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Modern Office Special Coverage

The Shape of Things to Come

Mark Proshan says predicting what’s coming next in his business — office furniture and design — has always been a difficult assignment.

But now … it’s even more of a complicated guessing game.

Indeed, in a sector where the landscape can change quickly and profoundly, and for a number of reasons — from a declining economy to changing tastes — the pandemic has produced an even greater sense of uncertainty about what lies around the bend, said Proshan, president of West Springfield-based Lexington Group.

“For the first time ever, I don’t even pretend to be smart enough to see what’s coming down the road,” he told BusinessWest, noting that this applies to both the short and long term. “We don’t know when bigger places of business will open back up, what their attitude is going to be toward spending money, and what things will look like down the road.”

Tyler Arnold, a principal with Holyoke-based Conklin Office, who spoke with BusinessWest from the company’s office in Northern New Jersey, agreed. He noted there are many variables that will affect decision making at individual companies when it comes to if and when employees return to work, how many return, and how much space they’ll take up when they do return.

“The number-one priority for people right now is to bring back fewer people, spread things out … and then see what happens,” he explained. “They might look at their footprint and say ‘we’ve got 1,000 employees, and we’re occupying 100,000 square feet.’ They may decide to only bring back 500 employees — but does that mean they need 50,000 square feet or 75,000 square feet? I think there will be a lot of that going on.”

But there are some things that are known. It seems certain that the collaborative, open spaces that companies have developed over the past several years will change — perhaps significantly.

Arnold said the old 10-by-10 private offices that dominated the business landscape years ago and are still favored by some banks and law firms won’t make an immediate comeback — they’re very expensive and still somewhat impractical. But there will certainly be a move to create more privacy and shield employees from one another and the public.

Mark Proshan sits at benching sporting a higher divider

Mark Proshan sits at benching sporting a higher divider than models popular just a few months ago. He says these units are among the items now in demand as businesses work to increase privacy in the workplace.

This has been made apparent by the number of calls both companies are taking from business owners and managers looking to adjust their spaces for a pandemic.

That’s especially true in New York City, said Arnold, where many financial-services companies and corporate headquarters had moved to benching to place as many people in as small an area as possible. Now, many of those benches are being outfitted with dividers, or higher dividers, as the case may be.

“Right now, the immediate demand is for adding privacy screens, be that acrylic material or fabric,” Arnold told BusinessWest. “So much that has been built out over the past 10 years has an open plan, open feel to it. What’s the easiest, quickest, least costly way to give people a sense of detachment from the person sitting next to them? It’s some kind of privacy screen.”

“A lot of people are continuing to stay home, and I’m not sure if that will continue to be the case.”

Proshan agreed. “We do have inquiries from people as to how to modify their spaces to make them more private, making walls higher, making plexiglass partitions and glass partitions, where possible,” he noted. “Meanwhile, a lot of people are continuing to stay home, and I’m not sure if that will continue to be the case. If it is the case, the need for higher-end furniture will likely not go hand in hand with staying at home; it may well be the Staples of the world and the Costcos of the world that will be selling those items because people might be paying for it out of their own pocket.”

As for companies bringing people back, the plan of action for many companies is not to put anyone immediately next to or across from someone else, even if there is a screen, said Arnold, adding that many businesses are ramping up slowly and in waves. How big the waves will get remains to seen.

Actually, that’s just one of many things that remain to be seen, as we’ll see as BusinessWest talks with these experts about how the pandemic might reshape the modern office as we know it.

Space Exploration

As he talked with BusinessWest about the physical changes that will come to the modern office in the wake of COVID-19, Proshan said it would probably be easier to do a little show and tell.

With that, he walked to the front lobby of the company’s spacious headquarters on Union Street. There, two workstations are outfitted with what would have to be called pandemic-era features.

Before discussing them, though, Proshan reached for his phone and scrolled to images of what used to be there, because this is where the discussion had to start (see photos, page 24). Before, there were fairly low structures that were wide open. They’ve been replaced by units of similar height topped by plexiglass panels on two sides, with narrow openings in front to keep those behind them safe.

“This is the kind of thing we’ll be seeing — this is the direction we’re going in,” said Proshan, adding that, for the foreseeable future, the focus will be on privacy and keeping people safe. Collaboration? Well, not so much.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

“People will see where the economy goes; they’ll want to see how it comes back before they make any big decisions.”

At least not as much face-to-face collaboration, he went on, as he took BusinessWest on a walk to the showroom, where he sat down at benching that sports those higher walls that can’t be seen over and are designed with privacy and protection in mind.

While orders for such products come in, the larger questions looming over the industry concern the longer term. But while contemplating the future, those we spoke with are also coping with the present, which is challenging on many levels.

Indeed, Proshan said a number of projects that were in the pipeline have been paused as companies and institutions try to absorb what has happened and what it all means moving forward. He mentioned a $1.2 million library project at one of the area colleges and several other initiatives that have been put on hold because the plans that were blueprinted months ago may no longer be viable in the COVID-19 world.

“When you think about what may change when people go into a public space like that, you can certainly understand how and why these institutions might want to pause,” he said. “We have lots of repurchased and paid-for inventory that, because the colleges and universities are shut down, we can’t even get in to deliver this product.

“And the policy for a lot of these places is that they can’t pay for product until it’s delivered and installed,” he went on. “But, unfortunately, my manufacturers insist on getting paid once the product is received by me — so you can see the dilemma when you’re talking about a large volume of merchandise.”

There are other challenges to contend with as well, such as reopening their own offices, which were ‘essential’ in some cases — Lexington earned that designation in West Springfield because it delivers to healthcare providers — and also dealing with various employment issues, and trying to serve customers in remote fashion, a somewhat difficult task when many consumers like to see, touch, and kick the tires on the products they’re contemplating.

Arnold, like Proshan, said the phones essentially stopped ringing during the month of March. Then commenced a period of speculation and webinars about when offices would reopen and how. And then, things got busy again as companies started gathering information and proposals for those protective shields and dividers for benches, with a decent percentage of those proposals turning into orders.

The new workstations

The new workstations in the lobby at Lexington Group contrast sharply with what existed before, and speak volumes about current efforts to keep workers and visitors safe and increase privacy.

What concerns Arnold at this point is what happens when this ‘bubble,’ as he called it, is over and companies, now getting comfortable as employees slowly return to the office, contemplate their future needs, and their footprint.

Indeed, his company is currently working on projects involving leases that were signed months ago. The question is, will new leases be signed?

“I think that, when we get to the middle of the summer, there will be a pretty good slowdown at that point,” he said. “People will see where the economy goes; they’ll want to see how it comes back before they make any big decisions.”

There are already strong signs that some companies will not go back to their former offices, and if they do, they’ll probably do it gradually, with many seeking smaller footprints for fewer employees, which means less office furniture to be sold, said those we spoke with.

Arnold said he’s seeing a lot of this in New York, which is still very much in lockdown mode.

“Initially, people couldn’t wait to get back to work,” he noted. “But at this point, many corporations are taking their time and making decisions. The mentality is that, ‘we’re turning a profit, everyone’s working remotely, everybody’s safe; until we’re really comfortable that we can put them in an environment where we can minimize risk and people can focus on what they do, we’re in no rush to return to the office.’”

Mass transit certainly plays a big role in what’s happening — or not — with people returning to the workplace, he went on, adding quickly that, in many markets, and with businesses across many sectors, the question concerning such returns is increasingly ‘if,’ not ‘when,’ and also ‘how many will return?’

Whether this changes or not in the short or long term is yet another of those questions that are difficult to answer at this juncture.

Again, about the only thing that’s relatively certain is that the past will become prologue when it comes to privacy and how the office might look and feel moving forward.

“Ten years ago, everyone had tall walls, lots of privacy — people had their own space,” said Proshan. “‘Collaboration’ became the buzzword the last few years, and the walls came down, and shared space became the big thing. And while I think people will still have the need to collaborate, I think they’re going to be doing it in a much more enclosed environment.”

Bottom Line

Returning to the place where they started this discussion, Proshan and Arnold said that, while some things are known at this juncture, many more are not. And speculation might not be a fruitful exercise at this point.

“I don’t think there are whole lot of crystal-ball gazers who really know what’s going to shake out from all this,” Proshan said. “No one really knows.”

Arnold concurred. While the focus for now is on privacy and spreading people out, he noted, the landscape may be altered again. “All this can change on a dime if there’s good news about a vaccine or something like that. For now, everyone’s planning like this a year or so off.”

A year seems a long way off in a business where predicting the future is difficult — and has now become much more so.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Modern Office Special Coverage

Views from a Distance

In the middle of March, employees of companies across Massachusetts — and many other regions of the U.S. — suddenly began working at home. In some cases, it was a matter of setting up a team of four or five people in their home offices.

Then there’s MassMutual, which suddenly had to do that for 7,500 employees.

“We communicated the transition on a Thursday, and by Monday, we had gone from about 20% of our workforce being remote to more than 95%,” said Susan Cicco, MassMutual’s head of Human Resources & Employee Experience. “On top of the need for that speed and agility, this particular situation created unique challenges in that employees are working remotely while, in many cases, fulfilling many additional roles — as employees, caregivers, and even teachers.”

But the experiment — if one can call it that, since the government was forcing the company’s hand — has been largely successful, to the point where, with the COVID-19 pandemic still a threat, MassMutual has told its employees to keep working remotely, at least into September.

“We decided to share with employees that we would start returning to the office no earlier than the beginning of September as we continue to focus on their health and safety, as well as allow them to be able to plan family and life commitments amidst continued uncertainty around things like childcare and camps,” Cicco told BusinessWest. “I’m not sure anything particularly equates for the scale and magnitude of this crisis. That said, we relied on and built upon our strong cultural foundation and focus on flexibility, balance, and well-being.”

“This particular situation created unique challenges in that employees are working remotely while, in many cases, fulfilling many additional roles — as employees, caregivers, and even teachers.”

Which brings up a question many companies of all sizes are likely asking — once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, what have we learned about the potential of remote work in the future? And how many employees do we really need under one roof?

