This week, we’ll be looking at a big name in the NeoCon 2013 competition hosted by Contract Magazine. Herman Miller earned an innovation award for its Metaform Portfolio. The recognition is for the lightweight polypropelene that makes up the modular blocks in this systems furniture. Because each “block” weighs less than 20 pounds, employees can actually reconfigure their workspace on the fly. That’s a massive shift in thinking about office design. Instead of providing different spaces for head down and collaborative activities and having workers move from one spot to the next, employees can move the furniture around them. Facility managers may not think this “no tools, no rules” approach is necessarily a good thing, but it will certainly open up new possibilities.
One of the configurable features of Metaform is the addition of privacy screens that can be slotted into the top of each block. It’s a pretty sweet furniture system. Of course, you’re looking at a price of several thousand dollars per unit. So just adding OBEX privacy panels is going to be a lot more cost effective unless you plan to replace all your current workstations.
At consumerprivacy.us, there’s a good blog post that tracks privacy concerns from the early days of office computer work through today. It points out that the 3M study we posted about a few months ago isn’t telling us something new. Employers have always been concerned about leakage of sensitive information and office workers have always been less productive when they feel too closely observed. According to the consumer privacy blog article, “As early as 1987, a US government report found that monitoring the quantity or speed of work contributes to stress and stress-related illness.” It’s just a fact that if part of your brain is worrying about being watched, you have less attention to devote to the task at hand.
Is Protecting the Computer Screen Enough?
Not really. The blogger recommends doing more than adding a privacy screen to the computer monitor. There need to be areas even within the workplace that boost the sense of personal privacy while muting sounds. Here’s his proposed solution: “You can create the same environment by creating small, closed offices with doors that have a work counter and sound-absorbing, acoustical wall surfaces that can be used for heads down work or sensitive phone calls.” On the surface, that sounds like a good idea.
Sadly, this would probably lead to some groups hogging these little private offices all the time. Introverts might crave this refuge from the noise of the open office. Or, corporate climbers might think staking claim to even a tiny, temporary office is a way to increase their prestige. Simply having a door that will close has replaced the corner office as the marker of rank in many workplaces. Scheduling time slots for this space would probably start some really vicious interdepartmental wars.
What Other Alternatives Are Available?
There are many “pods” and “touchdown” stations being promoted by office furniture manufacturers these days that avoid this issue. They offer a space enclosed on three sides, but no door. That way, there’s a certain amount of privacy, but not the ability to completely shut oneself away from the rest of the workforce from nine to five. A less expensive and more egalitarian option would be to make desk mounted privacy panels available to all employees who want them. That way, they can choose their own level of privacy instead of vying for a turn in the pod.
It’s always interesting to see how the view of the office cubicle changes based on the experience workers have with alternatives. We dug up an old Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from 2005 titled “Confessions of a Pod Man: A voice cries out from a place even lowlier than the cubicle”. In this humorous editorial piece, Mark Patinkin describes how he and his coworkers gaze with envy at cubicle dwellers with their high walls that provide privacy (and give them a vertical surface to hang stuff on). In his pod, he shares space with three other people – separated only by 6” tall dividers to keep their stuff separate. Mark describes getting to know his pod-mates charming quirks and the Herculean effort it requires to ignore tooth tapping and other noisy habits. His pod of coworkers has a little celebration when one of their number actually graduates to a cubicle. What’s funny about this news clip is that Patinkin is describing the modern open office with its emphasis on collaboration and “getting rid of the walls”. Perhaps office space designers should ask the opinion of a veteran “pod person” who has been longing for a cube of his own for the past 25 years…
It’s time to look at another entry in the Best of NeoCon 2013 competition hosted by Contract Magazine. This entry is from Peter Pepper Products, a company that’s well known for its trendy and eye-catching office furniture accessories.
From the Ski Slope to the Workplace
For this year’s NeoCon, the firm is entering the Slalom EcoFlex Partition System into the competition. It appears that PPP is the US distributor for the product. This particular piece is by designer Elettra de Pellegrin from Italy. The Slalom is named after the type of ski trail with poles placed close together for skiers to navigate between. In the same way, this flexible panel can weave its way between workplace obstacles to divide spaces in many different ways. Dividers can be connected in an intersecting fashion, in curves, or at right angles. The panels are modular (you can connect up to four in a row).
