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Standing up for productivity.

How would you feel if your chair was taken away from you at work? Probably not too happy I would guess.

A bit of research though may make your boss think otherwise.

Scientists from the Texas A&M Health Science Centre School of Public Health installed “standing desks” in a call centre employing over 150 people. The standing desks could be adjusted so that the employee could work at them either sitting down or standing up.

Half of the employees were given sit–stand desks to use whilst the other half were given traditional sitting desks. The performance of the employees was recorded over a period of 6 months and the results were surprising.

Despite the employees who had the sit–stand desks only using the desks in the standing position for a third of the time, their productivity increased by 50%. Productivity was measured by the number of successful calls that the employee made to the clients with “successful” being defined as being when the company earned revenue from that call.

Each employee typically made in the region of 400 to 500 calls every month and the company wanted them to achieve on average 2 successful calls per hour. Those with the sit–stand desks achieved the target whilst those with the traditional seated desks averaged 1.5 successful calls per hour.

Dr Gregory Garrett from the centre was quoted as saying that “having the ability to move throughout the day really makes a big difference”.

So, is it time to introduce standing chairs in your office?

How to impress over a business lunch…

Picture the scene. You’ve got an important business lunch coming up. You want to make a good impression on the person you are meeting with. What should you eat for lunch?

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has some interesting findings which indicate that if you have an important business lunch, there are various benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress.

Scientists from the University of Chicago studied nearly 500 people to identify whether eating the same food helped them agree in negotiations.

The researcher’s conclusion was that people who are served the same food are more likely to trust each other, smooth out problems and make deals.

As part of the study, participants in the research were told to imagine they were “investors” who had to decide whether to invest in funds operated by their “fund manager” eating partners. The researchers found that those people who were served similar food invested more money.

Another interesting finding in the study was the link between food consumption and the effectiveness of advertising. The authors said that “consumers are more trusting of information about non-food products – e.g. a software product – when the advertiser in the product testimonial eats similar food to them”.

Back to the business lunch though and although the research found that there are benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress, I’m not sure that if you’re wearing a nice clean white shirt to the lunch meeting you should necessarily follow the other person in ordering that “tricky to eat tidily spaghetti with the sloppy tomato sauce”…

Don’t sweat your exams

Most people enjoy it when the weather gets warmer. Sunny weather often makes people happier but some research indicates that a heatwave may not be good news if you’re taking an exam.

Researchers from Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that students who were exposed to hotter temperatures did significantly less well in cognitive tests than those students who lived in a temperature-controlled environment.

The research involved a group of students who had already been allocated accommodation on campus. Half of the rooms had air conditioning and half didn’t.

The students were followed during a 5-day heatwave where temperatures exceeded 26C.

Before, during and after the heatwave, the students had to perform a number of cognitive tests which measured the speed they processed matters as well as their working memory. The results showed that the scores of these students in the hotter accommodation fell by 13% compared to their colleagues in the air-conditioned temperature stable environment.

The researchers said that it was not clear what was behind the drop in performance during an increase in temperature. It could have been because the brain was working harder on maintaining critical body functions such as thermoregulation or it could have been due to a poorer quality of sleep due to the heat.

Either way, let’s hope it’s not a heatwave the next time you sit an exam…

Cash is king but jewellery looks nicer…

Before cash came along, people used to barter. Somebody who had grown vegetables would exchange potatoes they’d grown with a baker who’d baked bread. A farmer would exchange a cow with someone who had grown rice. And so on…

This was all very well if you had lots of vegetables or lots of cows but exchanging 1,000 kg of potatoes for the latest Xbox or taking a cow with you to pay for cinema tickets was never going to work.

As a result, along came cash.

The Lydians (now part of Turkey) are widely believed to be the first Western culture to make coins and their first coins came in to existence way back around the time of 700 BC.

Since then things have developed.

Bills of Exchange were introduced in Italy in the 12th century (Bills of Exchange are paper documents which enable traders to buy and sell goods without having to carry cash).

The Bank of England introduced printed cheques in 1717.

The first credit card in the UK was issued in 1966.

Online banking was launched in the late 1990s.

Through all of this cash has remained and there are now 180 currencies recognised as legal tender by the United Nations member states.

Things are changing though and Apple, Samsung and Google all have contactless payment systems whereby money is loaded onto an app on your phone and payment can be made by scanning your phone at a contactless terminal.

