Video: how we need to break with the past to optimise what we do now

Video: how we need to break with the past to optimise what we do now

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Dave Coplin, the ‘Chief Envisioning Officer’ at Microsoft, explores with the RSA how we might apply technology in new ways to transform the way we work. He starts with a look at how we are constrained by the past, with the example of the QWERTY keyboard which was originally developed to slow typists down to stop keys jamming but is still the de facto input method for typists over a century later. Obviously there are very good commercial reasons why technology companies need to ‘envision’ this new world of flexible working but it’s an engaging presentation and honest enough when he argues against our obsession with specific aspects of work such as email at the expense of others.

When the world’s cities became the stars of the show

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Andreas GurskyThe City has always been source of fascination for artists. The growth of cities in the 20th Century was paralleled by their growing depiction in art. Whereas early paintings from the likes of Edward Hopper and the photogravure prints of Alfred Stieglitz would invariably focus on individuals  within the context of the city, as the century wore on the cities themselves became the focus. Film was the natural medium for the new starring role of the City. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was seminal in its depiction of the eponymous city and throughout the 20th Century camera lenses continued to fall in love with the likes of Paris (Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville), New York (Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets) and a future Los Angeles (Blade Runner from Ridley Scott).

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Why we might all get more done if we did things more slowly

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Tree OctopusThe idea that for every action there is a reaction applies just as much in culture as it does in physics. So just as life speeds up to the point where it is self-evident that many people are struggling to keep pace with its most basic demands, a small number of people are looking at ways of putting on the brakes. Most famously in 2004, the Canadian Carl Honoré established the Slow Movement. James Gleick was banging the same drum with his book Faster. We could all hope that as a result of such people asking for the brakes to be applied, things would slow down just a little now our attention had been drawn to the problem so that we could all feel a little better, take time to do things properly and maybe even do them better.

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What the CIFF 2013 show taught us about workplaces in China

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CIFF 2013You can tell a lot about how we work by the things with which we choose to surround ourselves. That is why it always pays to keep an eye on the world’s major office products shows. So, while eyes are trained on Milan this week for the international furniture fair, John Sacks offers us a view from the world’s largest exhibition CIFF which took place late last month in Guangzhou. Ignore the show’s dreadful website, this was a vast and important exhibition which tells us much about in the world’s second largest economy. Over 900 companies exhibited at CIFF in a venue with over 210,000 sq. m. of floor space and more than 60,000 people were expected to visit. The report can be seen here.

Office design goes to the movies. Part 7 – The Apartment

Office design goes to the movies. Part 7 – The Apartment

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In which Jack Lemmon exchanges the crushing uniformity of the open plan for a corner office as a reward for allowing senior managers to use his apartment as a venue for their infidelity. This is from 1960, the pre-cubicle, pre-VDU world of large ranks of serried workers in an open plan office with only the privileged few allowed any degree of privacy or the wherewithal to display status. many ways, the layout has much in common with the way many offices are designed now. Office design may have moved on in the past half century but some things are always with us.

Public sector property initiatives have proved successful but work still needed

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Gorilla-in-a-hat1There was a time, not so long ago, when nobody worried too much about the shape of the rooms that led off the corridors of power. But the pressure on UK finances has politicised the design of the UK’s public buildings. The latest example of this was the recent  announcement  in Parliament of a report that, amongst other things, called for a new approach in the way facilities are designed to deliver better services in a more cost effective way. The report Restarting Britain 2: Design and Public Services was the result of an eight-month investigation led by the Design Commission along with politicians, designers and civil servants.

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What Tesco’s move into a Clerkenwell office tells us about how it sees itself

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Tesco logoIf Tesco ever wants to update its three word strapline from Every Little Helps, it could plump for something more accurate such as We Own You. Unless Facebook or Google register it first, of course. The news this week that the extensively diversified retailer is to set up an office for its digital operations in the heart of one of the UK’s Technology Media and Telecoms (TMT) hothouse in Clerkenwell tells us a great deal about how it sees its operations in this area. The move will not only help Tesco to recruit staff in and around the Tech City area of East London, but sets a marker for how it views its place in the scheme of things.

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Office design goes to the movies. Part 6 – Playtime

Office design goes to the movies. Part 6 – Playtime

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One of the few films to address office design as something worth commenting on per se. A film in which M. Hulot stumbles around a modernist dream of Paris, all glass, steel and cold straight lines. People inhabit box like apartments and box like office cubicles which separate them from each other and, by implication, life. The film was produced in 1967, shortly before the cubicle was popularised in real offices. In the sequence in which M. Hulot visits an office building, he gets lost, gatecrashing meetings and ending up in a gadget trade show which is furnished in a virtually identical way to the office.

Five things the Wall Street Journal inadvertently told us yesterday about office design

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Some inadvertent truths

Some inadvertent truths

If I were to show you a headline from the Wall Street Journal announcing ‘Say Goodbye to the Office Cubicle’, you might date it at any time between the mid 1980s and 1990s. Maybe earlier. But it was actually in yesterday’s issue, dated 2 April 2013. Now, we could be amused by this or act all aghast at the sight of those dinosaurs yet to adopt a norm of open, collaborative and shared spaces never mind the ‘digital workplace’; or we could conclude that this tells us several important things about how those people and organisations who don’t keep a daily eye on workplace trends view the buildings they inhabit.

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Office design goes to the movies. Part 5 – Minority Report

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Minority ReportWe obviously like films like this. High concept noir sci-fi, based on a book by Philip K Dick of course; dystopian, chock full of ideas and technology that seemed cool and subversive in 2002 and is mundane in 2013. I mean, the screens are still cool but who wouldn’t rather have a file stored in the Cloud or on a USB stick than inside a perspex panel the size of a brick? Deskheads may recognise the furniture as the totally of-a-piece Resolve from Herman Miller designed by Ayse Birsel. They can use this fact to bore whoever they are watching with who would presumably rather be watching Tom Cruise doing his Blue Steel face in the foreground. Or is it Magnum?

Office furniture leases are actually readily available

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leaseThe article from John Sacks from 25th March bemoaned the fact that leasing is essentially useless for furniture projects on the basis that no banks are interested in funding such assets. I am delighted to inform John, and more importantly, the broader readership of Office Insight that this assertion couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that finance for both pure furniture, and indeed broader fit out projects, is readily available. For some, the significant tax benefits (leasing is 100% tax deductible) are critical, whilst others recognise the importance of retaining capital and making sure cash is deployed effectively, not locked away in furniture, is key.

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Ergonomic update: Are you taking the tablets?

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Tablet ergonomicsTwenty years ago the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 came into force, introduced in response to a growing number of complaints of repetitive strain injury (RSI), or to use the broader term musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) amongst office workers. Although it took time for the disorder to be identified, the message gradually got through that sitting all day in the same position banging away at a keyboard was not conductive to sound ergonomics or good health. In the early 90s I was an early adopter of a laptop (or luggable PC) and had to take four months off work after developing pain and numbness in my arms and wrists.

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