Archive for October, 2011
Technology is amazing. We can have meetings without ever leaving our home, talk to people without picking up a telephone, and schedule our whole lives without buying a single calendar or physical organizer. You can run an empire from a cubicle — or from your sofa, in your jammies, and never have to buy pantyhose or ties again.
Pretty much, we live in the future. Sadly, many offices have yet to get the memo. Here are just a few signs that your office is stuck in the 20th century.
1. CRT Monitors
Ah, cathode ray tube: You made Saturday morning cartoons possible, lit up the far corner of our dorm rooms, and gave a face to computer super villains in movies throughout our childhood. But now it’s time for you to retire. If your company still has great, hulking CRT monitors, it’s maybe time to get with the 21st century. Or, you know, the last part of the 20th.
2. Fax Machines
“But wait,” we hear you say. “The fax machine isn’t obsolete! Why, I used one just the other day. Or was it last week? Anyway, there was a contract that needed to go out, and I used the fax machine to send it.” To which, we respond: “Are you sure?” Because we have never in our lives had a fax go out successfully on the first try. Also, there are these things called scanners now, which come in handy if you really must make an actual copy of a document. It’s time to end this obsolete and completely annoying technology once and for all.
3. Dot Matrix Printers
You could have knocked us over with a piece of paper when we found out that some offices still use dot matrix printers. There are some advantages to using them for businesses that need high-volume, low-cost printing. But to us, they always look like they should be used to log your high scores in Pong.
4. Inspirational Posters
This might seem like a weird one, since there are still plenty of companies manufacturing brand-new posters. But it feels very retro to us, and not in a fun “dress up as a hippie for Halloween” kind of way. Can we all just admit that these have never made anyone want to reach for the stars, turn their frown upside down, or maximize anything but their blood pressure?
Here’s one to break the hearts of anyone who started his career during the ’70s and ’80s: Actual offices — the kind with a door that locks — seem to be fading from popularity. The good news is that lots of companies are rethinking cubicles, too, so it’s not like you’re necessarily going to wind up stuck in a tiny burlap cube with Nina from Corporate Accounts Payable droning on two feet from your head. But if you still have an office-office, you’re either very important, or you work at a company that’s behind the times, or you have an actual time machine.
If you could change one thing about your office, what would it be? If you’re like the folks who took Staples’ recent “Improve Your Office” survey, it’s the furniture, not the boss. (We were amazed, too.) Here are some of the most surprising stats from the survey.
47 percent gave the boss an “A”
Despite what you hear around the water cooler, most folks seemed to be pretty happy with their boss. Nearly half gave their boss an “A” grade; 78 percent rated their manager an “A” or “B.”
52 percent want better office furniture
More than half of respondents said they’d like better office furniture. Office decor also got a losing grade from 51 percent of those polled. Both furniture and decor got a “C” or lower on the poll.
41 percent would improve office technology
No surprise here for most of us: More than a third of respondents want better technology in the office. Turns out, using cranky old computers and printers that eat ink like it’s a delicious four-course meal isn’t as much fun as you might think.
44 percent would ban office politics
The big problem with working in an office? There’s a lot that gets in the way of, you know, working in the office. Office politics got a big thumbs down from 44 percent of those polled.
41 percent want to telecommute
Everyone (or at least 41 percent of everyone) wants the option to work at home in their jammies, at least some of the time.
31 percent want privacy, flex time
Blame it on the decline of the cubicle: About a third of those polled want more private work areas in the office, and more flexible schedules in general.
Staples offered several suggestions for improving the office, including:
- Stocking the kitchen with coffee and snacks. (51 percent of respondents reported having to buy their own coffee and snacks. Some folks said they made up to five trips outside the office each day to stay hydrated, caffeinated, and fed.)
- Replace outdated equipment. (No more laptops that work better as hockey pucks!)
- Make small improvements to furnishing and decor. There are many relatively cheap improvements that make a big difference in the appearance of the office and the morale of the staff. Staples suggests replacing worn-out desk chairs or redecorating conference rooms.
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So, we know a thing about used office furniture – what with our extensive inventory of used desks, chairs, cubicles, cabinets and more.
