I once worked at a company housed in the second floor of an old mill building. You might be thinking “lovely renovated office space with high ceilings and tons of character.” You’d be wrong. The building was dirt-cheap chic and the only character it had was a homeless man who slept in the unoccupied first floor.
Our office space consisted of shoddily constructed half-walls and an eclectic mix of broken down desks, wobbly chairs—and, most important of all, space heaters. In winter, there’d be miniature snowdrifts on the window sill, and you could see your breath until 10 a.m. We never had temperature wars in that office. We just cranked the thermostat as high as it would go, and our space heaters, too.
Granted, ours was an extreme case. But recent IFMA research shows that complaints about the temperature top the list of common office grievances. Facilities managers say they get an almost equal number of complaints about the office being too hot or too cold.
This is a big deal because there’s a positive correlation between comfort and productivity. Unfortunately, it’s tough to keep everybody happy and comfortable all the time. As any facility manager will tell you, often the person complaining about the office being too hot is sitting right next to the person complaining about it being too cold.
Facility managers do the best they can, but when it’s not enough, people do what they have to do. They use space heaters (frowned upon because of the fire hazard), heating pads, personal fans, supplemental clothing and, in one case reported in the research, a small wading pool under the desk in which the worker could “paddle” his feet to cool them off.
Herman Miller has a sweet and sensible alternative that uses 90% less energy than space heaters. C2 climate control uses advanced thermal electric technology to provide heating and cooling in a single unit. Someday I’d like a C2 for my home office, but for now I use a foot warmer to stay warm. What’s your solution?
Like other sixteen year olds, my son writes a history paper, texts his girlfriend, and plays Battlefield II on his computer—all at the same time.
Me: You can’t possibly do all three well. Him: Practice makes perfect. Me: Riiiiight. Him: <shrug>
New research is on his side (darn it). René Marois, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University is co-author of a study on multitasking. Marois says there are two major ways tasks can interfere with one another: If they both require concentration (we’re bad at splitting our attention effectively) or if they make demands on the same neural resources, e.g., trying to carry on two conversations at the same time. His study focused on the former and showed how people can become efficient multitaskers when tasks require less attention.
“Our results imply the fundamental reason we are lousy multitaskers is because our brains process each task slowly, creating a bottleneck at the central stage of decision making,” he says. With practice, we can learn to process more quickly.
Researchers on another project asked a different question: Does multitasking affect your ability to concentrate when you aren’t multitasking? They tested the concentration of students who multitask frequently and other students who multitask but not all the time. The three tests measured students’ ability to ignore irrelevant information, organize items, and switch tasks. Each test required the students to do only one thing at a time. Students who spent less time multitasking did better on every test than students who multitask frequently.
Finally, experts agree that no one truly multitasks. Instead, the brain toggles between, say, history paper, Battlefield II, and girlfriend so quickly that it gives the illusion of multitasking. And oh, how we love that illusion.
There’s new research showing that managers believe women experience more work/life conflict than men. Women employees in the study actually reported less conflict. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and appearing in the Academy of Management Journal, says the belief is held by men and women managers alike, who then see the women as less worthy of promotion.
Women who know about this misperception may think twice about using company-sponsored work/life balance programs like telecommuting—and rightly so. “As long as managers buy into that stereotype, women who take advantage of programs like on-site child care or flextime or paid time-off for parenting are only undermining their prospects for advancement in their companies,” says Professor Jenny M. Hoobler, one of the authors of the study. “What we’re talking about here, I expect, is one of the subtle, entrenched forms of discrimination that make up the glass ceiling.”
Most working mothers (62%) prefer to work part time, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center. Working fathers, not so much. Only 21% of them say they’d rather work part time than full time.
Rick Dernberger is one of them. For a long time after they had children, he and his wife Becca both worked full time. Whenever one of the kids got sick, “we’d have fights over who had the most important day,” he says. “One day she whimsically said, ‘Why don’t you quit work?’ That had never occurred to me, but as soon as she said it, I knew it was right. She was making more and she enjoyed her job more.”
For the last seven years, the arrangement has been working for the Dernbergers. Rick enjoys the mix of parenting four daughters (ages 6 – 20), counseling college students, and helping entrepreneurs get new business loans. Being a part of all the details of his daughters’ daily lives has been especially rewarding—and an opportunity that most dads don’t have.
