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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring and Bart Jackson was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Escape from the Cube Mentality
Children are sent to play and study in two different
rooms. Both rooms are identical in size and furnishings. In the red
room, the children are more agitated, aware, and alive. They’re even
hungrier. In the room painted green, they doze more frequently and
are more listless. By itself, an interesting study. But in this case,
all the children are blind. Colors work in mysterious ways.
Productivity counts. No one doubts it. When it comes to getting the
latest tool or software to help their staff make better use of their
time, most employers willingly cut the check. But ask the average
employer to invest one dime in enhancing work environment for the
sake of productivity, and the purse snaps shut. Such considerations
often are dismissed as silly and unscientific.
Workplace productivity is the focus of "Learning and Performance:
An Inside View of the Latest Trends and Topics," on Thursday,
June 19, at 5 p.m. at Summerfield Suites, 4375 Route 1 South. Cost:
$40. Register at 609-279-4818. Sponsored by the Mid-New Jersey chapter
of the American Society for Training and Development (www.ASTD.com,)
the event features two speakers.
for Achieve Global, brings back the news from the ASTD International
Conference and Expo, discussing the shift in hot buzz topics from
E-learning to measurements of performance outcome.
founder of Creative Concepts Unlimited, presents methods of improving
showroom and work areas.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, the office walls came tumbling down and
the cube farm was born. Everyone hated it as much then as they do
now. "But there actually was a psychological theory behind placing
workers in these waist-high cubicles," says Schwartz. "Planners
sought to give employees the feeling that they were one of the team
and that everybody was working for the good of the group. The cube
fails miserably on two counts. First, spiritually, Americans do not
enjoy envisioning themselves as one of the masses; for some odd reason
they prefer to think of themselves as individuals. Secondly, cube
farms are so noisy that you cannot hear yourself talk, let along think.
So workers don’t think.
Correcting cubes and design flaws in everything from factory floors
to display showrooms has been Schwartz’s calling for the past two
decades. Born in Manhattan, she grew up in the Adirondacks, where
she became addicted to ideal environments. After majoring in international
business at New York University and marketing at Fashion Institute
of Technology, she designed home furnishings for J.C. Penney and other
companies. Finally, after years of merchandising and witnessing the
subtle, if not surprising, effects of ergonomics, Feng Shui, color
therapy, and environmental factors, Schwartz decided to expand her
services. In l983, she founded Monmouth Junction-based Creative Concepts
Unlimited on 119 Sandhill Road, a consulting business centered on
creating more efficient workspaces.
There is nothing mystical about arranging a showroom or work area,
insists Schwartz. It is a matter of acknowledging certain scientific
facts and opting to work with them, rather than defy them.
circulates bodies of water — and of homo sapiens — to the
right. Museum curators know this, and typically arrange extended exhibits
to lead patrons in that direction. Thus in the ideal display room,
goods are placed in a clockwise circle, leading the customer around,
ending with the most expensive auto or dress. The wise salesperson
leads his customer in a flowing, clockwise circle, rather than jerking
him from item to item or standing between client and the product.
for creating group work spaces: individual desks grouped in a large
open area; low-height cubicles; and offices with floor-to-ceiling
separations. The low-height cubicles, despite their overwhelming popularity,
engender low self esteem — and higher levels of noise than an
Additionally, Schwartz points out, they create more subtle, but no
less real, problems for the worker. People have more nerve endings
along their spines than anywhere else. Remember that rush of blood
when somebody last sneaked up on you from behind? Frequently, cubicles
place an employee’s back to an open door. He feels distracted and
threatened all day. And the co-worker coming to call is greeted by
the seemingly inattentive backside of the person he came to see.
So why not place the door opening to the worker’s side? This creates
another interesting problem, Schwartz notes. The movement of passersby
catches the ever-alert eye of the hunting-gathering homo sapiens and
draws it away from the inert letters on his screen or paper. "But
worst of all," says Schwartz, "the cubicles are so small and
so pre-fixed that the individual has no control over the arrangement
of his work area." He must contort himself rather than adjust
to be here to stay, at least until designers try to blend humanity
and profit into their floor plans. But there are some simple solutions.
