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Is your workplace a secure data zone?

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The arrival of the General Data Protection Legislation (GDPR) in May is causing many businesses to carefully review the way they handle sensitive data. The new legislation concerns the handling of all personal information, and every business, regardless of size, will be affected and must make sure they are compliant in order to avoid punitive fines. This involves the whole workplace and while many organisations will be focussing on the handling of electronic data, the security risk posed by hard copy documents must not be forgotten.

The new legislation forms part of a Europe-wide push to harmonise data protection and security across member states, allowing individuals greater control over how their personal data is used and who it is shared with.

For businesses, particularly those which handle confidential customer data, the arrival of the GDPR heralds a period of greater scrutiny over data handling practices than ever seen before and acting now, well before the introduction in May is essential.

This is not just an issue for big business where there may be dedicated in-house legal departments. Businesses of all sizes can and should be undertaking an audit of the personal data they hold and how they manage it. This should include a review of the type of data processed – including any personally identifiable data – and ensuring that adequate systems and processes are in place to safeguard it sufficiently.

The levels of security which need to be in place depends entirely on the type of information being stored and the risk element attached to it. For instance, a breach of credit card and bank account details would be regarded as particularly serious by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Many business process credit card information from their customers, and most businesses will manage their employee’s bank account details for salary payment purposes.

Notification forms a key part of the new legislation and the onus will now be placed on individual businesses to proactively report breaches to the regulator. Failure to do so could result in a penalty, which would only increase in severity if the organisation’s processes are found to be non-compliant.

The penalties which can be imposed on organisations which suffer a data breach and are found to be non-compliant are one of the more significant areas of change under the new GDPR. Companies can be fined up to four percent of global turnover, or €20 million, whichever is highest and must also bear the burden of significant reputational damage.

Whilst it’s perhaps easy to be blinded by news of significant fines and urgent demands for change, businesses should take a step back and realise that the road to compliance is not so long, nor are the steps needed to achieve it too arduous.

The first port of call for any information relating to the GDPR and compliance in the UK should be the Information Commissioner’s Office website, which provides comprehensive guides to all aspects of the legislation, as well as insights into how it will affect different sectors.

Turning to the workplace itself, assigning a small group of employees responsibility for checking current internal processes and managing compliance to the legislation is a good idea. This assessment should take all departments into account. Starting to think of what personal data you collect as a business is important, it will often fall into categories of employee data, customer data and third party data. Next think about the lifecycle of this data. From first collection to storing, managing and processing to ultimate destruction of the data. It is then manageable to ensure that all handling procedures are compliant and secure.

Although much has been written recently about managing electronic data in the run up to the GDPR, it mustn’t be overlooked that many businesses still use hard copy documents; either out of habit or necessity. Consequently, document security is often identified as a risk area for many businesses.

Many day-to-day office tasks could be identified as risk areas including printing and filing. Outdated systems, which send files straight to print, open up the possibility for unauthorised personnel to view documents which may contain sensitive personal data, posing a security risk. Instead, businesses should look into implementing a more comprehensive managed print network, giving users greater control over when and by whom documents are printed.

Managed print services also operate on a cloud basis, which offers greater security than more traditional hard-drive based systems. For anyone looking to hack print data, removing the in-built hard drive on the device is a relatively simple task and the data held within could lead to a security breach if taken into the wrong hands. However, even with cloud-based solutions, security is still paramount and even with the best intentions in mind, a well-thought out system can fall down due to an unsecured network or lax security and access protocols.

With many workplaces operating a ‘clean desk’ policy, whether for compliance reasons or simply as a course of good habit, employees are beginning to think more carefully about leaving sensitive data around the office. A key pillar of the GDPR will involve being able to demonstrate that documents and records are held and stored in a secure manner. Options for tackling this include lockable filing cabinets and archive boxes, as well as offsite secure document storage.

If documents must be destroyed, it is essential for businesses to ensure that shredders meet the latest security recommendations. It is a common misconception that pieces of equipment in this area are created equal. Many ribbon-cut machines in fact pose a degree of security risk and it is still possible to reconstruct documents after their ‘destruction’. Instead, opting to use cross-cut shredders will drastically reduce the risk of any confidential documents falling into the wrong hands.

As the GDPR looms, businesses must start preparing, especially as the consequences for failing to do so could be severe. Handling personal information around the workplace must be approached in a new light and thought must be given to what the data is, who it concerns and how it is being used.

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Office Depot receives top industry accreditation

Office Depot’s work in the area of cleaning and hygiene has been recognised with a prestigious accreditation from a leading industry body.

The Cleaning and Hygiene Suppliers Association (CHSA) represents major manufacturers and distributors in the cleaning and hygiene sectors and has included Office Depot in its newly-launched Accredited Distributor’s Scheme.

The scheme, governed by a panel of representatives and overseen by the Association’s council, was launched on 1 January 2017 and currently features 71 accredited members.

To be eligible for inclusion, Office Depot has undergone a number of thorough and precise audits. These ensure that the company only stocks and sells products either accredited by the CHSA, or which officially meet the high standards set by its Manufacturing Standards Accreditation Scheme.

Office Depot has continually proven itself to be a well-established presence in the cleaning and hygiene industry, maintaining a frequently high standard in its business conduct. A minimum of two successful audits will be required every year going forward, ensuring that customers can remain confident in the quality of goods from Office Depot, as well as its warrant for accreditation.

