The Harvard Business review supports this, “Facebook will soon put several thousand of its employees into a single mile-long room. The ‘action office’ becomes the cubicle. Cubicles are torn down for open plans, which leave introverts pining for private space. Quads. Hotel space. Couches. Rotating desk assignments. Standing desks. Treadmill desks. No desks. With apologies to Mark Twain, there’s no such thing as a new office design. We just take old ideas, put them into a kind of kaleidoscope, and turn. The key metric companies use to measure space—cost per square foot—is focused on efficiency. Few companies measure whether a space’s design helps or hurts performance, but they should.”
That pretty well sums up Jabra’s interest in the unified communications (UC) field – how to make that space more productive. Piggott, with more than 20 years-experience at Cisco, Avaya, Telstra and Touchbase, is well qualified to comment.
Following is an interview with Piggott on one of Sydney’s hottest days – 40° - in a coffee shop without air-conditioning. He was perspiring – probably from my probing questions. The following interview is paraphrased to avoid overuse of ‘he said’.
Jabra (pronounced Jab-bra) is an audio and communications specialist - part of the UC world - supplying a variety of headsets (for call centre and office use), speaker phones (boardroom), mobile audio, and consumer ‘sound’ products for sport , in-car, wireless, and voice on the go.
It commissioned a report on ‘Productivity at the Office – challenges 2015’ that surveyed around 2,500 office knowledge workers (skilled, professional, and office-based) on productivity in the context of new organisational structures, changing workspaces and technology.
Essentially it found a number of issues:
Some of the limiting factors include: an ageing population in developed countries; investments in technology that have created more challenges than they solve; and demotivated or disengaged employees. It is estimated that only 13% of employees are engaged at work, so the vast majority not engaged with their tasks or job role are highly likely to be less productive. There are major productivity gains to be made for the overall success of the business.
In a bid to improve productivity, organisations have long been deploying new technology, adding collaboration or communication tools to improve communication between employees or with people external to the organisation. They are also re-considering the design of working spaces, moving away from cubicle designs to open plan offices, with a focus on collaborative spaces. Changes are also felt in the organisational structure, with decision making shifting to groups rather than individuals, and information workflows happening in a more horizontal manner.
The future is a change in working with global networked virtual workspaces in which efficient work anytime from anywhere is possible. Many organisations believe in these benefits but in reality, we continue to see people struggling with adopting and exploiting the possibilities to achieve productivity.
There are plenty of tools available to enable effective communication and collaboration. Yet, working days are still punctuated by distractions like email and untimely interruptions and requests for information from co-workers. Blaming technology for this is misguided as some of the explanation also lies with organisational structures and the impact it has on the way people work
Concentration versus collaboration was a big issue. Neurological research shows that people need 90 minutes to focus fully on a task – yet they can only focus from 90-120 minutes before needing a ‘break’. In a normal ‘open office’ setting, 90 minutes of concentration without disruption is very rare. Studies show that knowledge workers are interrupted at least every 10 minutes. And when they are interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on the task. Many knowledge workers are therefore completing tasks in between interruptions and a working environment with little time to focus. Good decisions require focus!
With the number of square metres allocated to an employee in the modern open office space decreasing drastically, the need for knowledge workers around the world to escape the increasing noise and disturbances is increasing. According to Gensler Architects every office worker could enjoy 50m2 to themselves fifty years ago: in 2020 that number will be reduced to 10m. In the study, 4 out of 10 report that open space is the least productive work arrangement, 3 out of 10 report that single offices or cubicles are the most productive. Sound effects play a huge role and background noise is increasingly reported as a problem. More surprising is the fact that 5 out of 10 believe that questions from colleagues interrupt them negatively. An interesting paradox, given collective work is supposed to be more productive.
You can read the full report here.
That is a lot to take in but essentially workplace design is an issue.
We spoke of some of the ‘cures’ to workplace distraction and enhancing collaboration.
Smaller spaces require things like noise cancelling headsets with a very visible ring – a busy or do not disturb indicator - like Jabra’s over-the-head Evolve series . To a large degree this solves smaller workspace issues at a much lower cost instead of building sound reducing baffles. It also has a range of wired and wireless (DECT) headsets that provide quality sound.
To address mobile workers it has developed Jabra Motion that is a Bluetooth extension of your smartphone with added features like NFC, motion sensing, and wind noise reduction.
For collaboration and conferencing it decided to eliminate the traditional speaker phone (that uses PSTN or SIP gateways to call someone) to a fool proof mixture of a softphone (software that turns a notebook or tablet into a phone) and a range of USB speakers with microphones.
Jabra has also developed a workplace monitor to identify noisy, collaboration and other spaces. A simple red, yellow and green light shows on this wall mounted monitor and allows supervisors to take action.
We spoke about Jabra’s consumer solution.
Jabra offers a range of music headphones, sports buds, wireless speakers and in-car speakerphones. Piggott emphasised the Scandinavian design heritage and fidelity. Jabra Sport Pulse also has a heart rate monitor.
What is your distribution mechanism?
It is via the channel – Ingram Micro, Xpress Connect Supply, MIS, Distribution Central, VExpress and others who supply UC resellers. Its consumer products are sold in major retailers. It is also an Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft Skype for Business and IBM partner. It is readying a new UC partner program for launch early next year.
What is the future?
Smaller work spaces; more interruptions; more demand for work anywhere, anytime; and the tools to enable this – a combination of a mobile smart device and the appropriate audio solution.
You mentioned the Scandinavian heritage?
We build on the legacy of our parent company, GN Store Nord. It has over 140 years of experience in designing state-of-the-art communications solutions and we share Research and Development. It is now a $2 billion company with around 900 staff.
We also have the technology of Danavox (now Resound) that is one of the world’s largest manufactures of hearing aids – we know ears!
Since being acquired in 2000 our headset range has repeatedly been recognised as the gold standard in innovation and design. We have received numerous product and design awards, including the CES Innovation, the iF product design award, a Red Dot Mobile Choice Best Accessory, the T3 Gold award and CNET Editor’s Choice.
So ends a steamy interview – see hot day comment earlier – with a company focused on making life easier for the wage slaves being forced to abandon offices, cubicles and facing open spaces.