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.
Google and other tech firms may have started the trend of the cool office, but these super awesome workplaces seem to be popping up all over the place now. You can find industry headquarters in everything from the legal field to retail boasting about their hip office environs in “happening” locations all over the U.S. and abroad. A recent Observer article by Kim Velsey takes a long, hard look at how this movement has gained momentum over the last decade.
Velsey acknowledges the attraction of perks ranging from juice bars, pool tables, video arcades and indoor scooters to a surprise visit from a mini horse. Yet she also cautions that there are some almost cult-like aspects to the kind of devotion “cool” employers seem to desire from their employees. Luring office workers into spending more and more time in the workplace does seem malevolent. Yet employers are also being urged to “create more engagement” and help employees feel happier in the office. Where do you draw the line between enough and too much?
Rushing to Make Changes Is Uncool
We think there are some pros and cons to consider before you decide to upgrade your office space and your office culture to try to compete with the coolness trend.
- Do you really have the money to make a substantial change in your office environment? What about when workers get bored with the new amenities and want something fresh? Are you willing to keep innovating and renovating in an endless cycle to keep up with other cool employers?
- Will you need to create new boundaries to ensure workers don’t abuse their newfound freedom to “slack off” and play foosball at work? Will these be written guidelines, or can you implicitly create the habits you want through cultural pressure?
- How will you deal with backlash if you have to roll back some of the perks later?
- Will having employees post Instagram photos of their workplace all the time be a good or a bad thing for your corporate brand? Does the change mesh with your business media strategy?
Our advice would be to take it slow rather than trying to revamp your business image overnight. Start with changes that benefit everyone – such as improving the lighting, controlling noise, and making the office more comfortable and functional. Then, turn your attention to making it both beautiful and fun in ways that are in alignment with your particular culture. Remember, you have to be authentic to be cool!
We’ve seen a lot of good (and some very, very naughty) cubicle pranks in our time. But they tend to lack sophistication. There are only so many substances you can use to fill or cover a cubicle with. After you run through the ping pong balls, post-it notes and aluminum foil, you need to find something more inventive to catch your coworkers off guard. You probably know the prank that involves turning a computer screen into the “blue screen of death”. However, the folks at EQA Office Furniture have taken this one a lot further. They show you step by step how to replace the screen background with a fake screenshot. The instructions don’t stop there. You also learn how to get rid of all the real icons and hide the start menu. It’s a pretty nefarious and very funny plot. Just be sure you’re willing to take the consequences when your coworker (and a frustrated IT tech) find out what you’ve done.
Graphic via EQA Office Furniture
Do you wish you had a superhero standing by to guard your cubicle from pesky coworkers? Perhaps you could just use a superhero’s cape. That’s what the CoworkerBGone cubicle door looked like. The “Eco-fi” cape was basically a rod with a piece of black fabric hanging from it and a bracket to attach the hinged rod to a cubicle wall. The plain black curtain was made of recycled bottles. But you could also choose more decorative curtains made from the fleecy polyester material popular for blankets and pajamas.
What Happened With This Idea?
According to the 2011 press release upon the launch of this product, “The CoworkerBGone Cubicle Door lets employees create privacy when working on sensitive information and improve productivity by managing unwanted interruptions.” There’s certainly a lot to be said for increasing privacy in the cubicle. Most of us know first-hand how tough it can be to concentrate with constant interruptions. It was a good idea but apparently didn’t last since the website is now defunct. There’s no telling what factor proved to be the kryptonite for this product. It could have been:
- Failure to garner enough web traffic to get the concept out there (internet marketing can be tough)
- A higher than justifiable price point based on the materials and construction ($40 or more plus shipping)
- The fact that the item isn’t all that attractive (the black curtain does somewhat resemble a heavy duty garbage bag tacked up across the cubicle opening)
What’s odd is that at least three competitors with similar products also appear to be out of business as well. Good luck finding a supplier for the Dilbert Inflatable Door, Cube-a-Door and CubeDoor these days.
All Is Not Lost!
Fortunately, you can still find higher quality workstation privacy screens online. Quartet can come swooping to your rescue with a standalone mobile screen to block off your cubicle while still letting the light in. The aptly named “Behind-You” screen from Teknion is another high end option. Apparently, companies don’t have a problem with granting workers more privacy. They just want a product that looks professional and is constructed of quality materials.
What are you hiding in your office furniture? Check out this recent article at 3 Rings to see how trendy and attractive furniture incorporates hidden storage. Small compartments and channels allow you to tuck away office supplies and technology without distracting from the lovely lines of each piece. Their wood construction is accented with other natural materials including leather, metal, ceramic, and even wicker. While some of these designs are a little too delicate for a traditional office space, a few might find a home in your reception area. Imagine the delight of visitors when they discover that the baskets hanging below the Ability table contain snacks and swag to keep them entertained while they wait!
What do you feel like hiding in your office furniture? Does the thought of secret compartments where you can tuck away your smartphone or your wallet and keys sound appealing? Or, would you like to be able to enclose your entire desktop to make everything neat and tidy at the end of the day? Let us know your secret wishes for your workstation here.
Google always seems to make every “Top 10 coolest offices” list in the blogosphere. There’s a reason for that; they have some very creative thinkers doing the decorating! The company’s latest office design at their new satellite location in Tel Aviv does not disappoint. Check out the photos at officesnapshots.com to see the stunning interiors at this enviable workplace. One thing you’ll notice is the use of graphic printing on walls and dividers throughout the building. There are sweeping natural vistas and close up shots of intriguing yet simple subjects such as water droplets. You’ll even see some text-based images. There’s also a diorama style setup in one room with faux orange trees growing out of the floor matched by a citrus grove on the wall. We think that would be an interesting concept to bring into your own office. Why not have custom printed desk dividers that carry a theme from the 3D into the 2D around your workplace? What design would you choose? Let us know in the comments.
Herman Miller’s designer Bill Stumpf says he designs furniture with himself in mind. This self-serving mindset is what gives his pieces (like the Embody chair and the Envelop desk) their high level of user comfort. It’s designed for the individual and not for some imaginary “standard humanoid”.
What do you think of this concept when it comes to the rest of your office furniture? What about accessories? What about the design and layout of the office itself? Here are a few reasons designing a “selfish office” might work well for you and your employees.
Stay in Your Comfort Zone
Find a setup that works for you and stick with it for at least a while. Working in a familiar office layout enhances flow and productivity since everyone knows where everything is. Moving things around all the time just to see what happens can be very disruptive. Make changes only when you can do so deliberately – always based on a well thought out plan. That way, you can actually track and evaluate the impact of each change. Then, wait a while before the next round of changes to give people time to settle in and get used to the new setup.
Indulge in Creature Comforts
If you are selfishly designing your office space and selecting your furniture to be the perfect fit for your work style, this almost always includes some flexibility. From your adjustable ergonomic chair to your articulated monitor arm, the ability to fine tune your workspace is a perk that’s too good not to share. If you have some discretionary money in your departmental budget this year, treat yourself and your employees to a couple of nice accessories that boost morale and help get work done.
Give Yourself More “Me” Time
It may seem selfish not to always have an “open door” policy. But the truth is that you need some privacy at work – we all do. That’s why it makes sense to add privacy enhancing technology or accessories to your office space. If you have a real door that will shut to give you a couple of hours per day of focused work time, that’s great. If not, you can still create a more private work area with the use of privacy panels or cubicle wall extenders. When you have fewer interruptions, you’re less stressed and make a better boss for your employees.