Offer Quiet Zones to Improve Productivity

Every open-plan office has the same problem: it’s a constant thoroughfare for chairs on wheels, noisy phone calls, discussion groups, the mailperson and the cleaning staff. There’s endless chatter and banter about the weekend that’s just passed or the annual holidays to come. None of this is conducive to concentration.

As much as people enjoy some level of distraction, many employees are sitting with their teeth gritted or biting their bottom lips because they just can’t concentrate.

Given the variety of open-plan office tasks, it’s common sense to provide quiet spaces, yet few workplaces do. Conversely, in recent years there has been increasing focus on integration and team-based activities; partition walls have disappeared in favour of occasional screens or potted plants to break up the desk monotony.

While open-plan spaces are good for team morale, those needing to focus are either reduced to working too slowly or making mistakes while their ears and eyes are diverted. Writing reports, drafting presentations, conducting staff appraisals, analyzing data, looking at trends, reading reports and gathering phone intelligence all require deep focus and a calm atmosphere.

Nearly everyone has experienced phone calls, as the client or customer, in which an unruly office melee can be heard in the background of the conversation. That is not a good impression for any company to deliver to clients.

Providing Quiet Space

The quiet spaces provided can be simple and affordable, especially when the outlay results in improved productivity. Think of libraries with their small booths or compartments; something like this is ideal, especially if employees can still sit side-by-side but not make ready eye contact.

These areas are conducive to cerebral work because they are contained; dividing walls send a clear message that these aren’t talking spaces. The sound of tap-tapping on calculators and keyboards, and the scratching of pens on paper, encourage everyone to get their heads in their work and not distract anybody.

This zone should be out of the general footfall area, with nobody walking behind or in front. It should be sited at the far end of a building, with a wall to the rear so nobody has their back to an open space. It feels secure and calm. In time, you may find you need to build more booths as these spaces become popular.

At the end of each focus zone, offer a large soundproofed booth for multiple occupants, where people still have privacy and calmness but can thrash out new ideas. You could name this space the “Group Focus Zone.” This, too, isn’t for idle chatter; it’s for brainstorming and problem solving that cannot be done in the quiet zone, but which still needs some isolation.

The Group Focus Zone room needs a round table, not a rectangular one, since squared-off tables are dividers, not facilitators. This space would look quite like an airport business lounge, with everything at hand to bring the booth-generated ideas into reality. It has printers so people aren’t queuing, and stationery such as calculators, pens, notepads, whiteboards and flipcharts. Technology should be at hand, including projectors and a bank of laptops open to use by everyone. Do not password-protect these computers; every barrier to smooth thought processes is a wasted opportunity. If employees don’t have to wander about to obtain exactly the tools they need, they will stay undistracted. People will soon clamor to use the booths for independent work, and the Group Focus Zone when teamwork’s required.

Now, everyone can escape unproductivity. You’ll also find some employees even stay at work later if there’s access to comfortable spaces. However, don’t allow anyone to eat in the work booths or other productivity zones, as eating is simply a new–and noisy–distraction creating messy spaces.

Work Booth Enhancements

Anyone can provide a big room with chairs and desks, but is that the best we can do as employers? Work booths and comfort-based enhancements aren’t about making employees too comfortable, but about enhancing thought processes and working practices.

Decide on a set of enhancements for your booth zones. These might include fresh water dispensers, heat pads to keep employees at a stable temperature and sensory aromatherapy. Noise-cancelling headphones should be standard equipment in each booth.

As odd as it sounds, listening to music or relaxation audio files can increase cerebral-task productivity up to threefold. Experiment with at-work audio via headsets and earbuds, and ask how it’s working out. Certain types of music or nature-based audio files stimulate different areas of the human brain, freeing up creativity and powers of calculation and reasoning. Employees should choose their own sounds, but what they play must be inaudible to anyone else, and a sing-song is strictly off the menu. Another benefit of employees wearing earphones is that others won’t disturb them. How often do you talk to someone if you know they’ll have to remove a pair of headphones first?

Feel free to experiment and encourage new ideas; you’ll be surprised at the feedback. The former lip-biters could be the first employees you promote, because you’ll see a real improvement in what they deliver, showing that some of your best workers’ brains may have been restricted by the environment in which they had operated. An added benefit is that your employees will find you a progressive, inspirational and encouraging boss.


Workplace Design: The Best of NeoCon 2017

The Staples Business Advantage™ furniture design team attended NeoCon 2017 in Chicago in June, North America’s most important design exposition and conference. Our team of experts visited the various showrooms to explore the latest trends in workspace furniture and office interior design.

