Why it’s time to kick off your shoes in the office, the drive to ban drive-thrus and some woolly wanderers flocking to Paris.
Sightseers in Paris might have spotted a flock of 25 sheep taking a tour of the city’s landmarks this summer. Why were they there? To highlight the advantages of farming in cities, says Urban Shepherds. The firm, which is based in the suburb of Aubervilliers, believes that city sheep can create jobs in meat production and help maintain green space: the voracious herbivores can mow a lawn quicker than you can say “L’agneau, s’il vous plaît,” to a waiter. In fact, sheep already groom the grounds of two housing estates in Paris. Similar schemes in Lyon, Marseille and Brussels suggest that the idea is not as woolly as it sounds; perhaps now is the time to ram it home.
Even for those of us not working from the comfort of our homes, the office of the future could be shoe-free. Ditching the derbies or heels is not only comfortable, it might even boost performance. A 10-year study by researchers at the University of Bournemouth found that pupils who went shoeless in class did better at school. Some companies, such as Swedish tech start-ups Instabridge and Remente, already have employees take off their shoes by the door. If the idea spreads, good hygiene and well-clad feet – in socks by Falke or slippers like the Kontex ones in The Monocle Shop – are a must.
The risks associated with excessive mobile-phone use are well documented. Aside from the perils of not paying attention to one’s surroundings, “tech neck”, “text thumb” and “selfie elbow” are just some of the ailments that sound made up but, sadly, aren’t. In Italy, politicians want to get a headstart on such issues: ministers have drafted a law to prevent and treat mobile-phone addiction. The bill lays out plans for education programmes to reduce excessive phone use, particularly by teenagers: studies show that half of Italians aged 15 to 20 consult their devices at least 75 times a day.
Austrian authorities might be tempted to follow suit. A recent trial of driverless minibuses in Vienna was ditched after a woman lost in the glow of her smartphone bumped into one of the vehicles while it was moving – mercifully at 12km/h. Those Italian lawmakers might be right: a future where cars and humans fail to notice each other is cause for concern.
Thoughts on how to improve the work environment and ethos.
“Find a balance between ‘caves’ and ‘commons’. People are marooned in pseudo open-plan space, permanently distracted with their headphones on. Better workplace design fixes this.”
“Ban productivity propaganda: a new sub-genre of motivational quotes, aimed at promoting productivity as an aspirational state. The worst? #5amclub (bragging about waking up early in order to fit in more hours of work).”
“We must fix the fatuous use of email. When video conferencing was introduced it was mispositioned as an inexpensive alternative to air travel. Instead it needs to be positioned as an alternative to group email exchanges.”
“We increasingly find clues for designing workspaces in nature – not only in the selection of sustainable finishes and materials but in responding to the wellbeing, comfort and productivity of the occupants.”
There are two kinds of people: those who are always on time for work and the rest of us. Arriving late to the office, bleary-eyed and wearing non-matching socks, carries a stigma. The implication is that the people who have to fight harder to cast off the shackles of slumber at 07.00 are less driven, motivated and competent than folk who – somehow – spring forth every day as effortlessly as well-rested toddlers on Christmas morn.
Thankfully this idea is under attack. B-Society is a global initiative making the case that late rising isn’t down to deficiency of character but genetics. It states that circadian rhythms govern each person’s activity hours and, just like physical features, they are unique. The organisation helps companies design better working culture and groups personnel into A-persons (people who arrive early and leave early) and B-persons (people who arrive late and leave late). This way companies can get the most out of each employee’s peak activity hours. Founder Camilla Kring believes that if adopted en masse, such a shift would reduce the crush on commutes and take the strain off public transport. Punctuality be damned.
Consuming breakfast or dinner on the road to or from work is among the least-desirable ways to eat and gave rise to that most American of inventions: the drive-thru. But now this ritual is under threat in its very country of origin. Minneapolis’s planning commission has endorsed banning new drive-thrus in an effort to stop idling engines and reduce traffic. The city’s goal is to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. In Canada, Halifax is considering similar measures. The fight to save the planet will see commercial casualties. Let’s hope that the demise of the car and the drive-thru in the coming years doesn’t result in rising levels of mastication on public transport.
Well within living memory, work was not merely a thing you did but a place you went to. In recent decades the phrase “at work” has been rendered, in many fields, meaningless. Estimates of how many people now work partially or completely from home vary but it is clear that more people do than once did – and more people will than now do.
While acknowledging the drawbacks to our increasingly hybrid working lives – most obviously, the imperilling of a sensible work-life balance – there is a considerable upside. Each environment holds lessons that can be usefully and profitably applied to the other.
Working at home, with its lack of supervision and myriad distractions, actually encourages discipline: you either learn to focus or accomplish nothing. Working in an office, aside from preventing the descent into unhygienic hermitry, reminds us of the value of community and collaboration – not merely to the success of the collective but the sanity of the individual.
Smarter employers are hopefully absorbing the same lessons. If a particular employee actually can knock off what amounts to a solid day’s work before lunch, there’s no loss in them spending the rest of the afternoon watching the cricket in their dressing gown while eating beans out of a tin: they may even have a good idea while doing so and, even if they don’t, it’s better for their own mental welfare than sulking in an office pretending to be busy.
By the same token, employers who rely on homeworkers should make an effort to involve them, even if it’s just gathering them somewhere with some money behind the bar every few weeks. I can speak only for my own field but this is known to be a reliable method of getting journalists, at least, to turn up.
In Japan, recent months have seen workers railing against company bosses who force female employees to wear high heels to work. So much so that actor Yumi Ishikawa has launched a campaign called KuToo – a play on the words kutsu (shoe) and kutsuu (pain) – and petitioned for the government to legislate against draconian dress-codes. With workwear a recurring flashpoint in the gender debate, details on Japan Airlines’ upcoming uniform update are timely. For the first time in the company’s history, female cabin crew will have the option to wear a trouser suit. Due for take-off in 2020 (coinciding with the Olympics – the company wants to smarten up in time for visitors), the uniform has been designed under the direction of Japanese fashion designer Yasutoshi Ezumi. One issue that won’t thrill the shoe activists: heels of up to 5cm will remain standard (although the firm will listen to feedback). Still, at a time when Japanese companies are fielding bad press for stuffy dress diktats, Japan Airlines’ refresh is a fashion win.