5 great workspace designs

Workspace design can further an organisation’s business goals such as increased sales, employee productivity and happiness as well as its brand and culture.

But how do you do it well?

Good design is not based on management philosophy but a thorough understanding of those who will use that space. For example, do teams need open spaces for collaboration or quiet zones in which they can concentrate on their work? Do most people in the organisation need to sit at one place to work, or do they work on mobile devices and hence need flexibility in where they sit and work?

When workplace design is based on such insights, the result is a work environment that is not just aesthetic but is also one that promotes productivity, organisational ethos, branding, client and employee engagement and the use of technology.

Here are 5 tips for great design:

1. Brand your workplace

If your workplace could just as easily be the offices of any other company then you’ve gone wrong somewhere. Branding should not stop with the business card and website. It should be infused into the space where everything happens. It should be all around the employees and it should speak to the clients. It gives the space an identity — it tells others and reminds us what we are here to do. Another nice touch? A logo. Putting it on a feature wall is a simple way to create visual interest.

2. Invest in furniture

Companies may be tempted to save money on budget furniture, but in the long-term, you’re not saving anything. Spend a few thousand rand more per task chair to save tens of thousands of in the long run. It may be a relatively small object, but workers spend the majority of their workday sitting in an office chair. Only when they begin to suffer the ill effects of an uncomfortable chair — low back pain and general discomfort — do they begin to pay attention to where and how they are sitting.

A cheap chair can cause back pain, contributing to complaints and absenteeism. Invest in a good movable monitor arm to put the screen at eye level to reduce neck pain.

3. Create break-out spaces

Break-out spaces aren’t just somewhere your employees can eat lunch — they provide a crucial place away from the desk, which can aid creativity. Create non-bookable, break-out spaces for those informal chats or just a change of scenery. These spaces take down barriers to communication and encourage spontaneity in the office. Great ideas come from inspiring casual spaces.

4. You can never have too much light or space

Workers typically spend 80 to 90 per cent of their waking hours indoors, many of them at computer workstations far away from the closest window. Lack of natural light can have negative impacts on mood and productivity, so both employees and their employers would greatly benefit from more exposure. Natural light is a much overlooked benefit in office design, but it should be one of your major considerations in office design and layout. To improve the amount of natural sunlight within an office, create an open environment by tearing down interior walls, using glass walls for private offices and benching desks instead of claustrophobic workstations.

5. Keep things tidy

It’s amazing how quickly a neat and tidy office can turn into hurricane zone. One of the worst offenders is food at desks. A ‘no eating at desks’ policy keeps rubbish in its proper place as well as crumbs off the floor. It can also be a good idea to ban bins at desks to avoid the inevitable pile up of rubbish at workstations.

However, all this lost if you don’t address the storage issue. Storage is often an afterthought when companies take on office space, but it is usually the second biggest complaint — after temperature. When you space plan your office, make sure you incorporate a storage audit.

Linda Trim is the Director at Giant Leap.

What is the art of managing the ‘balancing act’?

Organisational tips and tricks from a career woman and mom.

 In life, the only constant is change. Not everything goes according to plan and sometimes you just need to roll with it.

I am a working mom with two beautiful kids, but balancing a grueling work schedule, managing a sizable team and running a household (while still trying to find some time for myself) often means that the line separating my home-life and office-life becomes blurred. Luckily, I have learnt a couple of tricks through my years as corporate manager which have helped me stay organised and come out smiling on the other side … most of the time.

Below are small but effective techniques to maintain an organised flow at home and at work: 

1 Don’t live a separate life

This statement might sound strange, but I have one email address, one cellphone, and one laptop for everything. This really helps me stay on top of things and I have a complete overview of what’s to come. 

2 Put your diary on a pedestal

I live by my diary and write everything in it – important meetings, deadlines, school events – even when the new season of my favourite series returns!

