A Healthy Resolution

January has always typically been a month of health and wellness. Millions start the New Year on a new diet and with high hopes to follow a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately these good intentions are often short-lived. Old habits are hard to break. However, help is at hand, and it comes in the surprising form of your employers.

With the planned roll-out of a mandatory health insurance scheme for all companies in Dubai at the start of this year, and following recent reports placing Dubai in the top 10 countries in the world for diabetes and other lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, we are seeing a prominent trend emerging in the region to incorporate health and wellness into the workplace.  With the objective of promoting healthier living habits and general wellbeing among the workforce, companies are rethinking how they fit-out their offices and reviewing HR practises and incentives.

We are seeing an increase in the use of natural light in a number of projects. This not only saves money on energy bills, but is also one component of occupant health affecting productivity and both physical and mental health. The important role that natural light plays in boosting morale and wellbeing among the workforce has resulted in the incorporation of large picture windows and open terraces that enhance natural light in the office and communal areas. This can reduce a number of physical effects such as eye fatigue and headaches.

We are also seeing a number of projects with Green Walls–panels of plants, grown vertically using hydroponics on structures that can be either free-standing or attached to walls. With countless toxins found in our indoor environment, such as formaldehyde, VOCs, trichloroethylene, carbon monoxide and benzene, to name just a few, adding office plants has long been a solution for improving indoor air quality. Green walls do just that, but on a much bigger scale. Not only does this improve air quality, it also provides a visual break, which studies suggest stimulates mental alertness.

It is not just the mind and soul that is benefitting from this trend, but also the body. Companies are now actively promoting a healthier lifestyle in the workplace – from installation of employee gyms to providing advice for employees on nutrition and diet and provision of healthier food options for staff.  At Summertown we run a monthly initiative including free to attend seminars, healthy snacks, and team events such as the recent Dubai Standard Chartered Marathon where more than 40 employees and their family members took part in the 10km and 3km to raise money for charity.

With so much help at hand to support an active lifestyle, it looks like 2014 is the year that your healthy resolution is here to stay.

The Evolution of Office Design

I am sure by now you would have heard the somewhat alarming statistic that over 30 per cent of our life will be spent at work. We all know that colleagues can become like family and equally the office can become a second home.  Employers are increasingly aware of the importance of providing employees with a workplace that they look forward to coming to everyday – this not only applies to the people they work with but the environment that they are in. It has been proven that the built environment can not only inspire but also relieve and heal as with the case of Maggie Cancer Care Centres, for example, in the United Kingdom. Office design also plays an important role in ensuring that you get the best from your employees, and its evolution over the years has developed to reflect this.

We have witnessed a marked shift in the way offices are designed; the market has moved away from fixed bespoke joinery items in favour of more flexible off-the-shelf furniture. In order to meet the demands of a mobile workforce, companies are choosing open plan, activity-based layouts to facilitate a more collaborative approach to work and personal accountability.

Workplaces today increasingly reflect this requirement for transparency where solid wooden doors and partitions have been replaced with glazing set in aluminium or steel frames. Also, long shared desks with mobile pedestals are increasingly replacing single workstations.  Efficient use of office furniture increases maximizes available floor space and provides opportunities to introduce breakout areas where staff can gather and collaborate, an important requirement among the millennial generation.

Along with an open plan office deign, we are also seeing an increasing awareness of environmental concerns such as recycling stations and energy saving lighting. This is for several reasons including cost savings, enhancing the company’s image, and of course saving the earth!

Gone are the days of dark, monotone offices – office design is now considered an essential part of an organisation’s image and brand. It is the ‘face’ of a company and is often a critical factor in recruiting and retaining talent. Given that the future of this trend is focused on making employees lives that much more enjoyable at work, this is good news for 30 per cent of all our lives!

Don’t just be environmentally friendly – keep that practice going!