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Streamline your supply chain for 2018

As we head rapidly towards the New Year, many businesses will be preparing to take stock of the previous year’s supply chain activities. With this period of evaluation also comes the opportunity for improvement; for costs to be reduced, processes to be optimised and overall productivity to be increased.

In competitive markets, the sustainability and efficiency of an organisation’s supply chain can not only determine its profit margins, but can also have a significant impact on brand perception. Supply chain capabilities are developing year on year and keeping up to date with these improvements to transparency and efficiency is vital. Now is the time for businesses to ensure procurement processes are up to date and optimised, in preparation for any and all eventualities.

Some of the most fundamental advancements in this field over recent years have been technological. As with so many aspects of the modern business world, your supply chain should be taking advantage of all available opportunities to make it fully connective.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software can be an invaluable aid, enabling real-time assessments of future business performance, which aid the management of procurement activities. However, a limitation of this technology is that it cannot take human factors affecting consumer demand into account. Buying behaviours, seasonal promotions and stock clearance all throw a spanner into the works and it is important that they are not entirely relied upon for supply chain forecasts.

One of the key challenges faced by business owners in past years has been the issue of supply chain visibility. In the event that products went missing or became delayed over the course of their journey, it would be incredibly difficult to determine exactly what had happened and where. However, the recent development of ‘track and trace’ technology has changed the game.

‘Track and trace’ solutions can provide businesses with purchase order numbers, container numbers and item counts, weight, status, delivery date and more. This means that every stage of the process is monitored and with the ability to integrate all of this into a business’ accounting systems, inventories can be kept up to date at all stages of a delivery.

Take-up of these solutions has increased rapidly in recent years. A wave of new software and developments in existing technologies such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) allow disruption to business processes to be minimised, whilst keeping costs low and boosting brand perception.

However, while track and trace may add clarity, supply chain process can only truly become streamlined if they are properly consolidated. By choosing a single source of supply for a range of essential business products, organisations can save time and money as well as avoiding an administrative headache.

Procurement strategies which involve a large number of suppliers can be notoriously difficult to manage, leading to miscommunication and a lack of cohesion. By using just one provider for multiple processes and products, organisations reduce delivery numbers, minimise risk and help to unburden logistics managers. It also increases leverage for negotiating more favourable contracts with suppliers, given that a sense of trust, partnership and confidence is allowed to develop. A long-term relationship with a single supplier will help put an organisation in a position to prove their value and their loyalty, creating a mutually-beneficial partnership, the value of which cannot be underestimated considering potential turbulence and uncertainty.

Of course, the size of the delivery network and the number of regional depots should be taken into consideration when deciding upon any switch or consolidation of suppliers. However, it is generally the case that the higher the number of suppliers, the less visible the network becomes and therefore the more susceptible it is to breakdowns. Streamlining supply chains also helps logistics managers to reengage with the green agenda – the lower the number of separate orders and deliveries, the greater the environmental benefits.

By taking the time to evaluate existing procurement activities over the coming months, and continuing to optimise the process in any way possible, businesses can ensure that they reap the rewards of better visibility, faster connectivity and a simplified process in 2018.

Mike McCreesh, VP, supply chain, at Office Depot Europe.

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World Environment Day: sustainable supply chains have never been more important

June 5 marked World Environment Day, run by the United Nations each year to encourage global  awareness of the need to protect the environment. With an ever-growing number of consumers favouring companies that demonstrate a commitment to adopting an eco-friendly approach, businesses that take steps to reduce their environmental impact stand to gain significant reputational benefits.

Procurement and logistics operations often contribute significantly to a company’s environmental impact and businesses that make it a priority to ‘green up’ their supply chain can quickly improve their overall environmental credentials. From a more commercial perspective, sustainable supply chains can also have a positive effect on the bottom line - offering efficiency gains which ultimately result in increased revenue.

While it is down to procurement professionals to formulate a strategy for increasing supply chain sustainability, its successful implementation is dependent on the cooperation of suppliers. For this reason, businesses should have eco-friendly credentials at front of mind when beginning to build supplier relationships.

Actively seeking out companies which offer sustainable product choices and demonstrate a forward-thinking approach to deliveries offers supply chain managers a head-start in achieving their environmentally-friendly targets. These suppliers are also far more likely to be open to suggestions with regards to implementing green procurement practices. Sourcing products and services locally as best as possible also has the effect of minimising the number of miles an item travels  to the end customer, reducing harmful carbon emissions whilst driving valuable cost savings.

As well as assessing how goods are procured, buyers can also minimise their carbon footprint by giving careful thought to the number of suppliers used and looking, wherever possible, for opportunities to streamline the supply chain. By opting for vendors offering multiple products, businesses can cut down on the number of deliveries needed, as well as their associated shipping costs.

Choosing suppliers with the correct capacity and approach needed for an organisation to engage effectively with the green agenda is critical. However, this must be combined with a thorough audit and monitoring process if a business is to ensure compliance and react promptly to any potential risks. Once an overall sustainability strategy and objectives have been adopted, supply chain managers should ensure progress can be measured over time by setting KPIs. By aligning these with the findings of a comprehensive supply chain audit, weaknesses can be promptly identified with appropriate controls implemented to improve overall environmental impact.

Efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of procurement and logistics activities should also consider the importance of building strong supplier relationships, with valued partners likely to be far more willing to help businesses achieve eco-friendly objectives. As well as maintaining constant communication with key suppliers, companies should not be afraid of challenging vendors about their current approach and asking them to seek an alternative. However, while it may be necessary to impose penalties on suppliers who fail to comply with sustainability targets, it is also worth bearing in mind that incentives can provide an effective source of motivation for suppliers to maintain service levels.

Sustainability is an increasingly important issue on the corporate agenda, and the UK Government’s recent publication of its draft Air Quality Plan was a powerful reminder of the responsibility individual businesses have to protect the environment for future generations. By choosing a small number of carefully-selected suppliers, nurturing relationships with vendors and monitoring procurement activities closely, organisations can gain a reputation for sustainability which sets them apart from competitors whilst reaping the rewards of increased efficiency.

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Fitness furniture: how to get staff moving on ‘Move for Health Day’

With ‘Move for Health Day’ – an initiative set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – fast approaching, it has never been a better time for employers to encourage staff to exercise whilst at work. In a bid to get more people exercising more often, this global event takes place on May 10 to promote the health benefits that physical activity can have in the prevention of non-communicable diseases.

Although the day is a good starting point for employers to encourage staff to exercise at work, achieving long-term behavioural change can be a little more challenging. Earlier this month, the British Heart Foundation warned that more than 20million people in the UK are so inactive that they could be shortening their own lives. However, due to the sedentary nature of many job roles – in which the average office worker will spend 75% of their day sitting down – asking staff to get up and start moving can be unrealistic. With the benefits of having a fit and healthy workforce directly linked to staff retention, efficient operations and a positive bottom line, it would be beneficial for businesses to start incorporating physical activity into the nine to five working day.

Whilst some high-profile businesses, such as tech firm Hootsuite, are attempting to capitalise on the benefits of fitter employees by installing free gyms on their premises, for many firms this won’t be an option. Not only could it be financially unviable but it could also prove to be a novelty that is rarely utilised by staff. Instead, businesses should seek alternative options, such as introducing office furniture that not only encourages physical activity, but can be used seamlessly throughout the working day. This will allow them to promote fitness on a budget, without introducing any short-lived gimmicks.

The workstation

There have been a number of research studies that link excessive time spent sitting to ill health, including a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. According to guidelines by Public Health England, office workers should spend two to four hours of their working day on their feet to avoid the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. With most office workers needing a computer screen to carry out their tasks, encouraging them to step away for four hours is impractical. By introducing height-adjustable desks, which can be adjusted between sitting and standing height, workers can stand for the recommended amount of time without jeopardising their workload. In addition to this, standing desks have also been shown to boost energy levels, increase engagement and lessen the aches and pains that can be caused from sitting down for long periods of time.

Whilst height-adjustable desks can be a clever way of encouraging staff to get on their feet more often, it will be managers’ responsibility to motivate employees to use them at first, to ensure that it becomes habit. Line managers and team leaders can do this in a number of ways, from leading by example, allocating time that a whole team should work standing and rewarding those that meet standing targets.  

In the boardroom

Meetings are an essential part of office life but many involve sitting down for far too long, adding to health problems as well as causing attention levels to drop. To encourage workers to take the recommended 30-minute meetings and promote physical activity, employers could swap the traditional boardroom table for standing benches or high tables, also known as poseur height. In a similar manner to standing desks, benches and tables provide an alternative to traditional seated settings, helping to aid circulation and boost energy. One benefit of introducing this kind of furniture within the boardroom is that it can be incorporated smoothly, minimising disruption. A combination of high tables, stools, benches and poseur height swivel chairs encourages employees to either stand or adjust their equipment to their own personal comfort as the meeting progresses. Additionally, by introducing such equipment into the meeting room setting, ensures that roll-out of equipment across individual workstations is much easier should it be required. As many employees will take part in meetings on a daily basis, it can be a simple and effective way to facilitate non-sedentary work without the need to prompt workers.

Breakout spaces

For informal meeting areas or breakout rooms, employers can provide exercise and stability balls to promote activity during downtime. Sitting on an exercise ball requires small, constant adjustments to postural, leg and abdominal muscles to maintain balance. This improves posture and minimises back pain, whilst also strengthening ab muscles through a low-key workout. By introducing them in breakout areas, businesses will only need to purchase a limited amount, allowing them to save on costs whilst still providing all staff the opportunity to reap the benefits.

Health and wellbeing initiatives needn’t be costly or difficult for employers to implement. By providing the furniture and means to create an active work environment, businesses can ensure that they will not only encourage staff to get moving on May 10, but they will also support long-term behavioural change, leading to productivity and financial gains.

Paula Marshall is head of furniture category sales at business solutions provider Office Depot.

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Why businesses should capitalise on the co-working trend

The co-working trend is revolutionising the traditional office environment. Typically used by start-ups, entrepreneurs and freelancers, co-working spaces are a communal place in which businesses can flexibly rent a desk whilst sharing facilities with their co-tenants – and their popularity is soaring.