But the folks at TerraCycle have taken the concept of used office furniture to a whole new stratosphere.
Take a walk around their newly-renovated, 20,000-square-foot office and you might notice some rather unusual choices: walls made from soda bottles and vinyl records, desks made from old doors, and floors covered in a patchwork of scrap carpeting.
All this makes a little more sense when you hear the company’s motto: Outsmart Waste. Since 2001, they’ve been working to eliminate the idea of waste by taking previously non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle items and turning them into a variety of products and materials.
Visit their website and you’ll find picture frames made from bicycle chains, tote bags made from Capri-Sun pouches, coasters made from circuit boards and plant food.
In a recent blog post for the New York Times, TerraCycle’s chief executive, Tom Szaky, writes about the philosophy behind his new office.
The company started out with a shoestring budget in a basement. Rejected paint mixes from local stores and free artwork from high school students and were used to cover the walls.
When the company moved, they wanted to keep this spirit of out-of-the-box thinking, while embracing their growth.
They’ve continued using nontraditional art to decorate their new headquarters. Local graffiti artists use the interior and exterior of the building as their rotating canvas and employees paint giant canvases (and, Szaky says, each other during weekly art parties). Work by local artists is also on display.
Finally, the company transformed a portion of their Trenton, N.J.-headquarters into a showroom for garbage. You read that right.
The floor is carpeted in turf from an old soccer field and tables, chairs and decor are all made from upcycled items – everything from fire extinguishers to wine barrels.
If you’re feeling inspired, there’s good news. You don’t have to create your own fancy in-office landfill in order to do your part for the environment. But you can collect that hard-to-recycle waste and send it to TerraCycle so they can turn all of your trash in to oh-so-hip and useful products.Visit Susan Jennings on Google+
What do you get your favorite wage slave for the holidays, if you can’t afford to get them a tropical vacation or early retirement? One of these nifty geejaws, which are guaranteed to make their neighbors in the cubicle next door green with jealousy.
2. Cubicle Doorbell
There is nothing more annoying than being interrupted while you’re working, and today’s open offices and cubicles make it easier than ever for people to bug you. Most creepily of all, folks are often right on top of you before you realize you’re being bothered. The solution? A doorbell for your cubicle. Still annoying, but at least you’ll know when you’re about to be irritated.
3. Aromatherapy Spray for Your Cubicle
Generally, we advise people to skip spraying anything in the office, lest they be assaulted by angry coworkers with perfume allergies. But these sprays have amazing names like The Antidote for Ego, Apathy, Passive, and Aggressive. How are we supposed to pass that up? (Our suggestion for the next spray: Irony. After all, it doesn’t get much more passive-aggressive than displaying aromatherapy sprays called Passive / Aggressive.)
4. Cubicle Pets
Not every office will let you bring in Fido or Fluffy, but most will allow small pets like fish. There are several small, self-contained fish tanks on the market that make it easy to keep fish in your cubicle.
5. Personal Candy Machine
When you were a kid, you planned to be an astronaut or a rock star, to eat ice cream for lunch every day and to have your own personal candy machine. The good news is, one of those things can come true. Actually, you can also eat ice cream for lunch if you want. The holidays are coming up. Live a little.
In a story for the Atlantic, entrepreneur Naeem Zafar writes about how Google has created a unique office culture that encourages innovation.
He breaks down three distinct aspects of the complex that make Google stand out from other companies: A proud emphasis on tradition, a playful atmosphere, and the importance of close quarters.
Passion for tradition
In every facet of Google’s office, they show their commitment to innovation and new thinking: from the quartz-stone flooring that’s more durable than wood or carpet, the solar panels that provide 30 percent of their peak power needs, and the LEED-certified furniture. There are also reminders of Google’s purpose and history – including screens in the lobby showing Google searches from around the globe and the company’s original server, circa 1999. In fact, the campus isn’t called a campus at all, it’s called the Googleplex. Google employees aren’t called employees, they’re called Googlers, which in and of itself creates a sense of belonging and purpose that other offices lust for. And there are plenty more nods to the company’s roots throughout the Googleplex – a British phone booth painted in signature reds, blues, yellows and greens and writable surfaces in every room used to jot down ideas or master plans. All of these details remind Googlers of the company’s vision each time they walk through the doors.
