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Can I Borrow You For A Second? Annoying Phrases And Environs

Plants and light help the office environment
14 March 2018

Graham Bird discusses the negatives of lighting, temperature and noise levels - and we discover what the most annoying office phrases are.

Graham Bird writes: When it comes to sharing a workspace we all have our bugbears. For some, it's the conference room occupied by only two people having a one-to-one meeting, for others, it’s the smelly lunches consumed at desks.

The most commonly cited complaints of those sharing a workspace, are of course lighting, noise and temperature. So, what is the real impact of low satisfaction in these areas, and what can we do to improve our working environments in relation to them?


Let there be light

Recent research found that the provision of ‘good’ lighting, both natural and artificial, can assist in minimising fatigue and increase worker productivity.  The study found that people who had natural light shining on their work stations were ‘significantly more alert’ at the beginning of the evening, whereas the sunlight deprived were ‘significantly sleepier’.

So how can we provide better light in our offices and mitigate these effects?

Firstly, take advantage of natural light wherever you can and set up your office furniture accordingly. Many office designs have meeting rooms around the outside of the building, but they block the natural light from reaching the main office floor where workers are spending most of their day. Glass partitions instead of walls also allow the natural light to permeate the office.

For those working in an office with fluorescent overhead lights, adding ambient lighting may help to reduce any discomfort experienced working under fluorescent lighting. You may also want to consider adding task lighting to employee desks, some of which come in the form of LED task lights made to emulate natural light.


The heat is on

Achieving the right temperature is an age-old problem, one that also comes with some serious financial implications. Shockingly, 2% of office hours in the UK are wasted by battles over the thermostat, which costs the economy more than £13bn each year. However, the benefits of getting it right are vast, as research shows that warm environments are better for creative thinking, while cooler workplaces help keep people more alert when carrying out more repetitive tasks.

However, it is important not to let the temperature drop too much. A Cornell study found that when temperatures were as low as 20°C, employees made 44% more mistakes than when the temperature was 25°C.

You can experiment and survey staff to find the optimal temperature. Also, consider seating planning and identify the warmest – coolest seats, offering the warmest people the coolest places (near windows, ventilation, doors and air con vents)- or be more relaxed about your dress codes to enable staff to dress according to temperature comfort.


Sound Advice

It is estimated that the impact on productivity due to excessive noise (in Europe), costs businesses around £30 billion. One study looking into this area found that workers can be up to 66% less productive when exposed to just one nearby conversation.

According to The Sound Agency, these background conversations have the potential to distract us entirely. Humans have the bandwidth to cope with roughly 1.6 conversations, so if you're in an open plan office overhearing two or three conversations then you're going to be distracted.

To combat distraction, try providing small pods for staff to dive into if they need. These can be as simple as four walls with one seat and a desk. Place noisy, more collaborative teams away from quiet ones and consider staff personalities when making seating plans.

Provide 'quiet zones' for solo, contemplative work, and ban phones and conversations in this area. Also consider desk density when planning the layout of your office – high density environments generate more noise. Also add large office plants and trees as sound absorbers.

In summary, every worker is different and you can’t please all of the people all of the time. However, by making a few changes to your working environment, you can greatly reduce some of the negative impacts these elements will have on productivity.

Graham Bird, the Director of workplace consultancy, Where We Work.


Cut It Out - The Most Annoying Office Phrases

Kit Out My Office, an online retailer of office furniture, have compiled a list of the most annoying office phrases that it believes should be stamped out going forward.

The current most irritating office phrases are:

Think outside the box

Hit the ground running

Do more with less

Can I borrow you for a second?



2017’s most annoying office phrases were:

Think outside the box

It’s not rocket science


Going forward

Can I borrow you for a second?

To produce the list, Kit Out My Office asked 2,519 office workers across the UK to vote for terms and office jargon they hate the most.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lays 'it is what it is', which is the least annoying phrase used, with nobody stating that it was irritating or overused. Strangely Best-practice, No brainer, Cool beans and Move the goalposts did not offend many either.


Bigging it up

Office jargon is often used as a tool to make a task or job seem bigger or better than it actually is, believes Gareth Jones, the person responsible for the survey at Kit Out My Office. He said: “The modern working life is fast paced, and as such we strive to deliver information in a clear and concise manner. The downside of this is it is a breeding ground for jargon.

“We honestly hoped to see a little more variety versus last year, as we hoped people would start cutting out annoying office phrases. However, they’re still being used widely, which provides us with a reason for continuing to undertake the survey.”


Low morale

Dr Julia Claxton, Principal Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Development at Leeds Beckett University added her opinion: “Hurt feelings, unclear goals and ambiguous strategies are just a few examples of issues that can arise and contribute to low morale and are the basis of an ineffective team that can be easily avoided.”

Picture: Plants and light help the office environment and give employees a place to hide from colleagues spouting buzzwords


Article written by Cathryn Ellis | Published 14 March 2018


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