Archive for August, 2011

5 Office Space Design Tips to Boost Employee Productivity

Think office design is just interior decorating? Think again. Research shows that workers are significantly more productive and less stressed in more aesthetically pleasing office environments.

Our favorite study, from Ohio State University and the National Institute of Mental Health, tracked 60 office workers in a government facility in the Midwest. Some of the workers were assigned to an older building, with low ceilings and loud air conditioners. Others went to a newer, renovated space with open cubicles and skylights. Guess which group was happier and more productive at the end of the year?

If you guessed the folks with light and air, you’re right. Researchers measured the stress levels of both groups, and found that the workers in the less lovely work environment were “significantly more stressed, even when they weren’t at work.”

So what’s a productivity-minded company to do? Make a few of these office design tweaks, and watch your employees whistle while they work.

1. The higher the ceiling, the bigger the ideas.
Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, demonstrated that people in rooms with high ceilings are “.” In her study, students were 25 percent better at making connections between games like chess and basketball when seated in a room with higher ceilings.

2. Change the color of the walls.
If you’re stuck with low ceilings, you can still help your workers make connections faster and more accurately. It might be as simple as painting. For instance, psychologists have found that people who work in rooms with red walls do better with tasks involving accuracy, such as copyediting and performing calculations. Blue environments, on the other hand, support creative thinking.

3. Heat the place.
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office knows that one of the most common office worker complaints is about temperature. Generally, it’s about the office being too cold, although we’ve worked in plenty of places with faulty AC, and that generates plenty of griping as well. In addition to the fact that , heating and cooling the office appropriately will save your workers hours of time that they otherwise would have spent complaining about the temperature.

4. Provide plenty of light.
This one seems obvious: No one likes working in a dark, airless cave. But bad lighting does more than just crush workers’ souls: It also causes fatigue and eye strain. Several studies have shown that poor lighting significantly affects productivity.

5. Create an open office … but not too open.
While open plan offices are cheaper and allow more collaboration, they can also be stressful for employees. Provide some private workspace for folks who need peace and quiet to complete their tasks, and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Images: 1., 2., 3., 4., 5.

Cut Government Spending … But Not in My Office

How much should office furniture cost? For most of us, burlap cubicles and second-hand desk chairs more than suffice. In fact, if you factor in discounts for buying in bulk, many companies probably only spend a few hundred dollars per person on office furniture. Proof once again that private corporations and public government are two very, very different things.

For example, the city of Naples, Florida, recently allocated $10,000 to replace furniture in the Mayor’s office. It seems the outgoing mayor was taking his furniture with him, so they’d have to start from scratch. Still, ten grand seems like a lot to spend on a desk and a couple of chairs. This squib posits the idea that the line item is a plant — a chance to cut expenses at the last minute and look like a hero of frugality.

Ten thousand seems like a lot to us, but when it comes to spending money on office decor, the mayor of Naples is an amateur. At least when you compare that $10,000 to the $60,000 many Congressmen spend renovating their offices.

The exact amount GOP Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry spent renovating his office is unknown, but it might reach $60,000, according to a House aide. McHenry is an outspoken critic of President Obama and the Democrats’ approach to spending and debt.

A spokesperson for McHenry described the renovations as “nothing new,” but Jay Parmley, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, had a different take.

“I think he missed his opportunity to back up his words, to put his money where his mouth is,” said Parmley. “He should have and could have simply rejected the opportunity to have his office renovated, and I think it’s a question of leadership.”

American politicians aren’t the only culprits. Canadian Communities and Cultural Affairs Minister Carolyn Bertram of Prince Edward Island, spent $225,000 (in Canadian dollars) in 2009 to renovate her offices. Her reasoning? Her staff had been split into two spaces and needed to be united in one office. By itself, that would be persuasive reasoning, but it didn’t fully explain the degree of the expense. For example, it’s hard to figure out how an interior decorator fits into those needs.

So the next time you need to do a little renovating, you can pride yourself on your frugality. After all, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever spend tens of thousands of dollars buying a few desks and chairs.


7 Ways to Brighten Up a Drab Cubicle

Cubicle designers aren’t known to be the flashiest of folks.

They stick to simple modular structures in safe, if not boring, shades of beige, oatmeal, gray, off-white and linen.

Sure, the No. 1 job of office furniture is to be functional, but wouldn’t it be nice to walk into a cube that didn’t borrow its color palette from a hospital?

