Monday, February 18, 2013

Enhancing Performance, Health and Wellness at Work

Smart organizations understand that their primary goal is to enhance the performance of their people. In a knowledge work economy, people are the engine that keep companies growing, adapting, improving and innovating.

Not surprisingly, thoughtful workplace design can be a powerful tool for supporting employee performance. And a collateral benefit is that what typically supports productivity also enhances employee health and wellness – it’s all interrelated.
Given the nature of today’s work processes, how can the workplace better support human performance? How can the workplace support all of the different activities involved with knowledge work – things like collaboration, creativity, innovation, deep thinking and mentorship?
One way to better understand the nature of human performance is through a definition used by organizational psychologists, who believe it is enabled through a blend of ability, motivation and opportunity.

Entertainment One
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Performance is a function of the three factors acting together. Ability has to do with whether a person can do a task. Motivation is a measure of whether a person wants to do it. Opportunity is about accessibility; a person can’t do a task if she is not given a chance or if she is denied access to necessary resources or amenities.

This framework – looking at human performance as being influenced by multiple factors – reflects the difficult and variable nature of our work today. All of these factors must be supported by the work environment in order for people’s best work to occur. So, how can the workplace help?

Ten fundamental design elements can positively impact the workplace environment and support the work being done:

1. Thermal Comfort and Temperature
2. Access to Nature, Views and Daylight
3. Sensory Change and Variability
4. Color
5. Noise Control
6. Crowding
7. Human Factors and Ergonomics
8. Indoor Air Quality
9. Choice
10. Employee Engagement

Click to learn more and see real-life examples of these strategies at work.  Read the full article on Issuu or download the PDF (1.5 MB).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Creating Energy - Spinning and Swinging

In spin class the other day I kept thinking that all of the sweating I was doing (along with 25 other crazy souls) should be put to some use... besides burning calories of course.  During number 3 of a 5 hill climb, I wondered - would it be possible to take our kinetic energy and bottle it up for the gym to use at a future date?  With 25 Ed Begley Jrs cycling away, couldn't we at least create enough energy to keep the lights and music on in the room?

Look no futher than the Green Revolution, a product that solves this problem!  According to their website, the The Green Revolution bike is a "new patent-pending invention that converts human effort generated during aerobic activity into clean, renewable energy." 

Of course spinning bikes is just the start of smart human-created energy revolution.  How about a swing that generates energy!  Currently a pop-up installation outside the International Centre for the Arts in GuimarĂ£es, Portugal, the art collective Moradavaga has created the perfect playground energy-generating machine.  According to Kyle VanHemert, writing for Fast Company:
Each swing is connected by a chain to a bicycle wheel behind it. When the swinger starts pumping, a dynamo attached to the spinning wheel powers two lights, located beneath planks under the swinger’s feet. The electrical system runs "hidden from view," the creators explained, creating a bit of a surprise for swingers when a soft glow of light appears underfoot.
Given I spend countless hours (more than spinning) pushing swings for my 2 and 6 year old girls at the park, I think this is total genius.  And why are we not doing this everywhere!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sustainability Trends for 2020 (impacting Corporate Real Estate)

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a research initiative with CoreNet, a global corporate real estate research and networking organization. We met with hundreds of corporate real estate executives to discuss global trends and together made predictions about the year 2020. The initiative, a nine-month study coined CRE 2020 for short, was an incredible experience to discuss and understand more deeply what corporate real estate executives are wrestling with today. There were several research work streams as part of this initiative, and my group's focus was sustainability.