The company Ringly have taken things a step further though and have a partnership with MasterCard which enables you to pay for items with the tap of a ring.

The rings that Ringly sell (including the ring shown in the photo above) cost between $195 and $260 and use technology to link the ring to your phone to access the Ringly app. The app will then enable payment to be made. This is pretty impressive given that all the technology has to be fitted onto the surface of the ring.

The end result is that you will be able to purchase items via a contactless terminal by simply tapping your ring without getting your wallet or purse out.

So, is this a genuinely useful idea or just a “gimmick”? After all, you’ll still need your phone with you to make a payment.

Either way, it’s a nice excuse if you were thinking of buying a new ring.

Will auditors become more like Tom Cruise in the future?

Gone are the days when auditors were manually checking and ticking lots of pieces of paper. Today’s auditing techniques involve significant use of computers.

But how far can this computer use go? Will they be able to predict when accounting fraud is going to take place as opposed to tracking transactions that have already occurred?

The film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise was based around software that could predict when a crime was going to happen and the culprits would be arrested before they actually committed the crime. Although this film seemed well and truly within the realms of science fiction, IBM have worked in conjunction with the Memphis police department in America to develop a sophisticated computer software package which aims to predict where and when future crimes are likely to occur.

The software is known as Crush (Criminal Reduction Utilising Statistical History) and is used to identify potential crime hotspots based on a variety of data including crime reports, offender profiles and strangely enough even weather forecasts.

Once these upcoming crime hotspots have been identified then the police can allocate resources accordingly.

The rollout of this software reportedly resulted in a reduction of serious crime by 30%.

Back to auditing though and will the next step be predicting when a fraud is likely to occur using statistical analysis based on industry, profit movements, director’s personal life and spending habits (plus the weather of course)?

Given the reliability of some computers though, one thing for sure is that if you happen to live in a town called “Syntax Error” then you may have a surprise visit from a Tom Cruise lookalike with a briefcase and a calculator…

Best to take it back…

Most of you have probably had an interview. In fact, some of you may have had a number of interviews but a boss of one of the top companies in Australia has recently disclosed a pretty unusual way of deciding who not to offer a job to.

Trent Innes, who heads up Xero in Australia said that he will greet the person when he or she arrives for the interview and then take them to the kitchen to offer them a drink before heading to the meeting room with the drink. Even if they aren’t tea or coffee drinkers they will generally walk away with a glass of water.

He explained in the Venture Podcast with Lambros Photios that after taking the drink back for the interview “one of the things I’m always looking for at the end of the interview is, does the person doing the interview want to take that empty cup back to the kitchen?”

He explained that what “I was trying to find was what was the lowest level task I could find that regardless of what you did inside the organisation was still super important that would actually really drive a culture of ownership.”

He went on to say, “You can develop skills, you can gain knowledge and experience but it really does come down to attitude, and the attitude that we talk a lot about is the concept of ‘wash your own coffee cup’.”

That’s quite a smart move by Mr Innes as he said that attitude was the most important trait he looked for when hiring people.

He said that “Especially in a fast growth company or a start-up environment or scale up environment – you need people with a really strong growth mindset and that comes back to their attitude.”

So, how many interviewees do you think offered to take their cups back?

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of people who offered to take their cup back to the kitchen was pretty high. According to Mr Innes only 5 to 10 per cent of the interviewees didn’t offer to return their empty coffee cup back to the kitchen.

So there you go. If you’re attending an interview and you go to the kitchen with the boss to get a drink, it’s probably a good idea to offer to take the cup back.

Exams for sale….

One of the five fundamental ethical principles is Integrity.

Being straightforward and honest is a vital characteristic of being a professional accountant.

Most people who are studying for their professional exams have one thing on their mind. Namely, to pass their exams but four students who were studying for their ACCA exams had other things on their minds and at the same time, were not the brightest individuals out there.

What they planned to do was to register for some Computer Based Exams (CBEs) and then whilst sitting the exams they would use their mobile phones to take photos of the computer screen showing the questions. They would then sell these photos with the questions on them via the internet.

The four individuals involved, Chen Yiyun, Hiujiao Ru, Zehui Gong and Ziying Wang decided to sell the questions on Taobao Marketplace, a Chinese shopping website.

They no doubt thought that this was an extremely clever way of making some money. What could possibly go wrong by taking photos of the questions and then selling them online?

