Beyond agile working: the six factors of knowledge worker productivity

Beyond agile working: the six factors of knowledge worker productivity

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flexible workingWhilst the world has focussed heavily on the asset productivity of offices over the last 30 years, reducing the cost of offices per head, often using agile working as a tool for achieving this, it’s becoming clear that the mobility afforded by the latest technology products can be used to aid Knowledge Worker productivity. Knowledge work plays an increasingly large part in the economic fortunes of developing countries. Indeed the vast majority of people working in AWA’s client organisations are Knowledge Workers. Over the last 30 years we’ve seen a gradual shift from manufacturing to service and now to knowledge based industries. Knowledge Workers are broadly speaking ‘people who think for a living’. Whilst the concept of ‘productivity’ in manufacturing and service industries is well understood it is barely understood at all for knowledge based sectors.

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Long distance commuting, agile working and dinosaur extinction in the UAE

Long distance commuting, agile working and dinosaur extinction in the UAE

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Make DubaiIn Dubai, there are no suburban dinosaurs; those large-scale, single purpose office buildings that ignore the agile realities of modern working life. In the western world, these giants evolved on business parks, driven by the perceived benefits of having office workers agglomerated in order to achieve efficiency of communication and dissemination. The business practices and technologies that underpinned these buildings have evolved and improved and many are in the process of being re-purposed. Things happen on a grander scale in the Middle East where the mantra is “if the land-use doesn’t fit the land, make more land.” Here, the patterns of work and place have evolved differently from the west, and at a much faster pace with creeping tides of development spreading rapidly out from the small centres of traditional trade and commerce to vast tracts of new development.

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Design must support knowledge circulation in the next generation workplace

Design must support knowledge circulation in the next generation workplace

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Knowledge circulationBusinesses thrive because of their workforces, and the ideas, work and creations they bring to an organisation. But despite the fact that sharing knowledge and thoughts is vitally important, most designers focus on providing individual space for workers, while little thought is given to creating spaces that support knowledge circulation. Separate offices for one or two people, cubicles and individual desks are just some of the factors included in what is perceived to be an average building, but very often is the reason why there is a lack of knowledge sharing and co-creation. New methodologies are emerging on how to get the most out of employees, by providing an environment that encourages them to work together. These new strategies, such as swarm intelligence, place focus on the entire workforce rather than the individual, encouraging them to work together and share their knowledge and ideas.

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Too much sitting down at work (or worrying about it) can increase anxiety

Too much sitting down at work (or worrying about it) can increase anxiety

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worryMore evidence in the case against sitting down at work has been published this week by researchers from Australia’s Deakin University which shows prolonged sitting is linked to an increase in anxiety. In the first systematic review to examine the relationship between sedentary behaviour and anxiety, published in the open access journal BMC Public Health, it was revealed that only nine studies have investigated the link between sitting time and anxiety risk, but that in five of the nine studies, an increase in sitting was found to be associated with an increased risk of anxiety. There appears however, to be no data available yet on a rise in anxiety amongst office workers who, in the last few months have been being bombarded with scare stories about how “sitting is the new smoking” and how they’re putting themselves in mortal danger if they don’t try and stand for several hours a day.

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Well designed offices should create spaces suitable for everybody

Well designed offices should create spaces suitable for everybody

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Citrix_II_UK_06_highres_sRGBThe basis of the commonly held belief that offices are designed for extroverts seems to be that, because the primary goal of offices is to bring people together to work and because the de facto office design standard is open plan, then this makes them an ideal home for extroverts. They are parties to which everybody is invited, but at which the wallflowers are told to dance. There is something in this but it doesn’t tell the whole story. This is just as well because personalities are not so straightforwardly easy to categorise and the needs of everybody to collaborate or work alone – however extroverted they might be – vary throughout the day. The office remains endlessly complex and sophisticated and any simplistic notions about it and the things it does should be challenged with a cold, hard look at the facts and what is happening in the real world.

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Time to get back a sense of proportion about sitting down

Time to get back a sense of proportion about sitting down

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The well of public discourse about office design is regularly fouled by the effluent of people who really should know better. Normally this is characterised by hyperbolic assertions about how flexible working will lead to The Death of the Office (it won’t) or how the decision by Yahoo and others to go into partial reverse on remote work would spell The Death of Flexible Working (it didn’t). All of this drivel can be forgiven when it comes from civilians, but the fact that it remains commonplace in the workplace media and emanates from the mouths of people who work in the sector is enough to make you despair. The latest example of this attention seeking behaviour, excretion of simplistic bullshit, market making or whatever you see it as, is the drive to demonise sitting, now normally expressed alongside some variant of the slogan ‘Sitting is the New Smoking’.