We see this product being useful as a temporary way to create collaborative environments in the open office or to make touch-down areas for mobile workers. They could also be used to manage the flow of traffic or keep noise levels under control in busy areas. You could even construct a maze!
Here’s What We Like About the Slalom EcoFlex Partitions
- They come in several heights to create a variable landscape
- They are available in many different colors to add visual interest to the office environment
- The surface can be customized with graphics for branding purposes
- The panels are finished with fire retardant, eco-friendly fabrics to comply with workplace safety and sustainability programs
- They boast a sound absorbent core to provide acoustic control (absorbency decreases the “leaking” of sound from one space to another)
- The products are recyclable at the end of their lifespan
Come to think of it, the things we like about these full-height freestanding panels are the same things we like about our OBEX panel extenders and desktop dividers. Maybe we should make a curvy desk divider next. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.
On this blog, we’ve written a lot about how to deal with noisy coworkers. But dealing with nosy coworkers can be even more challenging. We found one tale of nosiness posted on Yahoo Answers that made us shake our heads. The questioner asked what to do about her mom’s coworker who is always in her business. This coworker crossed the line way past giving unsolicited advice in some pretty disturbing ways. However, most of us just deal with the occasional coworker who apparently just doesn’t have enough going on in their own life.
The answer posted includes some very good tips for dealing with a run-of-the-mill busybody. Here’s an excerpt: “Sometimes a nice way to begin the confrontation process is to just thank the person for being a caring person. If their goal is to feel like a caring person, and you satisfy that, they may not feel the need to be so nosy. If it increases the nosiness, a specific thank you for their advice/observation can be given, so they know that the specific advice they gave “got through.” Then they might feel like their obligation to get their point across has been satisfied.”
How do you deal with nosy coworkers? Is the answer none of our business? Let us know in the comments.
Contract Magazine now has the lineup for this year’s Best of NeoCon (BON) competition live online! As always, it is chock full of brilliant ideas and beautiful designs. We’re paying particular attention to the architectural products category because this is where we get to see products that complement our own. This year, there are quite a few privacy screens of various shapes, dimensions, and materials. It appears that contract furniture designers and manufacturers are coming to the realization that enclosure, noise control and privacy will be key characteristics of the evolving open office space. We’ll be taking a look at one NeoCon showcase product per week for the next month and giving you our opinion.
Get In the Zone with KI Privacy Screens
First up are the Connection Zone Screens™ from KI. These freestanding panels have a writable surface, making them function as a giant white board. However, a traditional white board on a movable stand or tripod easel doesn’t serve to really create any privacy for a quick meeting in an open plan office. In contrast, KI says their screens are “mobile marker boards for information capture and impromptu space division”. It’s their attempt to bring actual, practical collaboration to the open office by making it temporarily cozier for small groups.
Here’s What We Like About the Connection Zone Screens
- They are quite tall to offer more than just token visual privacy for dynamic teaming
- They are wider at the base than the top to resist tipping
- The color will reflect light and keep the workspace from feeling dark or closed in
- They feature casters so they can be wheeled from place to place
- Multiple screens could be used to divide up even large spaces
- They have a narrow profile that doesn’t take up too much space
- It looks like you can store materials such as markers and erasers inside the base
- The white hue and curved shape make them look like sails on a ship (very romantic!)
If you get a chance to see these in person at NeoCon, try them out and let us know what you think.
Are you planning to make it out to NeoCon 2013 next month to see the latest office furniture design ideas? This year’s theme is about taking the office outside. The work of noted furniture architect Jonathon Olivares will be on display for all to see and experience. The Outdoor Office offers insights into what it would take to open up choices for where employees can work. Coffee shops and park benches both fail to provide an ideal work environment for many kinds of white collar tasks. There are too many distractions and not enough comfortable/functional furniture to support the way people really work.
More About the Collection
What coworking spaces are doing to replace the “Starbucks” workplace, Olivares intends to do for the open air workplace. He’s envisioned a set of furnishings that recreate the best of indoor working conditions (except for air conditioning) in the great outdoors. The furniture itself is quite rugged. According to the Art Institute of Chicago, “The designs are made with recycled rubber flooring, wood-plastic composites, UV resistant shade cloth and cast and extruded aluminum.” In addition to tables and seating, the collection includes structures to shield employees from the sun. This is one workspace where there’s actually a surplus of “natural light”. It’s an open plan office we can really feel enthused about.