By Shakeela Moosa, General Manager – Operations, Summertown Interiors

We recently shared a post on our new integrated CSR strategy and the benefits we are already seeing as part of implementing this approach. What has really got us motivated lately are results of some basic measures we implemented to reduce our water consumption at our Jebel Ali headquarters.

Let’s go back to how this started. Earlier this year, we implemented a ‘green’ audit which involved assessing our consumption levels in six chief areas – water, electricity, fuel, general waste, sewage and paper. The audit is an ongoing process, and our initial results were quite a surprise.. Despite operating in a LEED Gold-certified office, we discovered that our water consumption levels were higher than expected – each employee consumed an average of 178 litres of water per day!

We had a few brainstorming sessions with our team on what measures could help us reduce our water consumption. The team first identified seven ‘water zones’ across the office premises – areas that were using up a large amount of the total water consumed in the company. They installed a sub-meter on our main water line to monitor consumption by each zone and found that a large amount of water was being supplied to the garden area. A further evaluation showed that re-landscaping this area could decrease consumption by a massive 4,700 litres per day and, if this happened, would mean annual savings of at least AED 15,000 in operational costs.

The landscaping project began in May and will finish after the summer but the financial benefits of this are already going beyond what we estimated. Our overall water consumption from May to July reduced by 58% compared to the same time last year and we’ve already managed to save AED 8,000 in these three months!

The measures we’ve implemented are by no means expensive or complicated to apply, but have completely proved to be worth our team’s time and energy. It is not only encouraging to see a massive drop in our expenses, but to be conserving a very important natural resource, albeit in small ways!

Constructing a green office is a great way to be environmentally-friendly, but is certainly not enough. Monitoring and continuous improvement are critical if you want to remain committed to your green cause. An article I recently came across by Neutral Fuels CEO Karl Fielder also provides a great example of sustaining your ‘green’ efforts.

Are we ready to welcome the green building regulations?

By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

The Green Building regulations, first established by the Dubai Municipality in 2008, will finally be made mandatory for the private sector in early 2014. While this is a welcome introduction in the UAE’s sustainability charter, are we, as an industry, ready yet? Have we educated ourselves enough? Are we prepared for certain changes and uncertain expectations?

Preparation is key if you want to adapt to change quickly and effectively, whether within an organisation or within the industry. Here are a few things we all can and should work on:

1)  Familiarise yourself with the rules: why wait for the regulations to actually come into effect? Let’s use the time to familiarise ourselves and our teams with the rules and project how these will impact our current processes. Use web materials shared by the Dubai Municipality, hear from experts, discuss potential changes with your industry peers and, if you are a developer, find yourself a trusted consultant who can give you the best advice. Organisers of The Big 5 convened a webinar last week in which representatives of the Dubai Municipality presented crucial information about the upcoming regulations and answered questions from attendees.

2)   Define roles and responsibilities: this is something you should do long before regulations actually come into effect to avoid making sudden changes to business processes later. It may involve ironing out both internal and external processes, whether it is deciding who will look after new documentation procedures, who will manage product certifications or how much of the regulation responsibility will be shared by your partners. At Summertown, we’ve learnt that the best way to run a project is to get our employees involved right from the beginning. Form an internal taskforce who will be responsible to both allocate and manage the achievement of environmental goals – this will ensure their ownership and commitment to the task from the very beginning.

3)   Understand that change requires a shift in mind set too – the industry has been asking for mandatory regulation of sustainable building practices for a long time now. However, as this comes into effect, we should not start believing that this is the be all and end all. Regulation is only one step in the right direction for making our community and environment more sustainable for future generations. All of us and, particularly, the design and construction industry, have a civic duty to reduce our environmental footprint. While regulation will ensure better green compliance, sustainability should be a voluntary code we should all practice without further delay.

Being a socially responsible SME is not as complicated as it seems

By Marcos Bish, Managing Director, Summertown Interiors

We often come across corporations treating CSR as a separate function, assigning a specific budget to being socially responsible and even hiring dedicated personnel to manage it. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it makes me wonder why organisations are not tapping into all of their resources to support their CSR practices.

