NEW YORK (AP) — Triangle Pest Control’s original workspace was a 2,000-square-foot garage housing 25 people — the technicians who did the bug control work, as well as all the sales and support staffers. It was hard for employees to handle phone calls when everyone sat so close together.

“We were all crammed in,” says Triangle spokeswoman Laura Simis. Then the company, based in Holly Springs, North Carolina, expanded into the space next door. Turnover among the support and sales staff fell by 45 percent in one year.

An uncomfortable workplace, whether due to space, noise or aesthetics, can be a drag on morale and make it harder for people to work. And the kinds of workspace amenities that Silicon Valley has become famous for — big open areas, gyms, video games and nap spaces — are beyond the reach of most small businesses. But many find that if they ask staffers what they want, there are ways to make their space cheerful and inspiring.

The three-story building that the Phelps Agency moved out of in 2016 inhibited the creativity of the advertising and marketing company, CEO Ed Chambliss says. A staircase linked the first and second floors of the building in Santa Monica, but local codes prohibited stairs between floors two and three. Third-floor staffers felt abandoned.

“They didn’t feel like they were part of the group,” Chambliss says. And for lower-floor staffers, it was “out of sight, out of mind” about their upper-floor colleagues.

The new space in nearby Playa Vista has everyone in one open office. Workstation partitions of frosted glass offer some privacy, and staffers can retreat to conference rooms or an outdoor deck for solitude. It’s a more attractive building and located in a less urban area.

“It’s a lot of little things that make a difference,” Chambliss says.

The dominant trend in workspace design the past few years has been the open plan, with few or no offices, partitions and cubicles. Staffers often sit side-by-side at workstations or desks. One advantage is the open office’s flexibility, and it can be cheaper to furnish than those with cubicles. Owners like open offices because they foster teamwork and camaraderie. The downside: Some staffers need a little isolation.

Small firms with big budgets can hire architects and designers to create better workspaces. But technology startup Owler needed to be frugal as it moved from one room into a bigger space in 2012. In order to create spaces in San Mateo, California, and a sales office in Spokane, Washington, the answer was design-it-yourself projects. CEO Jim Fowler asked staffers what they wanted, and the answers touched on comfort and flexibility.

“We’ve set up a lounge room where team members can slip away for a power nap. Each member of the Owler team has the option to use a standing or sitting desk, so they can work in a manner that’s most productive for them,” Fowler says.

Fowler shopped at Ikea for desks. The walls are painted in the company’s brand color, orange, and there’s a huge owl — a cloth representation that can be worn as a costume for Owler staff events and photos — at the office entrance.

“Just because you’re doing the lean thing, doesn’t mean you can’t spend your money on anything fun,” Fowler says.

Sometimes the problem isn’t space or layout, but clutter and cleanliness. If files and paraphernalia pile up, not only is that aesthetically unpleasant, it also increases what’s known as visual complexity. That gives staffers’ eyes and brains more to process and takes away from concentration and performance, says Sally Augustin, an environmental/design psychologist based in La Grange Park, Illinois.

It’s not uncommon for an owner running out of storage space to dump cartons of documents or equipment in the break room. That runs counter to the idea that a break room provides a respite from everything about work, Augustin says.

A thorough cleaning, bringing in leafy plants and clearing out stuff can go a long way toward making a better environment. “A new coat of paint can show you care, you’re trying,” Augustin says.

Many owners may not realize workspace quality is a factor in whether employees feel engaged, says Sonya Dufner, a partner with the design firm Gensler.

“Something that feels clean and organized definitely makes you feel like you’re working for a professional organization,” she says.

At marketing company Summerjax, co-owners Lauren Tanzeer and Wemberly Meyer consulted with the 10 employees about their preferences, then hired a design firm to create an open space for the staff and offices for themselves. Staffers have customized work stations, and the owners invite anyone who wants to bring their laptops to come into their offices and sit on the couch or the carpet and work. The building in Long Beach, California, has a landscaped courtyard and plants.

Factories can be made more worker-friendly too. Drinkware maker Tervis moved from a 35,000 square-foot facility to its current 90,000 square-foot location in North Venice, Florida, in 2005, consulting experts in ergonomics as it built new production and office space. There are three break areas including couches.

Company President Rogan Donnelly, and senior manufacturing engineer Dham Vayalur, say it’s an ongoing process because the layout of the factory floor is periodically changed.

Businesses set up as retail stores can also be designed with staffers’ needs in mind. Computer Repair Doctor, with nine stores in five states, uses dual work areas — one where technicians are side-by-side, and another where they can work alone, says owner Matt Ham, who’s based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Proximity enables staffers to consult each other, but sometimes they need solitude to focus.

“They’re always chatting about this and that and they can get distracted easily. But it does keep the morale higher to keep everyone together,” Ham says.

Growing companies need to allow for more expansion. When online bridal retailer Azazie launched three years ago, the handful of staffers fit into one room. When the San Jose, California, company’s staff reached 10, “the noise level was getting troublesome and sometimes people complained to me that they couldn’t focus,” owner Charles Zhong says.

Azazie was able to expand next door. That worked until the staff reached 40.

“Productivity increased, but then started to drop slowly as we had more and more people,” Zhong says. In July, Azazie moved to larger quarters. Zhong is now prepared for more changes, “constantly updating our office plan” for different stages of growth.


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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for showcasing Facebook’s virtual reality capability with a tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

The Facebook founder and another executive discussed the platform’s virtual reality project through avatars in a video recorded live Monday.

The video begins with the avatars pictured on the roof of Facebook’s Mountain View, California, headquarters before heading to Puerto Rico by using a 360-degree video recorded by National Public Radio as a backdrop.

