What office workers get up to each week

By Zoya Gervis for New York Post

A study examining the intricacies of workplace communication found the average office worker has 17 meetings, gatherings with colleagues and conferences with clients each week.

How was your evening? Did you see “Big Little Lies”? Questions like these might sound familiar, as the average office worker endures 21 bouts of awkward colleague small talk per week.

And to power through it all, they’ll consume 19 coffees or other beverages from Monday to Friday.

A study, conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with GoTo by LogMeIn, examined the working habits and behaviours of 2 000 employed people in the US, UK, France, Germany, India and Australia — and it discovered that in a typical day, the average office worker will look at 10 non-work related sites.

From four small talk interactions, four coffees and three meetings, employed workers have busy days.

And it appears that work isn’t always at the forefront of the average office worker’s mind. In fact, the office workers studied will visit a non-work-related website more than 50 times per week and be on their phone for non-work reasons a further 56 times.

That sees workers take more than 100 non-working mini-breaks throughout the week.

The research progressed to examine the tools and efficiencies of their current work-setup. The average worker juggles five different work programs a day and uses a further four collaboration tools. At any one time they will have six different tabs open on their computer.

Results showed that more than half (56 percent) felt their workplace had ineffective or lacking communication policies.

And as many as 64 percent say they waste time switching between all the tools they need to use to do their job.

Other barriers to productive office communication and productivity proved to be phones — with over half (55 percent) revealing phones to be the leading cause of their work distractions.

A further 46 percent cited their inability to focus on the job on loud conversations while another 44 percent said their personal emails were to blame for their lack of productivity.

News alerts (35 percent) and noisy construction near the office (32 percent) also made it into the top five office distractions.

When it comes to office communication, 64 percent of those studied revealed they waste time switching between different tools and programs they need to use daily.

As a result, 56 percent admit that their communication among colleagues is ineffective and could use some help.

“These days workers are inundated with a vast number of tools that are supposed to make work easier. However, without the right technology the number of tools can quickly become overwhelming,” said Mark Strassman, SVP and General Manager, Unified Communications and Collaboration at LogMeIn.

The many barriers and inefficiencies might be why over a third (38 percent) have suffered an embarrassing workplace miscommunication.

The most common miscommunication blunder in the workplace was found to be sending an email to the wrong person.

Other notable work-related miscommunications included making a spelling mistake (46 percent), having a grammar mistake (39 percent) or not speaking up in a meeting (34 percent).

In fact, one respondent had accidentally sent a text message sent for her boyfriend to her assistant manager, while another mistakenly sent personal information to a co-worker.

Strassman continued, “Businesses need to set their employees up for success by giving them easy to use, reliable collaboration tools that help rather than hinder. Ultimately the tools need to facilitate great collaboration by simply getting out of the way so employees can work how, where and when they want.”

In a week, the average office worker will experience:

  • 21.15 bouts of small talk
  • 18.6 cups of coffee/drinks
  • 17.05 meetings
  • 25.85 email refreshes

Six ways to make work more meaningful

According to a Gallup poll called the State of the Global Workplace which studied employee engagement in 142 countries, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: ”When people are engaged, they adopt the vision, values, and purpose of the organisation they work for. They become passionate contributors, innovative problem solvers, and are a joy to work with.

“The answer to winning back disengaged employees, and keeping the engaged employees engaged, isn’t only pay, perks or promotions. It’s meaning – that is, giving work a greater sense of significance, and making work matter.”

Here are six ways to make people more engaged at work:

1. Show people their work matters
“Make time for employees to explore the purpose–or profound why–of what they do,” So, introduce your team to their customers. Explain how their work helps others, even in small ways, and encourage them to share their own stories. Reframe the work your team is doing so they can understand how and why they fit into that work.

2. Create a learning environment to encourage personal growth
Make space for people to create and execute their own learning plans, offering help along the way. Understand their different learning styles and attention spans, and provide experiences for growth expanding on what they already know, with immediate opportunities for putting into practice at work.

3. Help make people feel valued and valuable
“You care about your personal family and friends, but what about your ‘work family,’ whom you probably see the most? Do you ever ask how your employees are doing, and care about what they say?,” said Galloway-Gaul. By showing employees their value, they will feel valued as individuals and in turn are more likely to live up to their value in the workplace.

4. Involve people in decisions to crate a sense of control, and grant autonomy liberally
Micromanagement can be a meaning-killer. “Including your employees in decisions and giving them space to get the job done helps them feel less like numbers and more like contributors. Whether it’s where to put the new soda fridge, or how to solve a million-dollar problem, don’t manage in a vacuum,” Galloway-Gaul advised.