3 Plan, plan, plan

I manage a team of seven and while our roles consist of various tasks and deadlines, we are ultimately working as a united front to achieve our goals. In order to stay aligned we plan everything down to a T. This means anticipating the workload at least six to 12 months in advance, then adjusting to the work in the pipeline every month, and then again every week. I feel that planning for what you can control, helps you think on your feet when something unexpected pops up. 

4 Befriend technology

I am not what you’d call a ‘techie’, I’m barely on social media for that matter. But, my favorite organisational app has to be Evernote. It is super convenient – and when you sync all your devices, you are able to access your notes from anywhere. This helps when a random thought pops into your head and you don’t want to forget it.  

5 Power to the kids

I’m a perfectionist, so this wasn’t easy for me, but my kids are at an age where they are able to take on more responsibility. Tasks like packing their own school bags helps take more off my plate, and also teaches them valuable life skills. I find a visual calendar in their rooms or in a communal area works best. 

6 Don’t fret the small stuff

Most importantly, I have learnt that even with all the organisation in the world, things don’t always go according to plan. But sometimes you need to let the small things go, and try to make the best of the situation.
As a working mom, I know there is often a tinge of guilt that comes with being away from your little ones, but I have noticed that my kids’ are always quick to adapt and grow in certain situations. In fact, a recent Gender Initiative study from Harvard noted that this is a common characteristic among kids from a home with working parents, which is something I believe to be true.
At the end of the day, my advice to working moms is to find a good balance and to be present wherever you are – whether it is at work or at home.

Janine van Deventer is the Marketing Manager at Ackermans.

What’s in it for the business?

I recently visited a retail client’s head office at midday and was greeted by loud music, balloons, and a lot of staffers soaking up the festive atmosphere.

A supplier was hosting a promotional event and I couldn’t help thinking, “clearly it helps to be in retail when it comes to employee engagement!” Of course, while it takes a lot more than occasional glitz and glamour to engage employees effectively, it would be foolish to overlook the merits of immediate gratification, however insignificant.

For instance, I find myself exercising far more regularly now that I’m getting rewarded with free smoothies. It certainly is difficult to fathom the logic – that the promise of a free drink next week is a greater motivator than sustained health and longevity. But perhaps that’s because we’re motivated by unconscious desires that we’re not as aware of as we think.

While everybody likes a good party with loads of free stuff, what is it that we really long for? When the hangover has run its course and the decorations have been packed away, what are we left with?

What we love, what we really long for, is being acknowledged for making a meaningful contribution.

This brings me to another client visit. This time, I was sitting at a boardroom table listening to a senior leader bemoaning the total lack of engagement she had experienced in her first ten months with the business. As she unpacked her frustration, I couldn’t help noticing a large box of used party decorations in one corner. No doubt, there had been some frivolity over the festive season, and no doubt decorations would again be called to action for a future pick-me-up. And until then …

While few business leaders will refute the importance of engaging their workforce, fewer still have figured out how to achieve this to the point where it becomes recognised as part of the company culture. Perhaps they really haven’t figured it out, or perhaps they simply haven’t seen a compelling business case for employee engagement.

Astute business leaders recognise that leadership is accountable for culture and, by extension, employee engagement. When employees engage effectively, both the employees and the shareholders share equally in the spoils through what we like to call discretionary effort.

Conversely, organisations with disengaged team members often seek to engage them through orchestrated campaigns and the return may well be that they work to fulfil their job descriptions. Typically, however, these organisations suffer from high staff turnover, if not attrition.

Real employee engagement is not about push; it’s all about pull. Real employee engagement doesn’t happen when the business engages employees through a campaign of some sort, but rather when employees engage the business because they believe they’ll get a return on their personal investment.

Business leaders who succeed at this invest in empowering their leaders to create a workplace that promises the opportunity to do meaningful work. They readily make the investment because they know that the return is discretionary effort.

Malcolm Ferguson is the Academy Head at TowerStone.

Is South Africa lagging behind when it comes to Women in C-Suite roles?

Having so much recent focus on women and their roles in society is, of course, a good thing. Even if, very belated. It is clear that change needs to happen and needs to be on a much deeper level.