Google’s offices are decorated in the Web giant’s signature primary colors. They’re filled with bean bag chairs and large exercise balls, which not only encourage people to sit down, but also to relax and laugh. There are bicycles and scooters available to efficiently travel between meetings. Need to give your brain a break? Settle down in a massage chair and stare at a lava lamp while petting your dog (every day is take your pet to work day). There are foosball tables, pianos, video games, yoga classes and more – all available to employees who need to recharge. Natural light and better air circulation also contribute to a healthier atmosphere.
A smaller workspace for multiple employees encourages a team-like atmosphere and helps people feel like they know what’s going on (especially because they can overhear their co-worker’s conversations). Small, informal gathering places throughout the office — whether by the coffee pot of a few bean bag chairs — invites people to stop, talk and hopefully innovate. The company wants everyone to wear multiple hats and to be a hands-on contributor to their mission. To do this, they’ve created an environment where everyone can feel comfortable sharing ideas and opinions – whether they’re speaking to an executive or the person at the next desk. To further emphasize an open culture, each of their conference rooms contains two projectors: One which displays the presentation and the second which displays the notes taken in real-time to show everyone what is being recorded.
But does it work?
Google and other like-minded tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have turned the idea of a traditional office on its head. Say “bye bye” to private offices and cramped and cluttered cubicles. But do bean bag chairs and open spaces really help productivity? According to a study by research-based analysis firm Bosti Associates, factors like air quality, lighting, acoustics, aesthetics and ergonomics all have an impact on employee satisfaction and retention rates.
Studies aside, the internet search giant’s success is pretty good evidence that they’re doing something right. The company attracts the best and the brightest in the field and continues to expand.Visit Susan Jennings on Google+
Thomas Edison’s lab was arguably one of his best inventions. Located in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and staffed with engineering geniuses like William J. Hammer, it was the birth place of his most famous innovations, including the light bulb. In recent years, the lab has found a new home at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and is now as famous in some circles as the inventions that poured out of it. No wonder, when you look at the lessons its example offers today’s businesses.
1. Open Space, Open Minds.
Software firm Menlo Innovations owes both its name and its floor plan to Edison’s famous workspace.
“A lot of people don’t believe software development can be done in anything but library quiet,” says CEO Rich Sheridan. “I have 12 years of experience that says differently.”
Menlo Innovations skips the usual cubicles beloved by many software firms, and instead offers its workers an open space that’s “more cotton mill factory floor than monastery” — i.e. open, collaborative, and sometimes loud.
2. Be Flexible.
Thomas Edison’s lab was inspired by machine shops, not office buildings. The idea was to allow workers to move freely around as needed, and to work wherever their duties took them on that particular day.
At Menlo Innovations, folks can plug in wherever they need to work. Electrical cables descend from the ceiling, making it easy for workers to move tables into whichever configuration makes sense for the project at hand.
3. Have (a Lot) of What You Need on Hand.
Most companies today watch every penny, out of necessity. This often translates to skimpy office supplies, slow computers, and equipment that breaks down more than it functions.
Thomas Edison would not have approved. His lab had “a stock of almost every conceivable material” he might need, including (according to an 1887 newspaper article) “eight thousand kinds of chemicals, every kind of screw made, every size of needle, every kind of cord or wire, hair of humans, horses, hogs, cows, rabbits, goats, minx, camels … silk in every texture, cocoons, various kinds of hoofs, shark’s teeth, deer horns, tortoise shell … cork, resin, varnish and oil, ostrich feathers, a peacock’s tail, jet, amber, rubber, all ores …” and so on.
4. Competition Is Great, But Collaboration Makes It Happen.
Who really invented the light bulb? If you’re American, you’ll probably say Thomas Edison. If you’re English, you might say Joseph Swan. If you’re a history nerd, you’ll recite a string of names, including Warren De La Rue, James Bowman Lindsay, Edward Shepherd, Henrich Gobel, and yes, Swan and Edison.