Benefits of Outdoor Office Furniture
- For those businesses that have been wondering how to get some ROI on their landscaping, placing usable and comfortable office furniture outdoors may be a valuable option
- Workers will enjoy the fresh air and daylight as well as the sense of “playing hooky” from the office while still getting stuff done
- An outdoor setting in itself may tend to promote more physical activity since there’s more space and less sense that one is supposed to sit still
- Collaborating in an environment rich in natural stimuli may spark greater creativity among team members
Of course, there is also the matter of additional distractions in an outdoor workspace. We see Olivares’ vertical panel that looks like a section of tennis court fence as a giant version of our desk divider.
If you had the choice, would you go outside to work? Let us know in the comments.
Are you tired of those office furniture blogs that make you green with envy by showing you all the coolest offices in the world? Us too. To make you feel better, we’ve found a resource where you can browse the worst offices in the world. This one is courtesy of a pinboard by Arnold’s Office Furniture. Yes, it’s not all cute kittens and fancy cupcakes over at Pinterest. Only here could you find a carefully curated photo of a toilet stall with a padded commode seat and a computer tray for employees to work “on the go”. You’ll smile smugly to yourself at all the images of people whose offices are much messier than yours. You’ll stretch your arms out and luxuriate in the fact that you can’t even touch both walls of your 8×8 cubicle simultaneously as you view picture of a worker toiling in a space smaller than a closet in a one bedroom apartment. Yes, it’s good to be alive and working on a day like today….
Workplace distractions just seem to keep piling up these days. When it isn’t the phone ringing, it’s an email in your inbox or a coworker at your cubicle doorway. Of course, these days, you might be working in an open office without even a cubicle panel to give you some peace and quiet. There seems to be nowhere you can go to get away from interruptions.
But there’s one demographic that seems born to live this high paced life. Gen Y kids are constantly multi-tasking. They appear to get bored if they aren’t plugged in to the internet on at least a couple of devices at once, with a soundtrack pumping through their earbuds to boot. Surely they must able to cope with the need to switch quickly from task to task – or even to divide their attention between multiple tasks at the same time.
Are Gen Y Brains Just Developmentally Different?
According to Dr, Jay L. Brand’s review of contemporary research in this field, it’s not that simple. It’s true that Gen Y is very adept at doing lots of things at once – but only if these tasks are so well rehearsed that they are basically automatic. If you want young workers to do something that requires them to switch their brain fully to the “on” position, they need to turn off other distractions. “For complex, unpredictable, demanding tasks, such as the ones that often confront knowledge workers, their neurocognitive machinery remains subservient to the bottleneck of doing only one thing at a time if high-quality performance is necessary.”
It appears that it’s not really the brain that’s different in younger workers, just the behavior in how the brain is used. There are deep-seated responses that can’t simply be erased with the introduction of new technology. For example, it is possible for humans to “screen out” a lot of background noises. But they can’t choose to ignore the sound of their native tongue. It reaches down into the mind and demands attention. “Up to 80% redundant, speech is well-learned and processed to the level of semantics and meaning automatically; thus, neither younger nor older employees can “learn” to ignore speech around them.”
Employees of all ages who need to focus their attention on a specific complex task need a similar degree of protection from noise and other distractions. Higher cubicle walls or desk dividers can be one piece of the solution.
There are some pretty interesting tips on coping with workplace noise over at iDIVA.com. But some of them make us wonder if this diva has ever worked in a regular office. For example, the writer suggests using greenery to shield you from sound, “you could buy a small plant for your work desk. Plants absorb noise and look good too!” You would probably have to actually plant an entire hedge around your desk if you wanted a plant to act as an acoustic shield.
Another suggestion sounds like it came from the mind of a strict librarian. “Make small and attractive posters and pin it on the soft boards around office or even put up sign boards all over the office which would indicate people to be quiet at all times.” Perhaps you could even have a voice activated device that makes a stern and disapproving “Shhhhh!” sound whenever coworkers start talking too loudly.
Not all of the suggestions are silly. In fact, there are some good tips too. For example, the workplace culture and signals sent by management about acceptable noise levels do make a big difference. You can check out the rest of the diva’s advice here.