Well, lucky for you, your little humdrum workspace doesn’t have to be drab and colorless. With a few bright accessories, a new lamp or two and some ingenuity, you can make your cubicle the envy of the office.

Here’s how:

1. Add art.
Show off your creative side by hanging up brightly colored (but noncontroversial!) works of art. You can buy it (this site specializes in cubicle art) or make some of your own. Pick up a small canvas and some paint at your local craft store and brush your workday stresses away – no art degree required to create a personalized piece of abstract art.

Painting courtesy of

2. Add critters.
You might not be able to take your dog to work every day (well, unless you work here) but you can bring a cute and useful reminder of Rover with the Morris Memo Holder (watch out it bites!).

While you’re add it, pick up some uber-adorable animal-shaped paperclips.

3. Add lighting.
The cold, dead fluorescent lighting in your office might get points for efficiency, but it certainly doesn’t when when it comes to style. Add some warmth and much-needed light to your desk with a small lamp. Browse handmade designs on for handcrafted styles.

4. Add wall coverings.
If you would rather not have to look at the dull walls of your cubicle at all, consider covering them up. Painting the walls will probably be frowned upon by HR, but luckily there are plenty of other options. Pick up cheerful fabric, wallpaper or wrapping paper (note that the first two options will be sturdier) and hang it up using push pins or double-sided tape. Or, you could use Cubicle Paper – self-adhesive wallpaper for your cubicle (people really do think of everything!) Make sure the pattern is tasteful and not so busy that it distracts you from your work. Not only will the colorful walls cheer you up, but your boss will probably be impressed by your ingenuity and resourcefulness.

5. Add flowers.
A pint-sized bouquet will add a nice pop of color and a little bit of the outdoors in your office. You don’t want your flowers overwhelming your desk (not to mention sneaking into your co-workers cube and causing them to sneeze), so use a small vase and stick to one or two types of flowers. Gerbera daisies, roses or peonies all have large and colorful blossoms that are suited for simple arrangements. If you don’t feel like replacing flowers weekly, buy fake ones (just make sure to dust them off periodically).

6. Add a window.
No, we’re not talking about cutting a hole in your cubicle wall so you can stare at your neighbor all day. We’re talking about window-themed art. There were enough people pining after windows at work that at least one company got wise and started manufacturing laminated window murals. Why not give yourself the gift of an ocean view?

7. Add a smile.
My dog Messi portrait.
Nothing will brighten your day quite like a big smile. Find a picture of your kid, spouse, best friend, mom, dad or dog giving you their biggest grin and put a framed copy on your desk to remind you that there is more to life than work.

Photo courtesy of sarej on Stock.Xchng

Should Your Office Set up a Nap Room?

Most of us could use a nap at some point in the day. Sometimes we feel sleepy after lunch. Other times, we run out of steam mid-afternoon, and could use a quick catnap to get back in the swing. Often, we would rather be snoozing than attending the morning meeting. (Just kidding. That’s all the time, and it’s probably off the table.)

But is napping good for productivity?

According to the Harvard Business Review, it is. Recent research shows that workers are much more productive if they’re able to take a short nap.

For maximum productivity, experts recommend scheduling a nap between 1 and 3 PM, and keeping nap time short: 20 to 30 minutes max. Beyond that, the most important thing is to make sure you have absolute peace and quiet. Turn off your phone and tune out, preferably away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the office.

Thinking of developing a nap room at your company? Think beyond the nap mats of your nursery school days. Adults in need of a restorative rest require comfy furniture and soft lighting. Think Google’s lounge furniture and aquarium set-up:


Don’t have Google money? There are plenty of places to get cheaper, but still comfy, loungers and chaises. We like IKEA’s selection of nap-appropriate furniture, but you can also find great deals at brick and mortar furniture stores near your office.

If management isn’t buying the nap room idea, you can still squeeze in a secret snooze on the sly. Since your cubicle probably isn’t the best place to catch some Zs, scope out conference rooms or empty offices. The ideal secret napping spot has a door that locks and reasonably comfortable furniture — although we’ve taken plenty of secret naps on the floor, and it will do for many folks in a pinch.

Finally, if worse comes to worst, you can do what an old colleague of ours used to do: Go into a bathroom stall, lock the door, sit on the toilet and hold your keys in your hand. When you fall asleep deeply enough to drop the keys, you’re done with your nap.