The woes of an exposed employee backside can be ameliorated by placing
mirrors judiciously in front of him. Small, but well aimed, these
rear view reflectors afford the individual casual and constant chances
to check the doorway.
Lighting can enhance focus and provide some personal choice in work
area. The key here is to combat all the oscillating light of the computer
screen and the oscillating light of the fluorescent lights overhead.
"Your screen puts out alternating electric current which fluctuates
6,000 times per second," says Schwartz. "Our bodies operate
on direct current. This alternating current causes incredible tension
and mineral depletion. When the United Nations installed devices to
counter this, health improved dramatically." She feels the best
lighting is pure daylight and should be brought into the work area
by whatever means.
to encourage filling an office with a whole lot of unconnected trinkets,"
says Schwartz. "But you do need some reminders of why you are
there." Remember how gravity draws us northerners from the left
to the right? Schwartz suggests we arrange our offices along this
line. Begin with yourself. Place the picture that best depicts your
essence to your left. Then moving right, go beyond yourself. Put out
photos of your family, your friends, your projects, and your avocations.
Further right, place your awards and achievements. This arrangement
leads from you from yourself to your purpose.
Oh, how many rubber trolls do you really need to represent your essence?
Schwartz suggests live (not fake) plants instead.
The above ideas are being adopted by a number of businesses. They
find workplace enhancement productive, logical, and even scientific.
However, Schwartz has to be careful not to tell many of these leaders
that they are adopting the Oriental methods of Feng Shui or that they
are using color, aroma, or plant therapy. She wouldn’t want them to
think that they are getting soft or silly. Best that they just adopt
these ideas one at a time, and see absenteeism go down and profits
go up. Never mind where the solutions came from.
— Bart Jackson
Remember Elisha Gray, William Gray, Joseph Henry, Johann
Reis, Michael Faraday, or Russian inventor Patrov? Unless you are
a collector of arcane industrial trivia, you will not recall that
these gentlemen, who, along with one other, all invented a working
telephone, and did so at about the same time. However, you may be
familiar with that one other fellow who targeted Queen Victoria and
got her to wire Buckingham Palace with his invention for all the world
to envy. Today, everybody knows good old Alexander Bell and the multi-billion
dollar company built on his invention. He advertised as precisely
as he invented.
Those seeking to avoid the dust bin of arcane industrial trivia may
want to glean some tips from
and Profit Building Workshop," on Wednesday, June 25, at 6 p.m.
at the Hyatt Hotel in New Brunswick. Call 732-828-4300. Affiliated
with Action International, business coach Levine handles sales, marketing,
advertising, and financial needs for scores of clients from his Highland
Park offices. An admitted generalist, Levine explains that his seminar
covers a wide spectrum of business aspects depending on audience,
and is aimed at benefiting both business owners and executives.
Levine says he is a consultant who comes to his clients offering neither
pre-designed umbrellas, nor flood insurance, but merely the question,
"Where is it raining?" Born in Manhattan, he earned a bachelor’s
degree in banking and finance and an M.B.A. in marketing and finance
M.B.A. from New York University. After five years as a financial analyst
for Dun & Bradstreet, Levine shifted to marketing strategies. He spent
the next 25 years working for Young & Rubicam and other advertising
and marketing firms. He is now one of 500 business coaches affiliated
with Australia-based Action International (www.Action-International.com).
As Alexander Graham Bell’s competitors proved, building a better anything
does not ensure a beaten path to your door. And for Levine, sheer
quantitative advertising holds no more likely a solution. Before owners
rush to action, he asks them to ask some very basic business questions
about their companies.
country went broke, says Levine, because they answered this first,
most important question wrong. They thought of themselves as being
in the railroad business, and fell down under competition from long-range
trucking and air freight. If they had answered that they were in the
transportation business, their companies might have enjoyed quite
"UPS is a great leveler," says Levine. Somewhere around the
globe someone else can probably replicate your field fairly closely.
Thus, each firm has to establish what is called a unique selling proposition.
From there an exact target audience can be set up for your advertisements.
envision advertising as a write off," says Levine. They plunk
down their money for the business sign, the fliers, the radio and
TV spots, and just glumly figure that’s what it costs to get the word
out. Levine tries to convince clients to see advertising as a specific,
limited investment, netting a definite return. This requires more
than a change in attitude. It entails a precise method of ad investing.
