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Why are so many companies (i.e. so many top executives) embracing a strategy that’s so obviously unproductive and which employees almost universally dislike?
I originally assumed the continued growth of open plan offices (now around 70% of all offices in the U.S.) was a victory of biz-blab over science–the corporate equivalent of anti-vaccination and climate change denial. However, since open plan offices are so obviously stupid, I’ve concluded there must be something deeper at work here–a hidden agenda.
What could it be?
A clue to this hidden agenda may lie in the undeniable fact that while executives want their employees to work in these open plan environments, they almost always secure private offices for themselves.
Another clue may lie in the way that the growth in open plan offices matches declines in work-from-home policies, private offices, and cubicle offices, all three of which offer varying levels of privacy for regular employees which open plan offices totally lack.
The unifying theme is that executives want employees to remain physically visible and constantly on display while simultaneously retaining their own right to remain invisible. This desire must be something that’s highly valuable to top management for them to be willing to pay such a huge tax in productivity and morale.
I’m not talking about a conspiracy. Nobody got together, twirled their metaphorical mustaches, and with a “brou-ha-ha-ha” decided to stick it to their employees. No, what’s operating here is something more subconscious, like confirmation bias. It’s a cultural thing and therefore largely unexamined, like most hidden agendas.
So, then, what deep need does the open plan office serve?
One obvious answer is the need to control the behavior of others–a need to which executives (who are often quite insecure about their ability to lead) are particularly susceptible.
However, while it is no doubt easier to control people when you can constantly look over their shoulders, that kind of monitoring can be done electronically. Since employees have no privacy rights, there’s nothing to stop companies from monitoring their behavior online. Big Brother doesn’t need to be physically present to stick his nose in your personal business.
If the deeper need is not a desire to control behavior, what could it be? Put another way, what benefit to executives get from making their employees physically visible while retaining the right to remain themselves invisible?
A well-documented effect of open plan offices is that constant visibility puts women at a disadvantage by forcing them to expend extra energy focusing on their physical appearance. However, it’s not just women who suffer from being forced into a fishbowl. Open plan environments also put at disadvantage those employees who are overweight, disabled, or in any way fail to conform to American standards of conventional attractiveness, i.e.young, thin, and light-skinned.
For example, open plan offices are vehemently hostile to older workers (Gen-X and above) because as one ages, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve that cultural standard of conventional attractiveness.
Furthermore, some elements of open plan designs–such the ubiquitous workplace playground slide–are specifically intended to humiliate older workers. To a 20-year-old, using playground slide is merely embarrassing; to a 40-year-old it’s actively humiliating; to a 60-year-old, it’s a recipe for chiropractic appointment.
Rather than attracting millennials, open plan offices help top management eliminate or disempower workers who aren’t young, conventionally-attractive, generally light-skinned and male.–the exact demographic from whence sprang the majority of top managers. While such environments also tolerate young, conventionally-attractive females, the fishbowl-like characteristic of open plan offices guarantees that they’ll kept off-balance and “in their place” by being put constantly on display.
Seen this way, the open plan office, far from being a forward-looking vehicle to create collaboration and innovation, are actually only a manifestation of a traditional 20th century business culture which favors the dominance of older, light-skinned males, a dominance that expresses itself in everything from the demographics of Fortune 500 C-suites to the investment choices of venture capitalists.
That open plan offices tend to reinforce the patriarchy seems less surprising when you consider that the original concept of the open plan office dates not from the so-called “information age” but from the early years of 20th century, when companies–to increase paper-pushing efficiency–started arranging office workers’ desks inside large rooms called “bullpens.”
Far from being a modern invention, open plan offices have been around for nearly 100 years. Within that history, companies have experimented with other workplace designs like private offices, cubicles, and telecommuting. Those experiments, however, fallen out of favor because those experiments gave employees more privacy, which was an assault on the status quo.
Companies have continued to embraced open plan designs not because they make employees more productive (they don’t) and not because employees find them inspiring places to work (they don’t) but because open plan offices reinforce the status quo–the same status quo that’s kept women and minorities out of positions of power, and that favors a younger, cheaper, more malleable workforce that’s less likely to challenge the dominance of the traditional powers-that-be.
