Keeping remote employees motivated is key to successful flexible working culture

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Four best practices for motivating remote employeesFlexible working has barely been out of the news since the latest government changes. But while allowing employees to work remotely can do wonders for staff retention, motivating them and keeping them in the loop presents a new problem. Although self-starting employees feel that they have more control over their work and fewer distractions, it can also lead to a sense of isolation. It is important for retention that you not just offer a flexible working option to employees, but that all the staff make an effort to continue allowing them to feel like a part of the team. The four best practices that will help you motivate employees that telecommute are: ensuring you build trust between those who telecommute and their colleagues from the start; establish regular communication between remote and in-office staff; manage goals, expectations and outcomes and take steps to establish that remote working is made part of the company culture. More →

Three ways in which politicians display their ignorance of the workplace

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Workplace bubbleThe recent Cabinet reshuffle in the UK Government won’t alter one fact; politicians simply don’t get it when it comes to technology, the workplace, the way people work and the needs of small businesses. Once you dismiss the paranoid idea that they DO get it but don’t care because they’re too busy looking out for The Man, you have to conclude that one of the big problems they have (this won’t go where you think) is that they don’t understand anything about technology and work, especially when it comes to emerging technology, the working lives of individuals, the needs and functions of small businesses and the fact the self-employed exist at all. These things exist outside the bubble. This is obviously a problem because they are implementing policies and making big, uninformed and anachronistic decisions about the things that shape every aspect of our lives, help to define us as people and determine how companies and individuals function. Here are just three examples.

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Book Review: Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval

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Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace

Nikil Saval’s book Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace pulls off that rare feat for a parochial business book of being intelligent and informed (which many are) as well as fascinating, entertaining and realistic, which is rather less commonplace. He pulls this off with plenty of references to pop culture including television series such as Will and Grace, films such as Office Space and The Apartment and, inevitably, the Dilbert cartoons. There is also a great deal of enjoyment to be had in the slightly jaded tone of his writing and brutal evisceration of the likes of Tom Peters who is singled out for special criticism. So too, his take on the very  idea of the ‘Office of the Future’ with its slides, basketball courts, pool tables and vivid colours.

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How Arthur C Clarke and other writers predicted tablet computing and the iPad

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Tomorrow People iPadArthur C Clarke was one of those scientists and science fiction writers who made a pretty decent fist of getting his technological predictions right. Not only did he foretell general trends such as flexible working and the future nature of work in cities, he also got a number of details right, too. His screenplay for the Stanley Kubrick  directed 2001: A Space Odyssey featured astronauts using something uncannily like an iPad. Indeed, so uncanny was the resemblance that when Apple came to have their long-running global patent tussle with Samsung following the 2010 launch of the iPad, the film was cited by Samsung as evidence that Apple hadn’t come up with the idea of a rectangular screened device at all. The judge ruling in the US case ultimately dismissed this specific argument but did conclude that other real world examples of devices would be admissible.

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Physical workplace should provide an environment in which people can thrive

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Physical workplace must provide an environment in which people can thriveIn these post-recession times, companies are investing heavily in their operations and the UK business community definitely has more of a spring in its step. Now, more than ever, it is important to have the right team on board and employers are now finding that their biggest challenge is how to attract and keep high quality personnel. It is becoming increasingly clear that an attractive salary package alone is simply not enough, even with benefits. More than ever before, workers are thinking about the quality of life which a job can provide and an intrinsic part of this is a working environment which will provide a sense of wellbeing. If companies are going to attract and retain the very best staff, they are going to have to think about how to provide this, because the physical workplace can be a powerful means of providing an environment in which people can thrive. Research has shown that there are six dimensions to be taken into consideration when striving to create a workspace which will provide a sense of wellbeing.

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Government must solve problem of London’s wasted commercial property

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London commercial propertyThe UK Government needs to act on the growing issue of wasted commercial property space in Greater London, and it needs to do so as a matter of some urgency. Statistics from the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) show that since 1998, a worrying 58 per cent of London boroughs have seen vacancy rates either increase or stay the same. What is most concerning for businesses in the London region is that this rising figure, coming at a time when commercial rents are soaring, has gone unchecked since 2006, the time at which the DCLG stopped collating the data because of budgetary cuts. One of the worst performing boroughs is the City of London, which has seen a 100 per cent increase in vacant commercial properties during the period from 1998 up until the point at which the DCLG stopped publishing data.

