National / International News
Those signs on business windows that say "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone"? They're legal.
Indiana's law allowing businesses to refuse service for religious reasons is bringing more attention to a separate but related issue: recognizing gender and sexual identity as a protected class, as more than 20 states already do. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says some members have already suffered business losses.
The reality is this: businesses discriminate against people all the time. Think of someone getting rowdy at a bar who gets booted out. A business owner can do that, says Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
"They can take somebody who comes in smelling and someone who's going to cause difficulty because of some characteristic," Hanson says.
That characteristic can't be race. Federal law prohibits that kind of discrimination at public accommodation places like grocery and hardware stores. As a class, minorities are protected. And Hanson says what's been happening in Indiana might lead to LGBT people being covered as a protected class.
"This fight may well be the rising crescendo to getting sexual orientation covered in the federal law," Hanson says.
For that to happen, Congress would have to act. For now, even under Indiana's extremely controversial law, a business refusing to serve gays and lesbians might not be able to justify its actions.
"You know, it's going to be a lot easier, I think, to make the case under Religious Freedom law that your faith does not permit you to participate in a same-sex wedding than to make the case your faith doesn't permit you to serve gay customers at all," says Ramesh Ponnuru, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.
Legally, he says, those are very different situations. Nevertheless, excluding customers is baffling to Elliot Richardson, CEO of the Small Business Advocacy Council in Chicago.
"Most of the time you're going to sell to everybody, as long as they can pay for it," Richardson says.
And as some Indiana businesses have already learned, customers make choices as to where they do business, too.
GoDaddy launched its IPO Wednesday, selling its stocks publicly for the first time. It asked for just $20 bucks per share this morning, but by day’s end, that price shot up more than 30 percent.
When a company goes public it starts with a price that it thinks is fair. When that price then shoots up on the first day of trading, it's called “the pop.”
The pop and fizzle
Jay Ritter, professor of finance at the University of Florida, says the average pop is about 18 percent. It’s true that if there’s a giant pop, a company might have a facepalm moment and regret not pricing higher. The biggest fear for companies is that “they’re not getting as much proceeds as they could have,” says Ritter.
But think about the opposite of a pop: The fizzle. Let’s say there was a greedy little piggy of a company that priced high to squeeze out every last drop of profit it could. David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com, which predicts and researches IPO prices, says a move like that “basically shuts down the pipeline of other people who might want to buy the stock. Investors still need to believe there’s room for more demand on the upside.”
...And the razzle-dazzle
Bill Blais, executive vice president of Loyal3, a registered broker dealer whose mission is to democratize the IPO process, says you need to start with the old 'razzle-dazzle.' “Stocks that don’t pop, that go in the opposite direction, generally have a hard time regaining momentum, and there’s a lot of empirical evidence to back that up,” says Blais.
And don’t forget about the banks. The banks are the ones putting on the whole IPO dog-and-pony show to begin with. They want stocks to jump because that’s how they reward their biggest clients — letting them buy undervalued shares before public trading starts, before the pop.
“Investors are competing to get the underpriced shares” from banks or underwriters of an IPO, says Ritter. “And one of the ways investors compete is by overpaying on commissions on other deals, so that an underwriter or a stockbroker who’s deciding who to give the shares to, who’s allowed to use discretion ... will give shares to more profitable customers.”
Leona Chin stalled her high-powered car in first gear and randomly turned the wipers on — before unleashing the skills she has honed as a professional driver. Havoc, and some panic, ensued.
Try to get one simple task at work done, say, updating a line of text on a website. The next thing you know, you're running an anti-virus check for malware and re-installing system software.
Developers have a name for when one tiny task sets off an avalanche of work, "yak shaving." The idea comes from a "Ren and Stimpy" episode:
"You'll look up and it'll be five o'clock and you'll have chased down all the minutia but you wouldn't have actually gotten any work done," says Jonathan Hirschman, CEO of PCB:NG, a firm that does electronic assembly for hardware entrepreneurs.
Small tasks which seem to transform magically into tidal waves of work, says Hirschman, are why he can't work from home, he's too easily distracted. Like the time he was indulging in a favorite morning routine, reading tech journals before leaving the house.
"Before I knew it I was outlining a schematic and had to stop myself and say, 'Wait a minute, you're not going to create a new piece of electronics. You're going to go into the office and get your work done.'"
Still Hirschman notes, his current office, a rented desk in the open-plan section of a co-working space, is also problematic.
"What's the quote? Hell is other people," he says.
Jonathan Hirschman is not a fan of his open plan co-working office. Hell, he says, is other people.Sally Herships
But encouraging workers to cozy up to each other is what's hot right now in the world of office design, it's all about the open plan.
Facebook is planning to put thousands of its workers into one mile-long room, and Samsung is building a new headquarters which includes floors of outdoor spaces, where it's hoping employees from different departments and levels will mingle.
GlaxoSmithKline just paid, it won’t say how many hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, to design a new 200,000 square foot glass building in Philadelphia which is entirely open-plan.