By allowing businesses to make cost savings and provide a place to meet prospective clients, it is not surprising that these types of workplaces are set to rise from just under one million in 2016 to four million in 2020. However, the perks of such offices are not only achievable for small scale operations; organisations of all sizes and from any industry can replicate the best features of these spaces without making a move. By utilising furniture and space, consolidating supply chains and promoting a collaborative culture, businesses can capitalise on the co-working trend to help boost productivity, increase staff retention and enhance overall employee wellbeing.

Create a flexible workspace

Furniture is key to any office but as working practices that seek to prioritise a more flexible and collaborative workforce evolve, a business’ equipment and furnishings should also facilitate this. One of the biggest advantages of a co-working space is that it is agile enough to support all the different ways in which a team or an employee may wish to work. For example, these kind of offices normally have a large open plan layout to encourage teamwork, smaller offshoot rooms for when a worker seeks a quieter and more peaceful setting, and extra desks to serve freelancers.

Businesses can create a similar design by introducing movable walls and office partitions. By implementing a sophisticated office dividing system, managers can adjust the space to accommodate both large meeting areas and individual cubicles. This allows employees to change their working environment to meet the needs of a given task or suit their individual personality, ensuring that productivity levels remain at their highest.

When creating a flexible office layout, managers should also seek to introduce multipurpose furniture which can be quickly adapted to meet the purpose of a new space. This can include sofas which can be transformed into desks or storage boxes which can double up as chairs. By implementing furniture which has more than one purpose, businesses will be able to maximise their office space in a practical but cost-effective manner.   

Consolidate supply chains

Another significant perk of a co-working space is that it is an opportunity for different businesses to pool resources – from milk and coffee to whiteboards and TVs – providing access to business essentials whilst reducing costs. Whilst this is a very efficient strategy for organisations that work in the same building and on the same floor, it may not be as effective and realistic for businesses in different offices.

Instead, businesses should seek to draw inspiration from the procurement strategies of these collaborative companies by developing a streamlined supply chain. By reducing the supply pool and engaging with a single supplier, businesses can actively increase economies of scale and reduce the number of deliveries, helping to cut overall costs. Consolidation can also provide businesses with greater visibility and control across their network, reducing risks that can occur along the supply chain. In addition to the bottom line benefits, unifying procurement activities has environmental perks, helping businesses to reengage with the green agenda. 

Promote a collaborative culture

For many businesses that choose a co-working environment, it is much more than just renting a desk in an office – it is about being part of a community. Working on shared tables with professionals from different industries allows staff to share their experiences, connections and knowledge. More importantly, professional collaboration can provide an alternative way of thinking and a fresh perspective, sparking a cross-pollination of ideas.

A sense of community in the workplace need not be limited to communal environments though - all businesses should promote a collaborative culture. However, as many offices are arranged by departments, it can be challenging for management to foster relationships between different teams. A simple but effective way to do this is to ensure staff are stepping away from their desks and taking regular breaks. To promote this kind of behaviour, businesses should create a breakout area which is completely removed from the usual working space.

Whilst breakout areas can be seen as a place to eat lunch or relax with a cup of tea, they should also be viewed as sociable spaces. Not only will this offer staff an opportunity to interact with colleagues, but it will also help in improving overall wellbeing. To encourage this, management should ensure that the area is comfortable and relaxing. This can be created by introducing furniture such as sofas, beanbags and large coffee tables to discourage workers from taking a break alone.

For collaboration to be truly imbedded into an organisation’s culture however, it is imperative that management lead by example. Employees look to leadership to set the tone and so managers that shut themselves away in an office are not going to have a positive influence on integration. Instead, team leaders should be seen to be utilising sociable areas and interacting with staff, so that junior employees closely follow suit.

Allowing organisations to cut costs and generate creativity, it is no wonder that many businesses are seeking inspiration from co-working spaces. Whilst it may not be realistic for all corporate offices to create an open plan layout or introduce novel meeting areas, creating the right kind of work environment is essential if management want to increase productivity and enhance employee welfare. 

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Moving offices? What to consider when kitting out your new place

Creating a working environment that is inspiring, functional and ‘on brand’ is crucial for businesses. There has been much research that links a high-quality, scenic office to increased productivity and wellbeing amongst employees, which in turn can help to boost bottom lines. When it comes to furnishing a new workplace however, how can business leaders be sure that the equipment they pick will not only aid staff with their work but will also look stylish and stand the test of time? By asking themselves the following questions, organisations can be confident that they meet the criteria and therefore design a space that is practical but sophisticated and inspiring.

Is it suitable for the type of work and space?

Functionality should always be a top priority when selecting furniture for a new office – after all, staff are there to work. However, they can only do this if they have the correct equipment to support them. As most office workers only need a laptop and a good Wi-Fi connection to do their job nowadays, it could be worthwhile investing in modular furniture to meet the needs of a flexible workforce.

Modular desks are designed so that they can be used on their own or fitted together with other desks or breakout furniture. Because of this they can easily be adapted to suit individual work or large group projects, as well as accommodate informal meetings. This agility is not only beneficial for a current team, but it is also a cost-effective solution should a business need to adjust its staff numbers.

It is also imperative to consider other business needs, such as health and safety issues or private and confidential storage. If an organisation relies heavily on computers, printers and phones, more often than not there will be a lot of cables and peripherals. In this case, it is essential to purchase furniture that incorporates cable protectors and tidy units to safeguard against any accidents. Similarly, if a business needs to store confidential documents, then it must invest in secure storage systems to keep papers safe and private.  Likewise, private storage may also be required onsite, benefiting employees as well as keeping areas tidy and compliant with health and safety regulations.

