The Office Exhibition, which took place in February 2010, offered some interesting insights into the UAE workplace. We look at what lies ahead for the office industry, as well as what the exhibition research revealed.

The Office Exhibition, sponsored by Hewlett Packard, was inaugurated by HE Humaid Mohamed Obaid Al Qutami, Minister of Education. Key features at the show included The Future Office, The Office Awards and The Student Loft Competition proving to be a great success.

The exhibition featured over 250 companies and brands from around the globe, showcasing everything from office furniture to the latest office technology. Split into four main sectors (technology, interiors, furniture and consultancy), the show featured exhibitors from 25 countries, including USA, Italy, Spain, UK and Germany.  They showcased everything from high-end office chairs to storage wall systems, as well as acoustics products and the latest IT solutions.

New for 2010, The Office Awards provided an additional avenue for exhibitors to highlight their innovative products and designs, covering a number of categories including seating, files and storage, and tables.  Sponsored by Bene and judged by Gensler, Cityscape, EMS and Reliance FM & Green Technologies amongst others, the Awards were presented to the winners by Bernard Walsh, Managing Director of dmg world media.

Industry achievers

Two US companies fared well, with Allsteel being awarded two Gold Awards (for Stride – Furniture Systems and Encircle – Lounge Seating) and a Silver Award (for Villi – Public Seating); and Izzy+ received three Silver Awards (for Dewey – Education, Olivia – Public Seating, and Eliott – Worksurfaces).

Boss Design from the UK also scooped three Awards, one Gold (for Kruze – Guest Seating) and two Silver (for Lily – Task Seating, and Pegasus – Tables). These are being launched in the Middle East.

A number of innovative office products made their Middle East debut at the exhibition: Total Office’s Teknion Powermat created a real buzz. This is a revolutionary way to charge up to three devices wirelessly at the same time from a single source, eliminating the need for a number of different chargers. Total Office have received hundreds of enquiries about Powermat following its launch and are confident that sales within the region will catch on quickly; the award-winning Knoll Generation chair was launched by Al Reyami, the UAE exclusive distributor. This unique chair adheres to “holistic ergonomics”, whereby the chair provides support no matter how the person sits; and Allsteel, in addition to launching a number of new products, signed a partnership with local company Human Space, making them a newly appointed distributor in Dubai.

H20 Concepts also announced the opening of their new Dubai showroom later this year, as well as signing a deal to distribute Izzy+ products.

Naughty, naughty!

The Office Exhibition surveyed over 1,000 office workers across the UAE, with the following results:

• Time for tea: A staggering 150 million cups of tea are made by office workers in the UAE every year, with each person spending almost four and a half working days making them

• Good to gossip: Office workers in the region believe that it is good to chat with colleagues – so much so, that on average they spend nearly seven working days a year doing it

• Socialising online: Some 62% of companies have a policy relating to social media and personal Internet usage which is adhered to, but 33% either have a policy that is ignored, or do not have a policy at all. In line with this, 44% of respondents said that they did not use social networking at work (Facebook, Twitter, etc), although UAE each office worker still manages to spend almost 11 days a year doing this, in addition to eight days per year instant messaging with friends (MSN, Facebook, chat, etc).

• From banks to breaks: Online banking and paying bills is a popular work-time activity, with each office worker spending 11 days a year doing it; in addition to six days a year spent online at work researching and booking holidays.

• E-mail mountain: E-mail is by far the preferred method of communication at work, with 60% of respondents preferring this over phone or face to face contact. Office workers send and receive a total of a staggering 3.5 billion e-mails every year, which averages out to 47 each working day.

Tomorrow’s office
The Future Office was a new feature to the show, and provided a peek at what offices will look like in years to come.  Brought together by dmg world media, the exhibition organisers, The Future Office was the result of a design collaboration between some of the leading companies in the region – Mazari Consultants, Frezza SpA, Quantum Glass, 3D Lux, BAAJE, In Out Space and Skad Media, in addition to Hewlett Packard. Designed with optimum employee health, safety, motivation and productivity in mind, the futuristic design combined sleek desks with complementary laptops, unique glass panels which could switch from being transparent to opaque at the flick of a button, and energy-saving light panels. In addition, it used creative ceiling materials, such as stretchable sheets incorporating sustainable low energy lighting and colour changing light, which claims to improve productivity.

New kids on the block
At the other end of the design spectrum, The Office Exhibition also supported tomorrow’s generation of design stars through the Student Loft Design Competition, sponsored by Frezza SpA. This competition provided a unique opportunity for students to get direct exposure to the industry, and taught them how to create designs that not only look good, but are feasible and can be reproduced. Students from four local universities competed to design a meeting table or area, a workstation, a reception desk or an office lamp.

Success went to the women this year, who scooped all three awards: Farzaneh Eslami from the American University of Dubai won an award for her “Armed” lamp, Aahd Alanqar from Abu Dhabi University for her “The Strips” reception desk, and Israa Mahmoud from Ajman University for her “Serenity” workstation.

Winners got a week-long trip to the design capital of Europe, Italy, where they will be able to visit the famous international design fair in Milan, as well as Frezza’s office in Venice, where they will be able to get a real feel for how the company works.

Talking points
This year’s show also featured Office Talks, which addressed some of the most important issues surrounding the commercial sector such as sustainability, coping with tough market conditions and ergonomics. Speakers included Siddarth Peters, Managing Director of The Total Office; Nick Burnett, Design Director of Cityspace; and Philp K. Mathew, Syndicated Research Manager at Ventures Middle East, who discussed commercial sector development within the GCC.

Water-cooler gossip
No industry update can be complete without both sides of the story. So it wasn’t all about the exhibitors; visitors had their moment in the spotlight too.

Research conducted by the exhibition shed light on some interesting information about office life, including the fact that each person spends an average of 46 days out of their working year on non-work related activity. The survey shows that despite putting in long hours, UAE office workers still manage to grab some personal time during the working day, whether on social networking Websites, surfing the net, gossiping with colleagues, or making tea [see box]. In all, over 13 million days a year are wasted by UAE office workers.

Speaking about the research, Sinead Bridgett, Show Director, The Office Exhibition said, “It’s well known that people in the UAE spend long hours in the office, but our survey has uncovered some fascinating facts about what actually happens during the working day. Whilst e-mail now dominates official communications, people still want to spend time chatting with colleagues about non-work related issues.”

Glued to the chair
But despite all that time spent on unofficial work, the research further revealed that over a third of UAE office workers rarely left their desks. It turns out that 33% of employees in the UAE either stay at their desk all day or only leave their desk for a lunch break.

While it might make the case for ergonomically-designed furniture stronger, it also puts a third of office workers at risk of serious health problems, such as obesity and deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or stress and back problems.

Bridgett reiterated, “People are now pretty aware of the importance of preventing DVT by exercising on long-haul flights, but few realise the potential health-hazards of a desk-bound job.”

Business opportunities
The exhibition and accompanying research should lead to significant business opportunities resulting from the show.

The organisers were happy with the quality of visitors at the show – with senior architects, designers, purchasing managers and IT specialists from across the GCC region attending, and an increase in visitors from outside the UAE.

“Overall, The Office Exhibition was a great success, and the show features proved to be a hit. The first ever Office Awards provided winning companies with a strong endorsement for their products, which we know will impact positively on their business,” said Bridgett.

“We are delighted with the feedback from exhibitors. A number of innovative and exciting products made their Middle East debut at the show, and the resulting business should be significant. The positive feedback has been supported by the level of re-bookings and the fact that the demand for space next year has increased!”

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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