I know there are lots of general sustainable trends out there, but the focus of our work was how sustainability will impact global real estate over the next eight years.  We generated six bold statements about the future that we felt were "realistic." 
  1. Regulatory incentives for resource efficiency and market penalties for resource inefficiency will meaningfully increase by 2020.
  2. Buildings, sometimes connected by micro grids, will be both consumers and producers of energy. The evolutions in energy storage will impact building operations, transportation and planning.
  3. Access to reliable and renewable energy, potable water and waste distribution will influence real estate strategies across all industries.
  4. Technology advances and understanding of sustainability will result in dramatic restructuring of real estate portfolios.
  5. Corporate real estate will take on initiatives to positively change personal behavior and standards surrounding sustainability.
  6. Sustainability experts will play an important integrative role within the organization to meet enterprise-wide targets and goals.
Other findings?
  • More acceptance of sustainability and commitment by organizations to go green despite economic downturn
  • An expansion of initiatives beyond just going green - a company's social impact matters too
  • More sophisticated buyers have raised the bar for sustainable tracking and performance
  • Building energy disclosure is commonplace and driving market behavior
  • Emergence of eco-districts and micro-grids allow for transformative greening of cities and regions 
  • The Living Building Challenge impacts materials used for all building products
  • Smart buildings reduce energy through "presence" tracking and smarter design and construction practices
  • Energy storage getting better and more sophisticated (fuel cells, etc.)
  • Buildings and manufacturing facilities are choosing to locate by renewable energy and potable water sources
  • Engagement of occupants will have an impact on energy, waste, water reduction
  • Real estate executives will need to provide more sophisticated tracking of current practices and a real vision on how to support more sustainable business practices

For more information go here:
The outputs of our research include a series of detailed white papers (available on CoreNet’s website and available to their members)
A nice synopsis of the work was written up in CoreNet’s most recent issue of “The Leader” here

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Photo:  "Little Dude" a pig c/o WFAS
The family and I took a nice trip upstate a couple of weeks ago to breathe some fresh air and get away from the craziness of New York City.  While we were there we saw family, roasted s'mores in a bonfire, swam and hiked and generally had a fabulous time. Since our girls are old enough to walk and love animals, we thought it would be nice to see some farm animals while we were there.  Some quick research led us to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.  Located just a short drive from the town of Woodstock, this lovely farm is home to farm animals that have been abandoned or saved from slaughter.  Tours are available on weekends and children can be introduced to animals in the best of all environments - their home.  Our 20-month old was particularly taken with Albie the goat, who happens to be missing a leg, and learned firsthand how animals poop.  Our visit to the farm was close and personal, and certainly a lesson in how happy animals live.

Since we've been living in New York, I've been a practicing pescatarian - for environmental reasons but also for health reasons.  Going to this farm gave me another reason to give up meat - for the humanity of it.  Seeing my children playing with animals that are clearly happy, which sadly is not the story of most animals these days, was moving and touching.  The owner of this Woodstock farm, Jenny Brown, recently wrote a book, "The Lucky Ones" about her life experience and of her passion for animals.  I was particularly struck by a statement where she connects our care for the environment with our abusive food system:
The bottom line on this issue is that caring about the environment means more than recycling or turning down the heat in the winter or driving a fuel-efficient car.  It means changing the way we eat.  A recent United Nations report on livestock and the environment could hardly be more sobering: The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.
It's not really the animal's fault that they consume massive amounts of water and food every day and emit all that CO2 - it's our insatiable appetite for them.  So I walked away from our weekend in the country a little changed.  A little more aware of the mistreatment of animals and my love for being around them.  We'll be back to visit Jenny and her farm - maybe next time to volunteer to clean up a little poop (hey, that's all our 6 year old talks about anyway).  And to breathe fresh air and learn about and hug our friends - the pigs, turkeys, cows, rabbits and goats. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Disposable Take Out Boxes

Living in New York City I am addicted to take out food.  There are millions of fabulous choices of restaurants and street vendors at my fingertips, so it's pretty hard to resist taking advatage of this.  It's expensive sometimes, and I kick myself for that, but what makes me even more frustrated is the number of takeout boxes, bags, spoons, forks, sporks, etc. that I toss when I'm done eating.  It makes my guilty pleasure of getting take-out feel doubly guilty.  Which is why I was thrilled to find GoBox, a new way of using to-go boxes developed by Laura Weiss in Portland. 