When it comes to space, it is fundamental that businesses consider the building they are in, as it is important to remember that furniture will need to fit through doorways, halls, lifts and stairwells. This is where expert advice on measurements, floor plans and also the type of furniture can add value. If space is limited, multipurpose furniture, such as storage boxes that double up as chairs or stack to form room dividers, is a smart way of limiting the volume of furnishings needed.

Will it be comfortable for staff?

The average UK office employee will spend 75 per cent of their working day sitting down. Therefore, comfortable desks and chairs are paramount in looking after an individual’s welfare and ensuring they can work at their optimum. High-grade ergonomic chairs, as well as height-adjustable desks, are extremely helpful in this area as they are designed to support posture and prevent injury. However, if introducing this type of furniture company-wide will be financially unrealistic, there are affordable alternatives. Accessories, such as back supports and booster seats, are just as effective in supporting the coccyx and minimising slouching, and will ensure staff are sitting comfortably.  In addition to this, on-desk workstation risers enable businesses to convert standard desks to accommodate sit/stand working practices.

Does it mirror the image of the business?

Whilst practicality and functionality are important to the employee, office furniture should also reflect the brand and personality of a business. Although contemporary, vibrant and minimalistic pieces will suit trendy, creative agencies, they may look out of place in a more traditional and conservative setting. In addition to image, furniture should also reflect the values of an organisation. For example, if a business is promoting more eco-friendly practices, it could provide lockers to encourage staff to cycle or run to work, and office furnishings such as potted plants or living walls that can have oxygen-boosting properties.

Moving office is a big decision and businesses will want to make sure that everything is right, including the new furniture that is implemented into the space. By ensuring that any new pieces are comfortable, pragmatic and fit the image of a business, management will create a working environment that will motivate and ignite their staff.

Paula Marshall is head of furniture category sales at business solutions provider Office Depot.

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The top office design trends of 2018

2017 has proven to be a significant year for office design. An ever-increasing emphasis on the value of collaboration has been reflected in the continued rise of the co-working space, with traditional cubicle-dominated offices seeming more and more like a thing of the past. With employee health and wellbeing now a greater priority for businesses than ever before, architectural, furniture and design trends have become a key driver for office spaces.

Paula Marshall, head of furniture and category sales at Office Depot Europe, discusses why these influences are here to stay as well as outlining the changes set to revolutionise the way employees work in 2018.

The co-working phenomenon continues

London alone boasted over 1,000 co-working spaces at the start of 2017, with numbers continuing to climb steadily throughout the year. As well as recognising the positive impact that collaborative workspaces can have on employee interaction and creativity, employers are increasingly opting for the flexibility of shared, open office spaces in order to realise their expansion plans.

However, businesses looking to capitalise on the co-working trend in the New Year will also have to overcome the challenge of increased noise levels which often come with shared working spaces. With research suggesting the average worker can take up 23 minutes and 15 seconds to re-focus after an interruption, it is essential that organisations complement areas for teamwork and brainstorming with a range of quiet spaces, for confidential or challenging tasks.

Developments in acoustic technology are also allowing organisations to manage noise levels without compromising on appearances. For example, as well as the recent availability of acoustic panels disguised as photography or wall art, allowing them to fit seamlessly with overall office design, temporary dividers allow businesses to adjust the working environment to an employee’s individual needs. Applying the ‘A, B, C’ of acoustic technology (absorb, block, cover), and incorporating softer materials such as carpet and fabric panels can also help to keep sound disruption to a minimum, ensuring staff remain focused and undisturbed.

The return to nature

Nature-inspired office design is set to dominate in 2018, as more and more companies seek to capitalise on the wellbeing and productivity benefits of bringing the outside world into the workplace. As well as opting for tones such as oatmeal and soft greys, choosing natural-looking materials such as stone and driftwood can help to instil the workforce with a sense of calm.

This rise in ‘biophilic’ design will also be seen in an increased adoption of living walls and other ways of incorporating plants into the office, which are not only aesthetically pleasing but also offer noise-reducing, oxygenating and wellbeing benefits. Where organisations wish to avoid taking on any additional maintenance requirements, artificial plants have the same impact on employee morale whilst only requiring an occasional dusting.

Digital developments

Over the last decade, innovations such as Wi-Fi have driven the domestication of the traditional workspace, allowing staff to work wirelessly via their tablet or laptop in any area of the office. More everyday business processes are now being digitalised than ever before, and throughout 2018 this is likely to be reflected through further adaptations in both office layout and furniture.

With practices such as flexible working making staff increasingly reliant on mobile phones and other devices in order to communicate with their colleagues, elements such as charging stations will become a more common sight around the workplace. This combined with furniture featuring in-built cable management will make it more convenient for employees to complete tasks in different areas of the office.

Whereas investment in ergonomic equipment continues to be a key consideration when it comes to safeguarding employee wellbeing, this is no longer enough. By adopting a holistic approach to boosting a workforce’s health and happiness, which incorporates effective office design, organisations can enhance employee engagement and retention levels whilst driving productivity in the New Year.

Paula Marshall is head of furniture category sales at Office Depot Europe.