This leads me to an even bigger question. What are these so called CSR efforts? Is the company strategically invested in supporting its people, planet and profits or is its CSR activity only limited to philanthropic or charitable contributions?

While every company needs to start somewhere, the latter approach tends to give SMEs and start-up owners the impression they cannot be involved in CSR unless they have large sums of money to spend on it. This has certainly been the misconception among many of my industry peers who often dismiss CSR as a “nice-to-have”.

At Summertown Interiors (also an SME!) we can healthily and proudly argue the contrary.  Not only have we been able to implement CSR sustainably and socially responsibly, we’ve ensured that each one of our employees drives this wagon.

So how did we do this? First and foremost, we believe that social responsibility goes way beyond being environmentally friendly or charitable. The word ‘responsibility’ is extremely important here. A company is a good corporate citizen when it continuously works towards improving responsibility on all levels and towards all stakeholders be they customers, partners, employees or the community. It’s not about creating more work, but merely changing the way you do things.

Sustainability has always been at the forefront of our business operations. Last year we started working towards a long-term sustainability goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, but we wanted our community contribution to go beyond environmental savings. So we evolved our SMART Sustainable plan – an annual company-wide programme that maps sustainable goals for each employee against performance – into a wider strategy to incorporate areas other than the environment. Office-greening goals are still a part of this plan but aside from these, every employee is now responsible for achieving broader business and societal objectives and their overall performance heavily takes this into account.

Within the plan we focus on making company processes more sustainable, more comprehensive and healthier for our employees. For example, we’ve reviewed our supplier prequalification process, our onsite health and safety measures and the provision of healthy eating options for staff.

Our approach to new business has also been reviewed in line with our CSR approach. Providing project estimations is a time-intensive process, as our approach is to be completely transparent with our clients and to provide very detailed estimation budgets.  We want our clients to be completely clear on project costs, and what they include and don’t include.  Our preference is to work with clients who also take a transparent approach to business, have now taken the company-wide decision to work with clients that share core values similar to ours. While some may consider this measure somewhat arrogant or even foolhardy, it is one that is already benefitting our business. It has resulted in better utilisation of employee hours, a reduction in staff working overtime, more satisfied employees (as they are working on projects that really utilise their strengths) and increased productivity.

And while we operate in a LEED-certified office, it doesn’t mean we should stop improving on our environmental scorecard. We recently undertook an environmental audit which revealed some startling results. One of these was extremely high water consumption levels despite our low-flow taps and leakage detection systems already in place. We are now working on re-landscaping a particular outdoor area which we estimate will reduce water consumption by 50% for each employee and reduce operational costs by at least AED 15,000 per year.

We’re excited to see this come through and to also find out the results of the complete audit! Watch this space for more updates on this but in the meantime, why not think about the different facets of your business that you didn’t previously associate with CSR and how, by attaching some measurable actions to these, you can bring about a positive change in your business.

 

The Importance of Delegation by Jimmy Lynch

Delegation is one of the key performance management skills requiring a planned approach which will ultimately achieve the desired result whilst at the same time providing a platform to motivate and develop your work colleagues.

Become effective at delegation, and you’ll make your team members more enthusiastic, productive and your time will be spent on the things that you should be doing.  Follow these 5 steps to effective delegation:

Download The Importance of Delegation

If your team look good, then they will feel good!

Summertown’s mission is to consistently deliver high end interior projects on time and within budget, whilst helping companies to achieve their environmental goals, directly resulting in operational savings and a better workspace for employees.

Everyone knows the old saying ‘If you look good, then you feel good’ and at Summertown we are big believers in this statement.

The power of a positive image works wonders on creating a highly professional image for your company and it doesn’t just apply to senior management. For us, our whole organization has exposure to our customers. So we want every member of our staff to look good, feel good and to be proud to work for Summertown.

As a result, we have now introduced a new work wear range for all of our factory workers. The uniform is practical, looks great, and really helps our guys to embrace the professionalism that we as a company wish to portray.

