Fun Office Furniture Content from Around the Web

It’s the end of the month, and that’s a good excuse to enjoy some fun office furniture blogs. Here are a few favorites that should be on your list to read or watch before we say goodbye to August.

Sit or Stand, You’re Still Doomed to Work!

Nikil Saval at n+1 magazine offers no mercy in this satirical review of the current sit-to-stand trend. He touts the well-known statistics about the harm of prolonged sitting and comes to a grim conclusion. “Over months or years spent in a chair, robust human substance dissipates into muck, and the longer you sit, the sooner you die.” At the same time, he ridicules the cult of the standing desk, poking fun at the tendency to glamorize it. “…people regularly invoke the examples of Hemingway, Churchill, Nabokov: figures who famously tended to stand while they wrote or read. None of them was an especially healthy individual; more to the point, none was an office worker.”

Don’t Put in a Work Order to Fix That Chair…

Enjoy the Darwin Awards of office furniture repair at “thereifixedit”. These DIY jobs are proof that anything can be put back together with duct tape and a little wishful thinking. Castors seem to be a favorite fixer upper, but one inventive worker actually repurposed the bucket seat from a car as a task chair. Sadly, the cup holder wasn’t left intact.

The Virtual Conference Room

This popular YouTube video reposted at neousa.com is a reenactment of what a tele-conference call would be like if it took place in an actual conference room with everyone present. Perhaps you’ve learned to tune out all these annoyances in the past. Be warned, now you will start noticing all the things you hate about conference calls again. On the plus side, you may get some ideas for how to get out of the next call without anyone being the wiser.

Office Furniture Motivational Speaker

Jack McCracken gives a crackerjack presentation about how office furniture can change your life. Watch him mesmerize a room full of first graders with his flow charts and graphs. He inspires with words of wisdom about how “office chairs raise you up to a higher plane.” If you don’t think this is the kind of motivational speech that kids need to hear, think again. In the immortal words of Jack, “If a kid doesn’t care about a credenza now, what happens when she’s 35 and stuck in a soul-sucking middle management job?” What indeed.

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More about Government Workspace Design Trends

Last week, we explored the topic of hoteling or desk sharing in government workspace design. This week, let’s take a look at how mobility is changing the work environment for federal agencies. According to the GSA paper on workspace utilization, the public sector is tracking the private sector pretty closely in terms of lower usage of physical office workspace. They credit changes in technology, workforce demographics, and sustainability initiatives as the guiding forces behind this shift.

Avoiding the Office Is the New Rule

Government mandates to increase telework and reduce office real estate costs are driving a significant change in the footprint of many agencies. In fact, government organizations outstrip the private sector in telework according to the GSA survey. A full 77% of government organizations reported using telework, while that was true for only 68% of private industry organizations surveyed.

While security concerns still hamper efforts to go wireless and paperless, these hurdles are being overcome one by one. In particular, the advent of programs like FedRamp that help agencies securely transition to cloud storage and computing are creating the necessary environment to untether workers from their desks.

Where Are Employees Going to Work?

Heads down work is still occurring, but it isn’t necessarily taking place at a regularly assigned desk. Instead, employees are completing their duties wherever they find themselves. While private industry workers might have to make do with home offices and coffee shops while away from the office, government employees are often deployed to field offices or partner agencies. It might be considered a form of desk sharing that spans multiple facilities. Either way, this leaves a huge volume of workstations empty on a regular basis. In fact, between 8 AM and 5 PM on weekdays, only 35 to 50% of desks are occupied. That’s a level of waste that is difficult to ignore.

The GSA Leads the Way

The GSA took its own advice during a recent remodel of its headquarters. The agency now affords employees only half the amount of space they enjoyed before—but they have more freedom to work elsewhere if they wish.

The savings of $24 million dollars on the six leases that were eliminated in the consolidation effort is certainly a testament to thrift. Even the head of the GSA gave up his 1600 square foot office to sit at an open desk amidst his employees. Of course, his home office is probably a lot nicer. One more reason to telecommute!

If you are a government agency looking for ways to improve space utilization, The Office Planning Group can help. We can even procure GSA approved office furniture for your remodeled space. Contact us today for a consultation.

