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Wed 16 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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Trends 2008

The office environment need not only be modern and cost-efficient; it should also focus on the ever-important and vital element - its employees.

In 2005, the global office and supplies market reached US$139.4bn; a remarkable increase of 2.8% over the previous year. Paper-based products were the leading revenue generators for the global office service and supplies market that was valued at an estimated US$58.4bn. By 2010, the global market is estimated to reach a value of US$162.4bn, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1% for the 2005-2010 period.

The global office and supplies market has more than 40,000 products from office furniture and storage solutions to stationery and meeting supplies. The challenge facing office managers today isn't ‘what not to buy' but how to create an office work environment that is conducive to productivity and profitability.

Travails of the office manager

In most small to medium businesses (SMBs) the office manager has the last say in purchase decisions. With numerous suppliers clamouring for business, it is an arduous task for any office manager to ensure that purchase decisions are cost effective, up-to-date and in compliance with all Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.

Employees across the globe from SMBs to global corporations have one thing in common: they all spend most of their time sitting in an office chair.

Purchasing office supplies can be a no-win situation for the companies and the employees. In large organisations there are fixed guidelines and specifications for all office supply purchases, which often tend to ignore the unique needs of employees and the vast technological improvements being made in the field of furniture design in the name of cost-efficiency. Needless to say, such policies ought to reflect a small element of employee requirements as well as cost-efficiency, when decisions on furniture purchases are being made.

The key principle when purchasing office supplies is to set ground rules.

• Cost In most instances the boss or owner of a business will have the final say in the purchase decision. Usually the final say tends to favour the cost-effective option. Although the decision may be good for the bottom line in the short-term, the long-term effects may see adverse effects on employee health and balance sheet health.

• Adaptability Although it is important to ensure that office supplies purchased fit the assigned budget, a good office manager will ensure that office supplies improve productivity. As most office supplies will be used by employees on a daily basis, it is necessary that the majority of employees are happy with the office supplies.

• Suppliers With budgetary constraints and employee morale as yardsticks, it is prudent to approach a minimum of three suppliers to ensure that not only is the best deal struck but that office supplies procured also meet the key objectives. Most suppliers are open to the idea of a trial period, if they can be assured a long-term contract.

To ensure the quality and adaptability of office supplies, it is advisable to test a few items by allowing a select group of employees to use the products for a short period of time. Later, an assessment of the supplies may be provided.

• Supplies on demand An office manager should ensure adequate back-up supplies of frequently requested items so that employees are not required to wait due to lack of stock.

Critical items should be available so that office productivity is not compromised.

• Vigilance Employees, consciously or unconsciously, use office supplies for personal use.

A vigilant office manager can track employee usage of office supplies and report any misappropriation of office supplies and save businesses thousands of dirhams. Employees across the globe from SMBs to global corporations have one thing in common: they all spend most of their time sitting in an office chair. That works out to an average of six hours a day; 30 hours a week; 120 hours a month and 1440 hours a year. For an organisation, that is effectively 1440 productive hours of work per employee.

In the mid 1980s Robert L Crandall, head of American Airlines, decided to remove one olive from every dinner salad served to passengers, saving the Airline US$40,000 per year.

When Canon USA opened an office in Hawaii, the estimated cost for new chairs, desks and other office furniture was valued at US$70,000. Canon USA chose to ship excess furniture from its Jamesburg, New Jersey office, which cost the company only US$17,000. By eliminating their plant-watering services, Xerox saved US$200,000 a year. Employees initiated an ‘adopt a plant' programme to keep the plants properly hydrated.

When the number of employees is multiplied by the number of hours, the final figure is astronomical.

According to a recent study, every day six people in UK leave their jobs due to an Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). When averaged across SMBs, the final statistic is quite sobering. A study carried out by the BBC further stated that 15 to 25% of computer users throughout the world may have some form of Repetitive Strain Injury.

The reduction of just one employee's productivity can affect the overall productivity and profitability of a business. This effect is very pronounced in small and medium businesses (SMBs) where employees have to multi-task and the loss of one employee creates a strain across the entire company.

This begs the question; are businesses equipping their employees with the best possible tools to ensure that every hour is productive and profitable? Shouldn't businesses focus on long-term gains and provide employees with cost-effective ergonomic office furniture?

Ergonomic working environment

Call it ‘Work-Related Upper Limb Disorder,' ‘Occupational Overused Syndrome,' ‘Cumulative Trauma Disorder,' ‘Computer Related Injury,' or even ‘Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)' the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that over 700,000 people suffer from some form of RSI every year.

The long hours of sitting incorrectly in front of a computer in an unergonomic chair has resulted in a sharp increase in neck and back pain among desk-bound employees the world over. Ergonomic chairs are designed to prevent desk workers from developing RSI. The key features of an ergonomic chair include an adjustable back seat, armrests and the ability to swivel. The clear benefit of these features is the alignment and support provided to the neck, back, arms and legs.

Some businesses have realised that employees spend most of their lives at work and have initiated programmes that ensure their workplace is ergonomic. The latest trend in office architecture is aimed at encouraging employees to enjoy their workplace. At Carnegie Mellon University an eight-year-old experiment called the ‘Intelligent workplace' is in full effect.

Employee workstations are positioned to ensure a ‘right to daylight' - each desk is within 25 yards of natural light and ceiling panels reflect daylight to the work areas. The productivity studies indicate that this access to daylight improves employee productivity by an average of 15%.

For most desk-bound employees the computer is the heart of the office. Traditional offices feature fixed work stations with flat table tops for the screen, keyboard and mouse. But the office of tomorrow requires more than just a single ergonomic computer chair to seat your staff or comfortable armchairs to seat your clients. Whether you need dozens of shelves or a single bookcase to keep paperwork and files safe, technology has evolved and so must the global office.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) - Quick facts/causes: poor body mechanics, poor work habits, inappropriate workstation setup. Symptoms: pain and discomfort, unusual sensations like tingling, burning and numbness, muscle weakness, loss of grip strength.

What to do: practice good work habits, take rest breaks, practice good body mechanics, exercise at work - stretch!

Tips for saving money on office furniturePlan carefully purchasing office furniture should not be an afterthought but an integral part of your business plan.

The productivity of your employees depends on your ability to procure cost-effective yet easily adaptable furniture. Also do weigh your options of leasing furniture to save on capital costs.

Compare hiring the ideal employee requires sifting through numerous other options that do not fulfil all the criteria. Purchasing office furniture that is an asset to your overall productivity requires similar research and careful consideration.

Ask questions when visiting an office that has furniture you think is ideal for your office, ask the office manager for the contact of the furniture company. Better yet, ask him to put in a good word; you might even get a preferred rate as you are a referral customer.

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