“I am sure that just about every business is going to be impacted both positively and negatively by this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Delcie Bean, CEO of Paragus IT. “My sincere hope is that the negative impacts are short-term and the positive impacts are long-term. In terms of those positive impacts, I think the most obvious is that many businesses learned that is it possible to conduct business remotely.”

Elaborating, he noted, “I know many companies that, ahead of the pandemic, said it wouldn’t work for them, but when push came to shove and they were forced into it, they found that it actually did work better than they could have imagined. That said, I know many businesses are finding that their technology is not well-suited for a predominately remote workforce, and therefore if they wish to make those changes permanent, they will need to make further investments in their technology platforms.”

The big takeaway, however, is that it’s possible, and the technology Bean mentions is widely available. But other questions need to be answered as well.

Lives in the Balance

One deals, quite simply, with employees’ mindset, Cicco said.

“Our colleagues have been amazingly resilient and committed through all this, and a major focus has been on ensuring we are keeping a pulse on employee well-being — physical and emotional — to provide the relevant support and resources,” she noted. “We’ve also been working to communicate continuously as things evolved — both when we had answers and, as importantly, when we didn’t.”

They learned that employees’ biggest stressor was the ability to effectively balance their work and personal lives, whether that’s caring for elderly loved ones, helping children with school, or taking time for themselves while still maintaining work commitments.

Susan Cicco

Susan Cicco says the biggest stressor for those working from home has been balancing their work and their personal lives, whether that’s caring for an elderly loved one or helping children with school.

In response, the company rolled out additional tools and resources for employees. In addition to existing benefits, time off, and leave policies, employees could access up to 80 hours of additional paid time off related to COVID-19.

“This time is not limited to those who are sick or taking care of kids or loved ones, although those circumstances apply,” Cicco said. “The intent is really to help everyone work through personal challenges that come up in dealing with the pandemic.”

To promote wellness in the home, MassMutual launched online fitness classes, webinars dedicated to dealing with stress, meditation programs, as well as virtual yoga, stretch breaks, and more.

It also expanded its Employee Assistance Program, which offers free sessions with counselors to help people through a range of needs, from managing anxiety and stress to juggling the demands of parenting, to grieving the passing of a loved one. 

“And, working with our eight Business Resource Groups, we’ve continued our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Cicco continued, “providing a safe space for employees to share what’s on their minds and connect through online conversations on how different segments of society are impacted by the pandemic.”

If companies decide they can manage employees’ needs remotely and see no reduction in efficiency, they might indeed move in that direction permanently, at least for some workers, Bean said.

“The impact of this, or the ripple effect, is what is most interesting,” he told BusinessWest. “In talking to clients, peers, and friends, I know companies that will forever reduce their physical office space — focusing more on meeting rooms and less on offices, with the philosophy that the office is somewhere we come to collaborate or meet up, but when we are working independently, we do so from home. Changes like that will have all kinds of effects on traffic, real estate, even the carbon footprint of an organization.”

However, at the same time, businesses are starting to realize that the technology required to make this work, and to make it work securely, is different than the tech they have been investing in for the past 10 years, he explained.

“Platforms like Microsoft 365 become essential, but not just for e-mail; it is my opinion that, during this pandemic, while we were all running around applying for PPP loans and trying to learn Zoom, somewhere over in a corner, the concept of having a file server died a quick and quiet death,” he explained. “Businesses will need to move to platforms that are much more device-agnostic, where control, management, and data are decentralized and largely migrated to the cloud, and where collaboration is dramatically enhanced through tools like Microsoft Teams.”

Expanding those tools will need to be accompanied by enhanced cybersecurity at home, Bean added.

Best of Both Worlds

Taking the broad view, Bean said the potential clearly exists for more remote work and home-based employees.

“In the end, everything that is going to happen was going to happen anyway,” he noted. “However, five years was just shaved off of the schedule that was otherwise going to play out, dramatically accelerating that process.”

After all, he added, the core value of technology today is that it moves quickly — often before people are ready.

“It’s hard for anyone to truly know the future when still in the midst of something unprecedented like this,” Cicco added. “I have no doubt that this forced work-from-home experience has validated the potential of flexibility and how productive an organization can be working remotely, while, at the same time, reinforcing the importance of people coming together in the same space to achieve common goals.”

So maybe there’s room for both models.

“I am certain the learnings from all this will undoubtedly move us forward in providing the best of both worlds,” she said, “supporting employees working from home when it makes sense for them and their work, along with continuing to foster the right work environment that safely draws people together to collaborate and innovate.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Modern Office Sections

More Than a Desk

Mark Proshan at a sit-stand desk

Mark Proshan at a sit-stand desk, one of hundreds of display pieces in Lexington Group’s 165,000-square-foot warehouse.

In the 28 years Mark Proshan has been in the furniture-sales and office-design business, he has seen plenty of change, from a greater emphasis on open, collaborative spaces to more challenging timetable demands from clients. Through it all, though, he continues to cultivate a business philosophy built on relationships and trust — even at a time when many clients are more interested in speed and cost.

Mark Proshan says he can count on one hand the number of contracts he’s drawn up over the years. He’d rather do business with a handshake.

“Relationships in this business are important,” he said. “The more you talk about it, the more cliché it sounds, but the notion that somebody can count on you when you promise to deliver something still means something, and our customers value the notion that we don’t promise things we can’t deliver.”

Proshan, owner of Lexington Group, which specializes in sales of new and refurbished office furniture as well as interior-design solutions, said he’s always been willing to lose money if it meant keeping a commitment he made to a customer.

“It’s fundamentally more important for that person to know I did everything conceivably possible to do what it was I said I would do. The lion’s share of new business comes from referrals from other people, and if that’s the way you market yourself, you’re only as good as the last job you did. If you don’t do what you said you’d do, your ability to gain a referral based on past work will dry up very quickly.”

These philosophies are important in many businesses, but they’re especially relevant to someone who launched his company 28 years ago and has seen so many other facets of the business — from the products customers are looking for to the timetables they expect — change so much.

“You need to adjust to what’s happening, to stay current,” Proshan said, and part of that is understanding clients’ shifting demands.

“We used to have people come in here with blueprints for a project six to nine months in advance, and they’d want to talk about their plans for a new space and everything that goes along with that, from carpeting to lighting to furniture and walls,” he told BusinessWest. “Now, we’re seeing younger people who show you a couple of pictures on their phone — ‘this is what I’m looking for’ — and if you can’t give it to them right away, they’re gone in the blink of an eye. It requires a whole different way of trying to figure out how to keep them engaged.”

Part of that is maintaining a deep inventory of new and pre-owned items on site in Lexington’s 165,000-square-foot showroom on Union Street in West Springfield. “That way, they can walk around and very quickly take a look and say, ‘yeah, that works; that doesn’t work.’ All the decisions are made very differently than in the past.”

Mark Proshan’s team raised $55,000 this year in the Great Mass Getaway fund-raising bike ride.

A long-time supporter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Mark Proshan’s team raised $55,000 this year in the Bike MS: Cape Cod Getaway fund-raising bike ride.

Proshan also has access to networks across the country, so a quick check of the Internet brings plenty more options for customers looking to change over an office, classroom, or retail space.

Lexington Group provides services from sales, installation, and delivery to space planning, office design, and reconfiguring work, and many of its 25-strong workforce have built up plenty of experience in the field. “We tend to mentor people into the business slowly, and once they’re here, they tend to stick around for the long haul. I’ve got a handful of people who have been here since the late ’80s and early ’90s.”

For this issue’s focus on the modern office, Proshan explains how that idea — and the means by which companies hope to achieve it — have evolved.

Wide Reach

Lexington Group, which counts Herman Miller as its major line of new furniture but deals in many secondary lines as well, has the ability to work across the country, if transportation costs aren’t prohibitive. “But transportation costs have risen significantly,” Proshan said, “and it’s becoming more difficult, so we focus on Chicago to Massachusetts.”

When he started the company, the mix of sales was about 60% pre-owned to 40% new, but it has reversed and is now 80% new and 20% pre-owned.

“There is so much inexpensive furniture available. Everything has become really commoditized and disposable, and people would rather not spend the time and energy doing the research to piece together all the pre-owned pieces when it comes to large projects,” he explained. “They would rather just sit down, point and click, and move on to whatever comes next.”

The secondary-education market has long been an especially fertile niche for Lexington Group. “We typically have at least one or two trucks at one of the major colleges every day, whether it be UMass Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, or somewhere else,” he said, noting that he also works with institutions in Worcester, Fitchburg, and the Boston area. Other clients run the gamut from moderately sized insurance companies in Western Mass. to Fortune 500 firms across the Northeast.

Across all these industries, certain trends have become ubiquitous.

“The big words now are still collaborative space and shared space,” Proshan said. “Walls have come down, and other walls that used to have paint and wall coverings are now erasable, so people can share ideas on them.”

But there are challenges to opening up offices in this way, such as the occasional need for privacy for certain types of work, or when meeting clients.

“People enjoy the togetherness and collaboration possible with all the open space, but they also often wish they had their old cubicles back. So the secret, I think, is to try to find the balance between that open, collaborative space and giving people a place they can go to get some privacy.”

Ergonomics remains a hot topic as well, he added, from chairs designed for better support to desks that raise up with the touch of a button. “Sit-stand desks encourage people to stand for a good part of their day because, well, you should. Healthcare professionals will tell you we sit too much.”

Most changes in office design are being driven by the younger generations and how they prefer to work, he said, but he also understands that the basic elements of his business — quality products and relationship-based service — remain constants.

Lexington Group’s West Springfield warehouse

Lexington Group’s West Springfield warehouse gives a good indication of the range of new and refurbished items it sells.

“A desk is still a desk; a chair is still a chair, even though they’ve been tweaked a little bit over the years,” he said. “And there are only so many things you can do to a cube.”

Other challenges include more remote employees working from home, the rise of online retail and how it has impacted local businesses, and, quite simply, business owners who prioritize the bottom line over all else when shopping for furniture.