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How to share your working space but not your germs

The nature of the workplace is changing where days of individual desks piled high with stacks of paper are on their way out. Working practices are becoming more fluid in nature and this is causing many companies to re-think the way they use their office space, often favouring more flexible layouts and co-working spaces. From a hygiene perspective, this can cause serious problem for employers, with continual movement around the office dramatically increasing the risk of germs spreading.

With poor hand hygiene one of the biggest causes of ill-health in the UK workplace, it is essential that employers take an active stance and are careful not to be misled by ill-conceived assumptions that spartan co-working spaces are winners in the fight against office germs.

There is a general misconception within businesses that less clutter means fewer germs. The nature of co-working spaces means that employees no longer have the chance to build up piles of paper and personal belongings; the desk must be clear for the next person who uses it. Recent studies have found that levels of bacteria were significantly higher in shared working spaces than on single occupancy desks, so businesses must not think that flexible spaces offer a more hygienic solution.

With hand hygiene, company-wide education is the starting point and the significant benefits of thorough washroom habits should be communicated to all employees. This can be achieved through appropriate signage in washroom environments and regular reminders sent out across company channels, particularly at the beginning of the notorious winter flu season. The meticulous approach taken by hospitals and healthcare facilities, where good hygiene levels are critical, can also be applied in the office setting.

Signage and good practice measures are a good first step, however these must be supported by suitable hand washing facilities, particularly if workers are moving between workstations.

Offices and facilities managers have a wealth of products available and the choice can often be daunting. Pairing the right products with the right office environment is highly important and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. In industrial environments, where workers may need to clean greasy and dirty hands, stronger soaps and barrier creams may be the best option, but these are likely to be excessive for office-based employees.

Take-up of alcohol-based sanitisers is low, especially in office environments, despite their effectiveness in hampering the spread of germs. Providing alcohol gel dispensers in washrooms and around the office can encourage good hand hygiene habits, which is especially beneficial when employees are moving between shared working areas. Businesses should remember however that many alcohol-based products work by removing the natural layer of oil on the skin, often leaving users with dry hands after repeated use. Providing hand creams and soaps with moisturising properties will ensure that nobody is discouraged from using alcohol gels due to any discomfort caused.

Providing the right products is key to minimising the spread of germs but this must be combined with good hygiene practices. Shared IT peripherals in the workplace pose high risks of contamination. If a keyboard and mouse are used by one person, the number of bacteria is restricted to that individual. As soon as these items are shared in co-working spaces, the risk of cross-contamination increases exponentially. Again, forming good habits is key here and a quick wipe down of keyboards, phones and mice with antibacterial wipes at the start and end of every work session will go a long way in stopping the spread of germs.

Co-working may be the future, but at a time where productivity and absenteeism are at the forefront of every employer’s mind, reducing the spread of office germs is critical. As ever, the saying ‘Wash your hands!’ is central to the task of controlling the spread of bacteria.

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Encouraging customer loyalty – maintaining cleaning standards in the independent sector

With a direct impact on employee sickness levels, it goes without saying that cleaning and hygiene should be a key focus for all businesses. However, the particular reliance that independent sector organisations such as hotels, bars and restaurants have on repeat business means that this should be a particular priority for the hospitality industry.

With hospitality and leisure businesses coming under constant public scrutiny, it is essential to establish a thorough cleaning routine, educate staff about the importance of hygiene and ensure stock levels of cleaning products are maintained in order to fulfil the high expectations of customers. By evaluating their cleaning supply chain and comparing it with changing business needs, businesses can also reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of procurement processes, allowing firms to improve their engagement with the green agenda.

Poor hand hygiene is one of the leading contributors to ill health in the workplace and is even more crucial within organisations such as bars and restaurants, where staff are regularly preparing food for members of the public. As well as making a continued investment in relevant educational resources, employers should go back to the basics of hand hygiene to identify practices that may be putting the workforce and customers at risk.

Whilst washing hands using soap and water is still the most effective approach, many people do not realise that 20 seconds is the minimum time needed to kill germs. Placing posters and signage in relevant areas such as washrooms and food preparation areas can be helpful in reminding staff about correct handwashing techniques as well as encouraging them to engage in regular hand sanitation. In order to avoid staff being tempted to carry out a ‘splash and dash’ approach, employers should choose moisturising soaps and sanitisers which are kind to skin rather than harsh soaps.

Hospitality businesses can help to ensure that high standards of cleaning are maintained by ensuring that stock levels of cleaning products are correctly aligned with usage changes, for example, the recruitment of extra staff or the expansion of restaurant kitchen areas. By choosing a cleaning products supplier which can provide a range of products, businesses can streamline their supply chain, allowing shipping costs to be reduced as fewer deliveries are required. Similarly, opting for more concentrated chemicals can help businesses reduce supply chain pressure through a need for less packaging and storage space. Dilution control, one method of which involves using dispensers to manage and regulate the amount of concentrate needed, can also help independent sector establishments to achieve cost reductions.

When looking for ways to cut costs within the cleaning supply chain, companies should not neglect their individual responsibility to engage with the green agenda and, wherever possible, establish sustainable procurement practices. In addition to the cost benefits of consolidating the supply chain, reducing the supplier pool allows businesses to minimise their carbon footprint, with purchased products travelling a smaller total distance.