Business owners who invest $500 to get their coupon in the Clipper
magazine must establish an exact method of knowing how many customers
— both first-time customers and repeat customers — this $500
has brought to their door and how much they spent. Was it worth the
Phone transactions should involve pre-training and scripting to elicit
measurement of ad effectiveness. Levine offers one caveat here: customers
are notoriously inaccurate in telling you how they heard of your product.
Web tracking, coupons with marked numbers, and radio ads where the
customer mentions a set phrase all provide exact information. But
don’t place too much faith in a verbal reference.
that in the end most men hit what they aim at. After you have defined
your unique selling proposition, are the folks on your list really
worth your time and money? Defining ad list quality can be a tedious
job, but it plugs several holes in your ad budget.
the big players can have access to a full board of experts. It’s all
right for John Paul Getty to boast of how he surrounded himself with
men smarter than himself, but how can the small business person afford
a brain trust? Levine insists that you do not have to purchase all
your expertise. There is no reason why even a small business should
not have a board including expert legal, finance, production, and
that’s what those who run and coach businesses must be. On a successful
ship, the captain may make or delegate all the decisions, but input
comes from every crew member.
— Bart Jackson
The National Association of Industrial and Office Properties
(NJ-NAIOP) hosts its second annual Mid-Year Economic Roundup on Wednesday,
June 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Cost:
$120. Call 201-998-1421 or visit www.njnaiop.org.
& Policy at Rutgers, moderates a panel discussion. Speakers for the
who focuses on the perspective of the owner and landlord.
Bowser, managing director of mortgage and real estate investments
of Teachers Insurance & Equity Association, College Retirement Equities
Fund, discusses the state of the capital markets.
executive vice president of Cushman & Wakefield of New Jersey gives
an overview of current investment trends.
Among the issues on the table are the trend in capital flows to core
and opportunistic assets; prospects for the near and long term; and
the performance of the various real estate sectors. Panelists also
discuss the factors accounting for New Jersey’s expanding industrial
market; the challenges facing the office and industrial market; the
market’s response to the existing and future challenges; and the impact
of the war in Iraq on the market.
Public relations is a challenge in any environment.
Throw in covert drug enforcement, war, and nation building, and the
job of projecting a positive image, while at the same time protecting
sensitive information, becomes a verbal minefield. It is
Jeffrey Douglass’s job to traverse that minefield on behalf of
his employer, the United States Marine Corps.
Douglass gives the keynote address at the NJ CAMA Annual Conference
on Thursday, June 26, at 8:30 a.m. at the Sarnoff Corporation. Other
speakers at the day-long event include
of Pushpin Studios;
Indigo Division. Cost: $95. Call 609-799-4900.
Douglass, a 1975 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, has been
with the Marine Corps — on and off — for 28 years. He has
also worked on Wall Street as an E.F. Hutton financial advisor, helped
to pilot the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry through the Clinton
healthcare reform years, and served as vice president of marketing
for two corporations.
His first stint with the Marines came right after he graduated from
college, shortly after the war in Vietnam ended. He went off active
duty in 1979, but remained a reservist. He explains that Marine Corps
reservists can return to active duty, sometimes for short periods
of time. With healthcare reform on the back burner, and pharmaceutical
companies breathing easier, he found himself between jobs in the mid-1990s
and called up the Marines, asking for 30 days of active duty. He planned
to use the time, in part, to ponder his next move, but the Corps asked
him to stay on in its public affairs division, and he decided to do
Marine recruiting ads pitch adventure, and Douglass has had his share
during the past 10 years. He was stationed in Bosnia when that country
was rebuilding after war and in tiny Caribbean islands from which
the United States is seeking to stop the flow of illegal drugs. Everywhere
he goes, it is his job to feed information to the press without jeopardizing
his organization’s mission or people. While the situations he deals
with are not those typically faced by corporations and small businesses,
his tips for dealing with the press and for getting publicity for
projects apply to any businesses.
a television crew from ABC in Atlanta on a tour of marijuana fields
on a Caribbean island when a surveillance crew’s helicopter crashed.