The company is so excited, it made a video about it.
"It’s a whole new way of working," says one featured worker's voice. "I’ll admit it," continues another, "at first I was nervous about leaving my old office and cubicle setup. But I love working in the open environment.”
So are open plan offices the holy grail of office design? Or, are they what Jonathan Hirschman describes as "a kind of purgatory for workers?" Keep your head down long enough and maybe, just maybe, you'll make it to an office of your own with a door that closes.
GlaxoSmithKline's new building looks and feels a little like a hotel. There’s a coffee shop on the ground floor and a spiral staircase rises out of a huge atrium, whichever way you look you see windows and light.
But even though the five-floor building holds over a thousand employees, there are no offices, at least not the kind we're used to.
This is the new non-office office, there are no offices in the building — at least, there are no assigned seats. At GlaxoSmithKline, groups get put in "neighborhoods": Every morning you get your laptop, post-it notes and assorted chargers out of your locker, and decide where you'd like to sit for the day. Every evening, your belongings get stowed away again. GSK has a clean desk policy in place — no detritus please.
Why not just let workers stick to the comfort of their own desks?
"Because we’re trying to keep movement in the environment," says Ray Milora, head of design and change management at the company, "we’re trying to keep people moving around."
Milora notes there are options for workers who need some alone time. There are special chairs that look like they've escaped from "Alice in Wonderland," with large arms and headrests meant to protect their occupants from sights and sounds, are strategically placed throughout the building. There are also quiet rooms, though they have time limits to prevent employees from moving in permanently.
The big idea, says Milora, is to encourage workers to talk to colleagues they might otherwise never interact with. And at GSK, the plan seems to be working.
Milora says attendance at the company has gone up dramatically. At GSK's old building, which he describes as a traditional American 1980s space, "low ceiling, neon lights everywhere," and he continued, "beige, everything beige," attendance was at 40 percent, but in the new space, it's gone up to "well over 90 percent here."
Though the new space is beautiful and open, workers are bathed in lots of natural light, and the staircase promotes exercise — the elevators are located in non-encouraging spots — some employees at GSK wear headphones. And that, says Nikil Saval, author of "Cubed, a Secret History of the Workplace," is the "open scandal of the open-plan office trend."
While open plan offices can be conducive to collaboration, Saval notes that they can also be distracting.
"They're supposed to induce these serendipitous encounters where people run into each other and burst into this flame of innovation and disruption," but Saval says, "that's not what you're doing all the time."
Besides, says Ben Waber, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, a firm which uses Bluetooth and microphones to track worker interactions, happiness and productivity, open plan or office with doors, encouraging employee interaction can be hard to get right.
Bicycle helmet designer Danielle Baskin prefers to customize her own work space.Sally Herships
"The amount you talk to other people is never predictive of how productive or happy you are," he says. It's not how much you talk to your co-workers, says Waber, but instead "it's the pattern of communication — do I talk to a lot of people who know each other or do I talk to people in different groups?"
Waber tells a story about a large manufacturing company whose salespeople sat in cubicles.
"The company said, 'You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to spend millions of dollars, we’re going to build out a beautiful new open-plan office setting, lots of daylight, it’s going to be great — fantastic.'"
And they did that, but it didn’t work. Sorry cube-haters — the cubicles, says Waber, were actually better.
In the old setup, the sales team talked to each other and consequentially learned how to sell more. When the office went open-plan, they also talked more — but to other co-workers, outside of the sales team, instead.
The problem today, says Waber, is instead of thinking about what specific employees needs are, some companies are too focused on trying to be trendy.
Of the office-hip, open-plan plan, "isn't it ironic — I started researching these in 1976," says Alan Hedge, a Professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University. "And here we are nearly forty years later — and it's come back into fashion," he says.
The open-plan office, according to Hedge, is a German idea from the middle of the last century: "Bürolandschaft." "Büro which is the German for office and landschaft which is landscape."
The original open-plan offices were a flop, says Hedge. Workers were unhappy with the noise and lack of privacy, and today, when headphones — out of necessity — have become the new office door, the same concerns exist. Office design, says Hedge, is like fashion.
"The latest trend is to say, 'let's get rid of cubicles, let's get rid of private offices, let's create these vast open spaces and life will be wonderful.' Well it won’t," he says.
When it comes to office design, uniformity can equal failure.
"Everybody gets the same chair, everybody gets the same desk, everybody gets the same space. That's the kiss of death."
As is another hot office design trend: The standing desk. "The human body is designed to move," says Hedge, "but not all the time. It is designed to sit, but not all the time. It's designed to stand, but not all the time."
Instead, says Hedge, workers should find an optimal mix. He offers the following formula: Sit for twenty minutes, stand for eight and move for two. At the very least, your lower back will feel more comfortable. And if you're a worker who's unhappy in his or her office space, there's always another trend to fall back on — grabbing your laptop and heading to the nearest coffee shop.
People who rely most on their smartphones to get online, often deal more frequently with service interruptions, because of financial hardship and data caps.