Edison and Swan’s somewhat forced collaboration, due to patent issues, became the foundation for General Electric.
5. Seek Inspiration From Great Men and Women.
We look to Edison to show us how to work innovatively. Edison, in turn, looked to other great thinkers to inspire him. For example, he was known to display Sir Joshua Reynolds’ quotation: “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” The quote was posted over his desk and in other places throughout the lab.
So perhaps his least-known invention was actually the Successory.Visit Susan Jennings on Google+
Way back in the gold rush days of the internet boom (circa 2000, in other words) many of us had some pretty crazy office perks. It wasn’t unheard of, for example, for a work day to start off with free breakfast, finish up with free dinner and in-between contain an absolute smorgasbord of chair massages, foosball and video games. But even in the heady days of Bubble 1.0, our work spaces looked pretty standard — offices, cubicles, board rooms and lunch rooms. Not so much nowadays, where new unconventional office spaces make foosball look like the Monday morning status meeting.
1. Cooler Conference Rooms
The next time you’re in a two hour meeting, staring at a blank wall and feeling your adjustable chair slowly adjust itself down to the floor, be jealous of employees at software company Vocus. They’re sitting in a conference room decked out with surfboards right now. Or maybe one designed to look like a cafe. Or, most awesomely of all, a boardroom called “The Bored Room.” Truth in advertising: It’s real!
2. Creative Common Areas
Most office buildings have common areas that are just as exciting as the interior of the average Department of Motor Vehicles. Vocus has a town square, complete with a clock tower, fake store fronts, and people playing guitar while other people have lunch. (All of them are employees. They’re not paid to impersonate buskers, although we’d like to suggest that to the folks at Vocus for their next office improvement.)
3. CD Lending Library
Every office has that one cool guy whose music everyone wants to steal. At Vocus, that guy is probably the dude who runs the CD Lending Library, which is a real thing that they have, and not just something that we made up when we were dreaming up the best office ever.
4. Better Free Games
Who needs fooseball when you have Rock’em Sock’em Robots? And who needs either one of those things when you have an actual ball pit? At LivingSocial, they’re jumping around in a ball pit right this very second. We are so unbelievably jealous. Why did it take this long for someone to combine work with Chuck E. Cheese?
5. Free Candy
Many offices have free candy. But very few offices have free candy that is less than two years old, not leftover from some kid’s Halloween stash, and actually good. The free candy at Vocus is plentiful, fresh, and apparently entirely free from pocket lint.
Images: Washingtonpost.comVisit Susan Jennings on Google+
Everyone knows about Seasonal Affective Disorder. The aptly-initialized SAD affects people in the winter, when there are fewer hours of sunlight, and creates those “winter blues” we all love to complain about. But if lack of sunlight can dampen our mood on a seasonal basis, what about the lighting situation in our cubicles? Is it possible to lose productivity, because it’s winter in your office all the time?
Office lighting is famously depressing. For most of us, it consists of yellow, flickering fluorescents. They make a soul-sucking zzzzing sound, bathe us in sickly light, and generally make us feel like vitamins are being sucked out of our bodies while we work.
Are fluorescent lights bad for you? In a word: yes. And while it’s reassuring to know that our discomfort under those blinking bars isn’t all in our head, it’s a bummer to realize that the lights many of us are stuck with aren’t great for your health and happiness.
Fluorescents are linked to a long line of health complaints, including eye strain, stress, allergic skin reactions, and hyperactivity. Fortunately there’s no proof that it causes some of the scarier diseases discussed on the interwebs (cancer, extreme vitamin deficiency, etc.) For example, the toxic levels of mercury in fluorescent lights probably aren’t going to hurt you, unless your coworkers like to blow off steam by breaking light tubes and inhaling the particles.
The major effects of artificial lighting are pretty much what you always thought they were: malaise, eye strain, and depression. None of which are exactly conducive to cranking out those TPS reports in a timely fashion.
The angle of lighting is another factor. A study at Cornell University compared parabolic downlighting (a.k.a. the usual, downward-directed lights) with lensed, indirect lighting. The study participants were unanimous in preferring indirect light, and reported fewer problems with eye strain, tired eyes, and focus problems.
