By Cheree Franco - 19th November, 2021
For the past year and a half, many of us have worked exclusively or primarily from home. This experience has come with advantages and disadvantages, offering an opportunity to rethink the workplace and design a hybrid future, between virtual and physical space.
We tackled this issue last year in our Roadmap webinar series, which addressed returning to the workplace safely and comfortably, using technology to address the future of the workplace, and leveraging changing work culture. Home Office Hacks, PLASTARC’s first webinar in our new series on future work, highlighted new opportunities for using research and strategy to influence design in the workplace.
According to Amy Rosen, our sociospatial designer, approaches to workspace don’t have to be based on assumptions, and data doesn’t have to be about hard metrics. Rather, we can collect data about people, to measure concepts such as ergonomics or serendipity instead of cost per feet in a building. Employees can help, measuring their own performance by collecting data on basic things, such as work hours, on a spreadsheet. This data can extend beyond office-based information to include the holistic work experience, whether an employee’s primary office is their attic or their cubicle.
Melissa Marsh, PLASTARC founder and executive director, frames rooms as software, which can be updated over time. “Hackability is fundamentally about making a place your own,” she said. “We can follow recipes, but if we don’t have the exact right ingredient, we can use something close enough, like an ironing board for a standing desk.”
Part of the challenge of home office environments is prioritizing client privacy. Rob Badenoch, an associate partner at Technology Architecture Design, has a lighting system at the top of his stairs that glows different colors to let his partner know whether he’s working or not.
The automation capabilities of smarthomes can also improve the workability of a home workspace. Technology consultant Joe Gaffney’s vacuum cleaner, controlled by his smartphone, automatically powers off when he’s taking a call.
Because our work worlds are increasingly inside our own homes, we need to be prepared for the occasional intrusion of non-work related events. That extends to making calculated choices about the communications systems we use. Platform ambidextrousness is key to efficient remote and hybrid communication.
Marsh mentioned the potential of digital whiteboard and chat functions to significantly increase employee input. Some employees are comfortable drawing an idea or dropping a sentence in a chatbox, but they aren’t comfortable vocally interjecting in a meeting. These functions offer new ways for introverts and extroverts to communicate, opening up another channel through which people can make contributions.
Just as body language can be a significant tool for communication in face-to-face encounters, choosing different technologies can help make a point in digital communication, according to Gaffney. Email is a more formal way to communicate, while Slack is more conversational. A one-on-one video meeting can be more official than a group meeting. And the immediacy of a phone or video chat can be great for day-to-day questions, but a more formal and fixed format can be better for discussions that spool out over days.
Badenoch recommends distinguishing between personal and work space, taking into account Zoom backgrounds, and thinking about creative ways to include people in the room even when they’re not physically in it.
Productivity-monitoring tools can give a false impression of work behavior. Gaffney cautioned against micromanaging remote employees. If Microsoft Suite shows an employee going idle for three minutes, that doesn’t mean they’re being unproductive. They could be taking a call or stepping away from their desk to think through a task.
Social norms and work norms are changing. In these days of laptops and sparsely-populated offices, we may work from our couch or the park. The key to a productive hybrid work experience is respect and clear communication.
“The important takeaway from adapting home offices to professional workplaces is recognizing that it will be achieved through interdisciplinary design,” said Rosen. “That will require digging into the roadmap, being more flexible, constantly refreshing our outlook, and constantly improving.”