24 December, 2017

Give the gift of a better workplace

PLASTARC is unbiased by nature. We’re in the business of providing independent advice, focused on the evidence of people performance. Unencumbered by the demands of manufacturing furniture or selling real estate, we’re not in the habit of promoting particular physical (or digital) products. Nonetheless, we are creatures of the material world. Occasionally we come across items we believe can make any workplace—from a small home office to a large corporate HQ—a better place to spend your time. In the spirit of holiday giving (and getting), this month’s On Our Minds section (below) is devoted to approximately 10 PLASTARC-approved goods you can get or give for (generally much) less than $500.

On our minds

This holiday season we’re excited to highlight the following 10-plus apps and objects (some courtesy of our very own friends and clients). Even more so because they rhyme with PLASTARC’s own mission: to make the world a better place, one workplace at a time! Feast your eyes on these delightful and useful items, and join our 2018 new year resolution: to make every space healthier, more accessible, and satisfying to work in.

Free (or close to it):

Personal & environmental measurement. To keep track of yourself, Moves, the "Activity Diary of Your Life," automatically records any walking, cycling, or running you do throughout the day and lets you view stats on distance, duration, steps, and calories burned for each activity. The app is always on, so as long as your phone’s in your pocket (or even in your bag), it’s working. In an age when work is sedentary for so many of us, personal trackers like these can make it easier and more fun to get active by helping us set and reminding us to reach goals. To keep track of the world around you, the apps in Vieyra Software’s Physics Toolbox Suite let you turn your mobile device into a research and data analysis tool. Suddenly, you have a light meter, a sound meter, and an oscilloscope in the palm of your hand! (You also have a linear accelerometer, a stroboscope, and a spectrum analyzer, should you need them.) We’re huge fans of democratizing tools like these to give workers everywhere more power to measure the environment around them—and then, in turn, improve it. (both apps are free)

Self-managed sound. The background noise generator Noisli—which at least two PLASTARC staff members swear by—helps you work or relax (as the moment dictates) by offering customizable sound mixes to complement the task at hand. Need to mask some chatter to concentrate? Try rain sounds. Want to relax? Turn up that whirring fan and commence zoning out. Noisli also offers a changing color palette so you can get your chromotherapy, too. On the more melodic end of the sound spectrum, we enjoyed hearing from Will Henshall, founder and CEO of Focus@Will, when we spoke at GCUC in Los Angeles last year. Focus@Will is a neuroscience-based subscription service that offers individually customized music prescriptions capable of increasing your focused attention four-fold. Perfect when you’re trying to finish a project and your colleagues are playing ping pong six feet away! (Noisli is free; Focus@Will is $9.95 per month)

Under $10:

Constructible office supplies. Try fun desk accessories (like those by Poppin) which pop with classy color. There’s more to this recommendation than meets the eye: when you personalize the space around you, chances are you’ll value it more. In one of our favorite podcasts of 2017, NPR’s Hidden Brain explored some of the ramifications of a 2011 Harvard Business School study in which researchers coined the term "the IKEA Effect"—a condition that people value an object they’ve built themselves (like Ikea furniture) more than an identical object built by someone else. The more we value something, the more excited we are about it. If you want to look forward to being at work, building up the space around you is one great way to go about it. ($2 - $75 per item)

Plants. One sure way to get amazing bang for your buck, plants can help reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic gases like formaldehyde and ammonia in the air, and decrease dust accumulation, which can ease allergies. Working with plants in your sightlines can also make you happier, more productive, and improve your memory—and these benefits apply, at least to some degree, whether your green office-mates are real or artificial. While studies suggest that being around living greenery is optimal, having fake plants around is still better than having no plants—especially when we think they’re real (shhh). Even seeing "pieces" of nature, like tree branches and other fractal patterns, can lift our mood, ease our stress, and leave us feeling restored. ($5 - $40 per potted plant)

Under $50:

Alexa for Business. If you’ve enjoyed letting Alexa keep your shopping list, set your lasagna timer, or answer your most burning trivia questions at home, you’re going to love her help booking conference rooms, dialing phone numbers, and dimming the lights for presentations. Our friends at Beco developed a sensor system that works with Alexa to locate individual employees within buildings, so you’ll also be able to ask her, "Where’s our project manager?" when that presentation is about to start. As more of the tech we know and love at home transitions to the office, we’ll have only more opportunities to make our workplaces work better for us. (Alexa $29 - $50, Beco $7 per device and $3 per user, per month)

Colors! Beauty isn’t the only thing in the eye of the beholder. What we take in through our sense of vision is an important component of regulating our circadian rhythms and putting us in a comfortable state of mind so we can do our best work. For example: a University of British Columbia study of 600 people showed that blue hues promote communication and creativity; and an Inc. magazine article citing the work of our friend Sally Augustin reported that "aquas and teals are calming and promote a sense of trust, so they work well in detail-oriented places, like legal or accounting offices." Another study cited in Fast Company noted that shades of green encourage innovative thinking; Augustin says it’s “a good color to use in a space where you're trying to encourage a brainstorming event." Possible reasons for all of this—including the fascinating recent finding that humans may not have seen the color blue until modern times—could fill an entire newsletter, so we’ll just have to leave you with these tips for now. (paint: $15 - $50 per gallon)

Under $500:

