Under a quarter of US staff enjoy optimal working environment, claims report

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American flag cakeArchitecture firm Gensler has released the results of its 2013 US Workplace Survey. The report claims that under a quarter (24 percent) of US workers work  in an optimised working environment with the remainder suffering from unnecessary lost productivity and a lack of innovation and engagement. The survey of more than 2,000 knowledge workers from across the US examined specific design factors across four work modes defined by Gensler: focus, collaboration, learning and socialising. The report concludes that the modern workplace has a  number of new and increasingly important drivers including new technology, globalisation, generation Y and so on which define where, when and how workers perform their jobs and concludes that the ability to balance focus and collaboration with strategic workplace design is essential.

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Half the time it’s management, not the design that makes the workplace stink

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There is a general consensus around the workplace cognoscenti that design can and does impact upon the productivity and effectiveness of people in the workplace. That’s reflected in research, data and anecdotal exchanges, online and at events. What’s not often done is in linking this data to HR results, from employee surveys. While driven by professionally conscientious HR teams, their goal is shaped by the ever present desire to improve performance and hence save cash and enhance margins.  In other words it’s a management initiative. But half the time it’s management who are the problem.

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It’s sunny side up for office furniture designs at this year’s Neocon

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Landing “sunny side up” in Chicago is always a pleasure. While we’re here for work, the city has so many additional benefits for the seasoned international business traveller including a deep-rooted jazz culture, a beach, restaurant service to die for and – the reason we were there in the first place – the Neocon expo, amongst other things an exhibition of the finest new American and international office furniture trends which takes place every year at the enormous Merchandise Mart in the centre of Chicago (above). Quite a lot “snapped my celery” this year, and while, under normal circumstances I find the Milan furniture fair is the front-runner in terms of defining trends while the rest of the world slowly catches up, This year it was refreshing to see Neocon marking those trends right on the button.

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Only one commercial office building in RIBA National and EU Awards

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Quadrant 3 on Regent Street in London

Just one commercial office building – Quadrant 3 on Regent Street in London [pictured] by Dixon Jones with Donald Insall Associates – has received a prize in the 2013 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) National Awards. Many of the winners for the most rigorously-judged awards for architectural excellence are publicly, charity or foundation funded, with fewer medium-scale projects amongst the winners, both public and commercial. The shortlist for the RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building of the year will be drawn from the 52 RIBA National and EU Award winners (43 buildings in the UK and nine buildings elsewhere in the EU).

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The most unusual product at the Neocon office furniture show? The bulletproof chair

The most unusual product at the Neocon office furniture show? The bulletproof chair

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One of the more intriguing and yet geographically constrained products at the 2013 Neocon office furniture and workplace exhibition in Chicago was the Guardian bulletproof chair. While other firms were busy picking up awards for office furniture products that protected the backs, wrists, eyes and ears of office workers, only one firm was more concerned about their major internal organs. The horrifying facts behind this product are that workplace shootings are commonplace in the US with an average of over 560 deaths annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fully ten percent of work related fatalities recorded in the US every year. The bulletproof chair incorporates a vest in its back which can be removed and worn or allows the chair itself to be used as a shield. It has a ten year warranty.

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Niels Diffrient redefined what we know about ergonomics and office furniture

Niels Diffrient redefined what we know about ergonomics and office furniture

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Niels Diffrient, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 84, did more than any other designer to further the principles of ergonomic design as we now understand them. He is perhaps best known for his work over the last two decades on seating for Humanscale, including the groundbreaking and truly iconic Freedom chair, but his interest in function and comfort predated that by some time. As far back as the 1950s, Diffrient was one of the first people to x-ray a human spine while its owner was sitting and moving in a chair. He discovered that people will generally adapt to whatever they are sitting on without adjusting the seat. To Diffrient this suggested that the chair should be designed to adapt to the person rather than the other way round.

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Neocon 2013 announces comprehensive list of awards winners

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It might sound like a Republican convention but in fact Neocon is the annual workplace exhibition at the giant Merchandise Mart in the centre of Chicago. And when we say ‘workplace’, we mean largely ‘office furniture’.  It attracts around 700 exhibitors and 40,000  of visitors from all over the world and so can help to disseminate ideas that spring up in the US to influence design on a global scale.  Many of the themes apparent at this year’s show will be familiar around the world. As well as the fact that everybody is talking about the environmental credentials of the products, the themes are direct reflections of the concerns and priorities of office occupiers and specifiers. By custom, the first day of the show is when they dish out the awards.

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Daylight exposure has ‘remarkable’ effect on office workers’ health

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The architectural design of office environments should take into consideration how natural daylight exposure contributes to employee wellness say the authors of a new study which observes a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ health. Compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows in the workplace received 173 per cent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. Workers without windows reported poorer scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality, as well as poorer outcomes on measures of overall sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction. More →

NeoCon and ThinkFM offer two different views of the facilities management elephant

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This week sees two events taking place on opposite sides of the pond that should hold a mirror up to the way we currently design and manage workplaces. In Chicago, it’s time for NeoCon, the annual office furniture behemoth held in the vast Merchandise Mart and attracting some 40,000 visitors, while in London it’s the distinctly  low-key Think FM conference from the BIFM held at the Royal College of Physicians – for today only, as they say. While these are two very different events in terms of scale, content and format and both are nakedly commercial, only one strikes me as particularly meaningful. And even that is only about the meaning of one part of the facilities management elephant.

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The future of retail – High Street Bladerunners and Apple in Wonderland

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AT&T Flagship Chicago

AT&T’s flagship Chicago store

I was going to write this week on the manifesto from MANTOWNHUMAN – subtitled “TOWARDS A NEW HUMANISM IN ARCHITECTURE” but frankly the dystopian visions it conjured up drove such a bulldozer through any human sensibility as to prove thoroughly depressing. You can find it here if you’re that way inclined. I’d be interested in your views. Instead I’m following up on a faintly hagiographic article in Adweek which recently hailed a new frontier in physical retail spaces, building on the success of Apple’s uber-cool high street playgrounds for bored teenagers and husbands. The store in question and an example of what many are hailing as the future of retail is AT&T’s new flagship on the self-styled Magnificent Mile in Chicago.

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The answer to poor ergonomics isn’t buying different stuff for people to sit on

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A new survey from Fellowes suggests that poorly equipped workstations and a lack of training and risk assessments by employers contribute to the range of ergonomic problems that cost the UK economy an annual £7 billion. Their PR people have done a good job on this survey because they’ve managed to get the Daily Mail stirred up, amongst others. This will be a short comment because we’ve covered the matter so extensively in a number of ways before here, here, here, here, here and here. The primary answer to the problems associated with sitting at work is to stop sitting, not merely to sit on different things. We need a working culture that gives people the right chairs then encourages them to stop using them them at the first opportunity. Ergonomics is about the relationship between people and stuff, so we should change the relationship and not just the stuff.

Audio: the history and state of the open plan office

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Frank DuffyEarlier this year, the BBC World Service became the latest media outlet to discuss the growing backlash against the recent hegemony of open plan offices looking at its history, rationale, implications and our current love-hate relationship with the idea, including contributions from  Franklin Becker, Frank Duffy (pictured), Julian Treasure and Alexi Marmot  and drawing on several case studies. The programme is available to listen to here.

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