Tuesday 27th November 2018 Office Culture & Creating Workplaces for Wellbeing

Catherine Gall of Steelcase, speaking at our 2012 Workplace Trends Conference, on Office Culture and Wellbeing.
It’s interesting to look back on this six years later. Workplace has definitely moved on, but there’s still much to do.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3-pGEf_9ss&w=560&h=315]
Understanding local culture is vital to using space as a key strategic tool for global organizations. Whether you think your company is global or not, you’re global. Businesses compete in a global marketplace.
Catherine presented new research that demonstrates the importance of understanding the differences in how people work, their sense of hierarchy and teamwork, how they manage others, negotiate, and conduct knowledge work activities.

Thursday 22nd November 2018 Activity Based Working in the Netherlands

Louis Lhoest of Veldhoen + Co, speaking at our 2012 Workplace Trends Conference, on the concept of ABW, just as relevant today as it was then.
According to Wikipedia, the term “activity based working” was first coined in the book the Art of Working by Erik Veldhoen, Dutch consultant and author of the book The Demise of the Office.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnSYXmrrF04&w=560&h=315]
Society is changing, technology is changing even faster and the complexity of our world and overload of information is giving people and organisations new challenges. Reflecting on this there is no other answer than that our past and current ways of working will not be able to match the needs these changes bring about.
Customer demands rise, employers behaviours change and organisations must be able to cope with continuous change in order to survive and flourish. New ways of working are inevitable and will help organisations and individuals to meet the new challenges.
Activity Based Working is a way of looking at how work could be organised and supported differently. It does not offer solutions but provides a framework for developing and realising new ways of working.
More info on ABW and a short animated video can be found on Veldhoen’s website here.

Tuesday 20th November 2018 How (and why) happiness works as a business model

We aim to highlight new thinking at Workplace Trends events. Happiness and wellness are today’s buzzwords, but even way back in 2012 we were honoured to have Nic Marks, whose happiness and wellbeing research methodology is world-renowned, give the keynote at our Workplace Trends autumn conference.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9Bf7ilDUrw&w=560&h=315]
Sometimes people think that happiness is somewhat frivolous in a business context but Nic argues that happiness is in fact highly functional. Happiness helps people build stronger relationships, become better able to deal with unexpected events and be generally more creative and innovative. People are happier at work if they are able to be themselves, have a sense of control and progress, are surrounded by people they along with and importantly feel their work is meaningful and socially valuable. A focus on happiness can help make organisations higher performing as well as a better places to work.

Nic is perhaps best known for his trailblazing work on the Happy Planet Index, National Accounts of Well-being and the Five Ways to Well-being which is used extensively within health and education institutions as well as within governmental policy. Nic is the founder of Friday, an organisation that changes the world of work for the better and is a fellow of nef (new economics foundation) and on the board for Action for Happiness. Read more about Nic at https://nicmarks.org/about/

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Tuesday 06th November 2018 The Workplace Zoo

In his introduction to our recent Workplace Trends Autumn Conference in London: People, Place, Performance, Nigel Oseland referred to the Workplace Zoo. Here’s his original blog post from back in 2012 – still as relevant today for the workplace and learning environments as it was then then. 

I visited Colchester Zoo over the Christmas holidays and was really impressed with the quality of the animal enclosures. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into their design and a great deal of effort made in meeting the animals’ needs and making them comfortable. This was evident in the way the animals behaved and through the success of their breeding programme.
It got me wondering whether any lessons learned in zoo design are relevant to the workplace. However, I am not the first to make this comparison. Judith Heerwagen suggests “For insights, it is useful to look not at buildings, but at zoos. Zoo design has gone through a radical transformation in the past several decades. Cages have been replaced by natural habitats and geographic clustering of animals. And, as in nature, the animals have much greater control over their behaviour. They can be on view if they want, or out of sight. They forage, play, rest, mate, and act like normal animals”[1]. She continues “A key factor was concern over the animals’ psychological and social well-being. Zoos could keep animals alive, but they couldn’t make them flourish”. Heerwagen proposed that we learn from the new philosophy of enriched zoo enclosures, providing for well-being rather than simple survival, but can we also learn from the basic design principles in zoo enclosures?