Sun lamps. While getting too much sun can certainly be a problem, so can getting too little. Exposure to sunlight helps regulate our metabolism, keep our immune system strong, and boost our serotonin levels (which helps us feel calm and satisfied instead of anxious or depressed). While some sun-emulating lamps go so far as to produce high-intensity ultraviolet-B rays that trigger vitamin D production in your skin, the jury’s still out on their merits relative to the skin damage they might also cause. So as you keep that new year’s resolution to retrofit your workspace with adjustable task lighting (right?), we suggest doubling your pleasure and adding a simple sun lamp like the Verilux HappyLight to your mix. ($50 - $200, depending on brand and size)

Glass whiteboards. Computers make our work lives better in countless ways, but sometimes it’s actually more efficient to draw or write our ideas out by hand (and it’s certainly more fun). We love how the people and products at IdeaPaint have made the ubiquitous whiteboard a truly every-surface experience! But have you used a glass whiteboard recently? They are so smooth. If you want to really fall in love with the whole sensory experience of writing on a wall, try going super sleek and elegant, go glass. (IdeaPaint for 50sq ft $225; glass whiteboard $50 - $300, depending on brand and size)

Tolix Marais Stools. You’ve definitely seen them in restaurants and bars, but these classic multipurpose stools fit in so well that you may not have noticed. All Tolix furniture is still made in Autun, the small French town where its founder, renowned metalworker Xavier Pauchard, originally established the company in the 1920s. Design Within Reach says of the Marais Stool’s design: "slight surface abrasions and markings are characteristic of the material and part of its hardworking machine aesthetic." All this provenance and tactile talk gets big points with us. Plus these lightweight seats come in a bevy of colors, and the slot in the top makes them a cinch to pick up and move around. They’re just as perfect for impromptu guest seating as they are for changing a light bulb. ($100 - $200 per stool)

Bolsters by west elm WORKSPACE. Our research contributed to the design of this padded wall perch which solves a universal problem: meeting rooms are always booked but never fully occupied. That's because they’re built big to accommodate high capacity functions—but most meetings are comprised of only two or three people, not all hands. This bolster allows smaller, more efficient meeting rooms with fewer chairs to comfortably accommodate more people when those high capacity events do take place. The padded "leaning assistance" it provides keeps your body in an active position that encourages alertness and proper circulation while also letting you relax and settle in to focus. This same posture also makes you seem approachable: you appear at ease enough to be leaning, but you’re still at eye level with those standing or walking nearby. (around $330, depending on fabric)

While you are in the holiday spirit (and with the money you’ll save giving free gifts this year) we suggest making a contribution to Wikipedia, National Public Radio, or another crowdfunded organization that makes your work life better.

From the archives

Two years ago this month, we presented at FT Innovate 2015, the signature conference of Financial Times on business, innovation, and technology. The event’s 2015 theme, “Agility in an Age of Ambiguity,” considered whether large companies’ best shot at remaining relevant in a world of ever-quickening change is to act more like startups, or if they’re better off drawing on their existing strengths. For the session “The Power of the Workspace,” PLASTARC was interviewed by Bernd Schmitt, Professor of International Business at Columbia Business School, about topics including our work developing the guidelines that allowed Google’s famous workplaces to scale globally while staying “Google‑y;” how we see tech pushing the retail concern of “customer experience” to the workplace as “employee experience;” and how smart building technology is serving employees in workspaces of all kinds. You can watch the whole session here.

We hope the winter holidays spice up your work, feed your senses, and inspire your moves for the new year. We’ll be back in your inbox after the ball drops, but before then, we’re taking a quick poll: How did you make your office better this year?

In Case You Missed It

WORKTECH 17 West Coast

This October 24 event in San Francisco reflected on the future of workplace and the many ways the spaces we work in can make what we do more pleasurable, effective, and meaningful.

MITArchA Course IV Alumni Winter Social

We enjoyed learning about new projects being undertaken by MIT Architecture Alumni at this November 1 happy hour including PechaKucha presentations in NYC.

35th Annual Cornell Real Estate Conference

On October 13, the 2017 edition of the Cornell Real Estate Council’s annual conference, held in Manhattan, highlighted topics at the intersection of real estate, management, and hospitality—the nexus of workplace and employee experience.

Then & Now: Workplace’s Evolving Role In Achieving Business Goals

Check out our reflections on how efforts to leverage space as a part of business strategy have and haven’t changed in the past 15 years, thanks to Workdesign magazine :)

Looking Ahead

Our team is always seeking out great events. We organize, moderate, attend, and speak at programs and on panels, live and virtual, all year round. In early 2018 (and beyond), you can catch us close to home and farther afield at:

IIDA NY Sustainability Forum: Grading the Ratings: WELL Rated

Delos’ newly opened offices in NYC will serve to demonstrate a real-world application of the WELL building standard at this January 23 event. A bit of a reunion for our IIDA group who put on a similar program back in 2015.

Future Offices 2018

With our clients Verizon, we’ll join over 30 speakers, workshops, and tours in NYC on January 29 to examine how the office landscape is adapting to a rapid change in both workforce and technology.

CoreNet Global Summit 2018

Great news: we’ll be presenting with our friends from Comfy at the session "Occupant-Driven Technologies for Showcasing Workplace Performance" when CoreNet goes to Singapore, March 12 - 15!

Wharton People Analytics Conference

One of our favorite events will be in Philadelphia on March 22 & 23. How could we resist "Evidence-based Decision Making to Help People and Organizations Thrive"? Plus, last year PLASTARC made it to the Startup Showcase