Maybe not the most satisfying nap in the world, but hey, it’s better than nothing.

Images: 1.,, 2.

Technology Has Changed. Why Hasn’t Office Furniture?

worst-cubicle-everHate your cubicle? Don’t feel bad. At the end of his life, cubicle inventor Robert Propst called his brainchild “monolithic insanity.” The rest of the office hasn’t fared much better. Besides the occasional minor change in decor, our offices are functionally the same as they were fifty years ago.

As the article above points out, the trouble seems to be that most rethinkings of the cubicle model concentrate on the aesthetics: bringing in more natural light, or filling the cubicle with plants, or decorating the walls with posters or the floor with a more attractive rug.

None of these plans address the real issue, which is that work itself is different than it was when our grandfathers put in their fifty years and got their gold watches. Employees increasingly work at home, or have flexible schedules. The current craze for open offices, for example, probably has more to do with increasingly collaborative and entrepreneurial workforces than it does a longing for large open spaces. (Although saving a buck on seating is certainly a factor for many companies.)

As designer Nathan Shedroff once pointed out, furniture is not the problem and all the adjustable desks in the world won’t create a solution.

So how do we create a better office? Like any design problem, the answer starts with clearly defining the question. In this case, the question isn’t, “how do we make a better office, or better office furniture?” It’s, “how do people work, and how can we make those people more productive and happier while they do that work?”

Consider these factors when thinking about your own office design:

1) What is the primary job of your workers? This sounds simpler than it really is. If your workplace is team-oriented, you’ll need more open space for collaboration. If your employees work alone on projects, they’ll need more privacy.

2) What are the other needs of your staff? Projects like Broodwork are exploring the idea that integrating family and work life can be advantageous to companies as well as individuals. Certainly, it’s better for organizations not to lose their best people because of the demands of raising a family.

3) Form should follow function. Some people need fresh flowers and lots of air to do their best work. Others, like art critic and writer Andrew Berardini, work perfectly well in a “dark, untidy cell.”

The bottom line is that the modern worker requires flexibility more than anything else. All the shiny equipment and modern design in the world won’t make up for that, if it’s missing.


Think YOUR Office Is Small? Not After You See These!

Sometimes you don’t get the huge corner office with the water views. Sometimes you don’t even get the tiny cubicle parked next to the water cooler. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you just get a closet.

We rounded up a few of the world’s smallest offices as a reminder that you don’t really have it so bad, after all. At least you have room on your desk for a keyboard and a Venti latte; these guys are lucky to be able to squeeze an extra paperclip on their work surfaces.

File Cabinet Desk
While we admire this person for maximizing the file cabinet’s usefulness by turning it into a desk (not to mention for sprucing it up with a nice potted plant), we have to wonder where his or her legs go.
Photo courtesy of JoshNunn on Flickr

The Hole

This little slice of workspace hell is brought to you by that weird little hallway in your basement. We’re thinking that golden piggy bank (top shelf on the right) could be used to save for a bigger house.
Photo courtesy of Rob Dudley on Flickr

Crate & Carrel
From this desk, which is actually a repurposed crate with a piece of baseboard attached, Barb McMahon blogs on the aptly named She stores all of her paper supplies in the old medicine cabinet hanging above. Resourceful and small – the chipmunk of office denizens.
Photo courtesy of Barb McMahon on Flickr

Post Office
It appears the U.S. government rented out an old utility closet and made the country’s smallest branch of the U.S. Postal Service. No wonder mailmen go crazy.
Photo courtesy of floodllama on Flickr

Wardrobe Office
This industrious new dad decided to maximize his kid’s play space while minimizing his basement office by hiding it in an Ikea wardrobe closet. The keyboard tray is a drawer normally used to store ties or belts. Great thinking!
Photo courtesy of Adam Selwood on Flickr

Closet Office
On the upside, this person has an office with a window. On the downside, that window is in a tiny closet. At least there are very few distractions in here – plus no annoying co-workers.
Photo courtesy of ilamont on Flickr

Down the Tube
The caption for this photo on Flickr was “James in his Tube Carriage office,” which leads us to believe that James either likes trains a lot or that the British transit authority doesn’t do enough to clear out its cars after the last stop.
Photo courtesy of Annie Mole on Flickr

If you, too, get stuck in the world’s smallest office, there are a few things you can do to maximize your space, as evidenced by this super-duper organizer:

Photo courtesy of Joyful Lova on Flickr

Here are some tips for making the most of your little office (and making it totally adorable in the process):

Ditch the clutter: Store anything you don’t use on a daily basis somewhere else and stay on top of clearing out papers and documents you no longer need. Keep a shredder nearby. Limit the number of knic knacks or momentos – they take up valuable real estate!