Humans are social animals

Provision of a suitable environment is the most fundamental of five key principles in zoo practice – “the temperature, ventilation, lighting and noise levels of enclosures must be suitable for the comfort and well-being of the particular species of animal at all times”[2]. Painstaking effort and meticulous detail has been taken to ensure the enclosures at modern zoos provide each species and sub-species of animal with the best environment to allow them to “flourish”. In contrast, in the workplace, post occupancy evaluations (POEs) repeatedly show that satisfaction is low with temperature, ventilation and noise[3]. Although much effort is made to ensure that comfortable environments are provided in the workplace, POEs often show satisfaction with comfort is significantly below 50%. Individual preferences, behaviours and activities mean it is difficult to provide comfort for everyone, but such a, repeatedly, low level of satisfaction is neither acceptable nor considered good design. Similarly, when commuting into London last summer when temperatures on the Underground reached 40°C, as I stood sweating in a crowded carriage I often wondered to myself why it is illegal to transport livestock at temperatures above 35°C but not humans[4].
I am a fan of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[5]; he proposed that for humans to perform to their maximum capability several categories of needs must be met in acceding order. The lower order needs refer to comfort and safety, the basics of zoo enclosures, and if these fundamental needs are not met then our performance is inhibited. In contrast, the higher order needs refer to more psychological, emotional and social factors. Interestingly, another core provision for animal enclosures is the opportunity to express most normal behaviour – “accommodation should take account of the natural habitat of the species and seek to meet the physiological and psychological needs of the animal”[2]. I have previously explored the psychological needs of humans in some detail and have also expressed my concern that they are not being met in modern homogenised workplaces[6]. It seems that a focus on space efficiency and reduced property costs override the individual needs required for maximum well-being and performance in the workplace.
It might be argued that zoo enclosure design is easier than workplace design as it accommodates a single species with a basic animalistic drive for survival. Firstly, humans have evolved into different races that have adapted to different climates, but nevertheless we are one species. Secondly, Richard Dawkins postulated in theSelfish Gene[7] that the single motivator for human behaviour is survival. So, on the one hand it could be counter-argued that both the design of zoo enclosures and workplaces comes down to a thorough understanding of the occupants’ needs and designing to meet them. Although we share the territorial and social behaviours of animals, these are often overlooked in the workplace. In addition, I believe that there are many other factors that drive how humans behave on a daily basis. We are a complicated species, separated from the animals by our intelligence and personality, as well as neo-cortex size and opposable thumbs. We know that specific personality traits, e.g. introvert versus extrovert and internal versus external, lead to certain behaviours and needs. In a zoo, if an animal exhibits a particular characteristic that requires a specific environmental adjustment for them to “flourish” then it is very likely that the zoo keeper would make the provision. However, this is not the case in the workplace; we provide a homogenous environment for a “single species” and there is little recognition of individual differences and the associated requirements to enhance comfort and performance.
Although Heerwagen beat me to the analogy between the workplace and zoo enclosures, I think I was the first to compare the modern workplace to chicken coups[8]. Battery-farm hens are accommodated in high density environments with poor daylight and ventilation. In contrast free-range hens have lots of space in which they can roam and explore, and have access to the outside with unlimited daylight and ventilation. Battery hens are sad unhealthy chickens with a short life-span, whereas free-range hens are happy, healthy, inquisitive and playful chickens that live around five times as long as a battery hen. In terms of productivity, there is a high yield of eggs per sqm for battery hens, but the quality of the eggs is poor and the demand and market value of them is low compared to free-range eggs which offer a higher return on investment. So I recommend free-range workplaces with high quality space which offers people achoice of environments where they can explore and socialise or alternatively seek privacy. I wonder if the original bürolandschaft office might be considered free-range whereas the modern open-plan office is more akin to a battery-farm?
So isn’t it about time that we follow the example of the modern zoo and design workplaces so that individuals (and businesses) flourish rather than simply survive?


  1. Heerwagen J (2008) Psychosocial Value of Space. J.H. Heerwagen & Associates, Inc.
  2. DETR (2000) Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
  3. Oseland N A (2006) Gauging after effects of workplace designUrban Land Europe, 8 (2), 62-65.
  4. DETR (2010) Welfare of Animals During Transport Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the Protection of Animals During Transport and Related Operations and The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006.Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
  5. Maslow AH (1943) A theory of human motivationPsychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.
  6. Oseland N A (2009) The impact of psychological needs on office designJournal of Corporate Real Estate, 11 (4), 244-254.
  7. Dawkins R (1976) The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
  8. Oseland (2008) Designing offices to improve business performance. Presentation at Herman Miller, June.

