Some new workplace trends are extremely loud and incredibly close.


The What’s and Why’s of 2015's Latest Workplace Trends

At the dawn of the age of the standing desk, some pretty slanderous things were said of sitting. Most famously, “sitting is the new smoking.” And so report after report came out extolling the virtues of working on two legs.

Then, our reactionary culture being what it is, on the heels of those pieces came a wave saying the exact opposite: that standing desks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Because both sitting still and standing still are bad for you, because you really ought to be moving.

But if you get too into it, you wind up looking like a hamster:

I think I’d feel kind of ridiculous. (Credit: YouTube/Robb Godshaw)

There really is no winning.

At the end of the day, it’s all an effort to maintain a 40-hour workweek (wouldn’t one of those be nice?!) without feeling like you’ve sacrificed anything in terms of happiness or healthiness. We used to call that “work/life balance,” but today’s snake people would rather take a job that fulfills them than one they need to outrun on the weekends.

In response, companies are trying no shortage of tactics to be the most desirable place to work, through attractive workspaces and relaxing headspaces.

An attractive workspace starts with attractions

Buzzy startups try to outdo one another with in-office amenities, be they napping pods at Google or craft beer keg-bots at Yelp. And as these workspace trends reach a certain saturation point, they can seep out and begin to influence more conservative work environments.

Ping-pong and foosball tables are becoming more commonplace. As are open floor plans — as we changed offices earlier this year, my workplace adopted an open floor plan.

At first they were touted as better for collaboration, but more recent reports suggest they’re more distraction than liberation.

What an open floor plan is really like (Credit: FedEx)

Quiet and privacy are a challenge. Another overlooked challenge is that smells travel easier without barriers, so be mindful of using the microwave to cook broccoli or fish.

On the other hand, headphones of all shapes and sizes help many colleagues bury themselves in a world of laptop and smartphone screens (I value my door since it allows me to crank various SiriusXM stations).

Imagine this with newer computers and more personal space. This looks plainly awful

If a new thought began with open floor plans, the logical extension of that thought must be hot desking, a similarly unfortunate fad that has employees not just fighting for quiet, but also for space.

There are no assigned seats, and in some cases, no defined enclosures. There are long benches, or rows of cabanas or unmarked workstations that anyone can take and use and leave blank for the employee to follow. Like having pictures of your kids at your desk? Not here; because so many different employees use the same space, none of them can express their personality.

What it does do is it exposes each person to a wider variety of functions and skill sets. In a smaller company, one day you’re sitting next to an entry-level IT troubleshooter, the next day you’re across from the CEO. So it’s definitely an interesting setup.

But less enticing to me than another trend that is taking off at the same time: telecommuting.

Working from home isn’t particularly new, but a new breed of progressive company is better incorporating work-from-home days into the structure of their employment. And not just small startups like Zirtual, but large operations too like Xerox, which has offered telecommuting options since the 60s.

It’s not for everyone, sure. I might be too tempted to binge watch Sons of Anarchy, Shameless or even The Steve Wilkos Show if left to my own devices, but the underlying principle is a sound one. Each of us has different demands bearing down on us — be they young kids, aging parents or demanding pets — and each of us hits maximum productivity at different times throughout the day. Locking all your employees into the same 9-to-5 may seem more efficient, but in practice that isn’t necessarily true.

There are other ways I’ve heard of to make the workplace a more inviting environment. LED lights that gradually change hue over the course of the day, for example. All to make the work environment a more pleasant place to be, for a happier employee that you can retain longer.

Headspace is the office of the mind

At the same time businesses take (arguably) positive steps forward in the structure of the office, they take some troubling steps back in the sanctity of the mental environment. The single largest culprit is the smartphone.

Employees today complain of a new force called “telepressure,” or the stress of needing to be always on. I’m a big fan of turning off when I’m off work, but business is a global affair and even just dealing with colleagues in Detroit can mean some early mornings given my Pacific timeframe.

Your hand cramps to that phone-holding position over time (Credit: Nanagyei)

According to a study cited by the Wall Street Journal, employees with high telepressure were more likely to agree with the sentiments “I have no energy for going to work in the morning” and “I feel like my batteries are dead.” That doesn’t sound like a person I want to be, or an employee I want to have.

To combat the workplace pressures inherent to 2015, another trend has risen as its equal and opposite: mindfulness, or a “moment-to-moment awareness” of your environment as well as your thoughts and feelings, so you can process your world in a way that’s more conscious and under control.

It comes from the Buddhist tradition and often involves meditation, no cell phones allowed. Business management experts embrace it as a simple tool for decompressing during the workday. But the devil’s advocate response is that if you need to meditate in the middle of your workday, something is wrong with your job.

Maybe you need a nap pod or a keg-bot.

At the end of the day, your manager wants you to have a positive-enough experience to want to stick around. That’s the whole point of office amenities. That’s the whole point of work benefits, for that matter. Your company wants you to have a positive work-life balance, and will put things in place to empower you to have one, but you have to take advantage of them.

So take advantage of what you’ve got. If there’s a nap pod, take a nap. If there’s a keg-bot, enjoy a frosty-grain beverage. If you have vacation days, use ‘em — no one is going to love you any more for all those you didn’t take!

And please remember to turn your phone off every now and then.

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