Archive for February, 2012

And the Winner of the Cubicle Toy Design Contest Is…

It’s rare to find an office cubicle totally devoid of desk toys. Even the neatest and tidiest workers among us feel the need to commune with their inner child during the day, and keeping a few bobbleheads and Rubik’s cubes around is easier than stuffing a full-size pony into their cube. (Also, more humane.)

Since you can never have too many cubicle toys, the editors of Desktop Engineering decided to create a contest to inspire the creation of all-new gadgets to keep us entertained. There were over 80 submissions. Here are the three finalists, and ultimately, the winner. Please note that the runners up weren’t ranked, so you can pretty much consider them both in tie for second place.

3. Ray Kelley’s Bottle Cap Blaster
Finally, something to do with all those water bottle caps that have been littering your cubicle. The Bottle Cap Blaster was designed to be cheeky, but non-lethal — something those of us who have experienced high-powered homemade slingshots around the office can appreciate.

Its creator, Ray Kelley, described his plan thusly, “I set out to create a fun, cool cross bow-type toy with enough attention to detail that it might actually be made and used without serious injury … Overall, most elements amuse and annoy, and hopefully others will inspire and maybe even amaze.”

2. Jason Cox’s Remote Control Mouse
This is legitimately one of the funniest ideas we’ve heard in a long while: the Remote Control Mouse, as you might have guessed, allows a remote user to control the primary user’s mouse clicks. The mental picture this creates is probably almost as good as the actual experience of watching someone use it.

Contest judge Josh Mings said, “I can picture team-building experiments where one team tries to protect the RC Mouse and the other team tries to kick it through the office manager’s plant … a very valuable part of building a functional company culture.”

Also: hilarious.

1. Mark Norwood’s Water Spraying Tank
And the winner is Mark Norwood, with a water-spraying Sherman tank. The tank itself is a toy you can purchase at any toy store, but Norwood outfitted it with a water tube that will make tormenting coworkers easier (and damper) than ever before.

Judge Tony Lockwood said, “Each gentlemen is a winner in my book. All have proven themselves disruptive technologists, impish pranksters, and ingenious beyond compute. And, of course, all meet and exceed the Robbins Razz requirement for tormenting your cube mates [a test inspired by the way executive editor Steve Robbins makes a beloved canine companion chase a laser pointer's light].”

Lockwood and the other judges said that the detailed modeling in Norwood’s drawing helped him win the prize, a Dell Precision Workstation with professional AMD FirePro graphics (retail value estimated at more than $5,000.)

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Is Your Office Air Killing You?


Do you arrive at work every day feeling perfectly fine and notice as the day rolls on that you develop a runny nose or headache or have unexplained fatigue? It might not be the job that’s making you feel bad. It could be the office itself.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which frequently releases studies and information on indoor air quality, even has a term for what your office is doing to you: Sick Building Syndrome.

The EPA explains that a person could experience a number of vague symptoms that are tough to trace to one specific source. These might include irritation in the nose, eyes and throat; sneezing; stuffy nose; fatigue or lethargy; headache; dizziness; nausea; irritability; and forgetfulness. These symptoms could be caused by any number of factors – everything from poor lighting to psychological stress – but when they go away as soon as the sufferer leaves the office, it might be time to blame the air quality in the building.

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. The World Health Organization reports that 30 percent of new and remodeled office buildings around the globe are the subject of complaints about air quality.

And poor air quality isn’t just limited to work. “Good Morning America” recently measured the level of air pollution in a newly-finished baby nursery. After setting up the new crib, changing table, rocker and decorations, they found the air inside the nursery contained 300 different chemicals. The crib mattress alone contained 100 different chemicals and the rocker had seven times the level of formaldehyde recommended by the state of California.

At home, experts recommend airing out any new furniture before bringing it indoors, painting during the fall and spring months when you can open windows to ventilate, and using unscented products. They also recommend avoiding pressed-wood products and buying used furniture and accessories (that’s already been aired out at someone else’s house).

But what should you do at your office when you’re at the mercy of your employer and building managers?

In offices there are three main causes to poor indoor air quality, according to the EPA:

1. Indoor Air Pollutants
These include environmental tobacco smoke; asbestos from insulating and fire-retardant building supplies; formaldehyde from pressed wood products; other organics from building materials, carpet, and other office furnishings, cleaning materials and activities, air fresheners, paints, adhesives, copying machines, and photography and print shops; biological contaminants from dirty ventilation systems or water-damaged walls, ceilings, and carpets; and pesticides. Boy, that’s a lot of pollutants!

