Reduce the Stress: Four Elements to Consider in a Modern Office Design

Employees sitting around conference table
In an effort to attract millennials, many companies are looking to incorporate features to improve workplace engagement and decrease stress. It’s an ongoing challenge for many employers, with studies showing less than one out of three millennials being engaged at work. Moreover, workplaces that are designed to be visually appealing can contribute to employee trust and performance.

The more famous examples of relaxation areas in the workplace tend to come from Silicon Valley, where tech companies are known to provide their employees with game rooms, indoor gardens and even in-house bowling alleys. But even if these sorts of perks are out of scope for your project – and they almost certainly are – there are a number of things that you can do when designing your new office workspace to generate a more pleasant working atmosphere.

  • Use natural materials such as wood and stone rather than concrete and laminates. This, plus the use of cool colors and attractive details, is shown to increase creativity.
  • Include indoor plants and/or views of greenery. Exposure to nature can help lower heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone. Workplace greenery is also shown to improve perceptions of air quality, concentration, productivity and satisfaction.
  • You may not have the budget for a Silicon Valley-style lounge for your employees – after all, very few companies do – but you may very well be able to set aside an area for a relaxation space. Properly outfitted with relaxing furniture and good acoustics, this can give employees a place to control noise and distraction.
  • Put some thought into the visibility and the visuals. Appropriate lighting levels, access to pleasant views such as art and outdoor scenery, and feature installations such as fireplaces have been shown to have highly positive effects on an office environment.

There are additional steps that designers can take, such as selecting the right kind of technology furniture to empower employees to work most effectively.

Putting together a pleasant office environment conducive to creativity can take a good deal of effort, but should pay for itself in short order.

(Source: The Conversation)

Merry Christmas!

Thank you so very much for helping us have a fantastic year. On behalf of the entire SMARTdesks family, have a happy holiday!

Merry Christmas from SMARTdesks

K12 IT Administrators Rethinking Chromebooks After Crash?

Widespread bug crashed thousands of Chromebooks in K12 districts
Chromebook becomes Stonebook without internet access

Google Chrome OS long seemed like a solution looking for a problem. In a world dominated by Microsoft and Apple, it was hard to find a purpose for a lightweight platform that was mostly for basic applications like word processing and spreadsheet usage – and an OS that required internet access to function.

Then K12 came calling. Chromebooks – lightweight, durable, cheaper than their Apple and Microsoft alternatives – caught on with school districts looking for a suitable vehicle as 1:1 programs took on steam. However, school districts across America got a wake-up call on the potential hazards of putting all their eggs in Google’s basket when a network policy update pushed by the search giant’s administrators caused devices to temporarily lose internet connectivity. This would be a headache for any notebook computer, of course, but in a Chromebook environment, this is mission critical: without internet access, a Chromebook becomes a paperweight.

Google won’t say how many users were affected, but one school district alone believes that all 20,000 devices in its network were impacted. The issue was fixed on the same day, and Google posted a series of steps that districts could take to solve the problem. But many IT professionals are now concerned, especially if Google pushes a major update that isn’t rolled back easily.

As school districts seek to facilitate active learning, they turn to Silicon Valley in ever greater numbers seeking to adopt the right technology. But even mighty Google isn’t immune to technical difficulties.

(Source: EdSurge)

Survey: Pretty Much Every Student Wants to Use Smartphones in Class

Student with smartphone in class
Phoning it in? Not really.

A recent study is unlikely to surprise college professors: 94% of college students want to use their mobile phones in class for academic purposes. The survey found that a substantial number of students (58%) use their phones to take pictures of lecture slides, and similarly high percentages of students also use their phones to search for information on Google or access a digital textbook during lectures.

Students also indicated their willingness to use the phones more often for a range of classroom activities, including checking into class, answering in-class polls, and accessing lecture slides. (For some mobile classroom polling alternatives, check out this blog post from November.)

However, the risks of mobile phones being nothing more than a distraction are obvious. Half of students admitted to using phones to text friends or check social media during class.

Smartphones aren’t going away, of course, so administrators and professors need to think about ways to leverage the opportunity while minimizing the potential for distraction. Having the right kind of active learning furniture may also help.

(Source: Campus Technology)

Four More Ways to Avoid Computer-Related Pain

Stretching while working on laptop

We recently published a blog post about ways to avoid pain while working in front of a computer. Here’s a follow-up post with some additional ways to keep yourself healthy.