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Office Space Planning in Government Part 1

government office space planningGovernments are well known for being late adopters of popular trends. As entrenched bureaucracies with thick layers of rules, they must proceed with caution in making changes. This is no different in the office space planning arena than it is elsewhere. The upside is that, once a government agency finds an approach that works, they can proliferate it throughout many organizations to achieve efficiency on a massive scale. This is likely to happen in the space planning sphere soon.

Right now, federal and state governments seem to be in the midst of an ongoing experimental phase. They are juggling factors such as space availability, energy and maintenance costs, and security concerns while evaluating new choices such as mobile and alternative work environments. Federal agencies, in particular have a strict set of mandates to follow in determining how to design and utilize workspaces:

  • Preserving the value of the real estate
  • Meeting the needs of employees
  • Promoting maximum utilization of the space
  • Improving the productivity of workers to meet mission requirements

Hoteling and desk sharing are some of the techniques on the table as they seek to modernize the office while achieving all the objectives above.

Using Fewer Workstations in Government Spaces

The practice of reducing the number of available workstations below the number of employees is one way to capture real estate savings. Since not all workers are at their desks 100% of the time, it makes sense to provision only as many workstations as are really needed. Workers can reserve the type of workstation they need in advance or simply choose an available space when they arrive at the office. These practices and similar variations are called hoteling and desk sharing.

According to the Workspace Utilization Benchmark publication from 2012, “Alternative work environments including telework, hoteling stations, and desk sharing, are a major trend in today’s real estate marketplace, and offer organizations flexibility and optimal workspace usage. Additionally, organizations have noted an increase of quantitative benefits with the use of alternative work environments such as increased productivity and enhanced associate morale.”

Giving Hot Desking a Second Chance

The paper goes on to note that, while hoteling and desk sharing were tried in the 1990’s, the result was abject failure. The technology available at the time simply made it too difficult to stay productive in a constantly shifting office environment. Trying to force hoteling didn’t work. However, this way of working has begun to arise spontaneously today in response to mobile technology and a more collaborative work style. Still, hoteling and desk sharing are much less common in public sector workspaces compared to the private sector (16% vs. 48%).

According to an article by Lisa Rein in the Washington Post, it simply takes time to make the switch. The GSA itself is a good example: “With 3,300 headquarters employees, the GSA represents just a small fraction of the federal workforce. Even so, it took a full year to train everyone to electronically reserve desks and meeting rooms and give up the paper that still dominates most government work.” With the GSA leading the way, other agencies are sure to follow. Getting employees on board with a more flexible federal workspace is just a matter of time.

Stay tuned next week for more about mobile work in the Government workspace.

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Privacy in Coworking Spaces

Coworking is a burgeoning trend among entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers who can’t commute to a corporate office on a regular basis. Today, we’re seeing more and more spaces being created to meet the demands for flexible, occasional office space. Facilities that offer coworking space do have a number of benefits:

  • Helping people be more productive by offering a work-like atmosphere
  • Facilitating networking and creative brainstorming across industries
  • Granting access to infrastructure and technology that would be cost-prohibitive for small business owners or startups
  • Keeping costs low with flexibility in short term or pay-as-you-go pricing

But not everyone is sold on the benefits of surrounding oneself with other people in a setting that’s meant to mimic a regular office. In fact, the best work often gets done in a solitary setting–without interruptions from office mates.

Noise Levels Range from Busy to Bothersome

Eli at Become Nomad bills himself as a fan of coworking (since he never stays in one place long). But even he takes issue with some of the less pleasant aspects of the faux office. “Coworking places can be noisy, and this is hard if you’re easily distracted. Noise is part and parcel of coworking places. People will make calls, talk to each other, move around and sometimes distract you, although most coworkers are quite aware and respectful in the working environment.”

Rebekah Campbell at “You’re the Boss” was less tolerant of the buzz during her startup’s experiment with coworking environments. She bemoaned lost productivity from poor focus. Even though there were designated quiet areas, most coworkers ignored the rules. There was certainly no safe haven from obnoxious behavior. “Some people appeared to show off their important phone conversations by speaking as loudly as possible. Even those who thought they were sharing an idea with their small teams managed to broadcast across the whole room.”