5. Allow people to bring their real self to work
By being your authentic self, you give employees permission not to check their identities at the door, even if they are a quirkier than everyone else. Of course, this must be within the bounds of workplace professionalism.

6. Help people see where they fit in the mission, and that the mission depends on them to achieve it
“Employees will never think their work matters if they don’t know that they matter. Achieve this by showing them the long-term vision and how they fit in it and contribute to to – beyond the org chart of course,” said Galloway-Gaul.

Productivity by design

Workplace design has a profound influence on the quality and speed of peoples’ work – even if they are not aware of it.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “Studies examining productivity at work have shown that the physical space in which people work has the most impact on their ability to focus to get work done. In addition, improving workplace design can increase worker productivity by 20% to 30%.”

Here are some design commandments to make workspaces much more comfortable and productive spaces:

Be colour clever
Different colours have different effects on how we feel.
“For example, yellow has a relaxing effect, while blue has been proven to result in increased productivity and to create the impression of professionalism,” Trim noted.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the walls in your office should be blue, but it wouldn’t hurt to include blue in your overall colour scheme.

Notice lighting
“Unfortunately, when most offices are designed, light is one of the last things to be given consideration. This is why many office spaces are lit with harsh fluorescent lighting,“ said Trim.
The results of bad lighting can be headaches, difficulties with visibility, and poor mood. It’s best to try to  bulbs that mimic natural lighting and provide each work area with its own source of light that can be adjusted for both brightness and placement.
Iff they are available, encourage open blinds to let in natural light whenever possible.

Mitigate noise
The recent trend towards open plan workplace design makes it tricky to block out other peoples’ noise.
Said Trim: “While this design may be budget friendly, it certainly isn’t conducive to productivity. If budget won’t allow everyone enclosed workspace, consider adding a few private work areas for people who working on tasks that require a lot of focus, Trim advised.

Air quality is a design choice
Poor air quality can result in stuffy, stale air that creates an uncomfortable work environment for anybody, but it can be particularly hard for people who are asthmatic or prone to upper respiratory infections.
“Poor air is also directly attributed to increased of sick time being and lower levels of productivity,’” said Trim.
Fans, air filters, and open windows can help a lot. If windows cannot be opened, then an air filtration system could be considered. Live plants are all a good a way to clean the air and produce oxygen.

Comfortable & customisable individual workspaces
One of the most important considerations when designing a company work environment is providing tables and chairs that are comfortable for everybody in the office. “Of course, the only way to accomplish this is to provide adjustable chairs to accommodate personal preferences and varying heights. If possible, also provide desks or tables that can be adjusted for height and allow employees to have a say in how their workstations are configured,” Trim advised.

Minimise clutter
Too much clutter creates a kind of visual pollution that many people find distracting making it nearly impossible for some people to work productively.
In a workplace with many people, clutter can also create resentment towards messy people from those who are tidy.
“Problems with clutter can be mitigated with policy but it is also important to provide people with plenty of storage space,” said Trim.

Provide different work areas for productivity and morale
There is simply no one workspace that is appropriate for every task for employees.
“It is therefore a good idea to provide a variety of work areas. It will be helpful for an office to have a couple of open areas with big tables for collaborations, a few smaller enclosed conference rooms, and quiet work areas. Even adding a few colourful couches is morale boosting and great for less formal chats, ” Trim advised.

The rapid rise of co-working the world over may just seem fashionable at the moment but there are strong scientific reasons behind its rise in its popularity.

“It’s not just a fad, it’s a robust global movement,” says Linda Trim, director at FutureSpace.
“There is a surprisingly strong psychological basis for the growing popularity of share workspaces because of the two basic human needs co-working fulfills – flexibility and autonomy. And it does this without doing away with a meaningful community.”

Trim notes that a team from the University of Michigan Steven M Ross School of Business came to this conclusion after surveying workers from dozens of co-working spaces in the US.

“Interestingly, they also found that while beautifully designed spaces with all offices amenities were certainty important, they were less important than their social structures, where workers feel a sense of individual autonomy that’s still linked to a sense of collaboration.”

Most co-working spaces, for all their idiosyncrasies, tend to strike that careful balance between those crucial needs–in ways that neither solo working nor the traditional office experience usually provide.

Trim added that the research also showed that independence, adaptability, flexibility were also characteristics fundamental human needs. “It isn’t surprising therefore that they have been linked to positive outcomes in the workplace too, from improved performance to higher rates of employee commitment and engagement.”

They also help explain why more companies are embracing flexible work schedules.

But the Michigan researchers found that while the sense of community and autonomy was very important, it went further than that – people were free to be themselves because they didn’t feel that they were competing with those around them as they were in a typical corporate set up. As a result, ideas were more freely shared.