It’s increasingly the norm for people to spend a tremendous amount of time in front of a computer. While office jobs tend to be a lot safer than blue-collar careers, they’re still strenuous in their own way, and unaddressed discomfort can progress into debilitating conditions that can impact your ability to work effectively. Consider taking the following steps:

  • Shake it up. Remaining stationary too long without adjusting your position can result in stiffness and other discomfort. Trying moving around in your chair frequently, or shifting from one foot to the other if you’re using a standing desk.
  • Take a break. If you sit at a desk for more than an hour without getting up, you’re setting yourself up for problems. Get up and walk around for a minute or two: it’s a good way to promote blood circulation and helps undo the damage inflicted by too much sitting.
  • Rethink your computer usage off the clock. If you spend most of your work day in front of a computer, limit your personal screen time in the evenings. You need to give your body a break.
  • Stretch. Regularly stretching your muscles during the day can help relieve some tightness and promote blood circulation.

It’s important to take care of your body while working at the computer. Be proactive about addressing your work habits and lifestyle.

(Source: Elemental Ergonomics)

Four Ways to Avoid Computer-Related Pain

Worker hunched over laptop

As the United States has transitioned into a service-based economy, more people than ever are spending a tremendous amount of time working in front of a computer. This certainly tends to be much safer and less strenuous work than in a factory, but it isn’t without its own set of risks, as various forms of repetitive stress injury, including back pain, neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome have become widespread issues among office workers. Here are some ways to reduce or eliminate discomfort as you work at your desk.

  • Keep your head up. Spending a lot of time looking down is a good way to give yourself some serious neck strain. Move your computer display to eye level. That means getting a monitor stand to raise it a few inches, or getting a laptop stand and external keyboard to raise your laptop screen upward.
  • Get those forearms level. If you lean on your desk or armrests frequently – which tends to happen a lot with laptop usage – you can run into problems with blood circulation and nerve strain. Adjust your position in front of the computer such that your forearms are parallel with the ground, and your elbows are bent at a 90° angle.
  • Check your wrist position. Your wrists should be straight up and down and side to side when typing, and they shouldn’t touch the surface of the desk.
  • Check your back posture. Adjust your chair height so that your feet are flat on the floor, and your knees and hips are both at a 90° angle. Lumbar support is also helpful here, so if your chair doesn’t offer it, use a small pillow or towel to help your lower spine curvature (generally just above your belt).

There are a range of additional things that you can do, such as getting an adjustable desk, but making some basic changes to improve your posture can make a big difference.

(Source: Elemental Ergonomics)

Happy Thanksgiving!

As this November draws to a close, we want to express our immensely gratitude for your support and confidence in us.  
On behalf of the entire SMARTdesks family, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  

Don't Drop the Pencil Yet: Why Writing Longhand is Still Important

Image of pen writing across keyboard
The so-called paperless society has long been an aim of futurists and technology innovators alike. As computers and handheld devices have proliferated in recent years, we’re closer than ever to making that vision a reality. But it turns out that there are some unintended consequences to favoring electronic devices over the printed page: namely, that writing longhand is a dying skill, and students lose a number of benefits as a result.
One challenge with respect to writing and technology is that, as indicated by some studies, handwriting is better for memory. It’s also the cognitive exercise that takes place with respect to writing longhand: it helps the student learn to read more effectively and, especially, to write more effectively. Writing a long-form piece such as an essay or report is a complex endeavor where a number of skill sets come together, including language production, the ability to form logical constructs, and memory retrieval. As writing longhand has become de-emphasized, and in some cases eliminated altogether, the results haven’t necessarily been favorable.
At this stage of technology adoption in the K-12 world, it’s obvious that analog and digital tools will need to live alongside one another. This is one of the driving forces behind furniture setups like our computer desks with FlipIT technology. It allows students to swivel the monitor into place when it’s needed, and stow it out of the way when they don’t, giving them access to the full range of desk space.
Ultimately, teachers need to use whatever mix of technology, whether it’s longhand or digital, that works best for the student.
(Source: EdSurge)

Does the Teacher Know Best? He/She Sure Does in China

Asian student at chalkboardA recent article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about an American family’s experience in the Chinese education system has gotten a lot of attention recently. Whereas in the U.S., where teachers are frequently questioned and challenged by students and parents alike, Chinese teachers tolerate none of it: they expect strict obedience from their pupils and support from their parents. It’s basically a teaching philosophy straight out of Confucianism and, as the writer shares anecdotally, an awfully good fit with Chinese communism.
The numbers help explain why the Chinese approach has its admirers. Chinese 6-year-olds crush their American counterparts in math and logic skills, and Chinese students are exceptionally successful abroad. It’s also worth pointing out that China’s societal emphasis on deference to teachers appears to translate to a higher level of respect for the profession in general than is found in the U.S. or Great Britain.
But the approach has its downsides: the writer indicates that Chinese education tends to discourage creativity, and some Chinese schools, realizing the deficiency, are trying to adapt. Moreover, as the WSJ article states, the Chinese approach just wouldn’t fly in the U.S., which places too high a premium on individuality and the ability to question authority.
All that said, the strengths of the Chinese approach to education, particularly given the country’s rise on the world stage, will probably continue to attract attention.