Its the small things that count…

Many companies ‘talk the walk’ when it comes to being green, but do they really ‘walk the talk’?

Summertown’s Site Supervisor,  Jayaramn Kottary, recently demonstrated a great way to reuse waste material that not only benefits the employees, but saves the company money and increases productivity of staff.   Onsite facilities during a project fit out don’t often lend themselves to creating a comfortable environment for a restful break – especially during the early phases of the project.  Jayaramn and his team created a simple, highly effective seating and dining area on site for staff to enjoy whilst on their break, by recycling some old wooden pallets.  Everyone got to rest their weary limbs for a well deserved rest, and whatsmore it made the afternoon periods much more productive with the team having had a proper break.  The table/seating arrangements were so functional, they were even used for on site meetings during the fit out time.

This initiative has really made a positive impact with the client and site visitors alike, and goes to show how deep rooted Summertown’s core values are throughout the whole organisation.

Jayaprabhan Pallet tables

How to become green and save money for your organisation

Here are some of our top tips that we are implementing, that you can consider for your organisation too:

Reduce Energy Consumption
• Make it a habit to turn off the lights when you’re leaving any room for 15 minutes or more and utilise natural light when you can.
• Make it a habit to turn off your computer and appliances when you leave for the day.
• Remove your phone charger from the power point when not in use, as it continues to consume up to 40 percent of the current used to charge your phones.
• During the day, setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks can cut energy use by 70 percent. Remember, screen savers don’t save energy.
• Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones. They use less energy and last longer, too.
• When buying new appliances, look for Energy Star models.

Reduce & Reuse
• Think before you print
• Make it a habit to print on both sides or use the back side of old documents for faxes, scrap paper, or drafts. Avoid color printing and print in draft mode whenever feasible.
• Keep your own mug and dishware for those meals you eat at the office.
• Bring your own lunch to work in a reusable container to reduce packaging waste.

Recycle
• Buy recycled when possible. Toner cartridges, paper goods, plastics and more are available recycled now.
• Keep a paper recycling tray in addition to your waste bin.
• Do not throw electric appliances in the trash but recycle your old cell phone or PDA

Support Green Companies
• Support vendors who have green policies in place. From your bank to your office supply company to your Interior fit out company. Ask and find out who has good practices and give those companies your business.

Rethink your travel
• Make it a habit to carpool or take the metro or bus when feasible.
• Make it a policy to invest in videoconferencing and other technological solutions that can reduce the amount of employee travel.

Create a healthy office environment
• Make it a habit to use nontoxic cleaning products. And Make it a policy to buy furniture, carpeting, and paint that are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)  that do not give off-gas toxic chemicals.
• Write a company green policy. Distribute to employees and customers. Post it on your website, too. Join the environmental or sustainable committee in your workplace. If one does not exist, take the initiative and form a green task force.

Want to learn more about going green?  Register to attend one of our FREE ‘Green in Action’ workshops.

Realistic Project Timescales

It was recently brought to my attention that companies in Dubai are often unaware of the time scale involved in the interior fit-out of offices, and are in essence, looking for the work to be completed, not today but yesterday.

In order to avoid this situation, it is essential for companies looking to move/re-design their office to be aware of the realistic time scales involved, once that all important call is made.

The timescale involved from an enquiry (contacting the interior fit-out contractor) to start up on site is approximately 8 weeks. These 8 weeks include gathering information for the project brief, site survey, space planning, concept and presentation, preparation of BOQ (Bill of Quantity), preparation of construction and MEP drawings, and approval from the authorities. A further 8-12 weeks should then be added until completion date of the project which includes the lead time for materials and furniture. Therefore, the total timescale from an enquiry until completion date is approximately 20 weeks (5 months).

These timescales are averages of the time involved and are subject to change, however as a general guide, any company who has the intention to move/re-design their office should ensure that they have allowed sufficient time for the process and integrate it into their plans accordingly.