“They don’t care as much about design; they don’t care as much about structural integrity; they don’t care as much about relationships,” Proshan said. “When the focus is simply on price, they’re really not looking for what other value we can bring to the table; they’re simply looking for how inexpensively they can get the job done.”

Face to Face

For Proshan, that’s not a satisfying way to do business.

“We have companies that we’ve had long-standing relationships with, that still realize the value of picking up the phone, knowing we understand their needs, and can come in and, without a whole lot of fluff, conceptualize what needs to get done in a timely, cost-effective fashion.”

He said it was more common years ago for companies to have employees specifically focused on furniture and supply purchases and short- and long-term office planning, but that’s no longer the case.

“Nobody plans anymore. We’ve become so used to customers saying, ‘I want this now, and if you can’t get it for me, this guy can.’ That’s the mentality of the marketplace — as soon as you need something, somebody will be there to provide it for you, and if not, you can go to the Internet and shop.”

Still, he went on, “even though attention spans have changed, and people want instant gratification, I find it’s really valuable to be able to look somebody in the eye and shake hands and agree upon what needs to be done, and for them to feel confident that I’m going to do what I promised I would do, and they’re not going to be unpleasantly surprised when the deadline comes.”

That emphasis on relationships informs the company’s civic involvement, particularly Proshan’s 21 years of involvement in the Bike MS: Cape Cod Getaway, an annual, 175-mile bike ride from Boston to Provincetown that raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Last year, the team he has captained for 15 years raised $55,000.

Back at work, though, his focus is where it has been for 28 years: helping companies improve their environment through better furniture and interior design.

“At the end of the day, it’s about more than selling furniture,” he said. “Those relationships make the whole experience much more enjoyable in ways that don’t have anything to do with money. When it’s about more than selling something, it’s much more fulfilling.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Modern Office Sections

Exercise in Problem Solving

The managing partners at ECG, from left, Joe Kessler, Susan Lachowski, and Patrick Carley.

The managing partners at ECG, from left, Joe Kessler, Susan Lachowski, and Patrick Carley.

A quarter-century ago, Joe Kessler and Patrick Carley were working together to create cutting-edge solutions to problems with workplace injuries at East Longmeadow-based Hasbro (now Cartamundi). Later, after Carley left a position in academia, the two continued to collaborate on projects to identify and resolve issues in a wide array of workplaces. Today, with third managing partner Susan Lachowski, they are taking these efforts to a higher plane with a venture called Ergonomic Collaboration Group, a name that speaks volumes about what this company does — and how it does it.

When Shaun McConkey arrived at South Deerfield-based Pelican Products as director of operations a year ago, he found a company on the move.

As we reported back in May, this enterprise, long known for making hard-plastic cases for commercial, government, and military applications, was successfully diversifying into everything from coolers to suitcases to backpacks.

But amid all these green lights, McConkey saw a red flag. It took the form of a mounting number of soft-tissue injuries resulting from the processes (especially the literal heavy lifting) required to manufacture such products.

Desiring to ward off such injuries, he knew he would need some help, and also knew just who to call — meaning this wasn’t exactly a phone number he had to search to find.

That’s because he’d called it more than a few times before. Indeed, McConkey, Joe Kessler, and Patrick Carley go back a ways. The three were at Hasbro’s (now Cartamundi’s) sprawling manufacturing facility in East Longmeadow in the early ’90s. McConkey was director of manufacturing, Kessler was the in-house ergonomist, and Carley, a practicing physical therapist, joined him when the company decided to establish a physical-therapy clinic inside the plant to respond to the growing number of musculoskeletal-related injuries, now referred to as musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs.

Shaun McConkey

Shaun McConkey, currently director of operations at Pelican Products, has called on the team at ECG on many occasions during his career in manufacturing.

Fast-forwarding a little, Carley left the clinic at Hasbro in 1996 to take a full-time faculty position at American International College. But the two continued to work together — often with Carley’s students — on projects to improve work processes and reduce the potential risks for MSDs.

One of their collaborative efforts was at the U.S. Tsubaki Automotive, LLC timing-chain-manufacturing facility in Chicopee, where McConkey, who was by then with that company as operations manager, sought their help with reducing and perhaps eliminating the threat of injuries related to the cleaning of a machine known as a ‘nut former.’

Their involvement led to the creation of a chest-resting bench — one we’ll hear much more about later — that speaks volumes about how a venture now known as Ergonomic Collaboration Group (ECG), LLC goes about its work.

It takes a scientific approach, said Dan Oliveira, environmental health and safety specialist at U.S. Tsubaki, one that engages employees in every step of the process and therefore achieves a critical volume of buy-in.

“They involved employees and helped them facilitate this change,” he explained. “That’s better than simply making a change and saying, ‘this is the way we’re doing things now.’ You’re having employees understand why that change is being made.”

The team at ECG, which now includes a third managing partner — Susan Lachowski, one of Carley’s students, who possesses a PhD in exercise physiology — intends to use this approach to extend its business portfolio well beyond Hasbro and Shaun McConkey’s career ladder.

And it is already moving strongly in that direction, adding clients ranging from the postal service to Merrill Lynch; from Hamilton Sundstrand to Riverside Industries.

Such growth is partly explained by the fact that ECG offers the right services at the right time — when employers, faced with ever-advancing technology and the ever-rising cost of doing business, want to fully exploit the former while perhaps reducing the latter, especially workers’ compensation costs.

For this issue and its focus on the modern office, BusinessWest talked with the team at ECG, as well as with some of those they’ve worked with and for, to identify potential problems and orchestrate solutions. You might call their endeavors in the field — as well as current efforts to grow their business — works in progress.

Stretching — the Truth

Kessler calls it simply the ‘blinking program,’ and no, it’s not what you might think.

Just as one’s eyes blink to keep them lubricated, the body’s muscles should blink to keep them from becoming stressed, or injured, he noted. But while eye blinking is mostly a reflex, or semi-automatic action, muscle blinking is not; it must be orchestrated, if you will.

Hence that word ‘program,’ which in this case refers to a regimen of movements designed just over a decade ago for employees at Hasbro while Kessler was still there and collaborating with Carley and some of his students on various projects.

The ‘chest rest’

The ‘chest rest’ at U.S. Tsubaki’s timing chain plant in Chicopee is an example of ECG working with a client to solve a potential problem.

“If you stretch five minutes before your shift starts and then don’t stretch for the rest of the day, how effective can that be?” Kessler asked. “So we instituted a ‘blink’ program; we designed a whole series of stretches that the employees could do discreetly, like when the line came down for a minute or if they were going to their break area.

“These were simple things, like shrugging the shoulders,” he went on, “just to stretch your muscles out and give them a break and let them breathe. The point was to do this several times a day, and we did it for the entire factory.”

Together, Kessler and Carley initiated a number of programs and initiatives for the game maker, many of them worthy of the descriptive phrase ‘state-of-the-art.’ That includes the physical-therapy clinic itself.

“We put it right inside the plant — if people got hurt, they went to medical, they were cleared and sent to physical therapy, which was right on the factory floor,” Carley said of the facility, established in 1991. “It was pretty forward-thinking stuff.”

And there was more of that to come, he went on, adding that he and Kessler were eventually assigned to the same committee at Hasbro that was charged not only with treating people after they were injured, but with developing strategies to keep them from getting injured in the first place.

“The committee tasked us with going out to the different work areas and try to determine what it was about the work process, the machine, or whatever it might be, to reduce exposure to injury,” he explained, adding that most problems were, contrary to popular belief, not with the back, but with upper extremities and arms.

“People were putting those packages of little green houses in boxes something like 4,000 times a day,” he told BusinessWest, before being corrected by Kessler, who said the number was probably closer to 15,000.

To reduce those injuries, the company, working on the advice of Kessler, Carley, and those they were working with, changed work processes (to reduce how far one would have to reach, for example), adjusted machines, instituted work rotations when needed, and, in some cases, changed or instituted policies, such as the limits placed on how many pounds employees would lift at a given time.

The initiatives at Hasbro would eventually yield accolades from OSHA , specifically, its Voluntary Protection Program (the company’s ergonomic program became the best practice in 2005). And in many ways, they laid the groundwork for the business that would become ECG.

“One thing led to another — we took some of the things we learned at Hasbro and applied them at Hamilton Sundstrand or at the post office, for example,” said Carley. “Other companies were calling us, and we started getting into office ergonomics.”

ECG-LogoOne of the companies that called was the Springfield office of Merrill Lynch, which was having some issues with new information technology.

“They changed over to flat screens, and when they put those screens up, they left the keyboards over here,” he said, using his hands to show there was some distance between the two. “And they were wondering why people’s necks were hurting them. They said, ‘you need to help us figure this out.’”

Documented success with helping a host of clients figure things out has been a key ingredient in the company’s efforts to grow its portfolio, he went on, citing U.S. Tsubaki’s chest-resting bench as a perfect example.

Body of Evidence

Bringing this seemingly simple piece of equipment to reality — meaning everything from its design to its implementation — came about through a scientific, or academic (but also collaborative) approach that enabled the employees who would be using it to play a huge role in its development.

Kessler calls it “engineering a problem out.”

It all begins with observation, interviews with employees, and other steps to pinpoint problems and also problems in the making — in every sense of that phrase. Then comes the work to devise a solution. As Oliveira mentioned, employees were front and center during that step as well.

Backing up a bit, he said employees were previously required to bend over these machines, unsupported, for long stretches as they cleaned them, presenting a risk for back injuries. Also, as they bent over, they were supporting themselves by putting one hand on an oily surface, presenting the possibility of acute injury.

“ECG enabled us to be proactive about this, rather than reactive,” he said, “and say, ‘there’s the potential for injury here, and we want to resolve it before anything happens.’”

The chest-resting bench not only reduces the threat to back injury, but it also improves productivity, said Carley, adding that Tsubaki now plans to put it into use worldwide.

But while responding to problems related to workplace injuries with engineering solutions is a big piece of ECG’s workload, keeping employees healthy, limber, and thus more out of harm’s way is also part of the equation, and it will only grow in significance in the future, said Carley.