Throughout the conference, our team gathered up insights and inspiration from top vendors like Allsteel, HON®, Global and National, among many others. We saw a continuation of some trends from 2016 into 2017, such as the emphasis on Me/We pieces and collaboration, while also spotting new emerging trends for 2017, such as the shift into “resommercial” spaces and the introduction of darker hues in fabric choices, compared to the brights of years past.

Here is a round-up of the top four trends and highlights of interest from our design team:

  1. Flexibility in Movement

A big focus from Lacasse was the STAD Collection, which offers multi-use furniture pieces with a professional lifestyle look and feel. Responding to the growing needs of today’s open office concept, the collection includes Me/We pieces that can be moved and reconfigured to create privacy when desired or collaborative areas, perfect for impromptu meeting spaces. It also features adjustable height tables, sectional seating and poufs for greater comfort and better posture. The addition of these pieces into the workplace is leading to a shift of traditional office space into a “resommercial” (residential + commercial) feel, through both space layout and furniture design.

A big part of this collection is the noise reduction and acoustical wall solutions, the perfect accessories for open office spaces that can get a little loud. The pieces from this collection were featured in a mix of finishes and materials, and in trending dark and warm colours, including green, dusty rose, rusty; a shift from the white and bright mix of recent years.

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2. Bringing Comfort to Healthcare

Lacasse featured some of the newer pieces to their Healthcare collection, which brings a sense of warmth and comfort to healthcare furniture. The warm fabric tones and textures of the lounge area pieces help create an at-home feel. All pieces from the healthcare line are excellent for environments such as laboratories, pharmacies, emergency and procedure rooms.

2Photo Source: NeoCon Showroom

3. A Focus on Education

Top vendors including HON, Global, National and Allsteel had a major focus on higher education as well as corporate office learning spaces, such as training rooms. Pieces from these lines focused on flexibility with the ability to adapt and move in order to suit different learning types. The influence of technology was seen throughout each of the collections, with special features such as convenient power outlets for on-the-go charging stations.


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4. Office Retreat

Allsteel introduced their new line of lounge furniture, Retreat. The Retreat collection includes a number of great collaboration pieces greatly suited for smaller square footage or multi-use and shared spaces such as offices or meeting rooms. With the clean, flexible design, these pieces help to make the most of underutilized spaces by creating a space within a space with pieces like the high back lounge chairs with generous privacy wings.

AOSeriesRetreatBenefitHero_Retreat_Benefit3_Large.jpgPhoto Source:


Would you like to explore how you can introduce some of these elements into your workplace?  Speak to the experts. The furniture team at Staples Business Advantage can help. For more information visit:


5 Ways to Spend Your Lunch Break to Increase Productivity

If you’re interested in increasing your productivity, it’s important to consider how you spend your time while taking breaks, not just while working. The activities you choose during your lunch break could leave you feeling refreshed and ready for a productive afternoon, or drained, tired and unmotivated.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but by taking breaks where you forget about work completely, you’ll get much more done once you get back to the grind. The following activities will help you to unwind and clear your mind.

Meditation requires no fancy equipment or a special space; just a quiet room will do. If you’re new to meditation, look for guided sessions on YouTube, or download a dedicated meditation app, to get an introduction to different mindfulness techniques. If that’s not possible, just spend 10 minutes focusing completely on your breathing. You might be surprised at how much clearer your mind is afterward.

Take a walk
Exercise benefits your mental and physical health in many ways, and it’s one of the best ways to spend your lunch break. There’s no need to sweat it on the treadmill, as a simple walk around the block will raise your heart rate and reduce any stress that’s built up over the course of the morning. Walking can be a thoughtful activity, and you might find yourself coming up with innovative solutions to problems during your stroll.

Read a book
Reading a book is an excellent way to take a mini-holiday during your break. Stimulating your imagination can improve your happiness levels and problem-solving abilities. Try to choose a book that’s as different from your work as possible. Think fantasy, sci-fi and thrillers, not books about business. If you find carrying a book around inconvenient, try downloading an eBook or audiobook to your phone.

Knit or sew
You’ve probably spent all morning staring at a screen, so choosing a break-time activity that involves using your hands will make a nice change. The repetitive nature of knitting or sewing can be soothing. You’ll also have a great sense of achievement once you complete a project, which helps you to remember that work success isn’t the only way to feel accomplished.

Listen to music
Put together a special lunch-break playlist of songs that make you feel happy and optimistic. Listening to positive songs can subconsciously boost your confidence, improve your mood, and be ready to tackle that to-do list once your break is over. If your co-workers approve, you might play music throughout the office. You all can bond over shared music tastes and get motivated.

