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Productivity at work and on the road

August 26, 2012

The Wall Street Journal's City section reports on a physician's take on "how workers can make over their work spaces so they can become more physically fit while on the job" and its implication for both wellness and productivity.

The doctor, Anup Kanodia of Ohio, suggests that the "centerpiece of workplace self-improvement is standing" and goes so far as to opine that sitting is "like smoking and alcohol abuse".Further, he notes "even if someone exercises, it does not mitigate the risks of sitting. While it is a problem that is unlikely to afflict hotel front desk associates and airline check-in agents it probably has application to just about every sedentary office situations and even many service jobs like reservation agents.

Also from Ohio, EHSToday, an ergonomics and safety publication reports on productivity and ergonomics  with a focus on hazards that road warriors face and the steps they can take to ameliorate them. They quote egonomics experts Humantech in listing ten ways frequent travelers can work more ergonomically when traveling:

  • Use a four-wheeled suitcase. It requires less force to move and you can push it through the airport by your side in a neutral wrist posture rather than having to reach behind your body and pull or drag a suitcase.
  • Wear a laptop backpack (on both shoulders) or use a strap on the back of your laptop bag to slide it over the handles of your suitcase to minimize bending over and the stress on your neck and shoulders.
  • Always use the luggage rack in your hotel room to pack/unpack your luggage to minimize bending. Do not put open luggage on the floor. If a luggage rack isn’t available, use the bed or a chair or ottoman.
  • Use the hotel business center when available. Most companies now have a webmail application, so email can be checked from any computer.  This will allow you to use a full-size monitor and keyboard instead of the small monitor and cramped keyboard on your laptop.
  • Hotel desk chairs can have limited height adjustability. Sit on one of the many bed pillows and even put one on the chair armrest to support your arms and keep a more neutral mousing posture.
  • Use an external keyboard for tablets when writing emails.  Also, save longer emails for when you can access a computer versus typing them out on your phone.
  • Some hotels (notably Hampton Inns) now include a lap desk in every room. This ergonomic feature supports a more neutral posture allowing you to sit in bed and work.
  • Vary postures between sitting and standing. Visit the hotel’s restaurant bar after you’ve been sitting for a while. Many airport lounges now have raised tables so you can stand during your layovers too.
  • Use task/reading lights when working in your hotel room or on an airplane.  As nice as natural light is on the plane, it can put strain on the eyes if it’s not enough.
  • Purchase a compact extension power strip, as there might only be one or two accessible plugs in a hotel room. For laptop and phone chargers, retractable cords save a lot of space in your luggage, and they don’t get tangled.

Also on the ergonomics front, a report takes a shot at ubiquitous back-lit mobile devices saying that a "two-hour exposure to light from self-luminous electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22%. Stimulating the human circadian system to this level may affect sleep in those using devices prior to bedtime."  That's another trip for road warriors who tend to work on these devices till they're ready to turn it in for the night only to find that perhaps more than jet lag melatonin suppression results in sleep deprivation.


Olympian branding

August 19, 2012

A Financial Times column reflects on the revival of the British brand during the recently concluded games wondering why so many storied and long established British companies have over time divested and even spurned any references to their British identity.  The Union Jack was ubiquitous as fans, both British and foreign, as well as players sported the colors with pride.

The FT column notes that for some "it was part of a mixed identity: the boy with a South African flag draped down his front and a Union Jack on his back" but for "most it was simpler as in a"a mixed-race girl, draped from neck to ankle in British colours".  And yet British companies have spent years and several millions divesting themselves of their Britishness going so far as to actively blank out any insignia or references to their country of origin.

It is a campaign that saw British Airways drop the UK flag from its tail fins thinking it was indicative of a "national airline" as opposed to its non-governmental ownership over the last couple of decades and one that saw "British Petroleum, British Telecommunications, British Aerospace changing their names, to BP, BT and BAE Systems. It is another matter that the abbrieviation to BP did nothing for British Petroleum or Britain in the aftermath of the infamous oil spill when leading politicians in the US went so far as to likening the incident to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Yet it is not clear why companies in diverse businesses continue to shun the USP that their brand represents to consumers. The latest in that vein is furniture giant IKEA which has just launched what it terms "design budget hotels" but will not bear the storied IKEA name. The decision appears even more mystifying considering the new hotels are initially slated for countries where IKEA has an established presence. They will also not be run by the Swedish company "but by an established hotel operator". Considering that the privately, if not secretly held, company's moniker is estimated to be worth over €9bn (US$11bn) it seems like an opportunity wasted.