And the addition of Lachowski, who focuses on using exercise science to improve work efficiency and safety, effectively “closes the circle,” as he put it, and enables ECG to provide a comprehensive roster of services, including prevention.

“My focus is on proper biomechanics and keeping the employee healthy through physical activity,” she explained. “If we can do that, we can reduce the threat of injury.”

As an example, she noted how ECG helped Riverside Industries — which provides services including life-skill development, rehabilitation, and employment options to adults living with developmental disabilities — to attain a grant from the Mass. Department of Industrial Accidents. It is being used for safety training for all employees involved in client handling, transfers, and transportation.

The program includes progressive stretching and exercising, in addition to a ‘train-the-trainer’ program to continue the safety efforts, she went on, adding that such efforts are critical to creating a culture focused on safety.

At Pelican, a train-the-trainer initiative will be part of a comprehensive response that is still in the formative stage, said Kessler, adding that stretching and exercise programs will likely be accompanied by changes in production processes to reduce exposure to injury.

In many ways, work at the Pelican plant illustrates the full range of ECG’s services and its efforts to customize solutions for clients.

“We have an educational approach to every project that we do, and we tailor each project to the company itself, because one size doesn’t fit all,” said Lachowski. “We really want to educate the workers, as well as the companies, and give them the tools to continue on after we’ve left.

“Our approach isn’t to go in and say, ‘this is the way to do it; you should it our way,’” she went on. “Many people don’t respond to that. That’s why we observe and ask questions, and do a comprehensive educational piece, so they’re in the driver’s seat.”

Looking ahead and toward where this company might go — in terms of what he anticipates will be controlled growth, but also specific assignments — Carley said the modern office and modern manufacturing facility are laden with potential ergonomic issues and potential problems.

Indeed, at a time when many professionals work with not one computer screen in front of them, but two or even three, attention must be paid to everything from where they’re positioned to their height off the desk.

And that’s just one small example of the importance of ergonomics today, said Kessler, noting that, as more individuals spend eight, 10, or 12 hours a day at a desk, attention must be paid to how they’re doing all that work and how it might impact everything from their vision to their back — to their productivity.

Which brings him back to that notion of ‘muscle blinking’ he described, a concept that encompasses everything from stretching before and during work to getting up and walking around, to perhaps not sitting at all and instead investing in a standing desk.

“When people are healthier, productivity is better, quality is better — if you’re sitting on a line and not feeling well, how good is the product? — it’s all interwined,” said Kessler in summing things up.

Limber Yard

As he talked about ECG, its reason for being, and its enormous potential as an entrepreneurial venture, Kessler summoned some numbers that put matters in perspective in a manner all business owners and managers could appreciate.

“There’s a rule of thumb out there that we used to use … if you have a $140,000 shoulder operation, and you’re a self-insured company, you have to sell 10 times that amount in product to make that up, because all that comes off your bottom line,” he said. “The most important thing is keeping people healthy, obviously, but by doing so, companies can save themselves a lot of money.”

Those numbers, and that reality, speak to why there is ever-increasing attention being paid to workplace wellness, if you will, and the broad realm of ergonomics.

And they also explain why the future appears extremely bright for a venture that has problem solving in the modern office down to a science — literally.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Modern Office Sections

Tearing Down the Walls

The team at Aegis Energy Services

The team at Aegis Energy Services gathers together — something they’re used to in a workplace that encourages constant collaboration.

As Joe Hickson welcomed BusinessWest to Aegis Energy Services in Holyoke, he didn’t want to be the only one talking. So he called eight other team members to a large, oval table to pick their brains on the topic of modern office design.

“It’s how we do things here,” said Hickson, the company’s vice president of marketing and sales — a collaborative gesture that reflected the very topics he wanted to talk about. Take, for example, the office’s layout, with workstations bunched closely together in an open, high-ceilinged room in Open Square, the converted mill complex along Holyoke’s canals. What’s missing? Cubicles, walled-off desks, and private offices.

“I come from an era when everything was cubed and you shut your doors. I thought that was the way you do business,” Hickson said. “I don’t believe that way anymore. I believe an open office situation builds the team, and it builds an understanding of the people you’re working for and working with — as individuals and people, instead of just producers. We bounce a lot of things off each other. It’s a very informal office.”

It’s a setup that other Aegis employees respond to positively.

“I like this better,” said Michele Cummings, marketing and sales coordinator. “I’d worked in an office where the cubicles were eight feet tall, and when we had issues within our department that needed to be resolved, we were shouting over the cubicles. The president of the company came over to our department and said, ‘stop.’ He wanted silence; that’s why we had eight-foot cubicles. It was not a very friendly environment. I prefer this a thousand times over.”

Kaley Curtis, business development representative, agreed, noting that a workplace staffed by workers from both older and younger generations is an opportunity to learn from each other — with Gen-Xers and Boomers offering experience, and Millennials offering enthusiasm and a fresh way at looking at problems — and to pick each other up on a stressful day. An old-fashioned layout, she said, can hinder that.

Ross Giombetti, president of Giombetti Associates in Hampden, is a veteran of workplace change, consulting with businesses of all kinds on issues of leadership and culture. He says companies that are serious about attracting and retaining top young talent need to understand and even embrace the generational shifts in what workers want — from schedule flexibility to more interaction. Increasingly, they’re doing so.

“Collaborative workspaces are extremely important today, with an open, flowing floor plan with shared space. It’s very important for a lot of organizations to move in that direction,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s just coming from the younger generation. It’s coming from organizations that understand the benefits of working with each other and finding synergies. It’s being driven not only by young professionals who want to feel involved and have input in everything, but also by the business dynamic.”


Ross giombetti

Ross giombetti

Collaborative workspaces are extremely important today, with an open, flowing floor plan with shared space. It’s very important for a lot of organizations to move in that direction.”


These shifts are nothing new in the work world; in a recent article detailing the top eight trends in office design, Fast Company listed multi-purpose workspaces, designated lounge areas, and community tables — all speaking to the need for collaboration — as three of them. Business owners, both nationally and locally, are paying attention.

Seeking a Vibe

When Paragus Strategic IT outgrew its former headquarters in Hadley a few years ago, CEO Delcie Bean saw a move as an opportunity to craft a workspace that reflected his vision for the company — the ‘Paragus vibe,’ as he’s often put it. So as he sought a new location — eventually building on a plot a mile east on Route 9 — he approached the challenge of office design with a few philosophies in mind.

Design elements like a game area and funky wall décor

Design elements like a game area and funky wall décor help Paragus create the type of workplace environment fostered by innovators like Las Vegas-based Zappos.

For example, “we started looking at what the barriers can be to collaboration and communication, and one of them is, simply, walls and offices and hallways and doors. So we got rid of those.”

The idea was for employees to work within “high-fiving distance,” where it’s easy — encouraged, even — to jump into a conversation by simply rolling a chair over. “Our customers might think they’re working with one person on the phone, but in most cases it’s two or even three people. IT is such a wide field, and there’s so much to know, that no employee can know everything. If we want to provide efficient service to customers, we have to increase collaboration.”

Bean said Millennials value the idea of working together to achieve results, but Paragus throws in an element of equality as well. “We want everyone to feel like an important piece and that no one plays a more important role than anyone else. So everyone’s desk is the same size, and nobody has a private office. We’re all playing a valuable role in the company.”

Of course, sometimes privacy and quiet are important — on certain phone calls or one-on-one client meetings, for instance — which is why Paragus also features a number of small breakout rooms outfitted with a phone, desk, and whiteboard.

Nothing in the Paragus design was easy or obvious, Bean said, adding that it took three years to find a new home, build a structure, and move in, which was frustrating on one level, but on another allowed the company to tweak its ideas.

“We wouldn’t have gotten it right if we’d built the first version of this building. This is, like, version nine. That’s the advantage of taking three years. When we thought, ‘maybe this isn’t the right way to go,’ instead of tearing down walls, we just went through more blueprints.”

Bean said he was inspired by companies like Las Vegas-based Zappos, known for its funky vibe and employee-centric culture, when he added touches like a lounge, with TVs, video games, and four beers on tap; creative light fixtures and colorful carpet tiles; and the universal arming of the workforce with Nerf guns, meaning a pitched battle could break out at any time.

“We have a value here called ‘fostering fun,’” he said. “It helps people enjoy their work and not take themselves too seriously. Our work mandates that we’re careful and professional. Our customers are demanding and expect a lot of us, and we deliver in a professional and timely way. But the more fun they’re having, the better they are at doing their jobs. Zappos proved if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers.”

Aegis might not break out in volleys of foam bullets, but its open concept is still worlds away from traditional offices. For some, it’s been a slow transition.

“I hated it when I first got here,” said Dan Burke, director of national business development, who came from a workplace where the old cubicle-barrier structure reigned. “I got used to it and learned to appreciate it, but it did take a lot of time. I was used to a cubicle and privacy and making calls and doing my own thing. But this definitely fosters more of a team environment. It seems like there’s a lot fewer inter-office problems.”

Burke and Hickson both said they can step into the hallway to make a private phone call if they need to. But other team members said they value their workplace’s lack of privacy for its opportunities to grow and learn.

“I think the open office allows for top performers to influence people who may not be doing as well,” said Josh Velten, business development representative. “In a closed-off room, everyone keeps to themselves, and there’s probably less of a possibility for improvement.”

Change Agents

Workplace trends, especially those driven by Millennials, certainly don’t stop with a floor plan, Giombetti told BusinessWest. For instance, because they value work-life balance, they’re increasingly asking for, and getting, opportunities to work flexible hours, rather than the traditional, hard-and-fast, 8-to-5 shift. “That doesn’t work anymore, nor should it work. Organizations today should be more concerned with achieving goals than how many hours you’re on the job.”

Millennials are also keenly interested in mapping out a defined career path, with clear goals and milestones to hit along the way, he noted; they’re not satisfied with simply working hard and hoping to be promoted someday. And many have a strong need for recognition by their superiors — with raises and promotions, of course, but with other, less formal pats on the back as well. So, while building a more collaborative office is important in many businesses, it’s only one element in a wave of generational change.