2. Ventilation Systems
For you, the office ventilation system might just be the source of background noise or frigid, teeth-rattling air, but from a health standpoint, it’s much more. The building’s ventilation is responsible for heating and cooling the building as well as circulating outdoor air into the building. If any part of the ventilation system is blocked or poorly maintained, it can affect air quality in several ways, including not allowing fresh air into the building; circulating air contaminated by vehicle exhaust, fumes or other outdoor pollutants; and spreading biological contaminants.

3. Use of the Building
If your office shares building space with other types of businesses – dry cleaners, restaurants, print shops, etc. – or if it has a parking garage underneath it, pollutants from these sources can find their way into your office. Also, it is important that buildings that have been renovated from a previous use – old factories, warehouses, etc. – into office space make appropriate modifications to ventilation and wall partitions to ensure that outdoor air is circulating properly.

If you feel like you’ve been sick for unexplained reasons, then it might be time to look at environmental causes.

The EPA listed both the short- and long-term effects of bad air.

Immediate symptoms:
Immediate side effects can show up after just one exposure or continued exposure to indoor pollutants, according to the EPA. Symptoms include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat; dizziness; headaches; and fatigue. These pollutants can also exacerbate symptoms from other diseases including asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier fever.

Long-term effects:
According to the EPA, there are some effects of indoor air pollution that might show up years after exposure or only after repeated exposure over an extended periods of time. These include respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.

What to do:

  • Talk to other employees and your supervisor to find out if they are experiencing the same problems. If they are, make sure to document the symptoms everyone is experiencing.
  • Talk to your doctor and bring your physician’s recommendations to your supervisor, company doctor or HR representative. Speaking up about your concerns will hopefully spur the company to look into better air quality management.
  • Talk to your state and local health departments about your symptoms and possible building pollution.
  • If you can, take periodic breaks from the awful indoors and get some fresh air outside.
  • Consider purchasing an air purifier to use in your office or cubicle.
  • Work with your company to make sure you’re not being exposed to tobacco smoke from people smoking in or near the building.

The EPA warns that finding testing for and solving indoor air quality problems in a large office building can be a time-consuming and expensive process. But don’t give up hope – your job shouldn’t be killing you.

Photo courtesy of Stock.Xchng

Good News for Those With Messy Desks … You’re More Productive

BEDX27Messy desk-havers, unite! Recent studies show that you might not be the lazy, disorganized slob your tidier coworkers believe you to be. Instead, you just might be the next Einstein or Roald Dahl.

“Messy desks may not be as detrimental as they appear to be, as the problem-solving approaches they seem to cause can boost work efficiency or enhance employees’ creativity in problem solving,” say researchers.
Jia Liu of the University of Groningen says that managers who promote clean office cubicles might be going about increasing productivity the wrong way.

Clean desk policies are “based on the conventional wisdom that a disorganized and messy environment can clutter one’s mind and complicate one’s judgments,” says Liu. “However, not all evidence supports this conventional link between a messy environment and a messy mind.”
Instead, researchers found that clean desk advocates were being overly simplistic. They tended to choose less complicated products, such as t-shirts with a simpler design, instead of more creative, involved merchandise.

The benefits to messy desks might outweigh the costs. In their book, “A Perfect Mess,” authors Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, argue that a messy desk can actually be the product of a productive worker.

“Mess isn’t necessarily the absence of order,” say Abrahamson and Freedman. “A messy desk can be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system.”

Messy deskers often claim that they have a system, and Abramson and Freedman say they might be right. In a messy environment, they claim, important documents tend to stay on top of the pile, where they’re most needed. In addition, some of those sloppy-looking piles might represent a fairly advanced organizational system, they say.
In fact, the messiest desks of all might belong to the CEO. “Company heads are decidedly less organized than their subordinates,” said Dr. Wayne Nemeroff, PsyMax Solutions CEO. Workers with higher levels of education and experience tended to have messier desks than those at lower levels in the organization, the book said. And that’s not even beginning to talk about famously messy creative geniuses like Albert Einstein, Roald Dahl, and Steve Jobs.

Still, companies don’t always recognize the advantages of the messy desk lifestyle. Occasionally, they go so far as to fire workers who don’t conform to the organization’s ideal of the tidy work area. In 1985, a former Red Cross employee — ironically named Rita McClean — sued for $92,000 after being terminated, in part for having a messy desk. No word on whether she (forgave them) cleaned up.

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