Andrew Rubin sits with a Surface tablet, watching a white skeletal hand open and close on its screen. Rubin’s right hand was amputated a year ago, but he follows these motions with a special device fitted to his upper arm.
Electrodes on his arm connect to a box that records the patterns of nerve signals firing, allowing Rubin to train a prosthetic limb to act like a real hand. “When I think of closing a hand, it’s going to contract certain muscles in my forearm,” he says. “The software recognizes the patterns created when I flex or extend a hand that I do not have.”
The 49-year-old college professor from Washington, DC, drives several times a month to Infinite Biomedical Technologies, a Baltimore startup company that is using deep learning algorithms to recognize the signals in his upper arm that correspond with various hand movements.
Each year, more than 150,000 people have a limb amputated after an accident or for various medical reasons. Most people are then fitted with a prosthetic device that can recognize a limited number of signals to control a hand or foot, for example.
But Infinite and another firm are taking advantage of better signal processing, pattern recognition software and other engineering advances to build new prosthetic controllers that might give Rubin and others an easier life. The key is boosting the amount of data the prosthetic arm can receive, and helping it interpret that information. “The goal for most patients is to get more than two functions, say open or close, or a wrist turn. Pattern recognition allows us to do that,” says Rahul Kaliki, CEO of Infinite. “We are now capturing more activity across the limb.”
Kaliki’s team of 14 employees are building the electronics that go inside other companies’ prosthetic arms. Infinite’s electronic control system, called Sense, records data from up to eight electrodes on his upper arm. Through many hours of training on the company’s tablet app, the device can detect the intent encoded in Rubin’s nerve signals when he moves his upper arm in a certain way. Sense then instructs his prosthetic hand to assume the appropriate grip.
Last Friday, Infinite’s Kaliki received notice from FDA officials that Sense had been approved for sale in the United States. Kaliki says he expects to begin installing them in prosthetic limbs by the end of November. In 2017, FDA officials approved a similar system by Chicago-based Coapt. Today more than 400 people are using the system at home, according to CEO Blair Lock.
Lock started as an engineer 13 years ago at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, an affiliate of Northwestern University. He worked with surgeons who were repairing nerve damage in amputee patients. Over time, he realized that building better prosthetics would be easier if he could figure out a way to pick up better signals from the body, he says. “What’s new is providing a much more natural, more intuitive method of control using [bio-electronic] signals,” Lock says.
In earlier versions of prosthetic devices, electrodes recorded signal strengths “but it was like listening to an orchestra and only knowing how loud the instruments are playing,” Lock says. “It was a significant effort to learn the content and fidelity of the signals.” The Coapt system works inside an amputee’s prosthetic hand and costs about $ 10,000 to $ 15,000, depending on the amount of customization needed. Artificial limbs can costs anywhere from $ 10,000 to $ 150,000, according to Lock.
Nicole Kelly got a new prosthetic device with the Coapt control system about a year ago. Now the 28-year-old Chicagoan can grind fresh pepper into her food and hold playing cards with friends. She can also open a beer.
“For many things, it wasn’t that I couldn’t do them before, but suddenly I can do them much easier,” says Kelly, who was born without her lower left arm.nHer prosthetic “is not my body, and it’s not 100 percent natural,” she said. “There’s a learning curve of my body communicating with this technology. Even the process of the best way to hold the salt and pepper shakers, I am essentially doing it for the first time.”
The Coapt system includes a reset button that allows Kelly to reboot its pattern recognition system if the grips don’t seem to work the way she wants them to. “If at any time I feel like it is doing something funky, I can hit the reset button,” says Kelly, who was a former Miss America contestant and now a disability rights advocate. She says that retraining the hand currently takes about two minutes.
That’s not the only innovation. Engineers at Infinite Biomedical are handing out RFID tags to amputee patients so they can stick them on door knobs, kitchen utensils and other household objects—any useful item that requires a specific grip. The idea is that a controller in their prosthetic limbs will detect the RFID signal and automatically change the grip from, say, the one needed to turn a doorknob to the one that lets you pick up a newspaper. The project is underway with funding from the NIH, according to CEO Kaliki.
