Don’t be home alone.
Working at home is rapidly becoming more than a volunteer program. The current driver today is the anticipated, accelerated need for large populations of knowledge workers to ‘self-quarantine’ and not congregate in the same place at the same time to conduct work activities. Right now, it is fueled by the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but this is a trend that has been growing for two decades.
The world is changing! Businesses are banning international travel, governments are predicting coronavirus will infect up to 80 percent of their populations, schools and political institutions are shutting down… is it just a matter of time before offices shut their doors too?
But there is some good news in all this gloom and doom chatter. Consider this piece of wisdom from The Economist.
But the crisis offers a chance to experiment with new ways of doing things—and to question the wisdom of old habits.
Working from home is becoming a popular option for many workers and businesses as a way to continue to be “productive” while keeping the virus at bay by limiting the time spent with those who maybe infected. Although working from home is something of a challenge for a variety of reasons regardless of the situation and many people have provided “advice and suggestions” for how to do it successfully, the reality is we are already doing it, we just don’t recognize it.
According to Global Workforce Analytics, “5 million employees (3.6 percent of the workforce) currently work-at-home half-time or more”
The purpose of this article is to offer some quick hints for people who are being offered this outstanding personal growth opportunity. Normally, a ‘work at home’ or virtual work program takes about six months of planning; two months of intense training and preparation, then follow up action 30 and 60 days out. But this set of changes is occurring literally overnight.
People who are being directed to ‘work from home’ rarely have the knowledge and/or expertise to structure a ‘residential space’ to maximize their productivity and engagement with their employer, workmates and neighbors. Let’s start with some background first.
What’s a Person to Do?
When you hear someone say that they work from home, what is your first reaction? Is it, “oh they don’t have a real job” or … is it more like, “boy do they have it made- get up whenever you want to and work in your pj’s No one is standing over you yelling to work faster to meet a deadline.”
When a business is considering options for where their employees should work and decides, or is forced to due to public health concerns, that they will go to virtual officing or work remotely, they think that:
- They will save tons of money on overhead because they won’t have shell out a lot of money to lease a building and pay extras to furnish it or keep it clean.
- They will have more productive employees because there will less distractions from “the water cooler crowd” that zaps productive energy.
But this trend of having a remote work force working from home is more common than you might think. Currently there are 5.0 million people who had traditionally worked in a typical office and are transitioning to working from home. We expect than number to triple within six months. The problem is that not everyone is capable or even good at what they do when they work from home. There is actually a process to making working from home a successful alternative.
OK – How Do You Do It Right?
You need to understand what you want to accomplish. Good design is about asking the right questions and creating a design plan that works on a consistent basis regardless of the changes in your workforce. What’s next?
There is a major mismatch between a “home office” and actually creating a space for a job outside of the home. Once referred to as the den or the study in traditional home design, this space was often furnished with a large desk, executive type leather chair, lots of bookcases and usually a recliner or sofa. TV’s were added later and so were computers.
The only actual work that was done there was related to the family who lived there, not a place to do actual “employee” work. Modern home design incorporates multi-functional zones that can be utilized in a variety of ways. Areas designated now to be the home office are in the kitchen, a family room or hallway. They are not furnished with what is considered office type furniture and not suitable for productive work for an employee.
What does it take to design an office space in your residence that keeps you on track in order to get the work done that needs to be done in a timely manner and keeps you, the worker healthy, secure and successful even if you work from home for another employer?
Be Comfortable: Hint Number 1
Here are just a few of the key ideas that you need to consider:
- A dedicated space – You need to define your workplace within the confines of your living environment. This is not as easy as you might think. Consider what the key design elements are for a good work environment.
- Light and noise – They need to be harnessed for optimum productivity and wellbeing.
- Good ergonomics – Furniture that is designed for working not watching TV or taking a nap i.e. your lap can’t be your desk!