A place for everything: Organization is key when working in small spaces – so create a spot for all your must-have items and make sure to put them back where they belong every time. Use trays or expandable folders to organize different types of paperwork. Find compartmentalized inserts for drawers to organize paper clips, staplers and writing utensils. Make sure to label anything stored in boxes or baskets so they’ll be easier to find.

Think vertically: Use taller file cabinets and shelving for storage. Use peg boards or cork boards to hang items like calendars, folders and business cards. Put your most-used items on easy-to-reach shelves. Rarely-used and lighter items can go higher up and heavier items can go towards the bottom.

No matter what you end up with, you can rest assured that your office is better than this one:

Photo courtesy of NBC

What Your Office Really Says About You

You are what you eat, and clothes make the man, but it’s your office space, in the end, that might just provide the most accurate reflection of your personality. Don’t believe us? Consider these cubicles, and what they convey about their occupant.

1. “I am the least organized person in America.”
Messy desk people have plenty of excuses. (Or so we hear.) “I’m creative!” … “I have a system!” Both of which might well be true, but to others, the disorganized desk just looks like an indicator of internal chaos. None of this makes a difference to confirmed clutterers, who couldn’t live any other way even if they tried. (Or so we hear.)

2. “I am a snooty snoot.”
You’ve worked long and hard to get to where you are, and you’re going to make sure that other people know it. You will do this by stocking your office with paintings of polo ponies, or dozens of leather-bound books. You are not fooling anyone. We all know that if you were really rich, you’d wear a hoodie all day long like Mark Zuckerberg.

3. “Imaginary friends are the only friends.”
You spend a lot of time at the office, so it makes sense that you want your cubicle to express your inner you. But, uh, how do we put this? If your inner you is too much of an indoor kid, maybe you want to vary your choice of decor a bit. Anyway, you probably don’t want your cube to wind up looking too much like it was decorated by Gene Roddenberry.

4. “This is my day job.”
We’re actually OK with this one. A little art around the office is nice. The only potential for peril is if all of the art was created by the occupant, and he or she will not stop talking about the next show. That can get boring really fast.

5. “I have a problem. Please help me.”
You’re so wild and crazy, it’s like college never stopped for you! …No, seriously, dude: It is like college never stopped for you. There’s a way to do the alcohol-themed cube well, as the picture above can show, but for the most part, decorating your office entirely in booze-related paraphernalia just makes people suspicious when you’re “out sick” on Friday.

Image: 1., 2., 3., 4., 5.

Environmental Group Opts for a Non-Recycled Office; Earth Weeps

Fans of corporate irony, take note: Environment Canada, our northern neighbor’s leader in protecting the environment, has opted for a less-than-green office redesign. Our biggest beef with their new decorating scheme? Instead of recycling their existing work stations and furniture — or, ahem, buying used furniture — the department opted to purchase all-new equipment.

The weirdest part of the whole thing? The department spent over $141,000 storing the old gear for a year, before eventually deciding to go with new furniture.

Representatives of Advanced Business Interiors, an Ottawa-based company that specializes in recycling office furniture for “companies that want to reduce their environmental footprint,” are just as confused as we are. The company stored the furniture for Environment Canada, prior to the department’s decision to auction off the old equipment.

“I’ve been dealing with the product for 26 years,” said Bill Toutant, president of the company. “This is like the BMW of furniture. It will last forever and is not obsolete. So to me, it’s just a crying shame that it’s being thrown out and could wind up being used for scrap steel.”

Toutant went on to say, “If the federal government is saying that … they’re really not interested in recycling, I have to put together a new business plan here.”

Advanced Business Interiors gets about half its business from the federal government. They estimate that their plan to refurbish and recycle the existing furniture would have reduced spending on the project — estimated in the millions — by about 20 to 30 percent.

Toutant says his company will try to buy the equipment at auction in order to attempt to sell it to a new client, but that he fears that it will be bought for parts or dumped in a landfill instead.

Environment Minister Peter Kent, who is charged with developing a federal strategy for “greening the government’s operations,” declined to comment for an article for the National Post.

No word on whether the new furniture will at least be painted green.