Forget checking your emails while forcing down a sandwich. Instead, try one of these relaxing, mood-boosting activities on your next lunch break. You might be surprised at how much more productive you become.

What Are the Top 5 Signs of Burnout?

Burnout is a debilitating condition caused by the buildup of stress over a long period of time. Many people who work long hours or have high-pressure jobs develop burnout. People who don’t maintain their physical and mental health or take time for relaxation are at higher risk of burning out than those who have a healthy work-life balance. This condition takes months or years to develop and is more serious than simply not liking your job or feeling unmotivated. If you’re concerned about developing burnout, be alert for these five warning signs.

You’re exhausted.
Constant fatigue is one of the first signs of burnout. Physical, mental, and emotional fatigue are all possible. Many people who are burned out feel drained or spent before the day even begins, and they have difficulty mustering up the energy to deal with whatever challenges the day brings. When you’re in a constant state of tiredness, even small setbacks can feel like insurmountable difficulties. To make matters worse, burnout can also cause insomnia, making it even harder to get the rest you need. If you’re having a hard time keeping up with your responsibilities because you feel exhausted all the time, consider whether burnout might be the cause.

You feel hopeless or depressed.
Burnout can make you feel sad, detached, or apathetic. It may seem like nothing you do matters. This can lead to poor performance at work or school. If you’re burned out, your productivity might take a nose dive, you might start avoiding your co-workers, or you might struggle with feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

Nothing you do feels like enough.
When you’ve been focusing on work too much for too long, you might start to feel like you can never do enough to make a difference or meet your own expectations. Burnout can rob you of any feeling of satisfaction in your work, kill your motivation, and make you wonder why you even bother. This disillusionment can lead to behavior like procrastinating, calling in sick frequently, coming to work late, or not doing assigned work.

You get sick frequently.
Burnout is a mental condition, but it can affect you physically, too. If you’ve been having unexplained physical symptoms like headaches, backaches, or loss of appetite, burnout could be the cause. Burnout can also lower your immunity, making you more susceptible to illnesses and infections.

You’re not interested in anything anymore.
A major sign of burnout is loss of interest in things you once enjoyed. This symptom often goes hand-in-hand with feeling depressed or indifferent. You might feel bored, cynical, or unmotivated about a job you once loved, or you might dread walking into work every day. This apathy can carry over into other areas of your life and cause you to lose interest in hobbies and other activities, too.

Burnout can have a serious impact on your career, relationships, and home life. If you think you might be burned out, take action right away. Prioritize your health, set aside time to focus on your hobbies and interests, and consider whether you might benefit from changing jobs. By caring for yourself and making sure your priorities are aligned with your needs, you can overcome burnout and restore balance in your life.

Essential Safety Tips for Your Smartphone or Tablet

Whether you are upgrading to the latest model or buying your first smartphone or tablet, you need to secure your device properly from the start. Modern smartphones are closer to supercomputers than traditional telephone handsets, and they need to be secured as if they were computers.

The same is true of tablet computers, yet the owners of these devices often do not take security as seriously as they should. If you doubt the need for smartphone and tablet security, just think about how you use the device. From online banking and financial transactions to email and web surfing, the places you go online leave behind lots of tracks – tracks a criminal could follow to raid your bank account, hijack your email and wreak havoc with your personal and professional life.

With that in mind, here are some smart safety tips to secure your smartphone or tablet from day one. Taking these safety ideas into account can prevent unauthorized access and keep your private information under wraps.

Create a Strong Password
A strong password or PIN is your first line of defense, and it should be the first thing you do once your smartphone or tablet is up and running. Make your password or PIN as long as possible, and use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters whenever you can. The more complex you make your password, the harder it will be for a thief, or anyone else, to crack.

Do not forget to secure your cloud storage space or online backup with a password that is just as strong. One of the great things about modern smartphones and tablets is that they can easily be synced to your cloud account. That means that everything on your phone will end up in the cloud, and if that cloud storage site is not secure, it will be easy for a hacker to access it.

Research the Apps You Plan to Install
You will want to install lots of apps on your new smartphone or tablet, but do a little bit of homework first. Check out the apps, read the reviews and search online for notices of security holes and other issues. Only download apps from trusted sources, and immediately delete any apps that do not perform as expected.

You may want to wait a few weeks before downloading a brand new app. Some security problems are not apparent right away, and you may not learn about them until other people have been using them for a while.

Turn On the Remote Location Features
Smartphones and tablets are highly portable – that is what makes them so useful. But their portability also makes them easy to lose, so protect yourself with remote location features.

