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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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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Workplace wellbeing increasingly incorporated into office design

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Wellbeing considerations being incorporated into workplace designMore UK companies are proactively designing their workspaces with wellbeing in mind as the health and wellbeing of office workers soars up the list of business priorities. This is according to Bostjan Ljubic, the newly appointed head of Steelcase in the UK and Ireland, who believes the economic impact of employee wellbeing, plus greater understanding of the issue is now propelling companies to develop and enhance their engagement with their workforces, as they increase their post-recession drive to attract and retain high quality staff. “The issue of wellbeing has developed very significantly in recent times,” said Ljubic. “Businesses that are focusing clearly on the issue are doing so because they have identified the potential emotional, financial and competitive advantage. The mountain of research on wellbeing points very clearly to it being in a company’s interests to take the matter seriously.” More →

The new issue of the Insight newsletter is now available to view online

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The new copy of Insight is now available to view online. It’s been a busy few weeks for sure and this edition certainly reflects that. We introduce the new issue of Work&Place, the journal we publish in partnership with Occupiers Journal, with contributors that include Professor Franklin Becker of Cornell University, Chris Kane CEO of commercial projects at the BBC, Andrew Laing of AECOM, Simon Allford of architects AHMM Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, designer and workplace strategist Ziona Strelitz and Ian Ellison of Sheffield Hallam University. Elsewhere, Sara Bean reports on key structural changes in the UK property market, Mark Eltringham ponders what we have learned in the build-up to new flexible working regs, Simon Heath casts a jaundiced eye over a mixed bag of RIBA Workplace Award winners and Justin Miller pays tribute to a product that 20 years ago first radicalised then permanently transformed the way we viewed ergonomics and workplace design.

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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The new issue of Work&Place is now available to view online

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Work&PlaceThe new issue of Work&Place is now available to view online. Published by Occupiers Journal in partnership with Insight it offers a wide range of thought leadership, research, commentary and case studies from the world’s foremost commentators, academics and practitioners in the world of workplace design and management. Contributors this quarter include Professor Franklin Becker of Cornell University, BBC CEO of Commercial Projects Chris Kane, Andrew Laing of AECOM, Simon Allford of architects AHMM Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, designer and workplace strategist Ziona Strelitz and Ian Ellison of Sheffield Hallam University. Work&Place offers progressive and informed commentary on some of the most pressing and cutting edge issues facing workplace designers and managers around the world today including co-working, office design, architecture, facilities management, workplace analytics, technology, flexible working, productivity and urbanisation.

Where office workers would really like to work? Outdoors.

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office workers outdoorsLast year, we shared research from Overbury which suggested that what most people really wanted from their offices was for them to be a lot more like Starbucks. Now new research from Steelcase Solutions claims that what people would really like is to be working in bucolic splendour, or at least an indoor approximation of it. The survey of around 800 UK based office workers carried out by IPSOS claims that people would feel more optimistic about their work if natural light, more control of temperatures and informal, dynamic spaces were core elements of their working environments, which coincidentally are also important factors in fostering wellness and productivity. In addition, the authors of the report  claim that more offices in future will apply biophilic design principles to offer staff a daily glimpse (or illusion) of the great outdoors. More →

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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UK businesses have mixed attitudes to flexible working, according to two new studies

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Flexible working City of LondonThe mixed attitude of businesses towards flexible working generally – and a new tranche of UK regulation in particular – is evident in two new studies. While a Citrix survey found that under half of small and medium sized business owners support the new flexible working legislation due to come into force at the end of this month with even fewer seeing it as a positive development, another study by recruitment consultants Robert Half found that two-thirds of large financial services firms use flexible working as a way of attracting and retaining employees. According to the report, this is particularly important in The City right now because  many prospective employees are put off by the poor image of the financial services industry and so firms are keen to make themselves more attractive employers so are turning to flexible working and better workplaces to entice high-grade staff.

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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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