5 Easy Tips to Make Your Cubicle More Livable

Most people don’t love working in cubicles, and it’s hard to blame them: cubes aren’t known for their comfort and elegance. Even the snazziest cubicles can’t compete with offices for privacy, or open work spaces for roominess and light. But as long as you’re stuck there, you might as well make the best of it, right? Here are five ways to turn your cube into a castle.

1. Express Yourself
Everyone has read those horrifying articles breaking down the percentage of your life spent at work, so we’ll spare you. Suffice to say, it’s a lot, and if you’re going to spend so many of your waking hours at work, you might as well do it in a space that speaks to the real you. Unless the real you is burlap walls and formica table tops, you’ll probably want to bring in a few mementos from home. Are you a sports fan? Bring in your team jersey. Love those terrifying Anne Geddes babies? It’s baby peapod-palooza at your place.

2. Spiff up Your Space
Companies supply their workers with a computer, a surface to rest it on, and a chair to sit in while typing. By and large, that’s it. If you want actual decor, especially in the current economy, you’ll probably have to supply it yourself. Fortunately, you can do a lot to spruce up your cube without spending a ton of money. This roundup of cubicle decorating tips offers suggestions like adding artwork or banners to your walls, or getting a nice rug to cover that industrial gray carpeting. (They suggest zebra stripe, but you don’t need to get that funky.)

3. Make Yourself Comfortable
There is nothing worse than being uncomfortable at work. And while you probably can’t convince your boss to let you work in your pajamas, you can do a few things to make your space more comfy. First and foremost, you’ll want to address any ergonomic issues in your workspace. Make sure your chair is adjustable, and allows you to sit upright with both feet on the floor, legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your monitor at around eye level. And by all means, invest in a keyboard tray. Your wrists and elbows will thank you.

4. If a Tree Falls in a Cubicle…
…it would still look nicer than if there was never a tree (or plant) in your cubicle at all. That’s an extremely awkward way of saying: “Hey! Don’t you think your work space would look nicer with a few plants in it?” Well, it would.

5. Remember Why You’re Working
We’ve had coworkers who put up pictures of their beach house in their cubes. Others have photos of their babies. Whatever you’re working for, it never hurts to remind yourself. As a side note, we have never, ever seen a cubicle decorated with pictures of bills marked “paid,” but we imagine that would work, too.

Images: 1., 2., 3., 4., 5.

Want to Hire Generation Y? Rethink Your Corporate Cubicles

genyRemember when people didn’t start their own businesses until they were at least out of high school? Not so for Generation Y. According to a recent study, the Millennials start young: Some reported starting their own businesses as early as 13.

Nearly 50 percent started or planned to start businesses at some point during their lifetime. This isn’t surprising, when you consider how confident Gen Y-ers are, compared with their predecessors: 75 percent of those tested in the study agreed with the statement, “I’m confident I can do whatever I want to do.”

Want to attract this entrepreneurial generation to your company? Here’s how to make them see beyond a more traditional corporate structure.

1. Ditch the cubicles.

The staid, gray world of the cubicle farm doesn’t appeal to Generation Y’s sense of individuality and innovation. Open office structures also promote the kind of collaboration and sense of community that the Twitter and Facebook crowd find appealing.

2. Give them opportunities to innovate.

Gen Y is the first generation to grow up fully wired, with technology as the backdrop to their everyday life. (Don’t believe us? Ask someone under 30 to try to remember a time before the internet. They will most likely describe a dark time in which they actually had to use those free AOL discs.)

This natural facility with technology gives the younger generation a unique perspective on your company’s problems, assets, and potential.

3. Pay based on performance.

Want to attract the entrepreneurial crowd? Offer bonuses — or even basic compensation structure — based on what they achieve, rather than the face-time they put in. Self-confident Generation Y employees will trust themselves to make or exceed market rates, and your company can float less of the cost of paying salaries up front.

4. Recruit differently.

The Millennial Generation is more likely to look for jobs digitally, and to respond to off-beat recruitment tactics. For example, Arlington, VA-based Opower recently made a recruiting video starring its “Chief Hula Officer” Dan Yates, hulaing away while “Beat It” played in the background. The idea? “Opower is not your typical employer.”

5. Be flexible.

Some statistics show that 85 percent of Gen Y-ers want to work at home 30 – 70 percent of the time. Offering flexibility in scheduling and time in the office will make your organization more attractive to younger workers.