Remote location features make it easier to track your lost smartphone or tablet, vastly increasing the odds of getting it back. Before you download a single app, you should make sure the remote tracking features are turned on.

Enable Remote Wiping
The ability to remotely wipe your smartphone or tablet if it is lost or stolen is just as important as the ability to track it. Some smartphones have remote wiping features built in, while others require owners to download a special app. No matter what the situation, having the ability to remotely erase your personal data will give you extra peace of mind.

Protect Yourself with a VPN
Wireless connectivity is one of the best features of any smartphone or tablet, but public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously unreliable and often dangerous. Using a virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best ways to keep you safe when you surf.

Businesses routinely use virtual private networks to protect their data and allow employees to connect to the office network. You can use the same technology to keep your personal surfing secret, especially when you are using the free Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop or similar location.


No matter what kind of smartphone or tablet you own, you need to take steps to protect it. These devices bring a great deal of convenience to our lives, but they also come with their fair share of risks. Taking the time to secure your devices now mitigates the danger and allows you to enjoy the advantages of modern technology.

Congratulations to the Workspace Design Scholarship Winners

Planning an office layout is no longer about designing a space to accommodate cubicles and a few meetings rooms. The landscape of the workforce has changed, and with it, traditional work spaces must evolve to meet the current needs of the modern workplace. Today’s workplace design requires thoughtful planning to include collaborative spaces, multi-functional rooms, and ergonomic workstations, all while reflecting the company’s brand and culture.

Interior Design students from colleges and universities across Canada were invited to participate in the 2017 Staples Business AdvantageTM Corporate Workspace Design Scholarship. Students were given the opportunity to create a corporate space environment to showcase their learnings and provide their expertise of modern workplace design.

The contract furniture division of Staples Business Advantage Canada is proud to offer academic scholarships to three winners of this year’s Corporate Workspace Design Scholarship. Interior Design students from across the country participated and were judged on their ability to create and present a workspace design plan for the modern corporate environment. The design submissions were judged on a variety of criteria, including overall design concept, space planning solutions, finishes and material selection, presentation skills, and more.

“The task of designing a future space allows promising students to showcase their creativity and skills in creating a vision for reinventing the way we work,” said Sandra Vyse, National Director, Furniture, Staples Business Advantage. “We are very pleased to offer a scholarship to help students in their education towards creating exceptional design.”

The scholarship provides an opportunity for talented design students to re-imagine today’s workspace into a place where digitalization, telecommuting and need for collaborative space can all be combined. The project encourages and supports interior design students who have the potential to make a significant contribution in the design field.

“I always knew that interior design was about meeting the needs of the user, but it never became more apparent than with workplace design,” said Andrew Zarkovich, scholarship recipient from Fanshawe College. “The employees are the most important part of any business/organization, so their well-being should be placed in highest regard, followed by the function of the workplace; although the two can go hand-in-hand.”

“I was captivated by the ways in which the built environment had the power to foster more efficient methods of working and learning,” noted Jenny Campbell, scholarship winner from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. “I learned how greatly a space can inspire collaboration and creativity as well as its impact on user wellbeing.”

The following students were chosen nationally and awarded a scholarship by a panel of interior designers from the furniture team at Staples Business Advantage Canada and several design firms:

  • Jenny Campbell, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Andrew Zarkovich, Fanshawe College
  • Alyson Hewus, Sheridan College

Staples Business Advantage Canada congratulates each of the scholarship recipients and all the hard work they put in to their projects. This was the 7th consecutive year for the Interior Design Scholarship program.


Collingwood Collegiate Institute had a classroom that was sitting empty and unused
for the most part. The students had a vision of creating a space that the entire school
could access to use as a collaborative learning centre. Their vision became a reality
after they were selected as the winners of the Extreme Classroom Makeover.

Together with our vendor partners, 3M, Newell, and Safco, we transformed the
classroom into a creative and collaborative learning space, filled with all new state
of the art furniture and accessories. Safco provided all new sit-stand desks and
chairs, stools, brightly coloured chairs and Safco® Zenergytm Ball Chairs. 3M filled
the classroom with all new learning essentials, including emoji Post-its®, Scotch®
Globe Tape Dispenser, and the new Post-it® Dry Erase Surface for all the desks and
table tops, a very popular feature with the students. Newell Office Brands gifted the
students with boxes full of writing tools and fun classroom accessories, like the Expo®
2-in-1 Low Odour Markers, Elmer’s Glue, Sharpie® Highlighters and so much more.

View a time lapse video of the full makeover below!


Post-it® Dry Erase Surface