What I’ve learned from designing your workplace &
what I know about working from home, too.
I’ve always been interested in the home office. Probably because it’s something I’ve always wanted for myself. One of my career goals, already in college, was to work from home. For a big part of my career, I’ve been fortunate to get to do that. Since about 2006, I’ve been working from home in some capacity. I commuted about an hour to / from my workplace, 2 days a week and worked from home the rest of the time. I worked from my kitchen table at first, but it didn’t take long to make space for an office in our home.
I have an office in our new house too and I’m so thankful we included one. Before January, we had our “family” computer on an old 2’x4’ folding table with a peeling fake-wood sticker surface. (The covert sticker-peeler has, to this day, never confessed.) We had some desk legs we bought at IKEA in their scratch and dent section some time ago, so it was a big upgrade when my husband built himself a top and finished off his desk. Little did we know, that starting in March, he would be using it daily and working next to me!
WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM DESIGNING TRADITIONAL WORKPLACES
A few years ago, when I was part of the design team for a large local office building in Sioux Center, IA, I attended a day-long continuing education seminar put on by Interstates Office Products in Sioux Falls, SD. Steelcase, a popular systems furniture manufacturer, presented the information. Their extensive body of research on workplace trends really impressed me. We underwent an intensive evidence-based design process for that project, using current research to inform our design decisions, which I totally ate up. The overlap of design + psychology is totally fascinating!!
While a more mobile, flexible workforce makes it possible to work from anywhere, literally anytime, a big consequence is blurred boundaries. In the traditional office, that looks like workers expecting flexibility not just in their working hours to help them balance their home & work life, but also in spaces. They’re looking for more of the informal comforts of home like coffee stations and work lounges. Research also points to how important it is to provide workers with choice and control over their environment, giving them a variety of types of spaces for different types of work & working styles. It’s all about doing their best work in their best place. It’s in everyone’s best interest to accommodate those different work styles so we can be our most efficient and productive. At home, we do have quite a bit of choice and control over our environment, which is great.
However, not all of these blurred boundaries are good. Working from home has the potential to make you feel like you do nothing but work and that you can never truly “shut it off”. When you’re at home, it’s harder to forget all of the house-work & responsibilities that you have there that aren’t getting done.
The question I’m asking myself is: how can I, as a professional who’s designed lots of corporate workspaces and has worked at home for many years myself, use that knowledge to help you have a better home-working experience?
1 – Give yourself a choice of seating options. First of all, a good ergonomic chair is *really* important, but in addition to that, some great options might be an exercise ball, a floor pillow, and a raised surface to stand at. Our brains are processing more information than ever before. So, one of the smartest things you can do to stimulate your brain is to move, change positions or even walk if you can. Some people instinctively know this. Do you pace while you’re on the phone? If so, is there a hall nearby? Or is your office located near an exterior door so you could quickly step outside?
2 – Give yourself a view of the outdoors. The correlation between exposure to nature and positive impact on well-being and productivity has been well documented. Nature has restorative effects that can reduce stress, getting you to think and work better. If you can’t give yourself a view, bring the outdoors in. Think houseplants and/or creating a sensory-rich experience in your office. Nature activates all of your senses. To mimic that, we can incorporate natural materials, textures, organic shapes, and even smells into your office.
3 – Pay attention to acoustic privacy. Ideally, you’ll have a separate office with a door to close. Even better would be to reduce sound transmission by insulating the interior walls of your office and adding noice-reducing drywall. (Don’t forget the floor & ceiling. What rooms are above & below you? Is privacy there important?) Make sure you don’t have a lot of acoustically reflective surfaces in your home office. We can look at different surfaces and wall / ceiling applied treatments to help, if you do have a “loud” space.
4 – Get organized. If you can work paper-less, that’s ideal, but most people still use paper, so make sure you’ve got the proper file space to accommodate that. Pay attention to the cords. There are some great cord-management tools out there, so that’s a great place to invest. Visual clutter = more stress, so keep those cords tidy and give your papers a home to go to.
5 – Set boundaries, communicate them, and enforce them. To be clear is to be kind, so make sure everyone knows when you’ll be working and when you won’t. Both at home and at work. Babysitters are a great cue for the kids. We had a sitter in our home when my kids were little, so I would pack my lunch in a cooler and keep it in my office in order to minimize interruptions to my kids’ day with the sitter. You can also use other cues to tell yourself that the work day has started or ended. Get dressed for work and change into comfy clothes when your work is done. Set timers on your phone and/or use an app to shut down your phone after certain hours.
So, if you find yourself working at home more these days, by choice (or not), why not take some steps to make your home office a place you love to go to? With as much time as you spend working, it’s an incredibly worth-while investment and sure to make a huge difference in your life! I’m here and ready to help when you want to make your home office work for you!