Get a work-life balance, at work

Get a work-life balance, at work


Author: Paul Bray.

Quite clearly a workplace can’t address all the stresses and strains of earning a living, but knowing your employer is trying to help you achieve your career and business goals through investment in the best technology and well-designed spaces contributes positively to employee productivity, says Paul Bray.

Does your heart sink when you walk into your office every morning? For a sixth of respondents to our latest online poll, on creating effective workplaces, the answer is yes. Another quarter of respondents said that they do good work in spite of their office environment, not because of it.

Frankly their employers are lucky that they still work there at all, because in today’s commercial world, sub-standard working conditions are simply bad for business.

“Most employees want to feel they’re working for a forward thinking, ambitious company, and a working environment that reflects this encourages productivity and staff retention,” says Stuart Davidson, technical services director at AVMI. “Businesses often have to sell themselves to potential employees as much as the other way round, and the working environment is absolutely vital in achieving this.”

“The upcoming ‘Generation Y’, or millennials, are choosing workplaces based on the flexibility and technology they offer over salary,” adds Jasmin Stemmler, product marketing manager at NEC Display Solutions Europe.

So what will potential recruits want to see when they size up your office after you’ve sized them up at the interview? Top of the list, according to our poll respondents, is a degree of choice over where and how to work.

“A choice of work environment is important,” says Tony Crossley, special projects director at Pure Audio Visual. “Most of us have a variety of tasks to achieve each day, some requiring collaboration with colleagues, others demanding independent, focused working. The ability to move between quiet spaces, informal and formal work environments, combined with remote working according to the job in hand, boosts not only productivity but also satisfaction.”

Jayne Cox, stress management consultant at workplace specialist Fusion Spaces, calls it “free range” working, as opposed to the “factory farmed” approach of chaining people to a single desk.

“Spending time in a seat all day will become a thing of the past for many organisations,” she believes. “The human animal is designed to move around, so more agile working with more movement throughout the day will no longer be unusual, and we envisage that workspaces will be designed to increase natural human movement.”

“In my experience the vast majority of companies still use desks in the traditional way,” says Jon Knight, commercial director at Ascentae. “But there’s certainly an increasing desire to move towards the agile workplace with activity-based working. This involves spaces being broken down into zones specifically designed for different tasks, such as video conferencing rooms, project rooms, command rooms and brainstorming rooms."

“Some companies struggle to see how you can offer such working practices to certain job roles such as data entry clerks. But in every job there’s a need to move about. By designing space to accommodate activity-based working, the employer is recognising, accommodating and ultimately encouraging that. And cloud based systems mean that data can be entered from anywhere with an internet connection.”

Form follows function

Experts come up with all kinds of fanciful names for these activity based workspaces, but they generally boil down to the same half-dozen functions: private spaces for quiet, concentrated working; impromptu huddle spaces for small groups; more formal meeting rooms for larger groups; posh boardrooms for impressing clients; town hall spaces for whole department or whole company briefings; and informal areas for relaxing, chatting and (human nature being what it is) the odd bit of plotting and back-stabbing.

“Different types of workspace will have different usage and therefore a different set-up,” says Stemmler. “In terms of visual hardware, larger groups will require larger visual surfaces allowing for greater viewing distances. Brainstorming, creative workshops and team collaboration will require multi-touch capability on large surfaces and higher resolution for close proximity viewing. It’s vital not to underestimate the brightness of the workspace, and the visual interface must deliver content bright enough for easy readability.

“In personal workspaces, usage is varied, but the larger the screen the more productive the operation, allowing more windows to be viewable simultaneously. For non-territorial desks, the screen must be easy to connect and height adjustable for individual ergonomic needs.”

All of which brings us neatly to another key ingredient of a successful workplace – the most important according to 30 per cent of our poll respondents – effective technology. Perhaps it is no surprise that more than 90 per cent of respondents said that AV technology was either essential or quite important in making workplaces effective. After all, we at AV Magazine are pretty passionate about it and we hope our readers are, too.