I know, Portland... of course!  But check this out.  The box looks like a to-go box, but is intentionally reusable.  As a consumer, you pay $12 a year to use these boxes as a variety of vendors in Portland.  You bring the boxes back to one of the vendors and GoBox cleans them and gives them back to the vendors to use for other GoBox members. 

The boxes are made from #5 plastic, so safe to use in the microwave (if you are confortable nuking plastic). 

GoBox a local Portland business for now, but I think a great idea for taking to a bigger scale.  So simple!

Of course I know I should be cooking a home more, but another problem altogether.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mussels in Manhattan - The Eco Way

The New York Times yesterday published an article about a new kind of development along Manhattan's East River.  It's an artificial mussel bed, specifically designed to encourage mussels to latch on to a rough concrete surface.

The habitat, two submerged V-shaped concrete troughs studded with about 340 rocks, is part of a new “eco-park” in the East River Waterfront Esplanade. The $165 million esplanade project, by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, extends about a mile and a half from Pier 35 down to the Battery Maritime Building. The corporation would not break out the cost of the mussel bed, whose home will be at Pier 35, near Rutgers Slip.

Photos:  New York City Economic Development Corporation

So why mussels in the East River?  Freshwater mussels are filter feeders that consume detritus, bacteria, algae, and diatoms.  As they feed, they clean huge quantities of water.  An individual mussel can filter more than 18 US gallons of water per day.  Mussels typically live en mass in dense beds (like the one they are trying to re-create on the East River) and are ideal for cleaning large bodies of water in an eco-friendly way.

Note the mussels will NOT be for consumption - the bed will be adjacent to a sewer waterway, making them toxic to eat.

Kudos to all who are making this project real:  The designers of the esplanade are SHoP Architects and Ken Smith Landscape Architect; engineering is by a joint venture between HDR and Arup. Ocean and Coastal Consultants served as structural marine engineer for the mussel bed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why "Trust" is Essential in the Workplace

A big part of my job is talking to people about alternative ways of working.  Specifically, about how to embrace mobility and the idea that most knowledge workers can work anywhere - the office, their car, an airplane, the library, home - anywhere.  Companies are very interested in allowing their employees to work at home (or other places other than the office) to increase worker productivity, satisfaction, and of course save real estate costs.  They accomplish this by allowing workers to come in and sit in "mobile areas" or "touchdown" seats when they are in the office, but these are not seats assigned to a particular person.  Mobile workers, with the right technology, can come and go to the office as they need to and get work done where it is most efficiently accomplished.

Video and tele-conferencing technology in particular has really boosted workers' ability to work remotely and across continents.  Truth be told, we could all just sit at home in our bunny slippers and pound the keyboard all day, saving commute time, costs and our carbon footprint at the same time.

This all begs the question:  Why come into work at all?

Some people say mentorship, others say hobnobbing with their bosses, could be fortuitous or unpredictable encounters with colleagues or maybe just camaraderie is what brings them together.  Of course there are also many people who live in tiny apartments or with their parents or with noisy pets... all reasons to want to get to an office to be productive.  But I think one element is always missing from the discussion of being in one place together and that is the importance of building TRUST.  I work in a global company, and with people all over the planet.  Nothing beats being in the same room with someone and working with them elbow to elbow to really build a long-lasting working relationship.  This is absolutely essential for business.  It's hard, I would argue, and almost impossible to build trust virtually.  Especially in working groups involving different cultures.

So as much as I love all of the strides we are making to reduce our office space to meet the needs of our mobile workforce - hey, it's one of the greenest ways to save energy, water and waste by far - I worry about our need to be face to face and to build trust, which is the glue that connects us together when other factors may not.  The value of trust is not something we often quantify, but case in point, there aren't a lot of virtual marriages out there.  We need to lock eyeballs and work through issues in person to really work through problems and maintain relationships.  And in the future, we're going to have some pretty wicked global environmental and economic problems - trust in each other will be the foundation to any solution.