With many different accreditations and certifications available, the hunt for sustainable cleaning products can often be a confusing one. To ensure businesses are able to make informed decisions, companies should ensure they are able to easily decode the marques and labels of available products – this should be front of mind when choosing a vendor. It is also worth organisations keeping abreast of the latest developments in the cleaning sector. For example, now available in disposable form, microfibre cloths allow businesses to use fewer chemicals and less water to achieve a similar cleaning standard, helping to meet cost and environmental targets. 

In order for hospitality proprietors to be truly successful in driving revenue and retaining customer loyalty, it is essential that the workforce is fully engaged with the organisation’s policies and procedures around cleaning and hygiene. As well as ensuring that employees are well-educated in areas such as personal hygiene, it is worth developing a company-wide appreciation of the important role that maintaining high standards plays in achieving overall business goals. With the full support of their staff, organisations in the hospitality industry can maintain a hygienic and attractive environment all year round, encouraging customers to return and spend their money again and again.

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Update your ordering pattern: why it pays to understand your facilities supplies usage

When ordering cleaning supplies for your company workspaces, it can be easy to get familiar with a particular product or brand and become reluctant to try anything new. However, familiarity should not be mistaken for efficacy. By continually reordering the same products, companies often fail to take advantage of opportunities to optimise their cost-efficiency as well as their hygiene.

These failings can often stem from a fear of not abiding properly to health and safety regulations, or simply from a lack of awareness surrounding the best products and methods to use in a specific environment. However, choosing the right products is crucial and there are significant business benefits to be gained from overhauling the cleaning supply ordering process.

As it stands, many companies are ordering far too vast a range of products, deeming this necessary where, in truth, a small selection of carefully selected products would be more suitable. In getting stuck in the mindset of simply reordering a list of supplies, companies often end up ordering a whole host of superfluous products, many of which are not well-suited to their situation and environment. This is simply not necessary and can be avoided by proactively engaging with the ordering process and consolidating the product range.

Many companies are failing to take advantage of economical industry solutions simply through lack of awareness. For example, selecting lighter, easier to store concentrate chemicals, as opposed to the pre-diluted cleaning fluid, can help organisations minimise costs and storage space. ‘Dilution Control’ systems for chemicals have come a long way in recent years, and are now available as fully plumbed in systems for high usage larger sites, easier to use portion control systems suitable for smaller sites, or as free-standing systems for sites with no access to a plumbed in system. Regardless of size these systems can provide a concentrated chemical which not only reduces storage, but also decreases waste from both packaging and unused solutions. The alternatives, ready to use bottles of product, or manually diluted versions, necessitate the storing of a large number of bottles where one container of concentrate could fit the bill.

Despite the variety of options to choose from, as well as a whole host of other cleaning and hygiene choices available to businesses, cleaning supplies are often ordered without much thought and the same vast range of supplies are bought year after year.

The types of products being procured are often not the right fit for both the way in which they’re being used and for the surfaces they’re being used on. Working with other companies with specialist cleaning and hygiene industry information could help to address this pitfall. Getting advice is key and partnering and communicating with an expert supplier would allow businesses to assess their requirements individually, rather than making their own judgements based on one-size-fits-all guidelines.

Companies will often assume that spending less on their cleaning supplies means they will be less effective, less hygienic and less likely to meet health and safety standards: this is generally a misconception. In fact, by misusing an often expensive and extensive range of supplies through lack of specific environmental or product awareness, companies can end up dealing with a whole host of health and safety nightmares, causing damage to company property and endangering staff through slips, trips and even fire hazards.

Some solutions to these potential difficulties and dangers are universal. For instance, clear and descriptive labelling can help signpost appropriate products and chemicals. However, in many cases choosing the right products depends entirely upon the setting. Chemicals and equipment all need to be compatible with the environment in which they are to be stored and used. For example, anti-bacterial hand wash is often perceived to be a ‘cure all’ for workplace hygiene. However, in truth, while it is a necessity in certain specific environments such as hospitals, in others it is not particularly relevant. As long as a proper handwashing regime is implemented, other, cheaper products can be just as effective, less harsh on the hands and produce less of a cost burden. Only with an assessment of each business in turn could optimisation of cleaning standards and costs be fully achieved.

Blindly reordering cleaning products simply because they’re what’s always been issued is never the best approach. Nor is making assumptions regarding the best products to promote cost-efficiency and hygiene. Seeking a suitable partner and supplier to help bridge the gap between the business and supplier will help businesses streamline their cleaning operations significantly. Tapping into the knowledge of industry specialists will help save time and money and will make sure to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences of using the wrong product in the wrong place.

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A positive cycle: how businesses can encourage an eco-friendly commute

The publication of the UK's draft Air Quality plan earlier this month was a reminder that the reduction of carbon emissions currently sits high on Government’s agenda. However, in order for the UK to be truly successful in meeting its ambitious targets, it is essential that businesses recognise their individual responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint and promote an environmentally-friendly culture amongst staff.

As well as implementing an engaging company communications strategy around the benefits of employees cycling, walking or running to work, ensuring that adequate facilities are available for the storage of valuable equipment and post-exercise shower facilities can help to maximise the likelihood of staff opting for greener commuting methods.  