These technologies are still new and not available for everyone yet. Learning to use one takes a lot of training, and of course, not all insurance companies pay for the most sophisticated prosthetics or these new control systems. Yet patients like Andrew Rubin are hoping that many of these advances come soon. Right now, if he wants to pick up a cup and then open a door, he has to use a smartphone app every time he wants to change the grip on his prosthetic device.
“It’s a slow process, I think eventually we will figure out something that will enable me to not have to rely on my phone to change the grips,” he says. Rubin says he enjoys the weekly training sessions at Infinite in Baltimore, as well as at a Johns Hopkins University bioengineering lab that is developing a glove that can feel pain just like a real hand. But Rubin—who suffered a systemic sepsis infection and also had his leg amputated several years ago— would like get to the point where he could use his right hand to push the shutter on his SLR camera, balance a bowl or perhaps even write with a pen. As the first person to try out Infinite’s new pattern recognition system at home, he’s not too far away.
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(Reuters) – Pay-TV group Sky plans to step up investments in tech start-ups in Europe and the Middle East by opening a new office in Germany and investing $ 4 million in an Israeli venture capital fund.
FILE PHOTO: The Sky News logo is seen on the outside of offices and studios in west London, Britain June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
Europe’s biggest pay-TV group has built one of the most technically-advanced platforms in Europe, helped in part by investments and partnerships it has made with more than 20 companies in the United States, Britain and France.
One of its early investments was in Roku, a provider of devices that connect televisions to streaming services which listed last year.
Sky, with distribution platforms in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Austria, said it had been impressed with the tech talent in Berlin and Israel. It will scout for the most interesting companies from Berlin and invest $ 4 million in Israeli venture capital fund, Remagine Ventures.
The British company, formed in 1990, is currently at the center of a bidding battle between Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox and U.S. cable giant Comcast.
Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi and Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Potter
MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s Open Fiber has enlisted banks to help fund the 6.5 billion euro ($ 8 billion) rollout of its fast broadband network, it said on Friday, confirming an earlier Reuters report.
Rome has long pushed for an all-fiber optic network to help Italian business and boost productivity. Open Fiber said its network would cover 271 Italian cities and around 7,000 municipalities in the country.
Open Fiber said it had signed the 7-year 3.5 billion euro project finance deal with BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA), Societe Generale SOCG.PA and UniCredit (CRDI.MI) and expects it to be finalised in the next few months.
The firm, which is jointly owned by state-controlled utility Enel (ENEI.MI) and state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, said in its new 2018-2027 plan it was looking to take its fiber-optic network into about 19 million homes and businesses.
It added it would spend about one billion euros per year over the next three years.
Enel, which will use its existing power grid network to house cable, has said it intends to repeat the project in other countries where it operates.
Open Fiber’s new plan comes just days after investor CDP bought a stake in phone incumbent Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) (TIM) in a move some say could open the way for an eventual merger of Open Fiber with the network of its bigger rival.
The government enlisted the help of Enel two years ago to build a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network after accusing TIM of acting too slowly to upgrade its ageing copper network.
But with TIM expanding its own network, industry experts say duplication of infrastructure makes little economic sense.
“With the approval of the new plan and the funding a new phase starts for Open Fiber with the aim of speeding up the roll-out of the FTTH network,” its CEO Elisabetta Ripa said.
The company said it had extended an existing deal with Vodafone (VOD.L) to cover all 271 cities covered by its plan.
Sky’s (SKYB.L) Italian unit last month signed a long-term deal with Open Fiber to allow it to offer internet TV in Italy.
($ 1 = 0.8114 euros)
Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Francesca Landini and Alexander Smith
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1105 Public Sector Media Group is pleased to announce that voting for the 2016 THE Journal Readers’ Choice Awards is now open
(PRWeb August 05, 2016)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2016/08/prweb13594611.htm
Australia has had an influx of cool international retailers set up shop recently. Zara, H&M, Uniqlo and Forever 21 are the biggest and best of the lot, but now the party is about to be crashed by their strait-laced British relative, Debenhams.
The department store is set to open in Melbourne and is expected to sign up for a 4,000-square metre space in the newly redeveloped St Collins Lane building, according to the Australian Financial Review.
It follows a franchise agreement struck between the department store and retail investment company Pepkor South East Asia last year, with plans to open 10 stores locally over the long-term, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Read more…