Tag: 2019

Make your office better in 2019

If looking around your office at motivational posters from 1988, psyche-ward green walls and rows of people slumped at rows of desks makes you want to run screaming for the exits, don’t worry, help is at hand.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says that despite so much evidence of the massive productivity and health benefits of more relaxed, people friendly spaces, many offices in South Africa are still quite dreary.

“But the good news is that it takes very little to make an office a much happier place to be. It’s a good time for business to use the new year as an opportunity to make offices charming to the eye rather than just utilitarian workplaces.”

Here’s how:

1. Make it feel like home

“There has been a huge movement toward the ‘home away from home’ style of office design called resi-mercial, a combination of residential and commercial design inspiration,“ Galloway-Gaul noted.

Employees need a work space that is separate from home but that doesn’t mean work can’t be comfortable and welcoming. Soft seating, coffee tables, bar height tables, kitchens, TVs all help to make people feel they are in a friendly place with familiar facilities.

2. Open the seating plan

We are all familiar now with the world’s biggest tech firms like Google, Amazon and Cisco Systems showing off all the super hip things they do for their employees. “Luckily you don’t need billions of dollars to break out of the work place mould,” said Galloway-Gaul. The lower cost concept of coworking brings an open seating plan and office structure that encourages cross-pollination of ideas, employees, and events in larger buildings. Instead of the same employees seeing each other every day, coworking spaces allow them to mingle with employees from other companies and used shared resources like gyms, canteens and conference rooms that smaller companies couldn’t afford alone.

3. More…. oxygen…please!

Trees, plants, and all things green not only bring some much needed vibrancy to normally bland, dull cubicles, but they bridge that gap between indoor and outdoor. “Plants not only look good and increase productivity they improve air quality and improve wellbeing. They also meet our human tendency to want to connect with nature, known as biophilia,” added Galloway-Gaul.

4. Embrace downtime

Bosses develop nervous ticks when you tell them employees need downtime during the work day. But they do. It’s good for their brains to take a break and relax.

If you can’t afford a water slide and a paintball hangar in the cafeteria, keep it simple. Said Galloway-Gaul: “Put a video game console in the break room or an old pinball machine in the lobby. Schedule theme days. It’s important to have fun with it.”

5. Hire a cutting edge architect – or plan B

A cutting edge architect comes from Sweden, wears black framed glasses for effect, sports a honey-coloured beard and wears a plaid shirt – and charges by the minute. But plan B can be effective too. Even a few quirky adjustments to the seating arrangement, furniture and lighting can make the work-space feel cool and unique in a way that excites employees to come in each day. It also fosters creativity.

6. Mix things up

While number 6 is not strictly an office improvement, it’s certainly a working life improvement. “While not everyone has the freedom to work at home, everyone should be given the opportunity, at least on occasion. The relaxation and freedom it offers suits many people. And it makes the office look a little bit fresher on your return,” said Galloway-Gaul.

7. Party like it’s 2999!

After hours parties and opportunities to relax and unwind are important to developing a creative, inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable. “It’s also important for people to get to know their colleagues in a more sociable setting,” Galloway-Gaul concludes.

What the 2019 budget means for you

By Dewald Van Rensburg for City Press

The 2019 budget review report deceptively promises that this year’s budget speech will “not increase taxes” but actually a number of minor taxes will increase from the start of the new tax year on April 1.

Major taxes like valued added tax (VAT) and corporate income tax won’t increase in the upcoming 2020 tax year.

However, the budget speech relies heavily on fiscal drag – basically a surreptitious way of increasing personal income taxes.

According to the document, the budget “will not increase tax rates in any category. Instead, they will increase collections by not adjusting for inflation.”

That is effectively a tax increase of R12.8 billion – the vast majority of extra revenue National Treasury hopes to scrape in.

Fiscal drag operates by having people, who have normal inflation-related increases in pay, jump into new higher tax brackets because the brackets have not also moved up by at least inflation.

“Sin” taxes on alcohol and tobacco will be hiked.

These will increase, but these increases are automatic and based on market prices, not on deliberate tax increases, said the budget review report.

Another tax being increased is the Health Promotion Levy, popularly known as the sugar tax.

It will increase from 2.1 cents per gram of sugar in a soft drink – to 2.21 cents.

Another new tax that will hit motorists this year is the carbon tax on petrol and diesel.