One of the other fundamental ethical principles is that of Professional Competence.

Now, if these individuals had even a minuscule amount of Professional Competence, they would have reviewed the photos before selling them.

Alas for them they didn’t review them.

If they had reviewed them, they would have seen at the top of the computer screen in the photos their ACCA student registration number and the exam centre.

ACCA were made aware of the questions being for sale and made a test purchase on the Taobao Marketplace. Given the student registration numbers were on the screen, they didn’t need a team of top detectives to identify the individuals involved.

Unsurprisingly, the four individuals are now ex-students of ACCA having been found guilty of misconduct and they were ordered to pay costs ranging from £3,500 to £7,000.

Remind me – what was I going to buy?

Do you wish you had a better memory? Perhaps you do but you can’t remember whether or not you do.

If this is the case then help may be at hand.

University researchers have suggested a simple technique which could improve your memory.

Dr Mark Moss from Northumbria University led a research study which found that students studying in a room with the smell of the herb rosemary (in the form of essential oils) achieved 5% to 7% better memory results than students undertaking similar studying in a room without the smell of rosemary.

Dr Moss reported that the sense of smell in humans is highly sensitive and sends messages to the brain which can set off reactions and responses.

In the case of rosemary, the smell could well result in a better memory.

This view isn’t new though as ancient Greek students used to wear garlands of rosemary in their exams and Ophelia, the young noblewoman in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet said “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

So, in conclusion, the next time you are studying hard for an exam it may be an idea to buy some rosemary essential oils to help your memory.

That is of course, if you can remember to buy some in the first place…

(Details of some of the work done by Northumbria University can be found here).

An unexpected ending…

A lot of you may have been on business trips but I bet your trip wasn’t as exciting (and tragic) as this gentlemen’s trip was.

What was also surprising was that his employer was found liable for his death as it was classified as an industrial accident.

The exact cause of death was a cardiac arrest whilst he was having sex with a stranger he had met on the business trip.

Now, whilst having a heart attack during sex with a stranger probably wouldn’t meet most people’s definition of an “industrial accident” a French court found otherwise. The court stated that the employer was responsible for any accident occurring during a business trip and ruled that his family were entitled to compensation.

The man who died on the job, named as Xavier X, was working as an engineer for TSO, a railway services company based near Paris and his employer had perhaps quite reasonably argued that he was not carrying out professional duties when he got into an extra marital relationship with a total stranger in his hotel room.

This opinion though wasn’t accepted by the court and they upheld the view that sexual activity was normal, “like taking a shower or a meal”.

As a result of it being classified as a normal activity on a business trip, the death was considered to be an industrial accident and under French law, partners or children of industrial accident victims receive up to 80 per cent of their salary until what would have been the person’s retirement age, with pension contributions paid from then on.

I’m not kicking a ball, I’m being looked at.

Professional footballers must have a great life. Playing football and earning significant amounts of money. Oh, and using some very clever tax advisers…

There are serious amounts of money being paid to some of the top footballers. Payments of in excess of £200,000 per week are fairly common (over £10 million per year).

This income doesn’t simply go into the tax return as salary. No, there are far more sneaky/clever [delete as you feel appropriate] ways of minimising the tax liability (or should I say maximising the after-tax income).

One of the methods used to minimise the tax is to make two types of payments to the player.

One would be for playing football whilst the other would be for “image rights”.

“What are image rights?” I hear you say.

Well, the basic idea is that the player would agree to let the football club use his image in any sponsorship or TV deals that the club has.

Without going into too much technical detail, the key difference from a tax point of view is that the payments made to the player for playing football would be classified as employment income and would be taxed at 45%.

Payments for image rights on the other hand would in effect be rental payments for an intangible asset. Players would assign their image rights to a company (where they could be the 100% shareholder) and the company would only pay corporation tax of 19% on the income.

With the globalisation of the Premier League, there are now numerous players who are not tax domiciled in the UK and if their image rights were channelled through a non-UK company they could potentially escape tax altogether.

Given the size of the payments involved there’s a lot of tax at stake and no doubt the tax authorities will be looking closely at these schemes.

In the meantime, most of the readers of this blog are not professional footballers but instead undertake far more interesting finance and accounting activities in an office. Why not suggest to your boss at your next pay review that you’d like image rights instead of a pay rise so that you can receive more tax advantageous rental income from an intangible asset via your personal company…