Zuckerberg later responded to critics, writing that his goal of showing “how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world” wasn’t clear. He says he’s sorry to anyone who was offended.

Facebook is also working to restore internet connectivity on the island and has donated money to the relief effort.

GENEVA (AP) — The World Cup is truly taking shape.

A dramatic day of qualifying matches ended with 23 of the 32-team lineup confirmed to play next year in Russia.

Lionel Messi will be there. Cristiano Ronaldo, too. The United States will not, for the first time since 1986.

The remaining nine spots will be decided next month, but the eight top-seeded nations for the Dec. 1 draw in Moscow are now known. There are still four European playoffs, two intercontinental playoffs and three African qualifying groups to be decided.

Here are some things we learned about the next World Cup:



Before games kicked off Tuesday, Messi and Ronaldo were not sure of advancing.

It all worked out, to the relief of Argentina, Portugal, FIFA and social media users everywhere. World Cup sponsor Adidas and Nike — who provide the uniforms for Messi and Ronaldo, respectively, on international duty — should also be relieved.

Messi was a savior for Argentina, which likely had to win in the high altitude of Ecuador and trailed in the first minute. The only Argentina player to score in qualifying games this year, Messi’s hat trick led the way to a 3-1 win and a spot at the World Cup.

Ronaldo did not add to his 15 goals in qualifying, but Portugal’s 2-0 win over Switzerland extended the European champion’s winning streak and ensured first place in the group on goal difference.

Not all of the world’s best players will be in Russia: Wales forward Gareth Bale, Chile striker Alexis Sanchez and rising American star Christian Pulisic all were eliminated.

Also missing? At least 20 unfilled sponsor slots in FIFA’s planned commercial program.



Portugal and Argentina went from the fringes to the top-seeded pot of teams as the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the FIFA rankings.

The top seven-ranked teams — FIFA will confirm the list on Monday — join host Russia in Pot 1. They include top-ranked Germany, the defending champions, Brazil, Belgium, Poland and France.

Russia’s ranking, somewhere in the 60s, could be worst in the draw, but is because the host nation has not played high-value competitive qualifying games.

Spain won’t be one of the seeded teams, and should be the one to avoid from Pot 2.

FIFA picked a new draw format with seeding pots entirely decided by October’s rakings instead of geographical divide. No two teams from the same confederation can be drawn together, except for Europeans. With 14 UEFA members in the draw, FIFA allows a maximum of two in each of the eight groups.

If Serbia lands as an outlier in Pot 4, it could set up the toughest group with either Brazil or Argentina and another European team.



Iceland and Panama are the two World Cup newcomers so far.

Iceland is beloved worldwide after its run to the 2016 European Championship quarterfinals and will be the smallest nation by population — only 330,000 — ever to play at a World Cup. Expect the country’s trademark thunderclap salute between players and fans to be admired and copied across the tournament.

Panama’s unlikely 2-1 win Tuesday over already-qualified Costa Rica relied on a “goal” that never crossed the line, and an 88th-minute strike from Roman Torres.

Panama took the last direct qualifying place in CONCACAF region, and the United States fell away after a surprising 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago.



Expect many of Iceland’s population to land in Russia, and most will be personal friends of the team.

Iceland’s blue and white hordes were a must-see experience at Euro 2016 even before their team eliminated England in the last 16.

For sheer euphoria, Egypt’s qualification this week to end a 28-year absence was hard to beat. Egypt already ranks in FIFA’s top 10 of nations whose residents have requested tickets to the 64 games in Russia.

Color and noisy good cheer would also be guaranteed if either or both of Ireland or Northern Ireland advance through the European playoffs next month.



The elimination of Ukraine this week removed a huge potential problem for FIFA.

Teams from Russia and Ukraine have been kept apart for security reasons in competition draws since 2014. It would have struck an awkward tone at the Dec. 1 draw at the State Kremlin Palace.

Syria’s exit against Australia on Tuesday also removes the chance of the team’s impressive run being used for propaganda by the regime of President Basher Assad, an ally of Russia.

Russian organizers say there will be no repeat of violent clashes involving its fans at the past two European Championships, including against Poland in Warsaw and England in Marseille.

Russia cannot be in a group with top-seeded Poland, but could draw England from Pot 2.



On the field, FIFA still has issues to resolve in refereeing games.

It wasn’t up to FIFA to prevent Panama’s “ghost” goal, but the technology system will be used at all 12 Russian stadiums for the World Cup.

FIFA is on the clock to decide if referees should get help from video review, however.

Decision-making was slow and often confused at the eight-nation Confederations Cup in Russia this year. Reviews once predicted to last mere seconds stretched to three minutes, and still seemed to get things wrong.

Top-level German and Italian league games are using Video Assistant Referees this season and, again, have provoked anger from team officials.

FIFA’s rule-making panel is scheduled to make a decision in March, maybe based more on hope than expectation.


More AP World Cup coverage:

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s ruling party has held an interfaith rally that it said would promote religious harmony as thousands of Rohingya Muslims continue to flee persecution in northern Rakhine state.

In Yangon, around 20,000 people lit candles in a soccer stadium on Tuesday night and said prayers.

A Muslim religious leader, Hafiz Mufti Ali, addressed the crowd from a podium. Video showed Buddhist monks and men wearing Muslim skullcaps sitting apart.

More than half a million Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh after Myanmar security forces carried out what they called clearance operations in response to attacks on police posts by Muslim insurgents in August.

The U.N. has called it “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya Muslims are a separate ethnic group and regards them as illegal immigrants.

Cassie takes you behind the scenes at Comic Con and interviews the cast of Fox’s new show “The Gifted.” Watch what the actors have to say about bullying.

Arielle takes you behind the scenes on the set of The Situation Room, where students were put to the test in a White House setting.