This tax will kick in in June this year and add nine cents to a litre of petrol and 10 cents to diesel.

The existing levies on fuel also go up “by less than inflation”.

Treasury estimates that taxes will become 41.8% of the pump price in Gauteng compared with 40.6% before the increases.

The rest of the carbon tax is also set to start in June this year despite key regulations still not being finalised. There will be a “consultation workshop” on offsetting the tax in March and new regulations around sectors with high exposure to foreign competition will be published before the end of February.

Treasury also seems convinced that the end of the Tom Moyane era at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) should increase tax collections by restoring efficacy.

The budget review held up the outcomes of the recent Sars commission, which found Moyane’s reign at the tax collector was characterised by “maladministration and abuse of tender procedures”.

The commission’s recommendations will be implemented in the near future, Mboweni promised.

Among the things that knock down tax collection from companies was the poor performance of the mining sector and the financial sector.

Eskom’s massive diesel-fuelled emergency plants are contributing too.

“Higher diesel refund payments to electricity generation plants and primary producers, such as farmers and mining companies, have slowed fuel levy collections.”

The VAT increase from 14% to 15% brought in about what was expected, but much of that flew out the window as VAT refunds, said the budget review.

Almost all categories of tax collection under-delivered.

Personal and corporate income taxes delivered R21 billion less than expected.

VAT alone brought in R22.2 billion less than hoped.

This was due to Sars trying to clear out the so-called VAT credit book – unpaid VAT refunds due to taxpayers. It had previously been alleged that Moyane’s Sars was intentionally withholding these refunds in order to inflate Sars’ apparent performance.

Tax expenditure

The budget review pointed out that tax expenditure on various incentive schemes was growing faster than expected, eating away at tax revenues.

“Compared with the 2018 budget, the average share of tax expenditures to nominal GDP increased significantly, implying much higher foregone revenue,” said the document.

Since 2014, tax breaks have grown by R52 billion or 7.4% compared with GDP growth of 5.1%.

One recent addition to the suit of tax breaks is the venture capital incentive that cuts taxes for people who contribute to venture financing for investments in small companies.

The incentive as a whole is still a small part of the overall tax expenditure, but has shown a highly concentrated pattern.

About half of all spending on the venture capital incentive goes to 61 companies out of the more than 3000 who participate.

The employment tax incentive, known as the youth wage subsidy, climbed to R4.6 billion in the 2016/17 – the last year the budget has estimates for.

Treasury wants to expand it in line with the CEO Initiatives’ Youth Employment Service scheme, which hinges on a lot of new jobs for young people being subsidised by government.

In the new budget, a major change is made. The scheme’s maximum R1000-a-month subsidy will now go to young people earning R4500, not R4000.

In the course of 2018 another major increase in the scope of the subsidy was announced.

It will now apply to all workers earing below R6500 in special economic zones, no matter their age.

South Africa’s subscription for shares in the New Development Bank set up by the Brics counties, which are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, will soon displace the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the country’s largest exposure to a multilateral funder.

According to the statistical annexures of the budget review, South Africa’s subscription for shares in the bank will be R89.4 billion by 2021 compared with the current R50 billion.

This reflects shares that have not been paid for, but can get called up if the New Development Bank ever fell into financial trouble.

Similar shares in the IMF currently total R80 billion but will only grow to R85 billion by 2021, getting eclipsed by the New Development Bank.

South Africa also has shares in the World Bank worth R25 billion and the African Development Bank worth R47 billion which will not grow much over the next few years, according to the budget.

These commitments are very unlikely to ever get called up, Treasury said.

Grants

Social grants will be increased by 5% this year, reaching R1780 for the old age grant and R425 for the child support grant.

Total grant expenditure will likely increase from R192.7 billion to R207 billion with a minimal amount of this increase being due to additional beneficiaries.

Old age grants remain the major expense at R76.9 billion with child support costing R65 billion in the year.

The number of child support grant beneficiaries is estimated to increase by 1.5% while state pensioners are set to increases by 3.5%.

E-tolls

A once-off bailout for the Gauteng e-toll roads in getting cut this year, reducing expenditure on the ill-fated project from R6.3 billion down to R633 million by 2022.

The boss’s party

The presidency’s budget of R552 million will increase to R655 million in 2022, mostly because President Cyril Ramaphosa is reestablishing an old research and support unit that the presidency used to have.