“A lot of businesses embrace that — they know innovative means new, it means change, and if we don’t evolve and change, we die,” Giombetti said. “Some people are comfortable being challenged, and they embrace it, and other people don’t like it — they don’t like their authority being challenged; they don’t want something they’ve been doing for 30 years to be picked apart. But you have to be willing to have it picked apart. There may be a better way to do it.”

That said, not all change is necessarily good, he went on. But employers and employees must be willing to explore the unexplored together, and to communicate their needs. And, often, that process is helped along by a physical office design that fosters easy give and take.

Frank Luvera, a combined heat and power specialist with Aegis, agreed.

“We’re able to learn from each other,” said Luvera, a Millennial himself. “Every day is an opportunity to learn. Being new to it all, there’s a lot to learn, and you’re not able to do that if you’re closed off all day, not knowing what’s going on around you.”

Hickson said year-to-date sales have been up 116% in the new office, and that has to do with quality people, but also the ability to work together in a bright, airy space — it used to be a dance studio — where everyone is encouraged to keep the lines of communication open.

“Everyone here has an equal voice in this business,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s another advantage of an open office if it’s done right.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Modern Office Sections
Managing Different Generations Takes Insight, Sensitivity

Meredith Wise

Meredith Wise says understanding how employees from different generations are motivated and communicate is one key to managing a diverse workforce.

Staff meeting or e-mail?
It’s a simple question, but when posed to employees from different generations, it can turn into a thorny issue in the modern office.
Meredith Wise, president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, recalled talking to an older manager, from the Baby Boom generation, who was confounded by the casual way Gen-Xers preferred to have dialogue.
“He said, ‘I really don’t feel like I’m doing an effective job of managing, and I’m not giving them the respect they need, if I just send an e-mail or text. I want to sit down and talk with them, but that’s not what that person wants,’” she explained. “It’s hard when you have these differences.”
The opposite is also true, Wise added. “When a younger manager comes in and tries to manage Baby Boomers, they want that face time, they want to sit down and talk, but the Gen-Xer just wants to shoot off messages — ‘you’re doing a great job, Joe, thanks,’ or ‘Joe, I need you to correct this report’ — and the Baby Boomers think that’s not appropriate. It really works both ways.”
Differences in the work styles and priorities of each generation pose a number of challenges for managers. For instance, Generation X workers have come through the ranks with a desire for independence and flexibility not nearly as prevalent among their forebears.
But not every office is equipped to handle flex time, said Joe Ascioti, president of Reliable Temps; a good example is the many manufacturing companies he counts among his clientele.
“It has to work for both the employer and the employee,” he said. “There has to be flexibility from both sides. There seems to be a little, ‘why can’t you do that?’ from employees, when, in some cases, you can’t be flexible.”
In this issue, BusinessWest discusses the characteristics (and, in some cases, stereotypes) that define the four generations now in the workplace, and why their differences can be frustrating to align under one roof.

Connect Four
Though every generation is comprised of individuals with very specific traits, certain characteristics have come to define each group in the workplace. According to the American Management Assoc., they include the following.
The Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1946), also known as the Traditionalists, has produced perhaps the most loyal and highly dedicated workers, as well as the most risk-averse. Their values were shaped by the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar boom years. They are committed to teamwork and collaboration, and value interpersonal communications skills.
Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) are the first generation to actively declare a higher priority for work over personal life. They generally distrust authority and large systems. Their values were shaped primarily by a rise in civil rights activism, Vietnam, and inflation. They are more optimistic and open to change than the prior generation, but they also have a reputation for pursuing personal gratification first.
Members of Generation X (1965 to 1980), often considered the ‘slacker’ generation, tend to question authority figures and are responsible for creating the work/life balance concept, valuing personal time away from work more highly than climbing the career ladder. They possesses strong technical skills and are more independent than prior generations. They also tend to be very adaptive to job instability in the shrinking job market.
Millennials, or Generation Y (born after 1980), comprise the first global-centric generation, having come of age during the rapid growth of the Internet and an increase in global terrorism. They are among the most resilient in navigating change while deepening their appreciation for diversity and inclusion. They’re the most educated generation of workers today, as well as the most team-centric, having been raised by parents who carefully programmed much of their lives with sports, music, and recreational activities. They’ve inherited their Boomer parents’ desire to work hard and set goals, but can also appear more demanding — some would say entitled — than previous generations.
Work styles can vary wildly between these groups, particularly when it comes to collaboration, Wise explained. “Millennials in particular work very well in team settings; they’re very good at attacking problems on a team basis. When a group of them need to work together on something, they do a great job of assigning roles as a team and turning out a great project.”
She added, however, that these personal differences shouldn’t obscure some basic managerial keys that apply to all employees.
“There are some things that cut across all generations — the basics of managing and motivating people, things like showing respect for them, listening to their suggestions and thoughts, and making them feel valued by the organization,” Wise said.
But even those basics can be tweaked depending on one’s office culture. Take, for example, the issue of motivation.
The Silents have always desired personal acknowledgment and compensation for a job well done, and value tangible symbols of loyalty, commitment, and service, Wise explained. Many have spent their entire careers with one company.
Boomers, on the other hand, are more likely to crave public acknowledgement and career advancement for their accomplishments. They also want to feel like they’re making a difference in their workplace or industry. Gen X, however, represents a shift in priorities from the previous two generations.
“The Gen-Xers are kind of caught in the middle, and really, one of the key motivators for them is that they want more free time,” Wise said. “Instead of climbing up the ladder for more money, they want more flexibility in their work schedule.” They also value autonomy at work, and will trade compensation for independence, schedule flexibility, and time off.
Millennials, like their Boomer parents, also crave public recognition of their achievements, but they’re far more likely to accept that praise as a group, she explained.
“The Baby Boomer wants to be singled out — ‘Joe, you did a wonderful job. Thank you; here’s your reward’ — while Gen-Xers and especially Gen-Ys are more likely to be on teams and are perfectly happy hearing, ‘you guys did great,’” Wise said.

Building an Image
Millennials, however, still battle the perception that they’re entitled to achieve their goals — which bumps up against the reality that many are leaving college unable to procure jobs in their chosen fields (see story, page 26), leading to widespread disillusionment.
“It’s a mentality of, ‘you’ll pay me, then I’ll do this,’” Ascioti said. “Wait a minute here — that’s not the way it works. I offer you a salary, you accept it, and you come in and show me what you can do.”
Setting out unrealistic demands makes it difficult to match career seekers with available jobs, he said.
“I’ve heard this from employers we service and some friends who own businesses — everyone they run into says, ‘you guys must have tons of people’” applying for jobs, Ascioti said.
“Now, we do have a good supply of applicants. But a person comes in, fills out an application, we interview them, go through the whole thing with them — what shift, what area — then we call them at home and say, ‘Jimmy, we have this job at XYZ client; it’s second shift, and it pays X an hour. The company is looking to hire you on a permanent basis; once your contract with us is up, they are looking to hire you.’ And there’s a pause on the phone, and the person says, ‘no, I’ll stay on unemployment.’
“It’s starting to affect our business,” he continued. “People sense that there’s this unending expansion of unemployment. It’s a very interesting phenomenon, and I hear it from a lot of people. You say to them, ‘this may not be perfect right now,’ but they’re waiting for that perfect job.”
In the workplace, however — particularly in a job they find fulfilling — Millennials have also built a reputation for working hard, multitasking effortlessly, and keeping their options open. They crave opportunities to broaden their skills, which managers can use to their mutual advantage, Wise said.
“With Millennials, it’s ‘let’s give you opportunities to train in this area, to send you to this program to enhance your skills and capabilities.’ They’re looking for new opportunities to grow and develop,” she explained.
And, of course, sometimes they don’t have the time or patience to talk about their progress outside of a quick e-mail.
“Baby Boomers want you to sit down and listen to them, to let them expound and give you their thoughts,” Wise said. “They want to have face-to-face conversations, but Gen-Xers and Millennials want to do something quickly. When they want face time, they want it very focused, very quick, and they would just as often have you do it electronically.”
That sometimes makes Baby Boomers, especially those not as savvy with the high-tech world, uncomfortable. “To manage that way can feel very weird and just not as effective for them,” she said.
Which is why that simple question — staff meeting or e-mail? — is actually not that simple at all.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Supplements
Demographics, Economics, and Going Green Impact How the Office Looks and Feels

Ron Gordenstein

Ron Gordenstein says many of today’s offices are designed to facilitate a new culture of collaboration.

With the modern workplace operating much differently than it has in the past, today’s office spaces are steadily being reinvented from the inside out. To thrive in these changing times, office-design professionals have to stay atop trends ranging from environmental concerns to a shift away from cubicles to a more collaborative work culture, and create workspaces that reflect and facilitate these changes.

It’s no longer as simple a job as picking out the color of paint on the walls and the type of carpet in the hallway, says Debra Freedman.
As senior designer for Corporate Designs NE, she and Maria Czupryna, vice president of operations, said that interior design comes with an ever-increasing and shifting set of demands for the 21st-century office.
Many of these changes are strictly aesthetic, they said, with professional spaces mirroring current residential design. “There’s more of a ‘Pottery Barn’ quality to people’s aesthetics now,” Freedman explained.
But the modern office is reinventing not only the look based on current designs found in shelter magazines, but the very way that business within those walls is conducted.
Mary Wilczynski, design principal of Spec’s Design in Springfield, said that “jobs are changing so rapidly, and there’s a lot of movement within an organization. Current design reflects those needs.”
The days of the Dilbert-style cubicle are a thing of the past, said Ron Gordenstein, referring to that comic-strip portrayal of life in a droning example of corporate America. As president of Broadway Office Interiors of Springfield, Gordenstein said that his firm designs efficient and smaller work areas, “either to fit more people into that square footage,” he explained, “or to allow collaborative areas to happen, so that the business doesn’t have to find larger real estate.”
Such redesign of the nature of the workplace maintains an important concept of flexibility, he said, and furnishings and partitions are requested to maintain that goal. Reversible, L-shaped returns on desks and other modular concepts are a good means to allow furniture to be moved around the office.
“Let’s face it,” he said. “Office furniture is expensive. You want to make sure you’re making the best possible investment.”
Many trends have been introduced into the modern workplace, not the least of which is the concept of making the office greener. While finishes and furnishings can assist in a non-toxic environment, architect Steve Jablonski looks outside of the box — at the ‘box’ itself.
Using the term “adaptive reuse,” Jablonski is a local proponent of renovating existing, older structures to become contemporary workplaces. There are challenges to integrating high-tech and code-compliant infrastructure to these buildings, but he is committed to seeing these projects as the best possible use of resources.
For this issue, BusinessWest spoke to several design professionals to help get a better look at the specifics of the modern office, and how that institution is being reinvented, from the inside out.