Some Coworking Spaces Seek to Provide More Privacy

As the problems that can arise with shared workspaces become more evident, some purveyors of coworking space are finding new ways to cope. For example, the Regus chain of business centers has installed “Thinkpods” that are like tiny round cubicles with space for a chair and a worksurface to hold a laptop. Kimberly Lilley, General Manager at a DFW area Regus, says people can choose to pop into a pod to focus on preparing a presentation. Others might choose to spend most of a workday in these cocoons of quiet.

In contrast, the formal coworking spaces at a Regus feature little privacy, with desks positioned in an open layout with no desktop divider screens. However, in this instance shared space doesn’t mean shared schedules. According to Kimberly, the sales people who lease her site’s coworking offices don’t rub elbows that often. “It’s not really an issue. They aren’t all in the office at the same time.” Sometimes, the answer to the noise question really is about timing. The flexibility of the coworking culture allows workers to come and go as their need for privacy changes.

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How to Do Library Rules in the Office

quiet officeIn 2012, Jason Fried at Basecamp wrote a short post that rocked the world of office culture. He proudly proclaimed the secret to a nice, quiet, productive work environment—following library rules in the office. For a blog post of only 100 words, it garnered a surprising amount of comment. In Jason’s view, this approach works very well. Employees are expected to keep quiet or whisper, to avoid interrupting, and to take louder conversations to a different area.

Not surprisingly, what seems like common sense provoked a firestorm of argument. The complaints were fairly predictable:

  • Instituting library rules infantilizes workers
  • Without the buzz of conversation, creative collaboration can’t happen
  • There’s something very wrong in a workplace where everyone is forced to be silent
  • Silence is more distracting than noise
  • It would be boring to work in a quiet office

It’s Not as Bad as It Sounds

These comments demonstrate some misconceptions about the realities of properly-implemented library rules in the office. For example, they are really guidelines and not “rules” when you are working with adults. Obviously, you don’t have a supervisor going around “shushing” people. The point is to cultivate an environment where people understand the impact their noise has on their coworkers. No one is asked to be silent, just dial down the overall noise level for a quieter atmosphere.

Here are a few ways to transition to a more manageable noise level:

  • Provide zones like the kitchen or break area (away from the concentrated work zones) where people are free to socialize at whatever volume they like.
  • Set up part of the office with lounge-style furnishings for workers who use mobile devices and chat a lot. Those that prefer a heads-down workspace could have cubicles with high walls to shut out noise.
  • Ensure there are private meeting rooms for teams that need to brainstorm. These spaces should be readily available for impromptu brainstorming. Coworkers should be encouraged to politely request that loud conversations be moved to one of these rooms.
  • Let employees know that conference calls and other extended phone conversations should take place in phone booths or other enclosed areas to keep the shared workspace quieter and protect privacy.
  • Post signs asking employees to remember to set their cell phones to vibrate at the start of the workday.
  • Ensure flooring, ceilings, walls, and desk dividers or cubicle wall panels are selected in materials that reduce noise, making it easier to keep the workplace quiet.

A more polite and respectful workplace doesn’t have to crush creativity. In fact, when everyone has more mental space to think because they aren’t fighting the noise, you’ll find that employees are less stressed and more productive.

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Exploring Steelcase’s Quiet Spaces Part 3

No matter how noisy the rest of the workplace gets, introverts can feel comfortable when they have a place to retreat and focus. In this final blog post on Steelcase’s Quiet Spaces, we’ll tour a few more of the options and ideas for putting together an oasis of calm. As always, these examples are shown with clear glass so you can see the interior. The real deal features more opacity to provide visual privacy.

Studio

StudioBeing quiet doesn’t always mean sitting in silence. Sometimes, it’s best to stretch or even pace around during bouts of creative thinking or problem solving. That’s why the furnishings in this mini-studio space are sparse. Most of the room is left open so employees can spread out. Yoga mats for exercise are optional (and should be sterilized regularly). The Hosu convertible lounge chair can be used as a recliner or a futon for a quick power nap.

Green Room

green roomThe green room in a theater is a place for actors to relax when they aren’t performing. In a similar way, this quiet space serves introverts by getting them “off the stage” for a while so they can just be themselves. This informal destination is designed for socialization that doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

The 90 degree sofa allows coworkers to sit near one another without feeling crowded or being pressured to maintain constant eye contact. The space is designed to facilitate work as well as sharing of digital content. It’s the right spot for alone time or occasional small group activities.