Engaging customers - emotionally?

August 12, 2012

 The latest Gallup Business Journal's lead article based on recent research in the field suggests that senior executives are "leaving money on the table". The primary reason per Gallup is that "companies measure employee and customer satisfaction without much to show for it. That's because their surveys -- whether one magic question for customers or 100-plus-item monstrosities for employees -- often focus on the rational and exclude the emotional." The productivity and profits oriented journal terms the rewards to be derived from a better focus on the emotional aspect of customer interaction as an""engagement premium" or, essentially, profits that are to be had were customers to be engaged emotionally.

Gallup's conclusions derive from an assignment for a large financial services firm where employee and consumer engagement was surveyed with a view to integrating them; finding that doing so "amplifies their revenue-producing results by aligning an engaged workforce with customers' emotional needs. The surveys used test and control groups with the former getting the benefits of best practices developed by Gallup and the latter receving no intevention.

Gallup's results shown below in terms of employee and customer engagement clearly warrant the "premium" label.

The firm termed the results excellent if predictable as "the test group realized an 83% increase in employee engagement versus a 19% increase in the control group." Similarly, for customer engagement,   the test group achieved a 28% increase versus a 5% increase in the control group. The performance management giant's journal goes on to offer 3 tips for companies looking to increase the engagement premium beginning with using the right survey - not too many questions nor too few. Secondly, keep the issues local and not let top managers make "assumptions about what drives emotional connections with customers from one location's results."  Lastly, they suggest holding managers " accountable and coach them on emotional engagement" with the really successful companies going so far as to appoint "engagement champions".

Emotional engagement at the technological level also seems to be in news with Affectiva, an MIT Media lab startup that is looking for ways to measure emotional responses from online users by tracking their faces announced that they had secured $12 million in Series C financing. One of the company's products Affdex reads "emotional states such as liking and attention from facial expressions using a webcam... to give marketers faster, more accurate insight into consumer response to brands and media."  The possibilities for brands across industries looking to gauge their customers' emotional engagement appear limitless.


Disruptive technology? the skinny on skift

August 04, 2012

Skift, a media plus company as founder Rafat Ali likes to term it, has been around for nearly six months but has only just received a fair dose of publicity in the travel and, more importantly, in the digital world.  Billed more as a travel intelligence company than yet another media start-up, Skift, Swedish for Shift, does promise to shift the business of travel, in particular for business travelers.

Skift introduced itself to the marketplace via a factsheet as opposed to the more traditional press release noting that as a "travel intelligence media company it offers news, insight, data, tools and services to the travel industry and the very large community of business travelers who seek expert advice to help make smart decisions about travel". Relying more on data than content aggregation, Skift intends to offer a consumer site aimed at business travelers.

One suspects that, if successful, in this area the company will soon cater to a wider more diverse range of travel industry consumers. The analog is probably Smith Travel Research which began decades before the advent of the digital age but geared itself to provide performance data and trends for hotels, hoteliers and lenders eventually covering all stakeholders interested and needing that wealth of information generated by STR.

Appropos the foregoing, Skift can perhaps really end up being a disruptive technology medium as regular consumers who are under the mistaken notion that "deals" can be had via websites only to find, thanks to rate parity, that there are almost none to be had.  The latter is finally under some threat thanks to an investigation by Britain's Office of Fair Trading and has been written about before here. At a minimum,business consumers, and others, are very likely to get more for their content from a site like Skift once there are real deals to be had.

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  • President of Apple Core Hotels, a chain of 5 midtown Manhattan hotels offering value and comfort in the heart of the city.

    Member of the board of Directors - Hotel Association of New York.



  • The views expressed in this blog are my own and not that of any company, association or organization.