He told the news crew about the crash, and told the reporters that
he would take them to the site, but asked them not to speak to the
crew, none of whom were injured.
There is always an investigation of such crashes, and Douglass says
that unguarded statements by a crew member could end his career. He
recounts saying to the press, "I’ll make you a deal. "I’ll
take you to have a look, if you’ll give me time." He promised pictures
right away and full information soon; the reporters were satisfied.
In another instance, Douglass took reporters into remote hills to
watch U.S. Drug Enforcement Agents (DEA) at work. He asked them not
to show any faces in the photos they took, because doing so could
put the agents’ lives at risk. The reporters complied with no protest.
Douglass says he has never seen a single example of a reporter who
was unwilling to go along with a such a request.
the helicopter crash, Douglass was dealing with a reporter who was
a friend. The two had entertained one another and shared meals. Such
relationships help to ensure cooperation when sensitive situations
an oil spill or an uprising at an overseas facility is often a youngster
fresh out of college, Douglass observes. This is not all bad. "They’re
the people who have all the energy," he says with a laugh. But
often the spokesman is both young and unprepared, a state of affairs
that can be deadly for him, as well as for the reputation of the company
he is representing. "There could be a hostile press, cholera,
snakes, terrorists, filthy water," says Douglass, detailing a
sample of the possible dangers.
Before dispatching an associate assistant to the junior vice president
of communications to the jungle, do research. "Seek as many information
resources as possible," advises Douglass. "The Department
of State and the embassy staff know the safe roads," he says.
"They know where to find drinkable water." Most countries
want American businesses operating on their land to do well, and will
The Associated Press (AP) and similar global news organizations can
be helpful, too. Question to ask include what kind of cell phones
get the best signals, what power current is available, what kind of
public transportation is available, and whether there are places to
news, says Douglass, it is not unusual for a spokesperson to alight
from a cab, possibly covered with mud, and almost definitely exhausted,
only to have microphones and cameras shoved in his face. His advice
is to calmly announce the need for a brief period of time to prepare
to speak with press. Find a hotel room, grab a shower, and maybe a
cat nap, and then give a statement and take questions.
with the press is to be candid. Let reporters know that they will
get all the information the organization is free to release, but that
some parts of the story may have to be kept back, at least for a while.
partnership. "The more you communicate," he says, "the
better the relationship."
Worker exposure to SARS and other infectious diseases
continues to present dilemmas for employers. On that subject,
Sarno, executive director of the Employers Association of New Jersey,
had some advice for association members in the May Newsletter (609-393-7100,
www.eanj.org). Sarno’s instruction on the legal implications
of illness could apply to any communicable disease:
"There is no definite answer on what steps employers should take
when an employee returns from one of the areas that have been identified
by the CDC. If an employee admits to being exposed to SARS or exhibits
symptoms, then the employer would have a reasonable belief based on
`objective evidence’ that the employee will pose a direct threat due
to a medical condition. Under this circumstance, the employer would
be `reasonable’ in requiring the employee to stay home for 7 to 10
days, which is considered by medical experts to be the incubation
period for SARS.
"The more difficult situation is when the employee has not `knowingly’
been exposed to SARS, nor does the employee have any identifiable
symptoms. Under these circumstances, requiring employees to stay home
may be `unreasonable’ and a violation of employees’ rights under various
laws. If an employer decides to require an employee to stay out, in
order to reduce some of the liability, it would be a good course of
action to make this a paid leave. In this way, the employee would
have less to complain about and would have no monetary damages.
"Perhaps a more modest cautionary measure would be to require
the returning employee to obtain medical clearance before starting
work, but even then, the employer must have a reasonable belief that
an employee `may cause a direct threat.’ In similar situations, a
`reasonable belief’ may be based on observations of the individual
or on some reliable knowledge that an employee has a communicable
disease. Whether an employer can draw a reasonable belief from the
CDC’s travel alert is unclear.
"Finally, if an employer is truly concerned about the possibility
of the spread of SARS, they should institute a written policy on communicable
diseases, which would include the obligation on the part of the employee
to report their exposure to such diseases, and that they should stay
home during the period of incubation and illness, and whether this
period will be paid or unpaid."
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