The corporate poo patrol is coming after your precious toilet time

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We all appreciate the little things in life, and that includes spending five minutes on the toilet scrawling through Twitter on company time. But those days may be at risk with the StandardToilet, a seat that claims to drastically reduce toilet time.

Approved by the British Toilet Association (BTA), a members organisation that campaigns for better toilet facilities, the StandardToilet sits at a downward angle of 13 degrees. After around five minutes of sitting, this will cause strain on the legs, similar to a low level squat thrust, but “not enough to cause health issues,” reassures Mahabir Gill, founder of StandardToilet. “Anything higher than that would cause wider problems. Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly.”

It was inspired by a series of annoyances. As a consulting engineer for 40 years, Gill sometimes discover workers asleep on the toilet, and in his free time, was increasingly annoyed by queues for public toilets. The final straw came while he was shopping in a department store the morning after a particularly heavy night out, and in desperate need for a toilet, could only find locked cubicles. Thus, the idea for the StandardToilet was born.

The fight to clampdown on toilet time has begun, it seems. After all, the alternative toilet market is booming. Japanese-style toilets are finally breaking into Western markets, and products like the Squatty Potty are offering us revolutionary new ways to sit on the toilet. Waterless compost toilets are catering to eco-conscious poopers, while others believe the future is rimless. But, is policing your pooing a step too far?

The StandardToilet was given public backing by BTA in November and retails between £150 and £500, and Gill is already in talks with several local councils and major motorway service stations to distribute his product, and believes their market extends to train stations, pubs, shopping malls and offices.

The StandardToilet comes with health benefits, claims Gill, like improved posture, but their primary aim is to reduce the time employees use phones on the job, shaving minutes off your sitting to reduce monetary losses. “It’s main benefit is to the employers, not the employees,” says Gill. “It saves the employer money.”

There is some reasoning to the StandardToilet. A July survey conducted by software company Protecting.co.uk found that British workers are spending much longer in the toilet during their 9 to 5 working day. On average, Brummies are the promptest poopers and spend 4:45 minutes in the toilet, while Londoners are the longest at a whopping 28 mins 35 seconds, the survey claimed.

Still, the StandardToilet isn’t the only product finding value in your bowel movements. In the UK, over 1,500 ‘smart public toilets’ that collect visitor data and footfall numbers have been installed by Healthmatic, a company that provides the computer systems used in public restrooms. This data is fed back to clients, 95 per cent of which are public authorities, to advise on everything from tourist visitor numbers to anti-social behaviour. In the US, Enlighted makes room-monitoring cameras, heat identifiers and sensors that fit to office furniture to collect motion data. This can provide insight into how often employees are away from their desk, or on the toilet.

These products are the autonomous next step in what employers have been doing for years; tracking toilet breaks. In January, staff at a call centre in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, were asked to sign a contract forcing workers to register toilet breaks online, which were limited to a maximum of one-percent of their working day – over a four hour shift that would amount to two minutes, as reported by the Daily Record.

“In an office, the one space you have where you can find privacy is often the toilet,” says Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler, assistant professor of design history at Purdue University in Indiana. “So, god forbid that we want to make the one place where workers should have at least some autonomy – the toilet – another place where people impose the very capitalist idea that people should always be working.”

In the past few years, productivity boosting furniture and work environments that fuse work and pleasure have grown in popularity. Standing desks claim to improve energy levels and lower the risk of heart disease, despite their being little evidence to prove this, and The Axia Smart Chair vibrates if its sensors detect you’re sitting in an aggravating position for too long. Foosball tables are as common as water coolers in some offices, while others encourage staff to meditate in designated recharge rooms.

But these luxuries are largely reserved for a minority of workers. Currently, there are more than 6,200 contact centres in the UK employing around 1.3 million people, amounting to more than 4 per cent of the country’s total working population. An estimated 896,000 people are also employed on zero-hour contracts, which includes almost 30,000 workers at Amazon warehouse.

“Too often, design disregards low-level workers,” says Kaufmann-Buhler. “Designers are not interested in the plight of the worker who’s spending their day answering phone calls. They’re only interested in the workers with full-time jobs and who get the elaborate office spaces.”

“My thoughts are that as workers have less rights in the workplace overall, then more of their working lives become policed,” adds Jen Slater. As co-author of the Around The Toilet project, alongside Charlottes Jones, Slater spent three years investigating what makes a safe and accessible toilet, particularly for disabled and trans people. “There were reports earlier in the year of Amazon workers, for example, who don’t have time to go to the toilet on shift, so they have to urinate in plastic bottles. It doesn’t surprise me that design begins to mirror and reinforce these poor working conditions.”

Once upon a time, someone dared to dream for a better bog. That person was Alexander Kira, who in 1966 published a toilet bible with [i[The Bathroom[/i], which attempted to improve the humble porcelain palace. He believed that baths should come with contoured backrests and showers should be bigger, and that toilets were “the most ill-suited fixture ever designed.” He pointed to how humans were not designed to sit on toilets. Rather, we’re supposed to squat.

Little has changed since then, though, and bathroom design remains grossly inadequate while many innovations adopt one size fits all design, which fails many users. In 2017, a soap dispenser designed by the British company Technical Concepts went viral after the sensor failed to register a black hand, yet worked perfectly for a white one – “the racist soap dispenser”, it was dubbed.

“Viewing time spent in the toilet as a threat is the wrong way of looking at the issue entirely,” says Charlotte Jones. “I think the importance of the toilet as a refuge during the workday says more about inadequate workspaces, heavy workloads and unsupportive management, than it does about the workers themselves.”

People use toilets to rest, get some quiet time alone and recuperate, and there should be spaces provided for this, other than toilets, adds Slater. “There are lots of reasons that people might need to spend more than five minutes in a toilet. People with bowel conditions have told us they already feel very aware, and often ashamed, when they need to spend longer than is deemed ‘normal’ when using the toilet.”

Not all time-saving toilet tech is there to limit skiving opportunities or harvest data. Sometimes, it’s a case of needs must, and that’s when the Brief Relief comes in. The Brief Relief is a bag or bucket, and uses a double safety seal mechanism attached to a one way funnel for portable pooing – in translation, that means when stuff goes in, it won’t come out if you happened to drop it.

“It’s better than using a coffee cup,” laughs Brief Relief Director Jeff Griffin.

Today, around 700,000 Brief Relief products are sold globally each month. They are currently being used by the top 100 utility companies in the US and Canada, and are used by the British and Dutch militaries. They’re also being adopted by National Parks to tackle the huge epidemic of human waste. “National parks require you to pack out whatever you pack in, including all your business,” says Griffin. “So if you’re out there for five days you sure as heck don’t want to carry around a stinky bag.”

The Brief relief is not hi-tech, nor does it claim to compete with the classic toilet. Rather, it’s for emergencies, a product to be used by construction workers in isolated areas or truck drivers cursed to hold it in between service stations. “There are a lot of people who have never been in a situation where they needed a bathroom and they didn’t have one,” says Griffin. “But when you have issues around going to the bathroom, it’s not a pleasant issue but if you have an easy fix, it makes everything easier.”

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