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Mobile generations

9 June 2014  

The workplace has experienced a whirlwind of change in the past 10 years. 


Grandiose ideas, such as standing workstations, large screens projecting a live stream of another office, acting as a “window” to the US branch, and iPads for every employee are transforming the way in which we function in our roles. But perhaps the original intentions of these ideas are lost in revelry and excitement of new methods and new gadgets. 

Humans are also changing. According to research presented by Orangebox, humans are on average 11cm taller than they were 100 years ago. The age of the workforce is more disparate, with an older generation and generations Y and Z entering the working population in the next five to10 years.

We also sleep less – an average of up 90 minutes less than 50 years ago – and we exercise less.

“We haven’t seen the same kind of changes to the workplace since the Industrial Revolution in terms of working practices and in terms of culture,” said Taylour.


Technophobes
It is 2014. We now have an average of 3.3 devices each (according to Orangebox) – mobile phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers and more. Generations Y and Z will ensure that mobile devices will become an integral part of the workplace.

Considering the rate at which new technology is entering the workplace, the Health and Safety Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations are alarmingly out of date. Last amended in 2002, the regulations offer no guidance on how to manage employees using mobile or tablet devices.

Jim Taylour is a senior ergonomist at office seating manufacturer Orangebox. Speaking at an event during this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week in London, Taylour said that while we are all “excited about moving away from the RSI-ridden workplace of fixed desks” there are some things that we need to keep an eye on.

Humans are moulding themselves to fit the workplace, rather than the other way around, said Taylour – and this, he believed, needed to change. He highlighted the physical concerns that come with every new wave of technology. How mobile devices being held close to us can affect our eyes; how humans are constantly straining their neck looking down at tablets, sitting with laptops on trains or sofas, or even looking down at keyboards now that touch-typing is no longer taught.

Taylour’s claim was that not enough research is being undertaken to study the long-term effects of technology. 


Changing dimensions
On the plus side, mobile devices give workers freedom; we are no longer shackled to our desks.

“Is agile working just a fad?” asked Taylour. “There are still plenty of places with rows and rows of fixed desks.”

Answering his own question, Taylour explained that 30 per cent of the global workforce is agile. “They spend at least one day a week away from the desk.”

Philip Tidd, head of consulting EMEA at Gensler, believes that discussions around the open plan workplace are “too binary”.

“The decline of cell-like offices and cubicles was a good thing in the workplace revolution,” he says. “These spaces stifled creativity, collaboration and innovation in many leading organisations. 

“What has perhaps not happened rapidly enough is the provision of a more balanced workplace that includes a landscape of different settings to provide for the varying work styles and needs of people throughout a typical day – sometime for intense periods of focus and concentration, sometimes for team collaboration and socialisation with colleagues.”


Acoustic control
In his Clerkenwell presentation, Taylour argueed that factors such as noise could impact on productivity and focus.

“Language is more disturbing than other types of noise,” said Taylourm who went on to explain that while we have adapted to new environments – we are able to work on noisy trains, for example – language that we can relate to, such as an overheard conversation about a project in the office, can steer focus away from the task at hand. It appears that there is a limit to unplanned collaboration.

Geoff Osman, managing director at K2 Space, believes that FMs can head off noise problems during open-plan fit-out projects. They can look at products that are specifically aimed at providing acoustic benefits such as fixed wall panels and filing cabinets with acoustic pads.

“Many go for informal seating with high-backed chairs to reduce noise levels in collaborative spaces. Others choose enclosed pods which provide some visual and acoustic privacy.”

Tidd, however, believes that acoustics is often used to resist change, when it is typically not as big a problem as perceived.

“The reality is that – in my experience at least – open-plan workplaces can actually be rather quiet places in which to work. This is, of course, dependent on the business and the team dynamic, but we often find that people ‘self-regulate’ in open space and are generally more respectful of others around them.”

The feeling is that we have only scratched the surface. Much work still needs to be done to look beyond the excitement and freshness of post-millennial workplace design and instead research the effects of what can often be drastic changes to how we interact in the workplace. 

Jamie Harris is a reporter at FM World