The inauguration of the new president after the 2019 elections, most likely Ramaphosa, will get R120 million.

So long Hlaudi

The SABC is set to completely abandon the 90% local content target set by controversial former chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

The new targets for local content up to 2022 will severely impact the local industry. They are 55% for SABC 1 and 2 and only 45% for SABC 3.

The spending on local television content will fall from R2.55 billion last year to R2.28 billion this year. It won’t recover to historic levels in the next three years.

Over the next three years the SABC will also spend R7.2 billion on local radio content, the budget’s analysis of expenditure added. This will also decline year after year from R972 million this year to only R812 million next year.

The budget also envisions a personnel freeze at the SABC with employee levels staying at 3635 until at least 2022.

Fewer trips please

The department of international affairs has been given a target to reduce the number of international trips it organises to meet “high level potential investors”. Last year it had 161 such trips, but its target will be 90 a year from now on. This is to keep “in line with budget allocations”.

Fees still falling

In the wake of the Fees Must Fall campaign and renewed protests at technical colleges this year, the higher education budget reflects more major shifts in spending.

Preliminary figures show that university enrolments this year jumped from 975 837 to about 1 039 500 while technical and vocational education and training students increased more modestly to from about 703 000 to 710 000.

The big difference is that 450 000 of these students now receive some form of state support – more than double the previous year’s 225 000 – according to the budget document.

The spending at universities shot up almost 50% to R60 billion last year will reach R85 billion by 2022, according to the latest estimates.

By far most of this will go through National Student Financial Aid Scheme, not through universities directly.

Discovery HQ costs R23m a month

According to a report by Netwerk24, Discovery is paying approximately R280-million a year – or R23-million a month – to rent its new offices in Sandton.

By 2022, Discovery anticipates paying R400-million a year, and R600-million in 2028. After 15 years the building will not be transferred to Discovery, and a new rental agreement has to be drawn up. Growthpoint is the majority shareholder in the building.

Business Insider reports that Discovery has entered into a 15-year rental contract with property group Growthpoint, which developed 1 Discovery Place for more than R3-billion. The building has a roof-top running track and a gymnasium that can accommodate up to 3 000 members.

This comes after Discovery clients were hit with a weighted 9.2% increase across medical plans for 2019. In addition, Discovery Vitality plans were increased by between 8.4% and 12.5%.

According to Business Tech, Discovery has 2.8-million beneficiaries, and with an open medical scheme market share of approximately 56%.

Image credit: Discovery

By Nicole Norfleet for Seattle Times

To appeal to more workers, many companies and building owners are re­designing and renovating their offices. Modern kitchens with high-top seating, collaboration areas made for informal meetings and adaptable office furniture with standing desks have all become the new standard for office renovations.

While many of those features are predicted to still be prevalent in 2019, architects and designers say new design trends have emerged, with some clients investing in more privacy for their open offices, heavily branded design that reflects their company ethos, and more adaptable layouts.

Branded environments. Many clients want their workspace to reflect their company, a marketing tool that helps organizations stand out to prospective clients as well as a way to reinforce company culture among employees.

“They are really coming up with unique ways to define themselves,” said Natasha Fonville, brand manager of Minneapolis-based Atmosphere Commercial Interiors. “That beautifully branded experience is really going to keep trending and keep elevating the spaces around us.”

At the new downtown offices of Sleep Number, the company’s emblem is throughout the space on the wall and ceiling with Sleep Number settings on some of the tables.

At Field Nation’s new Minneapolis offices, a network of orange piping that runs electricity to light fixtures was designed as a representation of a technological network.

No receptionists
Some companies have decided to do away with front-desk receptionists, sometimes using technology to direct guests to where they need to go or having a more informal entry area.

Betsy Vohs, founder and chief executive of design firm Studio BV in Minneapolis, said 75 percent of her clients don’t really need a receptionist to answer calls or greet guests. “Having them at the front desk isn’t the best use of their time and energy,” Vohs said.

At the new Hopkins offices her firm has helped to design for Digi International, the company opted to skip the front-desk receptionist and use the space for an entry lounge with a coffee bar and a digital kiosk.

This past summer, Studio BV designed the offices of Field Nation, which also doesn’t use receptionists.

