Modern workplaces: the golden age of docking

by Steve Bender
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Working in multiple environments, using whatever desk is available and still having an uncluttered workspace that means you can be productive and work effectively at the drop of a hat? The stuff of dreams? Not at all, writes STEVE BENDER, global managing director of technology and monitor arms Humanscale.

Did you ever see Billy Wilder’s 1960 bittersweet masterpiece, The Apartment? (If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and download it. It’s on iTunes.) In the film, Jack Lemmon as CC Baxter plays a wage slave accelerating his path up the corporate ladder by lending his flat to various colleagues for their extramarital assignations. But before he gets the key to the executive washroom, we discover him in the middle of a massive regimented office surrounded by hundreds of like-minded drones, processing files from his in tray.

Each worker sits at an identical desk, with identical equipment (typewriter, adding machine, Rolodex) on it, performing identical repetitive tasks.

Wilder is, of course, exaggerating to make a point. On the whole, though, that is what offices used to be like.

Fast-forward to today and the nature of desk jobs has altered dramatically. Are you in an office right now? Look around you. Do any two desks look the same? It’s unlikely. There have been all sorts of changes over the last 50 years, many of them spurred by the extraordinary advances in computing. To begin with, single computers have replaced our typewriters, adding machines and Rolodexes (as well as being capable of carrying out hundreds of other functions). But while the computer industry has done a terrific job of making things faster and more streamlined, what it hasn’t really spent much time, and certainly not much innovation, on is the user experience.

When we talk about user experience, this means elements like the monitor – how can that be used more effectively than simply taking up all the space in front of the user? What about the keyboard, or how the user sits? How cluttered is the desk… with wires and other piece of equipment? We may not need a Rolodex anymore, but most people will have smartphones, tablets, hard drives etc, which all need to be used or charged at any given moment.

Decluttering their spaces and making people more comfortable in their working environment is actually a bottom line issue. It leads to people being healthier and performing better, which in turn leads to greater efficiency and productivity.

Workspace evolution

Today, there are three major expenses for a company – its people, their technology and their real estate. But since the days of CC Baxter and his ilk there have been a number of significant changes in the office space. Perhaps the biggest of these is the advent of hot desking – also known as hotelling or free addressing. What all these terms mean in simple terms is desk sharing and it stems from the idea, backed up by copious research, that at any given time nowhere near 100 percent of staff are actually in the office. It can be anywhere from 70 percent down to 50 percent of desks actually being used, which naturally has a considerable impact on that third cost: office real estate.

Accordingly, many of the world’s companies now utilise some form of hot desking, with perhaps two-thirds of their workforces in the office and the rest working remotely, travelling or in meetings elsewhere.

But what impact does that have on the ability to do work quickly and efficiently? If you’re in a meeting in one spot and need to urgently plug in and access a file or pull up a spreadsheet, do you find yourself wasting valuable time as you cast around for a spot to place your laptop and then fiddle with the necessary accoutrements to attach it to a monitor and keyboard etc?

What you need is to be able to hop to the nearest empty desk, plug in and play, so to speak. Thankfully, there are now tools available that make this the easiest thing in the world to do. And the most useful ones are device agnostic.

For the second major change in the office space is the advent of BYOD (bring your own device). No longer do you see companies where everyone is devoted to Dell, adores Asus or is all Apple, all the time.

Studies have also discovered that in companies where people are encouraged to buy or use their own equipment and preferred systems, the ensuing greater familiarity and comfort levels means they are more effective in their job.

So any given office will have a range of systems and manufacturers, but that also means that the empty hot desks must be able to accommodate any sort of laptop that is brought in. The system used to fall down when so many laptops relied on click-in port replicators. No longer. With a USB docking station, a keyboard, mouse, monitor (or two), Ethernet and power cable can all be attached, then a laptop can be plugged into the docking station and the user has access to everything they need.

But with up to six cables in use, that’s still a lot of cabling strewn across a desk. And when the whole intention is to declutter to improve productivity, 10 metres of cables scattered over a desk is not helping anyone. It takes up space, looks unsightly and is not conducive to productivity.

Enter the split dock design, as we’ve created with as MConnect 2, our integrated IT hub docking station, which has separated the dock into two parts. The top is integrated into a monitor as a hub, so the user is covered for audio, smartphone charging, flash drives etc, while the main body is integrated into the bottom of the underarm monitor clamp – meaning all of those unsightly cords are out of sight and out of mind.

All cables are eliminated from the desktop and all that is left is an uncluttered, user friendly, easily accessible working environment. CC Baxter would love it.

Steve Bender is global managing director of technology and monitor arms Humanscale.

This article also appears in the June/July issue of Facility Management magazine.

Image: 123RF’s Moodboard ©

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