The Pew research didn’t ask men why they don’t want to work part-time, but it’s not hard to guess a few reasons. Cultural norms change slowly. Most men had dads who worked full time so, like Rick, the option might not even be on their radar screen. Even if men do consider it, the decision may be driven by finances: men still make more, on average (women make about 77 cents for every dollar men make).
Still, some men have made the switch. At Herman Miller, .5% of male employees in the U.S. currently work part time; 6.3% of female employees do. In our international division, 1.6% of employees work part time, and all are women.
Drizzly Denmark is the happiest country in the world. No, really. There’s research to back it up. But other research shows Costa Rica is happiest. It all depends on what you measure.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—the Paris-based group that says Denmark is happiest—measures only life satisfaction. It asked citizens questions like “Did you learn something today?” and “Were you proud of something you did yesterday?”
But, nef, the independent “think-and-do tank” that says Costa Rica is happiest, measures life satisfaction, life expectancy, and ecological footprint. This allows it to assess the “environmental efficiency with which, country by country, people live long and happy lives.” It assigns each country a “Happy Planet Index” (HPI). So it’s not just about the happiness of a country’s people; it’s about whether or not the way that country’s citizens live makes the planet happy. An interactive map shows each country’s cumulative index and its index for each measure.
In addition to checking out your country’s HPI, you can also calculate your own personal HPI. Mine was 64. That’s above the world average of 46 but well below the target of 83, “which represents a good life that doesn’t cost the earth,” according to the folks at nef. Once you have your score, the site generates suggestions on how to improve in each area.
My ecological footprint really hurt my overall score, a weakness my country shares: The U.S. ranked 114th on the Happy Planet Index because it, too, has an outsized ecological footprint. We’re both going to have to work on that.
Check out what Herman Miller is doing to improve our ecological footprint through our environmental advocacy initiatives.
A few years ago I had foot surgery on both feet at the same time. For six weeks, I stumped around the house with the help of a walker. Climbing stairs, making a sandwich, getting the mail—everything took five times longer than it should have, i.e., five times longer than it took me when I was able bodied. It was a stark reminder that, no matter how healthy we are, sooner or later we’ll all experience physical limitations, whether because of surgery or illness or the natural effects of aging.
Universal design accounts for that eventuality by providing for the broadest range of ages, abilities, and work styles. While universal design came into its own when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, inclusiveness has always been part of Herman Miller’s approach to design. In 1968, Robert Propst designed the original Action Office system with universality in mind, and it’s still among the best at accommodating people of all abilities.
If a product can be used with a closed fist, virtually anyone can use it. The sliding door design of Vivo’s overhead unit and its knob are good examples.
So are the arc drawer pulls on Meridian files and the joystick height-adjustment lever on the Embody chair.
Beyond the “closed fist” rule, universal design happens in the application of product in work surface heights and aisle widths, for example, says Marsha Skidmore, Director of Market Response Design & Development at Herman Miller. Herman Miller dealers can help customers plan for universal design in their facilities.
In the product development process, Herman Miller doesn’t mandate universal design, “We don’t have to because we always have taken inclusiveness into account. It’s just a part of our culture,” says Skidmore. “We never aim to make something that would exclude a group of people.”
“The power of the ask” refers to what happens when we ask people we know to help: They say yes. Research shows that 71% of people volunteer when asked, compared to 29% who volunteer on their own. Read more
For Dmitri Brown, the whole idea of work/life balance unfolded gradually. When he graduated from college in 2004, he was headed for a career in corporate law. He went to Maine for a year to study for the LSAT and snowboard. But two funny things happened on the way to law school: He figured out he didn’t want to be a lawyer and he didn’t need a lot of money to live on. That was his first a-ha. Read more
I grew up in a frugal household long before frugality was trendy. My father’s favorite sayings were, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” “Shut off that light if you’re not using it,” and “Shut the door, I’m not paying to air condition the county.”
To work or not to work: That is the question for many moms. Or is it? The implication of a new University of Michigan study is that, when it comes to the well-being of her children, the kind of job a woman has may be just as important as whether or not she works at all. Read more