What did surprise us is that, despite this, a third of respondents said that the AV in their own workplaces was only occasionally useful or hardly worth bothering with. What causes this disconnect?

AV solution fit for purpose?

Sometimes AV can be more of a problem than a solution, according to Cox. “High on most employees’ lists of everyday stressors are complicated, ill thought-out AV and technical solutions,” she says. “The AV world needs to consider human experience as an integral part of what we deliver. Good AV integration is all about meeting end users’ needs and making technology fit for purpose and easy to use, so we need to see an end to over selling and not listening to our clients.”

“It’s about having the right tools for the job,” says Tony Leedham, commercial director at Ashton Bentley Collaboration Spaces. “This doesn’t have to mean complicated and expensive racks full of equipment, it could be just a speaker phone. Often technology gets in the way of doing business, especially where AV is concerned. It should be simple to use and allow users to get on with their work.”

“AV should always support the design of the workplace rather than drive it,” says Simon Murphy, sales and marketing director at Reflex. “After all, technology will normally evolve through several generations within the lifespan of one complete office re-design. However, AV is becoming more and more important because it’s one of the key facilitators of full communication and collaboration between different office spaces and remote participants.”

Successful workplaces need to be flexible to adapt quickly to change, and that includes their technology, argues Leedham. “This could be using a space for multiple needs or repurposing it quickly as the business grows or changes. Having fixed, single-use AV technology doesn’t help this.”

He cites financial services firm Fidelity International as a company that has successfully addressed this issue. “Fidelity has introduced workplaces that have a mix of spaces including traditional meeting rooms, drop-in collaboration spaces in open plan offices, and more relaxed areas for meetings and discussions. Using AV technology that’s simple to install and use has allowed more spaces to be equipped within budget, and also provides the flexibility to change. This could be a reconfiguration of space and use, for example changing from a dual display VC/presentation system to two single-room, presentation-only systems, which is possible due to the modular design of the system. Also any change in VC platform can be accommodated without a change in the AV equipment.”

It is also important to consider the range of users’ technical abilities when designing workspaces and the technologies deployed within them, according to Davidson. “Most businesses have employees ranging from millennial users, who’ve grown up in an always-on world and are naturally comfortable around new technology, through to older generations who may not find technology as intuitive to use. Good design supports users across a wide spectrum.”

Seamless communication

As AV becomes a necessity for business communication, it must work seamlessly – and globally. “Standardisation and minimal user interaction are key, and one of the current challenges faced by multi-site global corporates is how to achieve this,” says Dave Raymen, regional business manager at Visavvi. “Technology for desktop and meeting room communications is developing so rapidly that products are sometimes outdated before a global roll-out can be completed.”

Asked about the biggest stumbling blocks when creating effective workplaces, half of our poll respondents cited a lack of understanding among employers or a mismatch of aims between management and staff.

“Lack of understanding of the right working environment can lead to poor productivity and even ill health among staff,” agrees Cox. “Problems can also arise when employers and employees aren’t communicating and there’s no understanding of quite what the problems are."

“A problem we’ve frequently encountered is the autonomy of the employee being overlooked – managers making decisions about the working environment without involving the people who work there. Being heard is vital for human welfare, so involving staff in workplace decisions is something of a no brainer. Another plus point is that it creates a sense of being valued.”

"Cox cites Google as an example of how to do it right. “They know their people and value their well-being, and they understand their values and what matters to them. They’re willing to be experimental and learn from mistakes. Most importantly their employees are considered and involved in the decision making process.”

“Many customers are now doing workplace surveys before and after a new office fit out,” adds Simon Cohen, UK partner director at Condeco. “It becomes evident very quickly when an office hasn’t been designed to suit its employees and their activities, and these are the offices that will invariably get another redesign within a few years.”

Effective workplaces

Creating an effective workplace, and the AV systems that make it tick, may not be all plain sailing, but most employers find that the occasional squalls and bouts of seasickness are worth it in the end.

As Murphy puts it: “Two of the most valuable and costly commodities in any business are people and real estate. AV systems, when planned and implemented well, can have a very positive effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of both.”


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