Says Trim: While too much freedom can actually hurt productivity, grafting a community structure onto an already flexible one provides is probably the optimal degree of control.

“Typically, people join co-working spaces because they want to be part of a community while still doing their own thing.”

If more employers follow suit in the months and years ahead, they aren’t just jumping on a trendy bandwagon. “They’re also trying to tap into the science that helps explain what makes people work well–and together,” Trim concludes.

Burnout is now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a clinical syndrome, legitimising the physical and mental impact that overwork can have on employees. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, believes that companies should familiarise themselves with the symptoms of burnout to minimise the potential impact on employees and the business.

“In the fast-paced corporate environment, employees feel they must keep up or risk being overlooked for promotion or a salary increase. Even artisans are under immense pressure due to long hours, demanding customers, and the constant battle to make ends meet,” he says.

Adding further impetus to concerns around burnout is the fact that digital transformation is resulting in jobs becoming more specialised. This is putting even more pressure on people to get their work done as effectively as possible. And in South Africa, with retrenchments a constant fear in the current uncertain economic climate, employees are expected to take on more responsibilities with fewer human resources on hand.

Symptoms
According to WHO, burnout is characterised by three dimensions:
• Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
• Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;
• Reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout is the result of chronic workplace stress that is not successfully managed. Despite the recent classification, it is by no means a new phenomenon and people have been struggling to deal with it for as long as they have had jobs. However, thanks to the connected generation, the issues surrounding this clinical syndrome are now out in the open and decision makers can no longer ignore it.

Education vital
“Despite this, few industries take burnout seriously,” says Myburgh. “Often, it is only if a job relates directly to a person’s safety that managers treat burnout with the respect it deserves. In the corporate environment, employees are typically squeezed until every ounce of their energy is depleted.”
Consequently, education is critical.
“This can involve researching the impact burnout has on the business, running workshops and acknowledging the fact that it is a legitimate problem. People who suffer from burnout should never be told to ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’. Instead, it needs to be managed properly and with consideration for the sufferer.”
Burnout can be viewed as a precursor to depression and if not taken seriously, can lead to other mental health issues that can also negatively impact performance at work.

Minimise burnout
There are several steps employers can take to minimise the risk of their staff suffering from burnout. This includes the obvious step to stop overworking them. Additionally, identify the signs before it is too late, be observant when managers engage with people, and offer counselling if required.

Employees can also do their bit to prevent themselves from burning out.

“People must feel that they are in an environment where it is safe to talk about the feelings they are experiencing,” says Myburgh. “They must be able to have a discussion with their line managers if they are feeling overworked or unable to cope with the demands of their jobs.

“People must also learn to maintain a better work life balance. Yes, the temptation to work from anywhere is there, but this can turn a nine-to-five job into a 24×7 position, which can lead to burnout. Participating in relaxing activities away from the workplace is vital and in extreme cases, burnout sufferers should consider removing themselves from the situation causing the burnout, if this is possible.
“These are difficult times for employees and employers alike. Competitiveness is at an all-time high, resulting in an ongoing pressure to constantly perform at optimum levels. But if the signs of burnout are not heeded, burnout could become seriously detrimental to employees’ general health and wellbeing,” Myburgh concludes.

By Michelle Woo for Lifehacker

Just because ‘there’s an app for that’ doesn’t mean you have to use it. This week we’re going analog, reminding ourselves that we can live—and live well —without smartphones, and seeing what’s worth preserving from the time before we were all plugged in 24/7.

My husband works with steam process equipment and often brings home these big catalogues of products. Only one person in our home has ever had any interest in what was inside (that person would be him)—until we had a kid. Our daughter gets excited whenever she sees “Daddy’s work books”, asking to have the ones he no longer needs so she can circle various items as if she were a real buyer.

Wait, why do we buy toys again?

Hearing from other parents, I learned that little kids love “grownup” work stuff, especially if it lets them pretend to be on the job. You might have some of these items, or you can buy most of them at office supply stores for cheap

Guest checks
Joanna Goddard of Cup of Jo writes that guest checks, like the ones restaurant servers use, have been a huge hit with her son: “Toby got these for Christmas and has played with them one million times since then. He’s always taking our orders for elaborate breakfasts, dinners and desserts.”

Prescription pads
Kids like playing doctor, so let them write prescriptions on a legit prescription pad. Just know that they’ll probably write themselves a prescription for three scoops of ice cream and that new Toy Story 4 Lego set. Don’t fall for it.

