I will confess that way back when I had an office job with an employer who employed me, and a manager who was tasked with the unenviable job of managing me, I used to negotiate the odd day when I worked from home. This day in my mind we all knew was a skive and the work that I had agreed to do at home could be undertaken at any time as long as something was presented back at the office to show what an amazingly productive day it had been. I know I was not the only one and let me tell you, my view on working from home changed dramatically when I went from employee to employer status. However, we now find ourselves living in different times and the impact that emails, mobiles, zoom meetings and social distancing has made means that working from home not only seems genuinely possible but also desirable from lots of points of view. Over the last few months, many of us have had to adjust quickly to working from our homes and although the technology seems to have been able to adapt to this remarkably effectively, I wonder how well our homes have been able to accommodate the change.
The first consideration when thinking about working from home is very practical – what do you require from a space to be able to do your work? You might want a quiet or possibly confidential work area, you will most probably require a desk and some technology, you may need storage of paperwork or other equipment (I would suggest only having essential items close to hand, other work related storage may be able to go somewhere else) and you should think about whether any other furniture may be useful. Previously (and let’s hope in the near future) we may have considered having meetings at home, seeing customers or suppliers and so on. How will those be accommodated, not only in terms of space and furniture for the meeting, but also making your guest comfortable with beverages and a cloakroom? It can be very straightforward but it is worth thinking about these things ahead of time to avoid embarrassment for anyone.
I personally think it is important to keep some differential between where you work and where you live. I have worked and lived in the same building for nearly a decade and have been lucky enough to have very different spaces to work in and to live in. When I walk up the stairs, I am at home so it has to be a conscious decision to take a piece of work with me which I find helps me to break off in the evening. Having said that, I also find it works better for me if I do something between being at my desk and at home – walking the dogs, shopping, whatever, something to provide the readjusting time that a commute home used to fill.
At the same time that it is important for the home worker to be clear about work hours and home hours when at home, it is also important for other members of the household to understand this as well. We have all enjoyed the coverage of interruptions of online meetings from children and dogs, but adults can be offenders too. A friend of mine who is a great talker told me that within a few days of her husband starting to work from home, she noticed that he was wearing a very large pair of headphones. She asked him what he was listening too and after getting no answer, she signalled to him that she was talking to him. He lifted an earphone and she repeated her question “Nothing” he replied “it’s lovely.”
Once the logistics of your work space are settled, it is a wonderfully liberating experience to think that you can decorate the space (desk, room or otherwise) as you want. I used to work in finance and spent years working in large, mainly open plan offices that reflected the non-aesthetic bent of the industry. When I worked there, I don’t think I really realised the true horror of carpet tiles, vertical blinds, bog standard office furniture and plants that look like they themselves hope they will die soon. I hope it is better now but I am not sure it is. Now that you are in charge of your work environment and you have only yourself to consider, why not surround yourself with colours, furnishings and artwork that you really love?
If your work is desk related, the comfort of your desk or table, and crucially your chair, is paramount but remember that we all find different items of furniture comfortable so make your own decisions. For some people, an ergonomically designed chair that costs the price of a small terraced house or a state of the art standing up desk is the way forward and for others it will be different. I have tried a lot of options and the antique dining chair that I have used for the past couple of years that is sturdy and well upholstered is about the best that I have had to date. And I love the way it looks, which also works in its favour.
As with anywhere in the home or at work, lighting is absolutely crucial. I find many office environments to be hugely over lit and often it is only a desk or other work space that needs to have very good task lighting on it. It is likely that you will also need different types of light in a workspace during the course of a day. Similarly if the space you are working in has a lot of natural light, you may also need some curtains or blinds that control that. Again, don’t be seduced by thinking you need traditional office solutions, within your own home you have the power to choose the aesthetic as well as the functional so try to achieve both if you can.
Finally, don’t forget your accessories – in a traditional office there is little space for personal possessions that have any reference to you personally. The very good news is that in the workspace in your own home, you have a free rein and I urge you to exercise it. As a starting point, think about rugs, bookcases, plants, flowers, artwork, a comfortable chair, a stylish coffee machine or attractive water jug (as far removed from a Pow Wow water dispenser as possible please) and while we are about it, involve your other senses – would you like some music while you work, or the scent of a favourite plant, or a bowl of delicious fruit? (try not to immediately opt for an attractive jar of Jaffa Cakes, it’s best to at least start off on the right foot)
It is likely that working from home will become much more the norm for a lot of us and I think a bit of planning can make the whole experience much more comfortable and therefore hopefully productive. I recommend it highly and I now wouldn’t think of working without the background noise of a snoring dog in a ridiculously comfortable basket and blanket arrangement located under my desk.