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The debate about open plan offices is not helped by its use of stereotypes

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Open plan offices and national stereotypesThe incessant debate about open plan offices is informed by a number of assumptions that can lead us to misunderstand the issues involved. Nigel Oseland eviscerates several of them excellently here, making it plain that a great deal is lost in translation somewhere over the mid-Atlantic. In truth, the European and US experiences of the open plan are very different and while we in the UK could always laugh along with our US counterparts at the organisational insanity of Dilbert, the cubicles themselves were largely alien to us. Another red herring in the debate is the idea that the open plan office is for extroverts and its alternatives for introverts. There is something in this but it’s too simplistic an idea and is often built around the stereotypes associated with sectors such as TMT, the age of workers (especially Gen Y) and supposed national characteristics, not least the reserve of Brits and the brashness of Yanks.

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Five things we have learned about flexible working ahead of the new right to ask regs

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flexible workingYou can’t help but notice that surveys about flexible working have been pretty thick on the ground over the last few weeks and months. The reason is that – as well as the usual ongoing fascination with the subject – the UK Government is extending the right to request regulations at the end of this month, allowing all staff to ask their employers for flexible working after six months in a job. As well as the numerous studies that firms have commissioned to explore the issue, there has been even more commentary and guidance, often from law firms. While we should always view each of these in context, adding however much salt we deem necessary to season their findings, what is always interesting when you have a media pile-in like this is to sift through it all to look for patterns, common themes and contrasts. Here are just five:

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The ties that bind facilities management with workplace design

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Facilities management and workplace designThere is an ongoing feeling within the facilities management discipline that when it comes to the design of workplaces, the majority of facilities managers are not consulted early enough or well enough or consistently enough to ensure that the end result of the design process is a workplace that is as functional and as effective as it could be. The reason this feeling persists is that in many cases it is true. Or at least is true to a greater or lesser extent depending on how you view these things. And if that sounds woolly, then you  have to remember we are talking about facilities management here, finding a definition for which has been like nailing jelly to a wall for many years. In many cases the demarcation between workplace design and workplace management is based on the mistaken idea that the two have little correlation when in fact the relationship between them should be more akin to that between sex and parenthood. One is an act of creation and the other of care, with the latter a direct consequence of the former.

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Breathing space? Why our office air could be harming us

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Why our office air could be harming usAs reported last week, the vast majority of office workers might prefer to work outdoors; but the office is where we spend most of our working lives. Indeed, for an average of eight hours a day, five days a week, office workers can reliably be found in the same surroundings – at a familiar desk, with familiar colleagues, within a familiar building. Perhaps as a result of this, too few of us stop to consider the risks of working indoors, assuming that the danger of serious harm is the sole preserve of outdoor working sites. Nonetheless, office work contains risks which are entirely its own. For example, while outdoor workers benefit from physical exercise, sunshine (occasionally), and fresh air, office workers perform their daily duties in a space where air is continuously recirculated, posing numerous dangers.  Indeed, indoor air pollution is actually a major public health problem, posing a myriad of risks as dangerous particles accumulate in office air.

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Virtually Uninspiring, Cautiously Aspirational – award winning offices for the VUCA world.

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award winning officesWorld-of-work watchers will be more than aware that we are increasingly being informed that we are living in the VUCA age, which under normal circumstances is an acronym for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous but in the context of these RIBA Award Winners for 2014 might be taken in a number of other ways. Commentators and self-styled thought leaders are warning businesses to prepare for seismic changes to the way work gets done, where, how and by whom (or by what, if proponents of automation and robotics have anything to do with it). How lovely then, that RIBA have made awards to seven offices that hark back to more comforting, more halcyon, times. The text of the accompanying feature in Architects Journal is at pains to point out that offices are hard to design and that RIBA awards are hard won. I wouldn’t disagree on the former point but, from the evidence on show, it’s a bit more of a challenge to agree with the later. So I won’t.

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Workplace ergonomics changed forever twenty years ago thanks to one design

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Workplace ergonomicsBy common consent, the office is a little over 100 years old, with most commentators agreeing that the first true office as we understand it was the Larkin Building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1904. Yet ninety years after this building ushered in the 20th Century workplace, there was another seismic shift in office furniture design that heralded the office for the 21st Century. In 1994, there was a great deal of excited talk about new ways of working, based on the growing use of mobile computers and phones. For the first time, people were unfettered from the personal workstation and new office furniture systems. Also that year, Herman Miller launched a chair that was to redefine not only what we understood about office seating and workplace ergonomics but reshaped the wider office furniture market in its own image. For the first time it became apparent that when looking after the wellbeing of individuals and making a universally understood office design statement in this new world of work, the chair was the thing, not the desk. More →

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