More agile space
Adaptable space has also become more of a priority as many companies have reduced the square footage dedicated to individual employees. With workers more nomadic, many new offices are currently designed to allow for rearrangement of the furniture layout and changes to walls and partitions.

“I think it’s just a sign of our times that workplaces are being so agile and really adapting to how people work best … and that’s always evolving,” Fonville said.

At Atmosphere’s downtown office, the walls are moved about once a year. For example, the company recently noticed that employees weren’t using some of the office enclaves, so leaders decided to take out a few walls to allow for more breathing room and larger meeting areas.

Audio privacy
As offices have become more open, one side effect has been that sound can carry throughout the space, making audio privacy a concern. Many new offices have private call rooms. Companies also have requested other sound-dampening materials such as acoustic foam, felt, drapery and carpet, Vohs said.

The renovated offices of Gardner Builders in Minneapolis, which Studio BV helped design, feature cubbies wrapped in acoustic foam.

The recently renovated RSM Plaza downtown has similar cutouts in its lobby. Some companies go as far as installing white-noise machines throughout their offices.

Move over, millennials
Much has been said about how current offices have been designed with millennial employees in mind, but designers have already begun to shift gears to interpret how the younger Gen Z might use their spaces. After millennials, defined as being born between 1981 and 1996, Gen Z is the newest defined generation. Gen Z is believed to be more realistic, social change-oriented, tech-integrated and interested in on-demand learning, said Rich Bonnin, a design principal at HGA in Minneapolis.

“These aren’t the decision-makers now, but they will be,” he said, at a recent broker event at the St. Paul Curling Club organized by real estate company Newmark Knight Frank.

Gen Z workers are more likely to value face-to-face interactions, shared space, choice-rich environments, security and the natural as well as the digital experience, he said.

Wellness
More architects have begun to incorporate design standards to advance workers’ health and well-being. WELL certification is still a relatively new concept that explores how design can help workers live better through improvements in air, water, light, fitness and other areas.

“It has kind of become the new LEED,” said Derek McCallum, a principal at RSP Architects in Minneapolis, which now has WELL-certified staff.

The 428 office building in St. Paul was WELL gold-certified and has high-level air filtration close to hospital grade, added water filtration, and a prominent and open staircase to promote physical activity.

Engaging employees
Companies are studying and surveying their employees more to make informed design decisions.

For the new headquarters for Prime Therapeutics in Eagan, external consultants studied the company’s previous offices to determine how much square footage per person was being used and the operational costs of the space.

They interviewed employees and observed to how they worked. Data showed that desks were sitting empty about 60 percent of the week, with people opting for shared spaces, said Kim Gibson, the company’s senior director for real estate workplace.

“We really wanted to understand how people were working and the things that they desired to help make them more productive,” Gibson said. The data helped Prime Therapeutics and architecture firm HGA create different spaces to accommodate workers, such as one-on-one spaces and private “oasis rooms.”

Amenities, amenities, amenities
The amenities race continues for many multi-tenant offices, with landlords investing heavily in community space and building perks such as modern gyms and lounges with high-end furniture. Many downtown Minneapolis office buildings have undergone recent rehabs of their amenity spaces, including RSM Plaza and the AT&T Tower.

Piedmont Office Realty Trust, the owner of U.S. Bancorp Center, plans to spend about $7.5 million to create a tenant-amenity space on the top floor of the tower. The building is more than 98 percent leased, but the company wanted to continue to improve the building, said Thomas Prescott, executive vice president of the Midwest region of Piedmont.

“It’s the right thing to do, enhancing our asset,” he said. “We’re excited. We’re making a significant investment in a building that’s mostly leased.”

A large stairway will lead up to the space that will feature a full fitness facility, tenant lounge, conference area and a game room with a golf simulator.

Tech trends for 2019

By Bernard Marr for Forbes

Every year, many of my clients ask me about the key technology trends that I believe will define the coming year. Here are my predictions of the tech trends that have the potential to make or break careers and businesses in 2019.

While some of these may seem obvious – no one will be surprised to hear that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are likely to remain hot topics – the disruptive nature of tech means it’s likely we will get a few surprises.

Artificial intelligence everywhere

The year 2018 will be remembered as the year that artificial intelligence (AI) hit the mainstream, but in 2019 and beyond it’s going to be absolutely everywhere.

This is because hardware and software developers have passed the trial period – experimenting to see where AI fits, and where it can deliver the biggest improvements in customer experience and productivity improvements.