Maybe one answer to saving real estate at the office and building trust at the same time,  is committing to being together with our colleagues on a regular basis, but not necessarily always meeting at the same place.  That way, we're aligned and ready when tough work needs to be done, not spending time questioning each other's judgement or motivations.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New York's Low Line Park

For those of you who haven't visited New York's HighLine park, an abandoned elevated train track turned natural park, it's worth the walk. It's no nice in fact, that on nice sunny days on a weekend it's super crowded, so I recommend picking a less popular time.

And for those of you looking for the next park to visit, check out early planning for New York's LowLine park, an abandoned trolley stop under Delancey Street on the Lower East Side, planned to be an "underground" park complete with retail and landscaping (that I assume prefer low light). The trolley station has been abandoned since 1948, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns the lot. Hopeful for much needed additional revenue, the MTA wants to open it to commercial development. The space is adjacent to an active subway station and next door to an above ground lot slated for development.

The Delancey Underground is hoping for matching donations to not only revitalize the neighborhood, but also create something transformative and green. From the Delancey Underground website:

... the Delancey Underground is more than an economic revitalization opportunity– it also represents cutting edge design and a new generation of green technology. It is at the heart of a broader global discussion about the potential of remnant urban infrastructure, and the need for cities to re-invent the meaning of space– above and below ground. The project also envisions a fresh approach to solar technology– using innovative fiber optics to reflect light underground, saving electricity and reducing carbon emissions, and generating the capacity for plants, trees, and grasses to thrive indoors.

Pictures c/o the Delancey Underground site.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Puma Goes Green

Maybe I don't shop a lot, but I was out looking for some cute, casual shoes to wear to work on those days that I don't have a ton of meetings or other need to be fancy and I found something new! My goal was simply to find something cute and professional that will go with "fancy" clothes and jeans alike; something that will help me with my mile plus walk from the Metro to work. I ran across an awesome pair of Pumas: They are awesome not just because they are cute and comfy, but because they have an innovative new (at least new to me) type of shoebox: it's a basic cardboard container with a cute little cloth bag around it. Take the shoes out, fold up the cardboard for recycling, and you now have a carry bag for your shoes - great for people who need to throw them in a bag, but don't want your shoes to touch anything else. Or you could use the bag for lunch, or whatever. Pretty cool!

If you don't have this as an option, remember to recycle or reuse your old shoeboxes - I take all of mine to the local animal shelter for use in transporting small animals to rehabilitators.

For other green fashion articles check some of our archived posts I'd almost forgotten!

Note: sadly they did not have the Pumas in my size, so I shall have to wait to shop another day!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Is Green Going Grey?

Someone asked me recently if the green movement was losing its momentum. Well, according to Google Trends, words like "sustainability," "green design," "green buildings" and "LEED" are not being searched for as often these days. In fact, it looks like the peak search year for these topics was around 2008/2009. Since then, these words are still being "Googled" but not as often. (Google Trends searches new media, blogs and general search terms. It's a pretty good indicator of general interest.)

And it's true that many companies have had to put their big green initiatives on hold given the slowdown in the economy - that new solar array on the roof, buying a fleet of hybrid cars or installing a new building monitoring system - it's just not happening this year. But that doesn't mean companies haven't forgotten about the principals of being sustainable or their impact on the environment. If anything, companies are moving past the "green bling" and starting to internalize what it really means to be sustainable as a business - which often overlaps with what it really means to be sustainable in the environmental sense. Doing more with less. Considering the real cost of global growth. Being considerate of the social and environmental risks along with financial ones.

Much of the recent green movement, in my view, has been a lot of fun - I'm the first to flock to those new green gadgets - but buying green stuff is not really the right mindset if we're serious about this whole sustainability thing. I think, in this time of economic duress, we're having to be better stewards of resources, which is, in turn switching on little LED light bulbs in our heads. Because we don't have a lot of extra cash lying around, we're more thoughtful with our choices, we're thinking about getting more bang for the buck and stretching our dollars just a wee bit more. That is the mindset that makes us better stewards of our business assets, but also of our selves, our families, our communities and the Planet.

And yes, green may be going a bit grey, but I like to think it is from maturity, not from a lack of interest.

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