In addition to the important role they play in promoting a green workplace culture and enhancing staff wellbeing, businesses also have an obligation to maintain a safe and hygenic working environment for employees. As part of this, and in order to encourage workers to adopt carbon-neutral commuting methods, companies should ensure that adequate facilities are provided for individuals to wash and change on arrival at the office. When planning new washrooms and changing areas, employers should aim to strike a balance between complementing the look of the existing office space with facilities that are spacious, modern and meet the specific needs of their workforce. Choosing fittings and surfaces that are easy to clean and stocking up on high-quality cleaning products will also allow businesses to meet health and safety responsibilities by keeping facilities in a hygenic condition.  

Both as a pastime and commuting method, cycling continues to increase in popularity, with people spending ever greater amounts on kit, bikes and other equipment. With such items often amounting to a significant value, staff may be put off from cycling to work unless they have access to suitable storage amenities to keep equipment secure and in a good condition. As well as offering dry, lockable and spatious storage for bikes, employers may also wish to provide indoor lockers so employees can safely stow sports kit, whether cycling, running or walking is their preferred way to get to work.

While adequate access to washing, changing and storage facilities is important when encouraging staff to reduce their carbon emissions, the key to achieving effective take-up is company-wide employee engagement. By developing an internal communications strategy which clearly explains the advantages of reducing carbon emissions as well as emphasising the important role each employee plays, businesses can have a positive influence on staff participation whilst starting to instill green commuting choices within company culture. It should also be remembered that state-of-the-art facilities provide little benefit to an organisation if workers do not know they exist.

By adapting the workplace to the needs of the eco-friendly commuter and making sure they are aware of the facilities available to them, companies can encourage staff to adopt a greener lifestyle which also has a positive impact on their health and wellbeing.

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Health and safety: Don't break a sweat this summer

It goes without saying that companies should prioritise the health and safety of workers all year round. However, as temperatures continue to rise over the coming months and allergies prevail, summer is certain to bring a particular set of risks for health and safety professionals.

While it is common to joke about the unpredictable nature of British weather, patterns such as sudden heatwaves can have serious implications for businesses, leaving many employers unprepared for the extra dangers higher temperatures can bring. By taking the appropriate steps to assess heat-associated risks before heatwaves occur and creating a comfortable and safe working environment, companies can  safeguard staff wellbeing and minimise any negative impact on employee productivity over the warmer summer months. 

While UK legislation has stipulated a minimum workplace temperature for years, it does not state a maximum  temperature. However, under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, Regulation 7 does provide employers with the following guidance: "During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable." 

In the event that 10 per cent of employees complain about workplace temperature, an employer has an obligation to undertake a thermal risk assessment. However, with the side-effects of overheating including low productivity and even illness, determining whether the workplace temperature is "reasonable" is not only an employer's legal responsibility, it is also in their best interests. In order to do this, employers must undertake a thermal risk assessment and then act on the findings of the assessment by implementing suitable controls. As well as providing sufficient thermometers, perhaps the most revealing way of doing this is by simply asking employees whether they are satisfied with the temperature of their working environment.  

When taking steps to combat overheating in the workplace, businesses should opt for temporary controls that can be removed or adjusted in the autumn as the weather changes and temperatures drop. Perhaps the most common way of maintaining a comfortable temperature for workers during the summer months is air conditioning or ventilation, which increases air movement in order to prevent workers from becoming uncomfortably hot.

As air conditioning units can range from small ones that solely lower air temperature to larger ones that also deal with humidity and air movement, businesses should give careful thought to choosing a solution that will effectively deal with the conditions of their specific workplace environment. To ensure that efforts to cool the office do not result in the opposite extreme, companies should avoid allowing draughts to blow directly onto employees. 

Air conditioning systems can also play an important role in managing the impact of allergies such as hayfever within the workplace. While it can be tempting during warm weather to open a window to let fresh air circulate, doing so can expose employees to pollen and other allergens that can lead to unpleasant symptoms for many workers. By choosing instead to recirculate and filter air, businesses can protect workers from external triggers, whilst still keeping the internal temperature at a comfortable level. 

When working outdoors, ensuring PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is suitable for use in warmer temperatures is essential, especially where workers are prone to generating heat through manual activity. By encouraging employees to layer-up and not wear a higher protection factor than necessary, health and safety professionals can prevent overheating by allowing workers to simply remove excess clothing as the temperature rises. In order to maximise employee comfort, businesses should opt for cooler designs and materials when choosing PPE, but also more generally be prepared to relax any uniform rules or dress code when appropriate. To maximise workers' protection against the sun, it is also important to promote the usage of sunhats and sunscreen (of an appropriate SPF) as well as good-quality sunglasses.  

Whether workers are based outdoors or within an office, a key priority during the warmer months should be ensuring that staff remain adequately hydrated. As well as providing employees with an easily-accessible source of cool water, encouraging staff to choose water over caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee will help them to avoid dehydration and avoid the onset of heat stress. However, it is worth bearing in mind that there is little use providing a water cooler if employees have no chance to access it. Companies can boost the amount workers are likely to drink by providing them with regular breaks, and where outdoor workers lack access to a running tap should provide water bottles which can be easily transported on site.

The increasingly busy schedules of health and safety professionals mean that it can be all too easy for issues associated with heatwaves to creep up on businesses, resulting in policies and procedures being implemented at the last minute. However by thinking carefully now about how to protect staff wellbeing during hot weather, companies can avoid being caught out and maintain productivity levels when the UK gets a rare burst of sunshine.

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