In many cases we won’t even know it’s there – as machine learning services work quietly in their clouds, managing everything from power networks to distribution logistics and financial transactions.

In other cases, it will be highly visible – as our smartphones, home assistants, kitchen gadgets and cars put increasingly sophisticated tools at our fingertips.

The AI we interact with day-to-day – whether it is Google search engines, Netflix recommendation engines or assistants like Alexa or Siri – will become increasingly ubiquitous as well as useful, as breakthroughs in deep learning and reinforcement learning lead to more capable and reliable services.

Rapid changes in healthcare delivery

Undoubtedly one of the most crucial and worthy applications of technology – expect machines to be credited with saving more lives in 2019.

With much of the world facing a shortage of trained medical professionals, and even rich nations feeling the bite due to economic pressures, technology is often hailed as a potential savior.

From AI systems capable of detecting cancer or heart attacks to the rollout of telemedicine allowing patients to be treated in their homes, perhaps no industry is pinning its hopes for the future so firmly on tech as healthcare is.

This year could be the year that their impact on patient outcomes and quality-of-life comes to the attention of the mainstream. With projects moving out of pilot phases and beginning to go into operational deployment, we will see technology costs coming down and more providers such as hospitals and clinics being able to cover the up-front cost.

At the same time, a growing awareness of personal data issues – particularly in developing countries where they have so far not been given much thought at all – will lead to growing concern over what is happening with all of the data that is being generated by these 21st-century solutions.

There will also be voices cautioning that when ill people are being examined remotely and diagnosed by machines, the “personal touch” which has long been an essential skill for doctors and nurses will be lost, and the long-term implications of this are far from certain.

You won’t hear as much about blockchain – but it’s far from dead

One “hot topic” on a lot of last years’ lists (including mine) was blockchain. This year, it is somewhat conspicuous by its absence.

A lot of this may be down to the slump in the price of cryptocurrency Bitcoin – still blockchain’s most public-facing application. However, reports that many private commercial or industrial blockchain initiatives are still failing to demonstrate much real-world value are also a factor.

Does this mean that blockchain is dead? I think it’s far too early to make that call. The fundamental principle of a distributed ledger, secured by encryption, providing an immutable record of transactional activity, still holds a tremendous amount of potential value.

Organizations may be struggling to see their way to building the most successful implementations, and in 2019 we may well see the folding of any number of previously highly-publicized attempts.

But innovation is still going on behind the scenes, and it is probable that less publicized but well thought-out initiatives may start to generate value. A rise in the value of Bitcoin (which has crashed just as spectacularly as it did this year in the past, before rising to ever-greater heights) would reinvigorate interest in the underlying tech, too -for better or worse.

Smart cities will become smarter

Residents of cities where investment has been made in environmental, utility management and transport infrastructure tech will start to see real benefits in their daily lives during 2019.

All of these infrastructure initiatives require one thing – beyond even money or innovation – to deliver real results, and that’s real data, gathered from real-world applications.

With many of these projects around the world beginning to mature, the volume of data will reach a critical mass meaning the impact on our lives – from cleaner air to cheaper energy and more efficient public services, can start to take effect.

Those that aren’t generating value by this point will be abandoned – in line with the “fail fast” ethos that drives tech development today. On the other hand, where pilots and trials in global showcase smart cities have been demonstrated beyond doubt, we can expect those initiatives to be adopted elsewhere quickly.

Global eSports revenues hit $1 billion

According to research from Deloitte, the market for eSports – video games played as a spectator sport – will expand by 35% in the next year.

The growth in the number of people wanting to watch professional video game players, particularly although not exclusively among the younger demographic, has already swept through Asian countries. Experts predict 2019 could be the year it hits the big time in the US, too.

Franchise rights, advertising, and broadcast agreements will drive spending as audiences get hooked on newly formed leagues, tapping into the fanbase for successful video game series such as Fifa, NBA, Fortnite, and Overwatch.

eSports have grown in popularity due to their existence at the convergence of several trends -notably changes in our leisure habits, with younger people watching less television and playing more games. And a move towards building online, social communities where fans interact and converse.

The elevation of professional game players to the level of professional athletes and sportspeople is a developing trend which is also likely to continue, with big money on offer for those who prove they can attract audiences to this entertainment.

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