Ideally, all offices would be designed to offer workers at least some exposure to natural light. And it doesn’t take much, by the way: depending on where you live and what time of year it is, you can get enough Vitamin D from a few minutes of sun exposure a few times a week.
The intangible benefits of being able to see something besides the blank wall next to your desk are less easy to measure, but just as important to workers. For companies designing new spaces, the general rule should probably be: minimize use of overhead artificial lighting, and maximize natural light. Can’t let people bask in the real sun? Offer indirect lighting to give their eyes — and psyches — a break.
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Today’s office bears little resemblance to the cubicle farms of the 1980s or the secretarial pool of the Mad Men era. Open plan offices, hot desking, and futuristic, creativity-enhancing cubicles are slowly taking over our workspace, changing how we work. Cost-cutting measures might have inspired the revolution, but freelancers are at the front lines. If you want to see what tomorrow’s office will look like, look no further than our friends who file Schedule C’s.
In the old days, going to work meant dressing up, getting in your car or on public transportation, and heading off to an anonymous office building to sit next to identically dressed drones engaged in exactly the same activities you were engaged in. You showed up at 9, worked through the day, perhaps with a break for lunch, and then slid down the Brontosaurus tail as soon as the whistle blew at 5 PM.
Today, the office can be anything from a traditional building in an office park, a coffee shop, or your own home. Or you can join the revolution of workers who spend their days at co-working spaces — rent-a-cube style scenarios that let freelancers maintain their independence while also enjoying the structure of a professional work setting.
There’s an App for That
Don’t want to recreate the office in a co-working environment? Download one of the many apps that allow you to find other freelancers and work with them at places ranging from coffee shops to museums.
Lighter, Faster Technology
Laptops and freelancers have a chicken-or-the-egg kind of relationship. Did 30 percent of the workforce become independent workers because the laptop enabled them to do so? Or did laptops evolve, because an increasing self-directed workforce demanded them?
The answer, as with most academic questions is, “probably a little bit of both.” Still, there’s no denying that the way freelancers work is influencing the working style of companies who continue to rely on full-time staff. Hot desking, where workers aren’t assigned desks but rather dock their devices in a different spot each day, are a sort of in-house version of what independent workers do all the time.
According to at least one survey, 60 percent of Americans would take a 25 percent pay cut, if they could work from home one day a week. If Americans are willing to give up money during a time when no one seems to have any, you know you’re talking about a seriously in-demand perk.
Technology was supposed to make us all more efficient. But, as it turns out, it has created a society of distracted workers.
After all, who wants to do work when there are puppies learning to swim on YouTube or amazing sales on shoes on BlueFly?
Our cubicles are quickly becoming cozy dens for workaday entertainment, rather than the safe havens for productivity.
A 2010 survey by Workplace Options found that 42 percent of workers have started work early or stayed late in order to avoid distractions. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed said that the biggest distractions at work were people-related (office romances and water-cool chatter) and 23 percent said technology (phone calls, e-mail, social media, etc.) was the biggest offender.
Even with all of these distractions, 81 percent of responders said that their work had never suffered and that they’d never been reprimanded as a result of these workplace distractions.
While it seems like folks are muddling through the best they can, it probably isn’t a bad idea to take a hard look at your productivity and figure out how to maximize it – especially when having a job at all is a pretty big deal to some people.
Dr. David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work,” writes that our brains have not yet caught up with the increased number of distractions we face, so we don’t fully understand the true cost of five minutes spent answering e-mail or 10 minutes spent on YouTube. Your brain has a a limited supply of attention, so each task you do tends to make you less effective at the next task.
Two high-energy tasks – decision-making and self-control – are especially affected if you are too easily distracted. When you allow your mind drift toward this or that, you’re actually hurting your ability to focus on the tough projects down the road.
Rock, who is the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, cited a study by the University of London which found that being constantly connected impacts your brain as much as losing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana.