- Your health – Wellbeing is critical to success if you work from home or in traditional brick and mortar office. Understand your work comfort zone – what do you need to be productive and work comfortably? Have you got a 30-day supply of wellness medications on hand?
Stay Connected: Hint Number 2
Work at home can be socially isolating. Some people tolerate this better than others. But your network is your lifeline back to colleagues, community and other resources you normally could walk down the hall to find. Make a list. Who do you need to communicate with? How often? And most importantly, how? Find out who prefers texting, email, voice, and/or video. Your life will be simpler, and you will be more productive, is you know ahead of time who, when and how to connect.
Further, you need to be conscious of understanding wellbeing and the dynamics of your social network in a way that gives you the power to engage network members so that your state of wellbeing is maximized and your resiliency to stress is enhanced. Did you know that the average person in the US hasn’t made a new, close friend in 5 years? That they have only 3 best friends? If you were a social capital investment banker you’d say that asset was under-performing. As sad as this state is, it will be even more important when you are required to move to a work home place.
Social networks and wellbeing are intertwined. Social psychologists have been studying this for decades – it’s not rocket science anymore. A life affirming social network typically has 8 to 10 close members; another 10 or so ‘acquaintances’ and maybe as many as 50 “I wave to them when they go by” or see at church on Sundays.
So why all of sudden is it a challenge to work from home if you are not currently doing it already? It’s because of the unknown. Our thoughts are not on business as usual but on the current situation that is overwhelming all of us worldwide. We have a little saying. “The future bus is coming down the road. Jump on and take hold of the steering wheel. Don’t get run over by it. Take control.
Take Control: Hint Number 3
One of the biggest hot topics in the workplace arena for human resources is how to minimize work related stress and promote wellness throughout the workplace. These coming radical changes are, ironically, driven by a demand in behavioral changes to promote wellness.
Professional interior designers who design for office and workspaces focus on two very distinct areas – what is the task at hand that needs to be done and who or what is doing that task. Good design is problem solving. If the problem is noise, we address the acoustics, if it’s glare, we address the lighting and so on. Our design principles presented here are solutions to problems that interfere with the ability to do a task well.
So, working from home should be something we all should embrace right? Not exactly, what we all need to embrace is the idea that no matter where you work you are in control of the space and place where you do your best work. Whether that is in a dedicated office where multiple people gather to perform a given task or in the comfort of your living room.
Our conclusion is that working at home, even though not entirely voluntary, isn’t going to cause irreputable harm to your career or ability to contribute to your team. Actually, we suspect that after even a short period of trying on this new way of working you, your workmates and your employer will recognize the tangible bottom-line benefits. That coupled with a demonstrable increase in well-being, may well lead to a “…questioning of old habits”.
Comfort – Connection – Control
Those are the watchwords. Memorize them, put them on the refrigerator and bathroom mirror.
Take a Zen approach. Pay attention, stay grounded in the present and remember this is part of something much bigger than just you. You have been caught up in the incoming tide of the future. Find that perfect wave and hang 10.
There are a whole host of resource popping up about working at home. We suggest you focus on trusted resources who have been is the service of work-at-home people for a long time. Here are three:
Kate Lister – Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), is a research and consulting firm that helps employers understand and prepare for the future of work. Kate’s expertise is focused on workplace, workforce, technology, and other trends that are changing the who, what, when, where, and how of work.
Trina Hoefling – Trina’s book, Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace is a treasure trove of how-to guidelines for organizations and leaders to develop and support high-performance virtual teams that deliver results. Go here for help.
Charlie Grantham and Susan Mulholland – We are working now to produce a Pocket Guide on Design, production and distribution of a concise, compact, comprehensive guide to making a residential space into a ‘workplace’. Richly illustrated with a variety of visual tools to help people create a bespoke environment. We also have a Master Class on Social Networks and Wellbeing we are converting for on-line delivery.
 The Economist, 3/17/2020, Schumpeter, page 62.