Not the superficial, token changes that are mostly seen, but real change. Real acceptance. Yet is this truly happening in South Africa?

Women in the workplace, mothers in the office, dual income homes – these trends have been widely discussed and are no longer hot topics but are we still ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room?

Globally there have been massive shifts in the perceptions of women in the workplace and huge improvements in inclusiveness in organisations at all levels and therefore we seem to be making extensive progress in removing gender biases and inequalities from the workplace. Nevertheless, when it comes to women in business in South Africa change has been slow and in many cases superficial. The disparity in male and female board member distribution is glaring and persistent. Power disparities appear to still work in the favour of men, and women can be seen to be the victims in most instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. Change cannot reasonably be expected to be instantaneous, but so too is it unreasonable to prolong, at the very least, the transformation of board composition. The motivations for a greater female presence in C-Suite positions are well-documented, so why the big resistance?

What really needs to happen?

Women want to be taken seriously. Their differences are very often their greatest assets and companies need to recognise this. There needs to be a shift in thinking away from antiquated beliefs surrounding women in positions of power. Change cannot be driven by legislation and vague good governance practices alone. Until leaders acknowledge the value in board diversity, and advocate policy that drives meaningful inclusiveness at an executive level, female representation will remain dwarfed. Change needs to be driven by a genuine respect and understanding for the value of contributions women in business make and a desire to rectify the deeply engrained, highly sensitive and perpetuating gender issues of South Africa.

Getting to the board is problematic enough but so often if a woman sits on the board of a firm, she is joined by men only. This needs to change. Very often being alone means the female voice is lost or talked down to and dismissed. However, what makes it even more difficult, is very often those doing the dismissive behaviour are not even aware as it is so deeply entrenched in who they are. Therefore, there is often not enough consciousness to change this behaviour.

However, as much as female voices are often unheard by their male colleagues, similarly they are dismissed by other women. Women need to support and mentor each other as much as men need to make room for them. Aside from the qualifications and business abilities, very often there is extra burden placed on females in that their appearance is also judged. And many times this is by other women. Which means on top of having to prove themselves as being relevant in the C-Suite, they also have to meet the expected high standards of physical appearances that others place on them. Furthermore, the prevailing difficulty in securing executive positions as a female often leads to rivalry between women as opposed to solidarity in tackling the mutually faced challenges.

How should this change happen?

As with any change, firstly the problems and prejudices need to be acknowledged. A true understanding of the rife inequality that exists in our boardrooms needs to be accepted.

What really needs to happen is acceptance for all and appreciation for what women offer despite their gender or age. And very often this needs to start at home. Our ingrained ways of thinking mostly start in the environments we grow up in. Women are very often the greatest influencers at home – how they allow themselves to be treated, what behaviours are encouraged, and so on. They need to start treating their children equally so their daughters grow up believing they are capable of achieving what males can and their sons believe that females belong with them in all areas of life.

Men and women need to start to work together. Gender inequality is not a female issue that men ought to help out with. It is a human rights issue, necessitating a cohesive, systematic, and planned redress. All male executives need to educate themselves on gender issues as they relate to the workplace and integrate gender equality into strategic board plans. And learn to accept the differences in age, equality and backgrounds that exist.

And women need to make a stand, to ensure their voices are heard and not give up or let them fade into obscurity. It has been ingrained in women for so long that the man is always in power, is the leader and should always be listened to. Often women accept that this is just the way it is or don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation as this is “just the way it is”. It also can seem an insurmountable problem. However, it shouldn’t be and voices against inequality need to be heard – now is the time to speak up about biases and prejudice, even those which are covert. Women need to actively participate. Now is the time to make a stand against gender bias. Now is the time to educate those willing to listen. Everyone needs to support both female and male colleagues so that the differences between the two don’t eliminate either in any way but rather encourage the growth and development of everyone.

There is room for all at the table. But it is up to all to ensure this happens.

Rayne Handley is the Principal Consultant for GRMs executive search.

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