Opening the Floor
Wilczynski said that, for the first time in her 25 years in the industry, some major changes are underway in how offices are designed, furnished, and, in some cases, how they operate.
“We used to have private offices in cubicles,” she explained, “but what we’re now seeing are those cubicle heights coming down, a lot more collaboration with project-driven teams, and less distinction between workstation designs. Before you’d have a supervisor, a manager with two side chairs, a technical person with one side chair, a data-entry person with a very small workstation. But now that footprint of the workstation is getting smaller and is being more universally designed.”
At Broadway Office Interiors, Gordenstein agreed that the changing nature of work practices has dictated a significant change in the workplace itself. He said that one of the most common terms he uses in meetings with clients is ‘collaboration.’
“When I first started in this industry,” he said, “I don’t think we ever used that term in a sales presentation. But today, I often ask, ‘tell me how your staff works with each other, and how they interact. How do they collaborate with one another to solve the problems of your business?’”
While this phenomenon would seem to be the style of creative-based offices and smaller boutique firms, Gordenstein said it is becoming common across all industries and among businesses of all sizes. “Companies aren’t staffed the way they once were,” he continued. “You have fewer people doing the same amount of work. In many cases there’s also a crossing over of traditional job descriptions. No longer does Mary do this and John does that. Now Mary and John do the work of three or four people.
“Inherently you have a need for better communication,” he added.
To illustrate this point, Gordenstein referred to one of his larger clients, a firm with more than 200 employees. Everyone in the office, from the president on down, sits within a space framed by panels that are 42 inches high.
“You can’t help but see, hear, and feel everything that’s going on around you,” he said.
Elise Irish of Spec’s Design added that, for companies operating with less staff, employee retention is more important than ever. “If you want to hold onto them, and you want them to do as much as possible, then you’ve got to give them the right environment.”
Across the table, Wilczynski added, “especially with Gen X and Gen Y, who might look to move through companies more rapidly, employers recognize that they have to design to a younger population.”
Addressing that workforce, with younger ages and attitudes, Wilczynski said that more ‘fun’ is being introduced to the office environment. Employers strive to fashion workspaces that closely mirror a more residential formula, with lounge areas and designated areas for staff to congregate and interact.
Explaining the benefits of such an office, Irish said that “you spend more time in your work environment than you really do in your home, and I think employers are aware of that. If you’re in a creative environment, you are more likely to think outside of the box.”
To help create a workplace that is less stressful, employers are looking for more ways to look after the health and well-being of their staff. Freedman says that in-house gyms have become more common, and one of her rural clients landscaped hiking trails around the facility.
“It’s very important for the employer to satisfy the needs of the employees,” she explained, “to show that they are valued, and that the boss is looking after them. They’ll do better work, and in the end, there’s better productivity.”

Trade Talk
The evolving workforce, with increased numbers of telecommuters, has introduced a new lexicon to the design trade.
It’s not just people who work from home, Wilczynski added, but staff that are encouraged to be out in the field, without the requirements of a full office.
These types of workers might share workspace, she said, “and the name for this style of space is the ‘touch down’ spaces — where your storage is separate, but you share a workstation. When you come in those one or two days per week, you bring your wheeled storage station to the work area, and it’s plug and play … no more leaning under the desk to get to outlets.”
But these aren’t restricted to non-traditional employees, Gordenstein said, but rather a non-traditional style of work. “A lot of employees today don’t sit at their desk all day long,” he said. “They have mobile technology, they’re walking around … they are in another employee’s office. So we create generic meeting spaces that are accessible and quick. They can be a simple table in the department, or a quiet meditative space for someone to read a trade journal, also.”
He added ‘hotelling’ to the new vocabulary of his industry.
“If you’re an outside salesperson,” he explained, “I as the employer don’t pay you to sit at your desk all day long. I need you out meeting clients and selling. If I make it too comfortable, you’re going to stay at your desk.”
Green Is Good
Another measure of creating a healthy workplace is the renewed importance of building and maintaining a green office.
When sales reps show her the latest in furniture and accessories, Irish said that the green option is always the first to be presented. “Because those questions do come up more and more now with our clients: what chemicals are used, were the components sustainably produced,” she explained.
Her colleague agreed with her, and added that tax breaks don’t exist for green office design to a great extent, so clients aren’t pursuing LEED certification, “but they are designing to it,” Wilczynski said.
“And we’ve been designing to it for about three years now,” she continued. “All of our specifications are written for finishes with low VOCs — we are very conscious about the products that we put into spaces. Regardless of whether a client wants to pursue the LEED plaque, we’re still finding a strong movement to designing greener spaces.”
Czupryna said that, while her office has also been seeing an increased use of green components in design, that consciousness extends to any material removed during office rehab. “It’s important to take it another step and take the older materials that have been removed and then recycle them,” she said. “The clients appreciate that we too are doing our bit.”
But going green can often come at a price that clients cannot carry. Gordenstein agrees that green is a popular phenomenon, yet, he added, “customers will ask me about ‘green,’ but they don’t really understand what it means, nor are they prepared to pay for what it means, or make the commitments for what it means.”
But greening the office often is a measure of changing technology as well. Wilczynski said that, as large central copy stations have been rendered irrelevant by desktop, all-in-one printers, those large spaces are now turned over to central recycling stations.
“And it’s the first time in my career that we are seeing the realization of the paperless office,” she continued. “It’s been a buzzword since I started 25 years ago, but it’s finally here. Technology has caught up.”

Everything Old Is New Again
Steve Jablonski sees the movement toward greener office spaces from a different perspective. The Springfield architectural firm that bears his name is well-known for its interest in historical redevelopment.
“With the emphasis on the environment and carbon footprints,” he said, “people are finally starting to say, ‘what’s the greenest thing you can possibly do?’— well, how about reusing what is already there?”
He agrees that it is easier to tear down and build from scratch; “that way, when you design a square, you get a square,” he said, simplifying the complexity of redeveloping older structures. But, he added, these resources are not only a link to history, but also to project cost.
“It’s a matter of enlightening the client to get over the hump of thinking it’s cost-prohibitive,” he explained of adaptive reuse of older buildings. “To knock down an existing building isn’t cheap. And all the hazardous waste has to go somewhere. So people are saying, ‘wait, I have to pay that much to throw it all away?’
“If you take the long-term picture,” he continued, “let’s say that in ten to 20 years you might come out ahead with the cheaper, bland office structure. But if you take the 50- to 100-year approach, that cheap and bland structure is going to need to be replaced itself. Whereas these buildings with character that have been modernized at first might be 10% to 20% higher in cost overall, but then after 50 years it’s still going strong.”
Admittedly, such a timeline is not suited to the budget concerns of every client, but for higher education, this is not only good for the schools’ mission to go green, but in many cases an important link to honoring their own history.
Jablonski unfurled the plans for a building project currently underway at Springfield College. Formerly called the Judd Gymnasium, the elegant, 19th-century brick structure is being converted to office and museum space, and has been rechristened the Stitzer YMCA Center.
The building’s older warren of rooms was quirky, he said, but he praised the vision of college President Dr. Richard Flynn, who had the initiative to make this the new showpiece of the campus.
It can often be a hybrid of architecture and archaeology, Jablonski said, during these projects. Pointing to a large room at the Stitzer Center, he said, “we took out the drop ceiling and restored the truss roof. People walk in and say, ‘this is beautiful, what you’ve done.’ But really, all we did was bring back what was already there.”
Springfield College joins the ranks of many other campuses across the country in the successful adaptive reuse of buildings, he said, adding quickly that “it takes leadership on the part of design people to take the initiative to use these spaces.”
He emphasized the importance of good office design as an important role for people like himself, and the people who furnish those rooms. But, ultimately, he credits the client for their acceptance of these reinvented workplaces.
“There’s only so much you can do as a designer to lead people along,” he said. “But if they’re not following, you’re not going to get far.”

Sections Supplements
And Stand Up Once in Awhile to Ward Off Back Pain at Work

Sit down and read some bad news. No, don’t sit like that — you might be part of the problem.

According to statistics from the American Chiropractic Assoc. (ACA), more than 30 million people across the U.S. suffer from back pain at any given time, and over a year’s time, half of all working Americans admit to back-pain symptoms at some point. The condition is the second-most-common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections, and back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work.

And much of the problem stems from — you guessed it — simply sitting down. Or, more accurately, rarely standing up.

“The kicker is being in a static position — or, actually, doing repetitive motions while in a static position,” said Jeff Reed, physical and occupational therapy manager at Holyoke Medical Center. In fact, every 20 minutes or so, get off your chair and walk to the bathroom, the water cooler, the filing cabinet. The bottom line is, you need to change your position.”

Joe Welch, a rehabilitation specialist with Baystate Health, said office workers often find a comfortable position, and then they never leave it; “they just get stuck in one position and hammer away. I try to encourage people to change position during the day.”

“The key is to monitor your posture and move around. Get up and go for a walk. Contributing to this trend is a shift in job roles, Reed said. Specifically, he suggested, a generation ago, people were more likely to do many different tasks at work, constantly changing positions and moving around, but things have largely changed today.

“Nowadays, people are so specialized that there’s an increased risk of repetitive-work injuries,” he said. “Look at the static position of data entry, sitting at a workstation all day. You have to make a decision to change your position, to get up, to get an ergonomic chair.”

