Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
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The Independent Online

Journalists at The Times received a surprise this week when the tip-tapping of old-fashioned typewriters started to ring out into the paper's new London Bridge offices.

But it's not just nostalgia for the vintage Fleet Street clatter that has inspired the latest addition to the workplace. It is suggested that the added crescendo of noise will increase energy levels and help reporters hit deadlines.

We shouldn't be surprised. Whether we are aware of them or not, offices these days are filled with little devices designed to motivate staff. Another publication, Tatler, operates a clear-desk policy. Sure, it may look pleasing, but according to a survey by the National Association of Professional Organisers, having more space on desks can also increase productivity by up to 30 per cent.

And should an office have a distinct, ripe pong (of the pleasant variety, as opposed to someone's sweaty cycling gear festering under a desk) then there's every chance it's been put there on purpose.

"Aromatic solutions providers" such as Aroma Co regularly perfume offices in order to stimulate the workforce. And the sweet smell of success? Lavender will relax employees, lowering stress levels and reducing absenteeism, while an injection of lemon and grapefruit after lunch will reinvigorate workers during the afternoon slump.

In-office doctors are certainly convenient (and come without a fortnight's waiting time), but they have also been found to reduce the number of staff members pulling sickies.

The presence of treadmill desks are understandably on the rise. As well as offering myriad health benefits, they also boost job performance, according to the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. Just ask Susie Forbes, principal at the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design, who extolled the virtues of her treadmill desk in a piece in Vogue this year (a stiletto-ed Victoria Beckham has even been snapped borrowing it on a visit to the college).

After all that walking, workers are certainly going to want a lie-down. But research suggests that bosses should encourage them to. Though it might appear counterintuitive, grabbing 15 winks is an excellent way to motivate employees.

In June, Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, published a study suggesting that a nap of between 30 and 90 minutes in the afternoon could help workers improve productivity. No wonder offices have seen a rise in quiet rooms (including Nike) and sleep pods (such as Procter & Gamble).

But it's Silicon Valley that is leading the workplace revolution. With their slides, games rooms, arcade machines and endless complimentary snacks (the "Google 15" refers to the number of pounds workers can look forward to piling on when they join the company), their workplaces resemble adult theme parks.

But is it all just a ruse to attract the best applicants and ensure workers rarely have to leave the compound, or does having a jelly bean machine actually bolster productivity?

Alison Price, a chartered occupational psychologist and author, believes that workers who enjoy their surroundings are likely to work harder. "It's positive psychology. There is a lot of evidence that happy employees are more productive," Price says. "They are also more creative, generate more sales and are less likely to have time off sick."

Bizarre meeting rooms, anything from Mind Candy's treehouses to Airbnb's recreation of the War Room in Dr Strangelove, are believed to fuel creativity and spark conversations and collaborations.

And Google's famous free canteen? Well, apart from creating a cheerful (and plumper) workforce, the queues are kept intentionally long in the hope that it will encourage employees to discuss possible new projects with each other.

Of course, the tech industry has plenty of cash to splurge on such frivolities. Less affluent companies should just remember that, according to Price, a sincere "good job" from the boss remains an effective way of boosting an employee's productivity.