In his book, Rock sited the following statistics:
- Office distractions eat an average of 2.1 hours a day
- Employees spend an average of 11 minutes on a task before becoming distracted
- It takes 25 minutes for employees to return to the original task after being distracted
- People switch activities once every 3 minutes
When you’re ready to take an honest look at how productive you are in a day, start by keeping a time log which documents hour-by-hour (or minute-by-minute) how you spent your work day. You’ll probably be surprised at exactly how much time you spend not working.
After you’ve made your list, then it’s time to become disciplined about eliminating needless distractions and minimizing the amount of time you spend on “easy” tasks (e.g., checking e-mail, returning phone calls) to avoid the “hard” tasks (like writing a report or planning a presentation).
By our estimates, if you just eliminate the amount of time you spend surfing the internet for personal reasons, you’ll gain back at least 25 percent of your productivity.
How are tips on how to manage some of your workplace’s biggest distractions:
E-mail – A survey by Gartner Inc. found that corporate e-mail users spend an average of 49 minutes a day managing e-mail. Don’t open your e-mail first thing. Instead, Rock suggests spending the first part of your day working on thinking tasks, when your brain is the most rested and better able to focus. Set aside blocks of time later in your day to check and respond to e-mail. Because this is a more “interesting” task, your brain has an easier time handling it when it’s not as rested. Log off of e-mail, or turn off your e-mail notification for the rest of the day. Set a timer so you don’t get sucked into an e-mail vortex.
Phone – Like e-mail, you should set aside blocks of the day for answering and returning phone calls. If you’re spending time on a task that requires a lot of thought, consider setting your cell to silent and using the “send call” function on your office phone to send calls directly to voicemail. If you are concerned about emergencies, set up a system with your family, like having them call your receptionist or a trusted co-worker in the event that you don’t pick up your office or cell phone.
IM - Instant messaging can be a non-interfering, efficient way to get quick answers from co-workers about projects you’re working on. However, just like an overly chatty cubicle neighbor, it can also be an enormous time suck, as quick questions turn into flirtatious exchanges or time to catch up on office gossip. Not to mention, your exchanges aren’t necessarily secret as most companies have the ability to track conversations between employees. Now that we have your attention, here’s what you should do. Just like every other distraction, you should limit the amount of time you spend on IM. If co-workers do have legitimate questions, make yourself available for blocks of time during the day when you’re completing tasks that don’t require as much focus. Your co-workers will come to learn when you can chat and when you’re busy. Make sure to update your away messages to let people know when you’re next available to talk.
Social Media – Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin can be huge distractions for employees — some have even fessed up to spending up to 2 hours a day on Facebook while at work. While ignoring the siren call of photos from your cousin’s bachelorette party might be tough, your boss will be happier if you don’t go on any of these sites during work hours (unless, of course, you’re going on them for work). We suggest not bookmarking any time-sucking social media sites on your office computer. If you need a fix, wait until your lunch break and make sure not to post any updates that are disparaging to your company.
Other web surfing – Online shopping, booking vacations and watching videos on YouTube are all part of that 25 percent of time studies say employees waste online. It’s not a bad idea to start policing yourself on personal internet usage before your boss does. The simplest solution is to avoid using your office computer to do any sort of personal web surfing. At the very least, limit your eBay-ing and Expedia-ing to scheduled break times. Or, if you need internet access, come into work early or stay a little later to do what you need to do.
Visitors – If you’re absorbed in a project that needs 100 percent of your focus, hang a “do not disturb” sign on your door or cubicle wall to kindly let people know now is not the time to chat about last night’s games. If you’re the victim of “hey you got a second?” folks, let them know you need to finish up what you’re doing and figure out a reasonable (and convenient) time to catch up with them. If you can establish a daily routine, eventually your co-workers will pick up on the best times of the day to approach you.
Searching for things – Atlanta-area personal productivity coach Peggy Duncan says that people can spend up to 1.5 hours a day spent looking for lost items. Take back some time by cleaning off and organizing your workspace (reward yourself for organizing by picking up these adorable and functional office accessories). Eliminating clutter means you’ll spend less time digging through leaning stacks of papers in search of that missing invoice. Not to mention, a lot of extra clutter on your desk can be extremely distracting.Visit Susan Jennings on Google+