Lanyard badges
Piriya, a member of the Offspring Facebook group, writes: “Both kids love our old ID lanyards from work. Bonus if the lanyards have the retractable badge holders on them.”

Date stamp
They can play librarian or mark the date on their artwork.

Old business cards
Don’t toss business cards after you’ve digitized the info. My kid used to love putting the cards in her wallet. Same with old hotel key cards, which she calls her “credit cards.”

Tickets
Kids love all types of tickets—carnival style, tear-away stubs, or the ones that come in those take-a-number dispensers. My daughter has created ticketing systems for all of her living room singing performances and storytelling sets. Everyone needs a ticket.

Envelopes
These office envelopes help make kids’ letters feel much more official.

By Melissa Locker for Fast Company

High heels are a pain in the neck—and the foot and the back and the legs for the people who have to wear them. Sure they can look good and feel empowering, but wearing the sky-high footwear should be a choice, not a requirement. And yet in many offices around the world women are forced to wear high heels as part of the office dress code.

In Japan, women are starting to fight back. Over 19,000 people have signed a petition calling on Japan to end dress code requirements that force women to wear heels in the workplace.

The petition was started by Yumi Ishikawa, who says she was made to wear high heels while working at a funeral parlor, the BBC reports. She took to Twitter to vent about being forced to wear heels, and her tweets struck a chord and went viral. That tweet helped ignite a campaign called #KuToo, which, as Kyodo News reports, cleverly references the #MeToo movement as well as the Japanese words for shoes (“kutsu”) and pain (“kutsuu”).

Ishikawa told reporters that the petition was submitted to Japan’s labor officials. The hope is that officials will ban mandatory heels in the workplace on the grounds that such requirements amount to sexual discrimination or harassment.

“I hope this campaign will change the social norm so that it won’t be considered to be bad manners when women wear flat shoes like men,” she told reporters.

So far, the Japanese government is unmoved by the petition. An official at Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s equal employment opportunity division told CNN it had “no plans to change the rules around whether employers could require staff to wear certain clothes or shoes.” Currently, companies can regulate their employees’ work wear as they see fit, and in Japan’s historically patriarchal society, that means high heels (for now).

It’s not just Japan, though. After over 150,000 people signed a petition, the British government still rejected a ban on dress codes that required women to wear high heels in 2017 on the grounds that gender-based discrimination was already illegal and high heels were just a part of looking smart in the office. But that same year, British Columbia did away with a dress code that required female employees to wear high heels, citing the risk of physical injury from slipping or falling as well as possible damage to the feet, legs, and back.

The notion of teamwork is not new, and for most of the twentieth century teams functioned like an assembly line, focusing on areas of expertise and the division of tasks.

“But this siloed work style ended up slowing things down, causing errors and overlooked opportunities,” says Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy.

“To combat this problem, that paradigm gave way in many organisations to open plan offices. According to global office architects and furniture designers Steelcase, 69 percent of all offices now have an open floor plan. But work in these settings is mostly an independent pursuit, interspersed with team meetings and water cooler conversations.

Says Galloway-Gaul: “Without question, the need to reboot the corporate workplace is overdue because while the processes and activities of teams today has dramatically changed, some businesses spaces have not kept up.”

Today work gets done through networks and lateral relationships. Employees who once operated in different universes must come together in interdependent, fluid teams. The spaces that best support this kind of work are designed specifically for teams, while embracing the needs of all the constituent individuals.

“Forget the adage that ‘there is no ‘I’ in team,” says Galloway-Gaul. “Teams are made up of individuals. We need to design for multidisciplinary teamwork in a way that also gives the individual what they need to do their best work.”

There is therefore a growing demand for user control over spaces – people want to be able to adapt spaces at the pace of the project, and to give team members agency in defining how the ‘me’ and the ‘we’ need to work together at a given time.“

But right now, although many organisations have become nimble, there are still businesses in which employees need to file requests with facilities and end up waiting weeks for the changes they’ve asked for. Galloway-Gaul noted. “Project work moves through different phases and each phase has its own set of activities. It’s important that the space can evolve with the project.”

So what do teams need from their work environments?

Teams need a sense of shared purpose, cohesion and identity to be able to successfully work together and build on each others’ ideas. Galloway-Gaul says companies should consider three things to help their teams excel.

1) Build a home for teams – the role of team space is bigger than just supporting the work itself. It’s also about the human dimension. The team space should reflect and encourage the type of practices and working style of the team where they can foster a sense of identity, cohesion and trust.

2) Flex space to process – teams need a dynamic space that keeps up with their process and keeps them in flow. The space should let teams in rapid cycles reorganise in a natural, spontaneous way.