From an original post by Nigel Oseland at the blog of Workplace Unlimited,
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Tuesday 16th October 2018 Live Blog – Workplace Trends: People, Place, Performance, 17 October 2018

Read the Live Conference Blog by Su Butcher here on 17 October. Use #wtrends18 to join in!
(If you have trouble viewing the page below please try this link.)

Monday 08th October 2018 Fashion is the biggest productivity killer. Yet, we follow it anyway

Michal MatlonFurther in our series of guest blogs by speakers and supporters of our up-coming Workplace Trends Autumn Conference in London: People, Place, Performance, HB Reavis’ Michal Matloň has some observations on fashion in the workplace (no, not apparel).

The urge to follow fashions is strongly ingrained in our nature. Imitation is one of the basic learning mechanisms that we use as children to quickly adopt behaviour appropriate for the society we live in. Fashion saves us from burdensome decision making, because it offers us an easy, socially accepted solution to any problem. Do what other people do and the worst thing that can happen is that you make the same mistake as everyone else.
This is not so bad if the effects of our decisions apply only to ourselves. When wearing fashionable, but uncomfortable clothes, the only miserable person will be us. But it’s something very different if we make decisions based on fashion that influence daily lives of many other people. The reason is that fashion helps ideas and solutions spread quickly, based on shallow or non-existent understanding of why it emerged in the first place.
And so, managers, architects and consultants are often caught in this trap of fashionable thinking. Instead of thoroughly analysing the real and specific needs of their organization, employees or clients, they limit their scope to what they see others are using. They let their fear of judgement prevail over actually choosing a superior solution that might not, at first glance, look that well. They fear others might say it’s uncool, old-fashioned or perhaps, boring.
As a part of a certain project, I’ve been watching dozens of videos of office tours in American technological start-ups and companies. I’ve been noting down the characteristics and features these offices have and the way they look. After finishing, I realized, that with some minor differences, they are all the same. We think these companies carry innovation in their hearts. We expect them to be radically open to making things better, even if it means being different than everyone else. But the reality doesn’t match. Because they too, only follow the fashion.
So, you could ask: how can we expect a manager in a corporation or an architect in an established studio to heroically face the social pressure to conform? I say we should. Because the inability to do so has already created many working environments, which, although fashionable, don’t serve the real purpose of enabling people to work in the most effective and enjoyable way.
Fashion (supported by short-term financial goals) brought us the incorrect use of the open-space environment for purposes for which it’s not fit. Fashion allowed us to easily sell it under the claim that it increases the quality of collaboration, while it can often do the complete opposite. Fashion helped us decrease our productivity, while feeling good about the result.
And there are many other fashions. They change in time and are often cyclical. But what never changes is the fact, that we should invest the majority of our energy into solving the most fundamental and timeless problems, which often has the highest impact, while looking inconspicuous from the outside.
It’s possible that the happiest and the most productive workplace in the world will never show up in your social media feed. Because who would click on such a boring thing?

Guest post by Michal Matloň of HB Reavis.

Michal will be speaking  on “Crisis of Focus: What we are forgetting about in the age of connectedness” at Workplace Trends London on 17 October 2018.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Thursday 04th October 2018 Why Nature Matters

Continuing our series of guest blogs by speakers and supporters of our up-coming Workplace Trends Autumn Conference in London: People, Place, Performance, Vantage Spaces write about biophilia, health, wellbeing = business efficiency. 

