in the know

As the offices of the world strive to become more organised, it is becoming increasingly important for OP manufacturers to know the working environment of the end-user. Esselte’s 2004 global work habits study provides some valuable information

Global workplaces are becoming increasingly intense environments as time is squeezed more and more and everyone tries to spread themselves as thinly as possible over their working day. Only bad workmen are said to blame their tools, a saying which can be debated for as long as you like, but what cannot be debated is that an overworked employee certainly knows the benefit of having the right tools. To this end, the working habits of office managers provide valuable information that can influence the strategies of OP manufacturers as they seek to innovate and produce products of true worth. Knowledge, as they say, is power.

It is therefore with much interest that Esselte has unveiled its 2004 global study on the work habits of office managers around the world.

A similar study was undertaken in 2000 and Esselte wasted little time in weaving the findings into its product strategy by extrapolating the key findings.

Esselte CEO Magnus Nicolin says: "The 2000 Global Work Habits survey was the foundation for a broader research project that included an extensive amount of consumer focus groups. It functioned as background for the detailed findings which emerged from the focus groups, which were then used to direct product development. For instance, the 2000 survey provided us with information that end users were working more and more from their homes. This led to research which showed that consumers were looking for more "home/family" friendly products that blended with their home décor. We in turn introduced several workspace products in a variety of colours that were suitable for display in the home with out giving the impression of an office environment."

Ironically, perhaps, in an age of working that seeks to give more flexibility of working for employees who have children or special requirements out of the workplace, the study showed that people are actually working harder than they did five years ago and that the advent of home offices and increased telecommuting has blurred the boundaries of work and play. Indeed, it has been increasingly difficult to ascertain just when the working day truly ends for many employees.

While the study showed some commonalities across the globe’s workplaces, it also revealed a number of fascinating differences. All of which begged the question of whether companies should make products for the global workplace or target country by country in accordance to those requirements peculiar to particular countries.

Most workers across the world reported that they rely heavily on technology to do their jobs with the average worker spending at least 71 per cent of their workday "plugged in". Around 90 per cent of respondents said the impact of technology made working life easier while 85 per cent said it improved organisation. Nearly a third of all managers work more than 50 hours a week with the global average standing at 44 hours a week. Most are battered by a relentless deluge of emails, averaging 45.3 messages a day, while 60 per cent have a home office. The French were the most home workers, with 71 per cent of respondents having a home office, while the British had the least with 51 per cent.

Looking at the major differences between the countries surveyed, the US comes out on top when it comes to working hours and the greatest number of workaholics.

US workers clock in more than 46 hours a week while their European and Australian counterparts (rest of the world) almost 43.5 hours. The US has an even greater difference when it comes to workaholics with 41 per cent working 50 hours a week or more while the average for the rest of the world was down at 33 per cent. A key word running throughout the study was organisation. Whether it’s a case of getting organised, staying organised, or judging levels of organisation, this is clearly a key area and an area where OP manufacturers should take note. More than half of the managers surveyed, including almost two-thirds of American respondents, feel they should be more organised but weren’t sure how to get more organised. The importance of this was reinforced by the significant number of managers in the US, UK, France and Australia, 56 per cent, who said they take their staff members’ level of organisation into consideration when conducting annual appraisals. Interestingly, only 32 per cent of managers took this into consideration in Germany.

Nicolin says: "One of the most significant findings from the survey was that the majority of respondents (60 per cent) felt that being well organised was a learned trait. This is a great opportunity for us as a manufacturer of organisational products. If we can introduce the right products that give the end user a feeling of accomplishment, then we can become their product of choice for life."

So, having looked over the findings, what can we say about the different workplaces throughout the globe.

Nicolin says: "We have not yet become one ‘global’ or homogenous society. Each country, and in fact different regions within specific countries, have different ways of conducting business. Cultures differ across regions. In the US the hanging file folder reigns supreme, while in Germany, Leitz lever arch files are found in all offices as most filing is done through the lever arch file; however, in the UK it is more of a mix of lever arch files, hanging files and ring binders. In Sweden, our most popular mode of filing is through the fabric bound, wooden-spined Joppa binder. This type of filing is not found anywhere else in Europe. We expect these local "standards" to remain in place, however, we also expect new innovations to take hold globally such as some of the products that we are currently working on which, we feel, will revolutionise the office products industry."

So how can OP manufacturers use studies such as these and how easy is it to extrapolate the trends that matter. Nicolin explains: "This gives us a starting point in which to gauge consumer thoughts, behaviors and expectations about and toward office products and habits. OP Manufacturers need to understand how consumers work, where they work and how they view work, in order to meet consumer demand. This is one of the foundations for Esselte’s growth strategy. When you consider how many people are now working from home, tele-commuting, job sharing or are considered mobile office workers (work from their car) versus five years ago, you see that change happens in bursts and varies region to region. If you don’t understand these "bursts" of change you will invariably have the wrong product in your warehouse."

After the 2000 survey, Esselte used the findings to create home/office products that blended with home décor under the Intego name, with items including letter trays, magazine holders and suspension filing units. The company also launched the Naturelle filing line which had warm earthy colours that contributed to a well-balanced and well-designed environment.

Nicolin adds: "Esselte is committed to meeting the organisational needs of our customers everywhere, and we will use this study to continue developing innovative office products that help managers achieve a better work/life balance."

Growing your product portfolio is clearly essential to any OP manufacturer that wants to stay an OP manufacturer, but growing the right product is the key. It is imperative that manufacturers get into the minds of the end users and understand what their needs are and how best to address them. Knowledge is power.