3) Empower teams – teams need control over their environments to cope rapidly with individual preferences and project needs. Empower teams and individuals to make quick adjustments to their space on demand to keep projects moving.

Be wary of recorded conversations

Contrary to popular belief, companies may be within their rights to secretly record conversations with employees and use that information against them in a court of law. However, the reverse is also true.

Nicol Myburgh, Head of the Human Resource Business Unit at CRS Technologies, says this has the potential to significantly change the dynamic in the workplace.

According to Section 4 of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA), it is not illegal to secretly record a conversation you are party to. But it is still illegal to do so as a way of intercepting communications to commit an offence, for example obtaining a person’s bank account information.

“The argument that recording these conversations infringes on an employee’s (or employer’s) right to privacy is outweighed when using the recording in court is in the interests of justice. Of course, there is nothing prohibiting the addition of an explicit clause in employment contracts that mitigates against the risk of having communications intercepted.”

Technology has made it incredibly easy to record conversations without other parties being aware of it. Most smartphones and tablets come standard with audio recording features, making it virtually undetectable when somebody runs the app and puts the phone or tablet out of sight.

“Often, these conversations can be used as evidence in disciplinary hearings and other disputes even before they go to the CCMA or court. Further complicating matters is that courts do not hold privacy rights as absolute. Instead, they take other factors into account that can trump privacy rights.”

An example of this is in Harvey v Niland, where evidence was obtained by hacking into the respondent’s Facebook account. Evidence can therefore be presented in various forms and not necessarily only in the form of an audio recording.

Nevertheless, it remains in the best interests of either party to obtain recordings legally. From an employer perspective, fair process must be followed, with the employee being given an opportunity to respond to the evidence presented against them.

“From a legal perspective, it should also be noted that either party can record a conversation that they are part of. But if you are a third party, you need informed consent from one of the other parties to legally record that conversation. It is often this consent that confuses people into thinking all parties must agree to have a discussion recorded.”

Of course, if the recording is inaudible then it cannot be admissible. Myburgh says that employers or employees therefore need to ensure that the audio can be heard, and that the data is stored in a safe place to avoid it being lost, deleted, or edited in a way that will also make it inadmissible.

“Companies are operating in a dynamic, technology-driven environment. It should always be assumed that any conversation or meeting will be recorded, like assuming all work email will be read by a supervisor. In this way, both the employee and employer can ensure no mismanagement takes place.”

In the race to attract and retain the best talent, dramatically improving the workplace experience to make it a ‘super experience’ is now on the radar of every organisation.

Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, said that as new technologies and design practices raise the bar in what can be achieved, South Africa, as in the rest of the world, is now entering the era of the ‘super-experience’ at work.

A ‘super-experience’ is a heightened experience that creates excitement, is original and impactful and which goes beyond the typical and more mundane ‘user experience’ which people experience at traditional workplaces.

Said Trim: “Super experiences make you feel excited or that you’ve achieved something; they can stimulate curiosity, create a sense of purpose or instil a sense of belonging to a company. They can be unusual and unexpected – or reassuring and morale boosting. They can be small and intimate or executed on a grand scale.”

There are many examples of the ‘super-experience’ at some of the world’s best known companies. These include office buildings such as Amazon’s biophilic glass orbs at its Seattle headquarters which bring people closer to nature creating the sense they are working in a rainforest.

The Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco famously created 16 “neighbourhoods” in the office, each comprising desk spaces, large communal tables, standing desks, phone rooms and personal storage lockers. In South Africa, Giant Leap created state of the art training rooms for new employees at Flight Centre so people got to experience a ‘super-experience’ from day one at the company.

Data and media company Bloomberg’s new base in London is based in two buildings joined by bridges and located between the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral in London’s famous Square Mile. It features a giant 210 metre ramp at its heart that aims to encourage collaboration between workers, offers and a pantry with free snacks and views over London.

NASA’s scientists have formed a ‘Space Orchestra’ which plays around the world.

“Employee experience wasn’t really on the workplace map a few years ago but many businesses are now scrambling to create experiences inside and beyond office buildings that support innovation, wellbeing, productivity and learning.
“And as part of a newly thriving ‘experience economy’, new job titles are emerging in organisations such as CEXO (Chief Experience Officer),” Trim notes.

She added that to create a ‘super experience’, companies should take a people-first approach, offering a flexible portfolio of experiences, and keeping an open mind on bringing in new technologies.

“The era of the super-experience will depend on new lighting, AV, soundscaping and sensor technologies in the workplace along with digital apps. The property sector will also require new skills, knowledge and ideas from theatre, arts, hospitality, retail and behavioural science if it is to make super-experience more of an occurrence in the workplace,” Trim concludes.

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