Mind Share

mindshareAccording to the research collected by Steelcase, most collaboration happens in pairs rather than teams. It’s not really necessary to have an entire conference room set aside for these synergistic meetings. The Mind Share space provides room for one-on-one discussions that can be as deep and focused as necessary. It’s bouncing ideas off a trusted partner that can lead to some of the best results. This is also a good place for introverts to brainstorm so they don’t disturb everyone else when they get excited.

The technology integrated into this quiet space includes media:scape to promote active creation and editing of digital content. A whiteboard provides a great surface for visualization—just make sure the ventilation is good enough to deal with the dry erase marker fumes!

That’s it for our coverage of Quiet Spaces. If you do end up incorporating one of these solutions into your office design, let us know how it works out. We’re all ears…

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Exploring Steelcase Quiet Spaces Part 2

quiet spacesDo you wish the workplace was more like a library? Everyone would speak in hushed tones. It would be assumed that each person was concentrating hard and shouldn’t have their train of thought interrupted. There would even be secluded nooks for those who like to feel completely alone.

It’s probably not possible to retrain employees to be quiet—sometimes work is the right place to be talkative. But it is possible to provide extra peace, quiet, and privacy for workers who don’t appreciate being in the midst of the action all the time. Last week, we looked at a few of the benefits of the new “Quiet Spaces” from Steelcase. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into some of the features and specs.

be meThe BE ME Place

This version of the Quiet Space includes privacy walls that are semi-opaque to allow light in but keep prying eyes out. The Lagunitas daybeds and benches offer comfortable seating with back pillows that can be used to support forward leaning or reclining postures. The benches are power-enabled to ensure users can recharge their device batteries at the same time they recharge their mental ones. Storage doubles as guest seating or as a place to stash personal gear. Introverts can use this location as a place to unwind and catch up on work or brainstorm new ideas.

FlowThe FLOW Place

When it’s absolutely critical to get the job done without interruption, a lounge-style setting isn’t necessarily the best option. It doesn’t really feel like sitting down to work. But a private-office setup is ideal. That’s the format provided by the FLOW design. It’s based on the Elective Elements collection, with a workstation, additional worksurfaces, filing units, bookshelves, and cushion-topped storage. This will become a favorite place for resource-intensive work since there’s plenty of space for reference materials to be stored or spread out on surfaces for easy visualization. It’s a hot spot for introverts who are up against a deadline and ready to by super-productive.

Next week, we’ll explore several more implementations from this new Steelcase collection. As it turns out, we still have a lot to say about being Quiet.

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Exploring Steelcase Quiet Spaces Part 1

quiet spacesThe long-awaited day has arrived, and Steelcase Quiet Spaces have been unveiled. This collection of office architectural components was conceived in collaboration with Susan Cain, noted introvert, TED talker, and bestselling author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. She stands as a calm, firm voice representing employees everywhere who would rather be left alone to do their work. That’s not a small minority. More than 1/3 of workers fall into the introvert category—and their needs aren’t being met in the overly open, hyper-social workspaces of today.

When Susan was talking, Steelcase was listening.

Now, the office furniture giant has made great strides toward creating a more inclusive yet less overwhelming work environment for their shy employees. Quiet Spaces are designed to fill this need even in today’s high-density offices. These spaces meet four basic needs of introverted personalities at work.

Pursuing Excellence

Introverts are consistently the source of some of the best ideas in business—but only when their need to be alone is respected. Employers who provide quiet spaces show that they value what introverted employees bring to the table.

Dialing It Down

Overstimulation is one of the curses of a modern office. Introverts need to have more control over sound levels and lighting to promote comfort and improve their ability to focus.

Enjoying the Setting

Some stimulation is actually desirable for introverts. Organic materials and wood veneers with warm tones and attractive textures help create a safe haven.

quiet spaces 2Avoiding Prying Eyes

For an introvert, a normal day at the office can trigger stage fright. They feel like everyone is looking at them. Having visual privacy, even for short periods of time, provides a chance to relax. (The glass walls in the photo are used to show the interior of the space, the real walls are more opaque.)