We know that the simplest things make a real difference. Walking into work to the smell of freshly ground coffee. Connecting with nature through green walls and plants.
Biophilia is described as ‘an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world’ and means  “love of life” from bio- + -philia. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that by incorporating simple changes into our working environments, we can increase our health and wellbeing which in turn impacts business efficiency.
Biophilic design recognises that we are unconsciously connected to nature and that this connection within the spaces that we live and work in can positively influence our physical and psychological health.
This biophilic principle is one of the most flexible aspects when it comes to design. Typically, colours that occur naturally (especially green) are used in conjunction with materials such as cork or distressed wood.
Simply adding a touch of greenery with something as small as indoor plants can have major positive benefits for employees, enabling them to feel more in tune with nature and making their day simply better.
There is a variety of ways to incorporate greenery into the workplace in addition to floor standing or table top solutions. Living or replica walls, moss walls, hanging plants, wall art and planter tops are now a staple in the modern office due to wellbeing becoming such an important factor for employees.  In fact, Human Spaces study The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace (2015) reports that plants are the second most wanted element in the workplace.
Creating a more natural environment in your office is said to enhance employee performance, including memory retention, reduced staff turnover and deterring stress related illness. Being able to enjoy natures beauty and feel more connected to the outside world can ultimately lead to happier and healthier employees and visitors alike.
Another way to ensure natural wellbeing is by encouraging employees to stay hydrated throughout the day. A reduction in dehydration levels of as little as 2% of body weight can influence mood, leading to greater feelings of fatigue and reduced levels of alertness1.  Investing in a water cooler for your employees can serve as a reminder to keep hydrated while also preventing the need to purchase bottled water.
The workplace today is constantly evolving, and the moral views and wellbeing requirements of the modern worker are changing with it. Employers are having to keep up with the demand for the changing office but these ‘simply better’ and easy to implement changes will add instant results into your place of work.
1 Masento NA et al. Effects of hydration status on cognitive performance and mood. Br J Nutr 111(10):1841-52

Guest post by Vantage Spaces,
delegates and exhibitors at Workplace Trends London on 17 October 2018.

Friday 21st September 2018 How much time do you lose to distractions?

Tania BarneyContinuing our series of guest blogs by speakers and supporters of our up-coming Workplace Trends Autumn Conference in London: People, Place, Performance, neuroscience and sensory processing expert Tania Barney looks at the growing number of distractions around us, and what individuals can do to minimise their impact.

Email alerts, social media, people walking by and colleagues on the phone. The list of distractions goes on… This constant stream of disruptions in the workplace are not only annoying, they are also costly for your business. How much time do you lose each day due to distractions?
Research suggests that:

  • An average of 2.1 hours are lost daily as a result of distractions
  • The average time spent on a task before we get distracted is 11 minutes
  • The amount of time it takes to return to a task after a disruption is 25 minutes

How do we find a way to reduce all these distractions and make the most of the time available?

Identify your ‘weapons of mass distraction’ 

What are the key things that distract you? Is your work flow disrupted more by sights, sounds, boredom, or your own thoughts? Our unique sensory wiring means that different people are distracted by different things.

Develop your own strategies 

Once you are clear on the main distractions, use a problem solving approach to find solutions. As we are all different, there is not a one size fits all approach. Some ideas include:

  • Turn off the phone
  • Disable pop ups and alerts on the computer
  • Work offline
  • Move to a different location for ‘brain work’
  • Wear noise cancelling headphones
  • Put up a Do Not Disturb sign
  • Keep a piece of paper handy to jot down any disrupting thoughts
  • Keep your workplace tidy to avoid visual distractions
Work in Time Blocks

It is not possible to sustain optimal attention and focus for the whole day. We are more productive when we work for focused blocks of time of 90 – 120 minutes. Then have a break, shift your focus, get up and move (but try not to distract those around you!).
Here’s to a more productive week!

Guest post by Tania Barney of Tania Barney Consultancy and Training.

Tania will be speaking with Paige Hodsman of Ecophon about ‘Designing for Differences: Neurophysiological Factors and Office Acoustics’ at Workplace Trends London on 17 October 2018.

Wednesday 19th September 2018 Biomimicry: Not Just Sharkskins and Honeycombs

me picIn our series of guest blogs by speakers and supporters of our up-coming Workplace Trends Autumn Conference in London: People, Place, Performance, conference manager Maggie Procopi discusses biomimicry and biophilia, which have been engaging topics of discussion at recent conferences.