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Three reasons why National Work From Home Day has it all wrong

Three reasons why National Work From Home Day has it all wrong

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Last Friday was National Work From Home Day in the UK. Each year, the TUC and organisers Work Wise seem to take this as an opportunity to analyse data about the uptake of flexible working and arrive at the wrong conclusions. This year, its analysis of the ONS Labour Force Survey found that the number of people regularly working from home had increased by more than 800,000 since 2005, taking the total to over 4.2 million. These are solid enough data, but what are we to make of TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady’s conclusion that: “these figures show millions of British workers have adopted homeworking and are enjoying a better work-life balance, while saving time and money on costly commuting that benefits no-one”? There are several reasons to suggest that he’s got that wrong to a large extent.

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Help us to investigate the psychological components of workplace noise

Help us to investigate the psychological components of workplace noise

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Publication1I recently reviewed over one hundred papers on the impact of noise on workplace satisfaction and found that on average sound level only accounts for 25 percent of effects. By contrast, more than half of the effect is due to psychological factors such as context and attitude, perceived control and predictability and personality type. Noise is a psychophysical phenomenon and as long as we continue to focus on physical metrics and disregard the psychological component, we will never resolve the biggest and often ignored problem of noise in the workplace. The review (available to download for free here) was the first step in revisiting how we tackle the issue. The second step is an on-line survey to explore the relationship between personality and noise distraction. I’d like to invite you to contribute to this research and participate in this survey by clicking here.

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Five of the most noticeable ways your office has got it in for you

Five of the most noticeable ways your office has got it in for you

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Wile E CoyoteIf you believed surveys and the news they generate you would soon come to regard the modern workplace as something of a death trap. Now this is somewhat misleading because statistically the most dangerous professions are still far and away those such as agriculture, forestry and construction which employ people in the open air, doing what used to be considered the core functions of work, namely making things, destroying things or moving them from one place to another. Nowadays most of us are in no danger of being hurt by this sort of work. But we can come to harm in the office and your workplace has it in for you in a  number of ways. But, as opposed to truly dangerous jobs, it’s unlikely you will be caught out by surprise and there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you not only come to no harm at work but can find ways to become more productive and healthy. Here are just a few examples:

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The bonds that link work with place are loosening day by day

The bonds that link work with place are loosening day by day

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Frayed ropeOver the decades designing productive spaces for work has focused on redefining the corporate office and its surroundings. While there are examples of quality design in buildings around the world, there is a growing movement that challenges the presumption that work should always be done “at work”. If we aim to allow people to be at their best, develop and nurture creativity and maximise quality output then we must ensure the place where the work is done is outstanding. Sarah Kathleen Peck of ‘It starts with’ summed it up when she wrote “There are people, places and things that make me feel like I’m building my energy stores, that rejuvenate me, and help me to do my best work. Likewise, there are also people and places that zap my energy; that leave me exhausted; that make me feel as though I’ve waste my time and my energy – and my day – without getting anything useful done.”

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Everything you wanted to know about open plan but were too distracted to ask

Everything you wanted to know about open plan but were too distracted to ask

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open plan There is a lively and ongoing debate on whether open plan offices are a good or bad thing. Many articles would suggest that they routinely diminish productivity. Yes, the open plan office is not ideal for privacy and probably bad for conceptual focused work, but it’s a bit like saying a hammer is useless when you need to tighten a screw. The point is you don’t use it for that. Fans of open plan often underline how fantastic it is for building a sense of belonging, team spirit and ad hoc collaboration, often ignoring the challenges of working there. The point I’m making is that introducing open plan into your office is probably a good idea, but you really need to make sure that you provide your employees with a menu of settings which allow them to concentrate, have ad hoc meetings without disturbing their colleagues and provide some privacy for confidential conversations.

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It’s perfectly logical why we should apply emotion in workplace design

It’s perfectly logical why we should apply emotion in workplace design

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Emotion in workplace designMost of the arguments put forward for enlightened workplace design are fact based. That’s useful but such arguments can also ignore the fact that we respond to our surroundings on an emotional level as well as a functional one. Once you accept that office design is as much about how it makes people feel as how it helps them work, then the design process can be as much about EQ as it is IQ. While businesses can shy away from dealing with the emotional facets of working lives, there is a growing movement that advocates not only greater awareness of the importance of emotional intelligence but is also able to draw attention to the benefits it brings to organisations and individuals. This was the underlying message of a groundbreaking event that took place in London recently which explored the use of emotion in a business context.

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