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Health at Work

16th January 2015
UWadmin

Concurrent with the rise of the knowledge economy has been the decline of being active at work. In many ways, the modern office encourages people to be sedentary – desks are rarely sit-stand, workers are often siloed into cubicles or clusters of desks, and managers tend see moving around as a sign of slacking off. There is now, however, a large body of evidence that suggests that such inactivity is negatively impacting employee health – new research published in the last few days suggests that inactivity ‘kills more than obesity.’

Organisations can counter the health risks of inactivity by encouraging employees to break up work with walks around the office, holding standing meetings and even just moving the waste bins a little further from where employees sit. Sit-stand desks – all the rage with technology startups in Silicon Valley – are becoming increasingly popular, not just due to their potential health benefits, but also because those who use them report higher levels of concentration, motivation and energy.

Increasing physical activity in the office is only part of the wider trend of health in the workplace. Growing interest in this area is partly being driven from the top, as large organisations with ageing workforces have realised the imperative of ensuring that staff remain productive in their later years. However, employees themselves have taken an increased interest in their own health at work. With an array of inexpensive wearable gadgets on the market already, the health conscious worker can easily monitor their posture, amount of time standing vs sitting, and the quality of their sleep. Ernst and Young have recently begun a trial of wearable wristbands with their UK staff. Equipped with the Jawbone wristband, staff can monitor their activity levels and share them with colleagues.

Technology has historically been a driver of inactivity and health problems at work – when electric typewriters superseded mechanical ones, the average weight gain in typing pools was half a stone. Now though, due to the rise of wearables and greater mobility at work, technology is empowering organisations and their staff to work healthier.

As workforces age, we can expect health to take a more prominent place in the way organisations approach workplace and technology.

This post was written by Owen King, Unwork’s workplace consultant.


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The Future of Workplace Technology: Rise of the machines

5th January 2015
UWadmin

‘Player Piano’, the first novel by American author Kurt Vonnegut, describes a dystopian future in which humans have been rendered obsolete by intelligent machines that dominate both manual and knowledge work. Recent developments in workplace technology have made Vonnegut’s work, published over sixty years ago, look ominous.

Machines and robots are, of course, already familiar sights in factories and assembly plants, augmenting, and in many cases replacing, human workers in the low and semi-skilled parts of the economy. Now though, advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data are poised to impact the office and take the place of knowledge workers. Accountants, journalists and managers will soon find themselves competing with software that can work faster, smarter and at a fraction of the cost.

London-based startup Receipt Bank, for instance, has developed a software platform that automates the process of compiling and updating expense reports, usually seen as the preserve of entry level accountants, and uploads the data into major accounting tools. Elsewhere, software designed by Chicago-based Narrative Science is able to take raw data and convert it into prose. The software was initially used to convert statistics into sports and news stories, but is now being employed by financial institutions, government departments and automotive firms. Credit Suisse uses the programme to generate summaries of stock activity for its brokers, a task which was formally undertaken by a team of twenty employees.

The impact of intelligent software is being felt even in those professions which require a high level of expertise and training: IBM’s Watson, an artificial intelligence supercomputer, can diagnose lung cancer with a 90 per cent success rate, compared to 50 per cent for human doctors. Advances in technologies like neuromorphic computing will only further accelerate this trend, enabling computers to rapidly learn and think creatively.

Whether these new technologies will bring about a world close to that described in ‘Player Piano’ will depend on how they are applied in the workplace. In some cases they will augment, rather than replace, workers, while others will free employees to focus on more complex and interesting tasks. As mathematician and inventor of the Stepped Reckoner G W Leibniz wrote in the seventeenth century, ‘It is unworthy of excellent men to lose hours like slaves in the labour of calculation, which could be safely regulated to anyone else if machines were used.’

This post was written by Owen King, and is part of a series on the future of workplace technology. 


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Norman Baker announces Anywhere Working at WorkTech11 London

20th November 2011
Philip Ross

“If it’s going to rain you take an umbrella” is a reassuring mantra from the Minister who has the biggest grip on the challenges of encouraging businesses to change the way they work. Coming from a transport-perspective, Mr Baker obviously has a vested interest in persuading us to reduce our journeys. With the transport system at breaking point, and with relatively little capacity left to exploit, the government needs to do something.

So Mr Baker took the opportunity to unveil the government’s new ‘Anywhere Working’ initiative. He stated that a change in psychology was needed in business and that a lack of confidence underpinned the lack of real change in attitudes to agile working. By providing hard evidence, easy to use guides and powerful advocates, the Minister is hoping that companies will be encouraged “to see reward where they once saw risk”. Evidence from Microsoft, who reduced their travel by 27%, and Eversheds, who saved £1.3 million by reducing travel, are facts that should encourage even the most sceptical Luddite.

If concerns about growing carbon emissions are not enough to stimulate business to make a change to the way we commute to and travel at work, the economic downturn could be just the incentive needed. Norman Baker has a no-nonsense approach to the issue: “Something’s got to give. The situation is becoming unsustainable both environmentally and economically”. The government’s initiative is a move in the right direction and in some instances they are leading by example but are they doing enough to support the new ways of working? It seems that an instructive web site and proactive policy is all we’re going to get for the moment, but Mr Baker reminded us that we are all in this together and “we all have a role to play in changing psychology”. Better make sure you don’t forget your umbrella then

Norman Baker is Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department of Transport and Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes


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