In this issue, BusinessWest examines what habits lead to persistent back pain and other chronic aches, and what office workers can do differently to start feeling better.

Straightforward Advice

Even workers who follow the advice to get up now and then are doing damage if their posture is wrong when they’re back at their desk. With ergonomic aches and pains so widespread in corporate America, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, has issues extensive guidelines for safe positioning at computer workstations.

Among them is the need to keep the head, neck, and trunk all facing forward and not twisted, meaning the computer monitor should be directly in front of the user, not to the side, with the top of the screen at eye level or lower.

In addition, the upper arms and elbows should be close to the body and not extended outward; wrists and hands should be straight and not bent to the side when using a mouse or keyboard; and feet should rest flat on the floor or be supported by a stable footrest, with the knees forming a 90-degree angle.

It’s a lot to keep in mind — and the suggestions don’t stop there — but Reed said failing to take these simple steps can lead to serious complications down the road.

“I can walk into any workplace, and it’s easy for me to see what’s wrong with this picture,” he said. “We’re seeing tons of injuries because of it.”

Welch said many chronic problems give plenty of warning, but workers too often ignore body aches. “Too many people work in pain,” he insisted. “They figure, ‘it doesn’t hurt that badly; I’ll just gut it out,’ instead of saying, ‘gee, why is this hurting? What can I do differently?’”

Essentially, he said, people are reluctant to ask for help, preferring to think of aches and pains as temporary issues they can handle on their own. “They think, ‘I can figure this out myself,’ instead of asking another person.”

What they don’t realize, however, is that many such pains are chronic issues caused by lifestyle factors they may never have considered. “There’s a quote: ‘stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result,’” Welch said.

Mindi Fried, who owns Motion Chiropractic Center in Easthampton, said many bad habits cause subluxations of the spine — basically, taking the spine out of alignment — and, in turn, put stress on the nervous system, and that can impact general health and well-being in a number of ways.

“It’s not just about relieving pain or a headache, but allowing your body to do what it’s supposed to do,” Fried said. “Your body is not supposed to be in pain all the time. That’s an indication that something is wrong. So we need to consider what you’re doing wrong.”

“Sometimes people don’t pace themselves enough,” Welch added. “Another problem is trying to do too many new things all at once. They’re similar to weekend warriors, doing nothing for weeks and then trying to play football, wanting to run, jump, and throw without a proper warmup. It can be like that at work, too.”

Back to Work

Even with the added education many people get in the workplace, The problems aren’t going away. According to the ACA, as many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some point in their lives, and the costs aren’t just physical. Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain, and that’s just for the more easily identified costs, and don’t include the cost to employers in lost productivity.

“A lot of people have their computer off to the side for whatever reason, or they have their wrists flexed or extended,” Welch said. “They get into all kinds of bad postures and bad habits, and in the short run, they might not see the negative results. But it’s like smoking — you’re hacking with the first couple of cigarettes, but then you get used to it, and you don’t notice the damage it’s doing.

“The body is pretty resilient,” he added. “It can accommodate a lot of stress over time, but then it reaches a breaking point. As people get into their 40s, 50s, and 60s, they can no longer do the things they could in their 20s and 30s.”

To help people develop better habits, researchers continue to study ways to make the modern office less stressful and safer. For example, Alan Hedge, professor of Design and Environmental Analysis in Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, recently told Science Daily magazine about several such ergonomic developments.

Among them are a vibrating mouse that periodically signals users to remove their hand to prevent overuse; undulating chairs that create a massaging, wavelike movement to alleviate back pain when sitting; and a movable arm that suspends a flat-panel monitor in the proper position without taking up too much space on the desk.

“One-third to one-half of all compensatory injuries are repetitive-motion injuries associated with office-type work,” Hedge told the magazine. “Everything we do can be summed up in the phrase, ‘good ergonomics is great economics.’ More than 90% of a company’s costs are people costs, so making small investments in improving the workplace by using good ergonomic products pays huge dividends.”

And it’s simply common sense for millions of office workers for whom going to work is already enough of a pain in the neck.

“You don’t have to be a zealot,” Reed concluded. “Just make sure you have a sensible workstation. And then get up out of it.”

Sections Supplements
Firms Look at Office Design with New Eyes to Reduce Stress, Increase Efficiency

Earthy colors, a selection of fine teas, water sculptures bubbling quietly in a corner, and whimsical images of butterflies hidden in various nooks and crannies.

A description of the newest trendy café in Northampton? Not quite.

This is the scene upon walking into Dr. Sue Keller’s dental office, Strong and Healthy Smiles, in Florence. Keller moved into her new offices in April of last year, leasing space in the former Florence Sewing Machine building.

Before she opened her doors to patients, however, she hired an architect to help her maximize the space’s historical strengths. She also hired a color consultant, a feng shui expert, a marketing and branding firm, and a ‘design and ergonomics specialist’ with experience in the dental industry.

The result is anything but clinical. Subdued shades of peach and amber adorn the walls, with a little magenta here and there to add some personality. The reception area isn’t furnished with straight-back chairs, but rather with full recliners, and the hallway to treatment rooms is lined with seashell-inspired sconces emitting diffused light.

Keller said it has long been her goal to create such an environment — one that alleviates stress for patients who otherwise would often want to be anywhere but at the dentist.

“I had a feeling for what I wanted: something soft and gentle with no hard edges, inspired by nature,” she said. “The result is something that doesn’t look like a medical office at all.”

Amy Jamrog, a financial planner with the Jamrog Group, part of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, also does business out of an historical space — the former National Felt Building in Northampton. And she, too, has transformed her offices into a modern mecca of peace and tranquility, for reasons that are similar to Keller’s.

“Having a financial conversation is already uncomfortable,” said Jamrog. “The last thing people need is to walk into a stuffy atmosphere.”

That said, visitors to her offices will notice a blend of lime green, blue, and turquoise as they enter the Jamrog Group. In the lobby, magazines that all-too-often announce the bad news of the month have been replaced with inspirational books and other light reading.

In Jamrog’s own office, the absence of a traditional desk is notable, and across the hall in the conference room, a bright red, the color of prosperity, has been used in the décor, including two paintings of cranes (they also signify good fortune).

“Everything was by design, to make this as friendly and welcoming a space as possible,” Jamrog said of her office’s unique color schemes and layout. “I know it will be a great appointment when a client walks in for the first time and says, ‘this is not what I expected.’”

Taking the Leap

Keller and Jamrog are two business owners who’ve created new office environments using the various, diverse tenets of a trend that’s gathering steam across the country.

The notion of modern office design to create various outcomes — greater productivity and reduced stress among them — is one being seen across many different industries in both urban and more rural areas, and, in many cases, can lead to major cultural shifts within companies of all sizes.

It draws from various disciplines, including architecture, organizational development, and interior design, and is being used to affect more than just an office’s look and appeal. Rather, modern office design practices are also being utilized to improve the bottom line.

Alonzo Canada, directing associate at Jump Associates — a unique firm with a national reach that creates growth strategies for clients, including through office design — has seen the effects of this trend first-hand. Headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., with additional offices in New York City, Canada said Jump works with companies of various sizes in a wide range of industries across the country, from financial giants to retail outfits, and increasingly, a wide range of businesses are looking for ways they can foster change within their four walls.

“Typically, companies approach us when they’re ready to enter new markets or explore new offerings — and usually, they’ve tried a couple of things already that didn’t produce the results they wanted,” said Canada. “Ultimately, we help them achieve their objectives through equal parts social research — who they are, who their clients are, and what both need — as well as engineering and design, and business planning. We help companies become more innovative, and to define what types of culture are needed to build broadly within specific business units.

“That’s where the space design component comes in most often, because that’s where we affect culture and behavior.”

In the past, Jump has designed office, product, and strategy overhauls as part of broader efforts to affect future growth and a company’s overall identity. Clients include Nike, Target, Procter & Gamble, and Hewlett Packard (HP), among many others. Perhaps the best example of design as a way to affect culture, however, can be seen in Jump’s own offices, dubbed JumpSpace.

The property is made up not of departments, for instance, but ‘neighborhoods,’ which allow staff within various disciplines to work together. The company also has an extensive library, ‘front porches’ where teams can post ideas and images relevant to specific projects (thus prompting feedback from passersby), and zen rooms, where employees can work alone quietly or even relax with a cup of tea or a quick siesta.

The building didn’t feature a staircase before Jump Associates moved in, but Canada said stairs and escalators have been proven to have such a profound effect on idea generation that a set of stairs, painted bright orange, was quickly installed.

There are other aspects of JumpSpace that serve as a showcase of ideas for other firms to consider, said Canada, listing glass partitions in project rooms to allow natural light to filter in, ‘enclaves’ for impromptu meetings or group work, and two outdoor patios.

One of Canada’s favorite features at JumpSpace is the Traincar Café, a space modeled after the dining cars on locomotives that doesn’t offer food, but instead an intimate space in which to work, hold informal meetings, and generate new ideas — which are scrawled on the provided napkins at each table.

“I’m proud of the Traincar Café,” he said. “It’s modeled after the typical art-deco diner tables and booths of the 1950s, although the furniture is contemporary. It’s familiar and cozy, and oddly enough, it’s one of the most-used spaces at Jump. People naturally gravitate there, and start working there.”

Canada added that these types of environments are a prime example of how design can be used to reach goals and benchmarks.

“Ultimately, they help a company to achieve a strategic objective,” he said. “Often in today’s modern workplace, facilities managers think about space with the wrong frame of mind, pitting economical, efficient use of space against productivity, and those two get in the way of each other. Progressive companies see that it’s OK to take a hit in areas such as adding square footage or amenities, because they know they will make that loss up in the work produced by happy, healthy employees.”

All Projects Great and Small

The changes need not always be major undertakings — Jamrog has injected a bit of fun into her office environment by allowing each staff member to add their own playlists to a community iPod that plays throughout the day.

“No Muzak here,” she said. “It’s all funky, fun, and light.”