Over recent years at our Workplace Trends Conferences we’ve been lucky enough to welcome Michael Pawlyn and later Richard James MacCowan to speak on biomimicry, as well as Bill Browning and Oliver Heath on biophilia.
They enthralled audiences with tales of how the natural world can solve human problems through design solutions (biomimicry) and by satisfying our innate need to connect with nature (biophilia).
But biomimicry is more than just the famous design solutions we hear about, like the stability, aesthetics and economies of the Eden Project’s bubble raft shapes, or Sharklet Technologies printing sharkskin patterns onto adhesive film, which repels bacteria and so is ideal for installation in schools and hospitals, or harvesting water in the desert like the Stenocara Beetle.
Biomimicry casts its net wider than just design. The human race has only been here a fraction of the time that nature has. We can look to the wild world for tips and best practice on people management and leadership. Just Google and learn – from how a wolf pack works to the way a beehive operates and ant colonies manage themselves.
Most interestingly for the workplace is that nature never throws anything away, unlike our largely linear economy (make, use, dispose).
In a 2010 TED talk, ‘Using Nature’s Genius in Architecture’, Michael Pawlyn illustrated a ‘close-looped system’ (circular economy) with the ‘Cardboard to Caviar Project’. Put simply, restaurant waste was turned into horse bedding, then fed to worms, which were fed to fish, whose caviar was then served at the same restaurant. Nothing is wasted, and the whole process is economically and environmentally profitable.
Over the past 10 years, PwC has systematically applied the principles of the Circular Economy to its business.  I’m especially delighted that Bridget Jackson from PwC will be sharing their experiences at our up-coming conference on 17 October 2018. It’s a story that has inspired BITC to create a Circular Office programme, with c. 75 companies now signed up to follow suit.
So as well as pondering the FM budget sheet, we need to take a hard look at the contents of our bins at home and work. What things need never be in existence at all (over-packaging, I cry!), what might be reused, what might be properly recycled?

Post by Maggie Procopi, event manager of the Workplace Trends and Design & Management of Learning Environments Conferences.

This article was originally published at FM World.

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Friday 07th September 2018 Innovative Perks Employers Are Offering To Hold Onto Their Millennial Workforce

60% of millennial employees plan to leave their company by 2020, according to a survey by Deloitte.

Unlike their older counterparts whose challenges would generally be solved by a salary increase, the problems of millennials are not largely salary-related. In a bid to hold onto their millennial employees, companies are offering more and more perks. The good news is that the perks that may attract millennials are not necessarily the most expensive but they may require the employer to think outside the box. Here are some perks employers in the UK are successfully using to persuade millennials to stay with their companies.

Gifts for Employees

64 percent of millennials are interested in company perks. This is in contrast to 54 percent of Baby Boomers, for example. In the eyes of the millennials, perks should come as a standard (and not a bonus) with any job. A simple gift can show an employee that you appreciate her work in a way a bonus cannot. Enterprising employers can save money on gifts for employees by subscribing for curated boxes of product bundles. These boxes can be chosen to meet the tastes of certain employees and are usually offered at a fraction of what they would normally cost at retail outlets.

Running Errands for the Employees

One of the number one desires of many millennials is to work for a company that has a work-life balance. Many employers shudder at the mere thought of reducing their employees’ work hours. Companies can, however, help their employees to get more time for their families without sacrificing time they would otherwise use to work. Johnson and Johnson has a service which runs errands on behalf of employees. This includes booking concert tickets and things like that. IBM, Accenture, and GE are known to help nursing millennial mothers to transport breast milk home when they have travelled abroad for work.

Providing Unforgettable Experiences

Millenial employees value experiences over things or money. Over three out of four millennials would prefer to spend money on an event or experience as opposed to buying something, according to findings by the events company Eventbrite. That is why companies like Yahoo offer concert tickets, backyard barbecues, and all-expenses-paid trips to foreign countries.

Student Loan Repayment Assistance

80 percent of millennials are interested in working for a company that has an arrangement for student loan repayment assistance. Companies like Pricewaterhouse Coopers have implemented this avenue of giving perks. Helping with student loans can help a company attract millennials.

Perks are an invaluable part of the compensation package for most employees. Because Millenials are very conscious of their employer company’s culture and values, perks are especially important for them. Companies in the UK are experimenting to discover the perfect perks for this demographic. Running errands for the employees, contributing to their student loan assistance repayment package, and sponsoring them to go for unforgettable events have been proven to be an effective perk for millennials.

Author: freelance writer Lucy Wyndham
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash