will qualify for ten (10) days Parental Leave.
Employers are advised to amend their leave policies and/or clauses in their contracts of employment dealing with leave to include the aforementioned. Failure to do so will not revoke the entitlement to parental leave but will automatically incorporate it into the contract by virtue of the amendment to legislation.
The increasing migration of flexible office space and co-working locations to areas outside of major metropolitan cities globally is creating a ‘flex economy’ that could contribute more than R3.8 trillion to global local economies in the next decade, according to the first comprehensive socio-economic study of second-city and suburban workspaces. It also revealed that in South Africa, on average 265 new jobs are created in communities that contain a flexible workspace, with an extra R30.8 million per workspace going directly into the local economy.
This rise in local working is being largely driven by big companies adopting flexible working policies; moving away from relying on a single, central HQ and increasingly basing employees outside of the major metropolitan hubs in flex spaces. Most are doing so to improve employee wellbeing by allowing their people to work closer to home, and also to save money and boost productivity.
Jobs creation and the ‘sandwich economy’
Across the 19 countries analysed, the average individual workspace sustains 218 jobs. This includes temporary jobs created during the fitting-out stage of the office space, permanent jobs to run the office, including reception, maintenance, cleaning etc., plus the jobs associated with the occupancy of the workspace.
As well as direct job creation, flexible workspaces benefit the local area through an uplift in Gross Value Added (GVA), the measure of the value of goods and services produced in an area.
For the greater good
Aside from the direct financial impact, local office space has been found to benefit workers and local regions in other, societal ways.
The next 10 years
As well as assessing the impact of individual centres, Regus also looked at the estimated potential of each market to host a larger, national portfolio of local flexible workspaces.
Mark Dixon, CEO for Regus’ parent company IWG, said: “When people commute into major cities their wallets commute with them. Working locally keeps that spending power closer to home. What this study shows is that providing more opportunities for people to work closer to home can have a tremendous effect, not just on them, but on their local area too.”
A recent survey entitled What Millennials Want From the Workplace has revealed that workplace design and flexible working are top priorities for those aged between 22 and 40.
Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, says: “Even as Generation Z enters the workplace, designers concerned with the war for talent will continue to make efforts to accommodate the preferences of millennials – the generation born between 1981-1997 – because they are set to represent 75% of the workplace by 2025.”
The research was conducted by PWC, Colliers International, CBRE, Deka Immobilien GmbH and HLW International and it challenged some of the stereotypes about the working preferences of millennials – but also examined what really attracts and retains this generation.
Says Trim: “The survey focused on two areas – workplace and employer – and covered topics such as design, flexible working, workspace, wellness, loyalty, work/life balance and culture.”
What Millennials Want From the Workplace had the following key findings:
- The single most important thing to millennials when it comes to the workplace is design, followed by the work itself, location, and then colleagues
- 98% of millennials consider that culture is an important component of their workplace
- 95% of millennials believe that flexible working is important to their workplace experience
- 81% of millennials consider that workplace design has a moderate or high impact on day-to-day productivity, with 86% stating that well-designed common areas are very important
- 87% felt wellness was important, while 80% of millennials now demand healthy food options in the workplace
- 75% felt that they had a good work/life balance, with 72% considering that their employer supported this balance
- Millennials are loyal, with 74% intending to stay with their current employer for three or more years, a finding that goes against the stereotype of this “job-hopping” generation
- Talent retention is also a key factor, with 87% wanting employers to be more transparent about growth prospects
“The results are really telling; and a wake up call. The way people work and the what is expected of an office is changing so quickly. Businesses need to adapt to attract and retain the best talent and ensure their people are happy and productive.”
Industry 4.0 is changing the way we do business – particularly the traditional concept of workspace. Reputation Matters, a proudly African research agency, has been successfully working from a virtual office space since 2008 and shares five tips for acing it.
A virtual office is an office that exists almost entirely in cyberspace. Employees are free to work from anywhere that has an internet connection. Working from home or a coffee shop, or even from the side lines of a youngster’s soccer match, is commonplace. “Benefits of the virtual office include cost cutting on items like physical office maintenance, increased employee happiness and productivity as the daily commute is eliminated and they spend more time with family,” says Regine le Roux, managing director at Reputation Matters.
Le Roux explains that a virtual office does require a shift from the traditional office mentality and shares some tips for making it work:
Get the right people on board
It takes discipline and a high level of intrinsic motivation for employees to work from home. Management needs to be able to trust them to deliver quality work within agreed timelines. “We have an extensive recruitment process that gauges potential employees’ ability to work remotely,” says le Roux.
Have the right tools in place
Employees require functional laptops, cell phones, and internet connection to work from anywhere. The virtual office also requires cloud storage and digital systems for scheduling, conferencing, and task management; luckily, there are a host of business applications for every aspect of the business.
Have set team get-togethers
Convenient as the virtual office is, employees may feel increasingly isolated. “We have weekly Skype meetings and I make a point of it to check in telephonically with each employee for a monthly one-on-one. Monthly we also meet up for ‘Cheers for Peers’, an initiative that celebrates employee achievements with regional teams meeting face-to-face for a fun activity,” suggests le Roux.
Have set office hours
With increased connectivity comes the temptation to simply never switch off. Nowhere is this truer than in a virtual office, where the home environment often doubles as the office. ”I encourage my team to only be online after 07:00 and to switch off by 19:00, a balanced lifestyle key for productivity,” explains le Roux.
Have a professional office
Consider investing in a shared office space. This will enhance the reputation of your business when you need to host face-to-face client meeting. There are several service providers who give access to such leased office spaces for a fraction of the cost that it would take to buy and maintain a business property.
“We often read that the virtual office and flexible working hours is ‘the way of the future’ and we are proud to have stepped into future long ago,” says Le Roux.
Employees lose one to two hours, and often more, of productivity each day in work environments unsupportive of daily health – but there are easy, cost effective steps that can be taken to remedy the problem.
Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, says: ”Air quality, lighting and temperature are the top factors for positive influence on wellness.
“Other priorities include personal control of the workspace and more privacy from noise and people distractions. Given the importance of a healthy work environment to productivity and retention – 7 out of 10 employees are likely to stay at a job that enhances wellness – all businesses should invest some time in making the most of their space.”
Here are five ways to promote a healthy workplace:
1. Personalise your workspace
You may not always be able to renovate and install new furniture, but you can probably always make decorative and design improvements. “Hanging pictures, keeping fresh flowers or live plants at desks make a big difference,” says Trim. She also suggested improved, more people-friendly office layouts and positioning people so they have the most appealing views possible.
2. Create privacy in open layouts
Fewer offices with doors in lieu of more shared layouts saves money, so they’re here to stay. But you can still maintain your privacy in an open workplace. Says Trim: “Taking advantage of privacy rooms and hanging a Do Not Disturb sign when you need to focus or using common spaces away from your desk make a big difference to a sense of control. If you do have private spaces you can use, know where these are and how to reserve them.”
3. Bring in support tools
It would be ideal if every office provided the air quality, lighting, temperature and other factors we want, but opinions notoriously vary on what’s optimal. If you need more air or light, consider a desk fan or desk lamp. The fan can help for temperature that’s too warm. Keep a jacket or scarf on hand if temperatures are too cold.
4. Build good health habits into your daily schedule
Leaving your open workspace for a privacy room for even a few minutes each day is one example of a habit you can build into your schedule. “In addition, take your lunch break,” Trim advises. It’s good for networking too. Walk the floor for exercise and for a broader perspective on your work. “Drink water throughout the day.”
5. Invest your bonus productivity hour and build a virtuous cycle
According to the Future Workplace Wellness Study conducted by View, a US company that creates smart buildings, 67% of employees are more productive in workplaces that promote a healthy environment, and gains could mean one hour or more of increased productivity each day.
“Once you incorporate improvements to your workspace and gain that time back, invest it in your career,” Trim advises.
“Write a list of career enhancing activities and tick it off. Examples could include catching up on industry news, attending a webinar to update your skills, spending time with colleagues outside your immediate area – or even a wellness option like walking outside.”
By Lizle Louw and Shane Johnson for Webber Wentzel
Following the Constitutional Court’s Prince judgment, cannabis use, possession and cultivation in South Africa has been decriminalised with adult persons now permitted to use, possess and cultivate cannabis in a private place for personal consumption.
Given that Prince does not deal with the effects of the decriminalisation of cannabis in the workplace, many unanswered employment related questions emerge which we set out below.
What can be said, at this stage is that Prince does not affect an employer’s obligation to maintain a safe working environment for all of its employees, which includes prohibiting employees who are “intoxicated” from entering the workplace, and policies and testing applicable to alcohol use in the workplace are not likely to be appropriate in dealing with cannabis use.
Cannabis in the workplace
In terms of Prince, the use, possession and/or cultivation of cannabis by adults is permitted “in private”. Although cannabis use, possession and cultivation is not confined to one’s “home” or a “private dwelling”, it is likely to be difficult for an employee to argue that the workplace is a “private” space, especially given that the use of cannabis in public or in the presence of non-consenting adult persons is not permitted.
The more difficult issue is where employees use cannabis in private, outside of the workplace, and thereafter report for duty. Cannabis can affect an employee’s occupational capacity in various ways, including performing tasks more slowly, performing poorly when handling routine, monotonous tasks, difficulty in multi-tasking, difficulty in taking instructions from superiors, difficulty in making crucial decisions (especially in high risk situations), difficulty in operating machinery and/or motor vehicles. It is these consequences that an employer will have to consider when the employee reports for work and test positive for cannabis use.
The above scenario may not seem very different to employees using alcohol in private and then reporting for work. The difference, however, between alcohol and cannabis in relation to workplace policy is that for as long as alcohol is detected in the human body, it results in impairment; Cannabis may be detected in the human body for months after use, which at that time may no longer cause impairment.
Testing of employees for cannabis
Medical testing of employees remains regulated by section 7 of the Employment Equity Act (EEA). Medical testing of employees is permitted if it is justifiable in light of medical facts, employment conditions, social policy, the fair distribution of employee benefits or the inherent requirements of a job. An employer who wishes to test an employee for cannabis may be able to justify such testing relying on the provisions of the EEA. A number of tests (some of which are not available in South Africa at present) are used to test for cannabis: breath, blood, oral fluid (saliva), urine, sweat and hair.
Saliva tests will show cannabis use in the past 24 hours (which could be an indication that the employee is still impaired) but hair testing will show cannabis use for up to months after use (which could mean that the employee is no longer impaired). It will not necessarily be the actual testing that will be problematic, but what one does with the test results.
Workplace policies and procedures
Most employers enforce a zero tolerance approach to the use of any drugs and/or alcohol in the workplace. Prior to Prince it was relatively easy to deal with cannabis at work as cannabis use, possession and cultivation was a criminal offence. Following Prince, and given that traces of cannabis may remain in the body for months after use (which does not automatically result in impairment) employers may need to regulate cannabis as a separate issue and by implication through a separate policy and procedure. Zero tolerance policies may not be justifiable.
Employers and their occupational medical practitioners should consider the safety requirements at the workplace and determine whether a zero tolerance approach is justifiable or whether there is an acceptable limit of cannabis trace after some time of use. This may include conducting a screening test (such as a saliva test) that will show immediate past use and then conducting further tests to establish the level of impairment.
From those who choose to co-work when running a remote team, to growing startups and large corporations offering flexibility and autonomy, the spectacular growth of the co-working market seems to know no bounds.
Linda Trim, director at FutureSpace, says that according to a Global Coworking Unconfrence (the largest co-working series in the world) forecast, by 2022 there will be 30 432 spaces and 5.1 million paid co-working members worldwide.
Says Trim: “The market shows an average annual growth rate of 24.2 percent since 2007, and is less a way of working now than a way of life.”
So, what’s behind the explosion, and what does it mean for South Africa?
“The are so many benefits to coworking,” notes Trim. As demands on workplace flexibility increase, corporations are turning to coworking to solve the problem of rising commercial space costs while staying agile.”
She added shared workspaces are an energising, open and supportive environment for those who are not ready for their own office or enjoy the flux and energy of shared space. “It is precisely this flexibility that is so attractive for small businesses and entrepreneurs as they build. For startups, the coworking solution ticks all the boxes of flexible, affordable space, and a creative hub to foster new ideas and new business.”
The self-employed knowledge worker sector is growing too, bringing with it the need for hubs to provide social interaction, alternative locations than the cramped office desk or coffee shop, and clusters of interaction for connectivity.
So, if this market continues to grow and thrive as all the signs indicate, what is the impact on innovation?
For innovation to be successful, the ability to bounce ideas and to foster a culture of creativity is only part of the picture.
“Collaboration is also crucial to innovation, and it’s precisely this element that coworking provides,” says Trim. “The need to build links has always been a key part of business, but open innovation speeds up development. This means networking with people both inside and outside of your organisation, making coworking a powerful catalyst.”
Creating an incubator culture through coworking also has an impact on the speed of growth and success rate of startups. Coworking members grow through collaboration with the space operator where opportunities allow. This gives startups the chance to showcase their businesses to a wider audience that they may not otherwise have had access to.
“Startups fail slowly when they’re alone and can’t get impartial feedback. They fail fast when they have access to objective, well-intentioned feedback from fellow coworkers,” Trim adds.
“A high quality shared office provider will recognise your business model and growth ambitions and offer a rich and compelling program of networking events.”
By creating introductions and helping to build networks, entrepreneurs have more time to focus on innovation which is often the motivation to run their own businesses in the first place.
“As the coworking model continues to grow and diversify in South Africa, we can expect to see more opportunities and models for startup open culture innovation around the country,” Trim concludes.
For many employees the physical work environment ranks among one of the top factors that influence their decisions to join a company. And with a global war for talent intensifying, the workplace can be a strategic asset that distinguishes an organisation as an exceptional employer.
Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “As workplaces look to attract the best and brightest, companies are turning to design to help differentiate their work environment, focusing on an increased understanding of what employees really need to make them happy and engaged at work.”
Designing a magnetic workplace
How can workplace designers create a magnetic workplace that attracts employees?
Says Trim: “The most important principle is that the office space should make people feel really good.” Landscapes, nature views or the introduction of plants in the office strongly impact productivity because there is a powerful bond between humans and the natural world referred to as Biophilia. Studies have shown that being surrounded by nature improves both physical and mental health.
Feel good spaces should also be tactile and have ample daylight. Living walls, or biowalls, combined with natural materials bring a sense of the outside into the work environment.
Office appeal and productivity can also be improved by offering a variety of interior settings that allow employees to choose where they want to work that day based on the mode of work required.
“For example, in the morning, workers could gather in a cafe style area for coffee and informal interaction. In the afternoon, they can move to a gathering place designed for teamwork or to a privacy ‘hive’ for focused work,” says Trim.
Magnetic workplaces support the unique roles, work styles, and personalities of each individual, and provide a range of space types, furnishings, and multi-functional common areas that draw people in and keep them wanting to come back to the office.
The coming challenge for design
Telecommuting offers employees an alternative to working in a traditional office. This trend, combined with the number of hours people now spend online, means individuals are interacting in vastly different ways than they once were.
Remote work is likely to become ever more the norm. The designing challenge therefore is to create a space that attracts employees back to the office.
“A magnetic workplace will be defined as one that is so appealing that employees who might otherwise work remotely from home or in a coffee shop, choose to come and spend their day at work,” says Trim.
There are already examples of this in co-working spaces which blur the lines between office and social venue.
“Knowing that our future workplaces present a greater emphasis on virtual communication, workplace designers will be challenged to create physical spaces that encourage face-to-face interaction and speak to our innate need for human connection. Many view the workplace as a second home, so employees will be drawn to magnetic workplaces offering comfortable environments where they can work, socialise, and simply be themselves,” Trim concludes.