The Concept Starts with Architecture and Technology

These small work rooms are built with V.I.A. (Vertical Intelligent Architecture) for real sound privacy. All frames, skins, and junctions are manufactured with full acoustical seals to keep outside noise out—and inside noise in. The intelligent walls can be equipped with built-in monitors to amplify digital content. Lighting is also part of the package, giving users control over the brightness of their refuge.

What about scheduling? The RoomWizard II gives introverts the option to reserve a Steelcase Quiet Space at a moment’s notice or well in advance. That’s handy for workers who know they need to recharge at a specific time each day, such as after a busy, noisy meeting.

Stay tuned next week for more details about Quiet Spaces…

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Three High Tech Office Toys

airchargeIs 2014 the year to update your work environment with some high tech office toys? Here are a few that range from simple to extravagant. They could change the way you work, the way you interact with technology, and even how you feel.

What a Novel Koncept!

Even as technology becomes more and more portable, we still need to set it down from time to time—especially to charge it. That could mean setting aside a dedicated area on your desk for this to happen. To save space, you could use a KONCEPT LED task light with aircharge wireless functionality integrated into the base. It tops up your phone, lights your work area, and looks cool all at the same time. With the LED bulb, this accessory actually is cooler than an incandescent lamp. Plus it uses a lot less electricity, even when you’re charging smartphones on it all day long.

cubiiHide a Cubii in Your Cubicle

While your mobile device is recharging on top of your desk, you can energize your own batteries with this tiny under-desk workout station. It’s a compact elliptical trainer that’s designed to let you exercise your lower half while your top half is still typing, clicking, reading, or talking. Since the Cubii hides out of sight and doesn’t make much noise, it’s not obtrusive. Your coworkers will probably think you just fidget in a very rhythmic pattern. The equipment interfaces with popular fitness tracking apps via Bluetooth and a mobile app to let you see how far you’ve gone without even leaving your desk.

tv liftNexus 21 TV Lift

While computer monitors have slimmed down considerably over the past 20 years, they can still hog desk space. When desks double as touch-down spaces for mobile workers (with laptops) or collaboration areas for teams, you need to make a clean sweep. A telescoping TV lift lets you hide a flat screen under or behind the desk until it’s needed. This handy device can also be used to conceal larger monitors in conference rooms or lobby areas. Choose a lift that swivels to bring even more flexibility to how you can use spaces for collaboration.

What high tech office toys caught your eye this year? Let us know in the comments.

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Top 10 Most Common Office Noises

What does your office really sound like? If you had to recreate the ambience of your workplace, how realistic would it seem? Sound engineer Iwan Gabovitch has put together a pretty convincing 2 hour segment of office noises on “SoundLikeTube”. It’s a lengthy, looping clip that is designed for use in video or audio productions. Other suggested uses are:

  • Playing it in the background when you need to pretend you’re at work
  • Adding it to the ambient noise of your real office to make your business seem bigger
  • Using it to feel less lonely at a work from home job

In fact, most of us tune out the noise in the office after a while (although it still creates stress at a subconscious level). Here are just a few of the sounds you might hear if you really start listening:

  1. People talking (blah, blah, chatter, laugh, blah, blah)
  2. Office printers running (whir, chug, chug—paper jam!)
  3. Papers being shuffled (rustle, rustle, rustle)
  4. Cell phones vibrating (that buzzing sound of a phone sitting on a desk is still audible with the ringer turned off)
  5. Staplers (Whack! Breathless pause…whack!)
  6. Keyboard and mouse (the click, tap, tap, tap, click never stops)
  7. Music playing from the guy wearing headphones with the volume cranked up (either something you wish you could hear or something you’d like to block out.
  8. Chip or snack containers—arguably one of the most annoying sounds in any office (crinkle, crinkle)
  9. Air conditioning or heating (whoosh, whoosh, hum just at the edge of your hearing range)
  10. File cabinet drawers opening and closing (scrape, thunk, scrape, thunk, someone please get the WD40!)

It’s a wonder anyone can work in an office with all that racket. If you’re ready to start cutting down on the distractions, OBEX can help. We can add height and additional sound reduction to your existing cubicle walls to limit office noise intrusion. For workstations without panels, consider our desktop mounted acoustic panels. Employees can choose to turn their desk into a cube and finally get enough peace and quiet to really concentrate. Click through to see our full range of cubicle panel extenders.

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