Adding to that injection of fun in the workplace are brimming bowls of chocolate candies and a gong near the conference room, which new clients are encouraged to ring when they sign on, and staff are likely to tap when certain successes have been achieved.

“It might take some clients aback at first, but it’s just one way that we’ve made celebration a normal part of the workplace,” Jamrog said.

For Keller, who had comfort in the front of her mind when planning her dental office, the intrigue of a gong is replaced with home- or hotel-grade sinks for patients and staff — striking glass bowls with elegant gold fixtures and the same nature theme that permeates the space — accompanied by neat pyramids of rolled hand towels.

Instead of candy jars, Keller fills the office with fresh flowers, and urges patients to pick a bloom to take home at the end of their appointment.

And less noticeable but no less important, she said, are the ‘pocket doors’ built into work areas, which slide closed, creating a sort of false wall and sound barrier when a staff member is using various pieces of equipment.

“Good design doesn’t always equal high cost,” she said, noting that while she did make some considerable investments in the space early on, including ‘floating ceilings’ in treatment rooms to create a more sterile environment without altering the mill building’s historic charm, and a floor plan that incorporates natural lines and curves at every turn, she has some further ideas for small changes with the patient in mind.

“We’re sensitive to where people’s gaze falls in a medical office such as this,” she said. “Color and rounded shapes are important to us; we use color-corrected lightbulbs to soften glare, and the treatment rooms are designed to keep all equipment behind the patient.”

Her next move won’t be so involved, but nonetheless she still smiles when she thinks about it.

“I want to have an artist come in and paint a long branch that people can follow with their eyes,” she said. “It will be small and subtle, with a caterpillar crawling across.

“And at the end of the branch,” she concluded, “the caterpillar will turn into an awesome butterfly.”


Florence Savings Bank Continues Strong Growth

FLORENCE — Florence Savings Bank’s first-quarter financial results indicate a continuation of its strong growth trend, according to John F. Heaps, Jr., president. Total assets at the end of the first quarter stood at $883.8 million, an increase of $51.6 million or 6.2% from the corresponding period last year. Growth in the bank’s loan portfolio was the primary source of the asset growth. Total loans ended the quarter at $531.8 million, up $71.7 million or 15.6% from the prior year. The loan growth was fueled by increases in both residential real estate loans and equity loans. Residential real estate loans were up $49.7 million or 15.8%, ending the quarter at $364.8 million, and equity loans increased 39.8% or $19.2 million, ending the quarter at $67.5 million. Total deposits were $633.9 million at the end of March, up $31.2 million or 5.2% from March 2005 levels.

MassMutual Offers Weekly Podcast To Field Sales Force

SPRINGFIELD — While many people use their computers or MP3 players to download music, TV shows, and movies, MassMutual is taking podcasting to new levels by providing its field sales force with company news, product information, and marketing tips on a weekly basis. MassMutual’s National Center for Professional Development (NCPD), a unit providing training content and opportunities for its field force, writes, produces and distributes a weekly 15-minute audio podcast – a digital audio file delivered via the Internet – to field representatives. Currently, more than 700 of MassMutual’s field force subscribe to the free weekly program, and that number continues to grow. Subscribers provide regular feedback to the NCPD on content they would like to hear, which results in timely and informative programs that speak directly to the interests of listeners.

Easthampton Savings Bank Surpasses $675M in Assets

EASTHAMPTON — Easthampton Savings Bank’s assets were at $675.9 million at the end of the first quarter, according to William S. Hogan, Jr., president. The bank’s total assets were up $32.2 million from a year ago, an increase of 5%, and total assets were up $8 million for the quarter. Also, loans total more than $502 million, with the total loan portfolio increased $31 million, while deposit growth was $17 million or 3% from this time last year, an increase of $11 million or 9% for the quarter. Total deposits are now at $525 million.

UMass Breaks Ground for Environmentally Friendly Heating Plant

AMHERST — Groundbreaking ceremonies were recently staged for a $118.7 million central heating plant at UMass Amherst. The facility will replace an obsolete, coal-burning facility built in the 1940s. Fueled by natural gas and oil, the new plant will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions upon its scheduled completion in March 2008. The plant is designed to meet the campus demand for steam and will satisfy nearly all of the demand for electricity, and will comply with some of the most rigorous air quality requirements in the U. S. The facility will be located adjacent to the Amherst wastewater treatment plant on the western edge of the campus, overlooking playing fields. Housed in a 45,000-square-foot building with a 95,000-square-foot big roof that covers both the energy facility and associated storage tanks, the plant will have the look of a field house.

Bank Featured in American Banker; Opens NY Branch

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc., and its subsidiary, Berkshire Bank, were recently featured in American Banker, the daily trade publication for the U. S. banking industry. The article discusses how the bank has grown since late 2002, under the direction of President and CEO Michael P. Daly. In other news, the bank recently opened a full-service branch at Delaware Plaza in Delmar, N.Y.

Smith & Wesson Lands $8M Contract

SPRINGFIELD — The California Highway Patrol recently ordered 9,700 stainless steel tactical pistols from Smith & Wesson, valued at approximately $8 million. The model 4006TSW pistols will be shipped over an 18-month period beginning in June. The pistols are priced at about $850 each and will replace earlier versions of the model 4006, which the California officers have used since 1990.

Businesses Receive CMA Awards

SPRINGFIELD — lshd Advertising Inc. recently won 17 Creative Merit Awards (CMA) at the Ad Club of Western Massachusetts’ annual awards show. lshd received top awards for Blackstone Medical Inc.’s “NASS Trade Show Promotional Campaign,” MassMutual’s “8-Ball” direct mail and landing page and “Prepared USA” ad and Tip in Brochure, as well as First Pioneer’s Annual Report and “USCRA Vintage Grand Prix” 4+ color poster. As part of the annual awards, the Ad Club also recognizes results. For the fifth consecutive year, lshd won the coveted Dynamic Impact Award for its results-driven campaign for MassMutual. Additionally, the firm won four Silvers, one of which was Holyoke Medical Center’s ‘A Star Is Born’ radio campaign, and seven Bronze Awards. Clients included MassMutual, Blackstone Medical Inc., Nufern, Deerfield Urethane, Heat-fab, Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense and Farm Credit. Lenox Softworks also received a Gold Merit Award for its Lexington Group’s Web site entry in the Electronic/Interactive Media-web site category. The Lexington Group web site features a series of animated scenes of modern office space. For a complete list of Ad Club winners, visit www.adclubwm.org.

Titan Roofing Recognized By Firestone Building Products

CHICOPEE — Titan Roofing Inc. is a recipient of the 2006 Firestone Master Contractor Award from the Firestone Building Products Company. The yearly award recognizes a company’s dedication to installing quality roofing systems. This recognition marks the 19th time Titan Roofing has achieved Master Contractor status. Firestone-licensed contractors earn the Master Contractor Award each year based on total square footage and quality points accumulated for achieving exceptional inspection ratings on Firestone Red Shield warranted RubberGard™ EPDM, UltraPly™ TPO and asphalt based roofing system installations.


Those who know their Pioneer Valley history understand that this region has a great industrial heritage, especially in the field of precision manufacturing.

It all started at the Springfield Armory, where countless innovations in mass production took place. Many of those who worked at the Armory would later go on to start their own businesses, specializing in everything from children’s games (Milton Bradley) to parts-making for a host of industries.

The manufacturing base in the region has steadily declined over the past 100 years, and many would now say that this sector is dead or dying, especially with more and more work going overseas to China and other low-cost countries.

But those still working in the precision machining realm think otherwise.

There is a cluster of shops in the Springfield-West Springfield-Westfield corridor, and many are thriving thanks to a surge in business for the aeronautics industry, on both the commercial and military sides of the ledger. However, many of these shops must actually turn down work because they don’t have enough qualified machinists to handle orders. The shortage of machinists is hardly a recent phenomenon, but it is reaching a critical stage, at which area shops are worried about today – and really concerned about tomorrow.

That’s why they have come together in a collaborative effort that holds some promise for producing some long-term solutions to ongoing problems. Their mission is to improve the image of the precision machining industry by educating young people, their parents, teachers, and guidance counselors that this is not the manufacturing scene that existed years ago.

We wish them well in their work, because this region simply cannot afford to let this important cog in its economic engine be lost forever. A quick look around would reveal that the region has simply not succeeded in attracting new jobs from outside the Valley, and those that have been created or imported are mostly lower-paying positions in retail, service, tourism, and warehousing.

So while looking for the proverbial ‘next big thing,’ the region’s legislative and economic development leaders would do well to try and preserve an old big thing.
They face some long odds as they do so, however. Perceptions of the machining industry are not good. Many Baby Boomers have vivid memories of large-scale layoffs in the manufacturing sector in the ’80s and ’90s. Some were victims themselves, while others watched parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers caught in the downsizing efforts. These individuals would not be quick to recommend the field as a career pursuit.

Meanwhile, in an increasingly status-conscious world, jobs on machine shop floors don’t provide much of that commodity. Perhaps they should.

As machine shop owners told BusinessWest, many of the jobs in today’s shops offer attractive wages, clean working conditions, and something many toiling in today’s modern office environment would love – the chance to leave work behind at the end of the day.

Members of the Western Mass. Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Assoc. are partnering with the Hampden County Regional Employment Board, using grant funding in an effort to launch an orchestrated effort to increase capacity in the region’s precision machining sector. In other words, they want to put more machinists in the pipeline.

To succeed, they must do two things. First, they must inspire more people to seek careers in this industry. This will require targeting many audiences, including high-school and middle-school students, as well as those older individuals looking for new and better career options.

Next, they must create an infrastructure in which these aspiring machinists can be trained. At present, if more people wanted to get in this field, the area’s colleges and vocational high schools do not have the facilities to train them. Changing this equation will require infusions of state and federal dollars and a commitment from area machine shops to get the job done.

Let’s hope the pieces fall into place – figuratively and also literally – because, as we said, this region needs to keep what remains of its industrial heritage and perhaps inspire more of what put the Valley on the map.