The rise of the home office

Over time we have seen the office become more homely and now during the COVID-19 pandemic we are seeing the home become more “officey”-  complete with kids in the background bouncing on the sofa, dogs barking, people in their pyjamas and working alongside significant others. I guess you could consider it a bonding experience. Whether it’s been enlightening or a downright nightmare, it has certainly highlighted the importance of a dedicated workspace.

When this ends we will recalibrate, however it is highly likely that it won’t go back to the way it was before, with a significant number of people anticipated to continue working from home. Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that 25-30% of the workforce is expected to continue to work at home on a multiple-days-per-week basis by the end of 2021. So, what does this mean for the home office?

Up to now many people have been making do, but if this is the way things will be into the future we need to move from coping to thriving. We need to rethink what a home office is and its priority in the program of a home. What this looks like is different for everybody depending on how you work and where you live. Do you need to spread out or do you need just a laptop? Is your work confidential (do you even have a work conflict with your partner)? How much storage do you need? Are you in a house or an apartment?

One thing we do know is that working from the communal dining table on a crappy chair is not sustainable long term. A specific space should be carved out in your home – a personal environment to call your own. If you don’t have the luxury of redesigning your home then it may be that you make use of underutilized spaces – under the stairs, converting a closet into a “cloffice” or transforming the spare bedroom. Maybe the spare bedroom/office needs to become the office/spare bedroom. This is when pull down wall beds and pull out sofas get to shine. Formal dining rooms (potential white elephants) could be made to work harder. Beautifully designed flexible partitions or sliding doors can give privacy or connection as needed.

While we may need to find ways to combine living areas with workspaces, we should be careful not to decrease the quality of either space. When smaller spaces are being asked to perform multiple duties, we still need to create work-life and home life separation. Being able to switch off at the end of the day has never been more apparent for both physical and mental health.

We may see new builds planning for one or more purpose built home offices or a separate work studio – a great solution for the physical separation between work and home (maybe it’s the man cave that needs to work harder!).  Apartment buildings may start to include a floor dedicated to custom-designed co-working spaces, complete with kitchenettes and rooms for face-to-face meetings (something that is already happening in the US).

Wherever your workspace, one particularly important thing is ergonomics (aka efficacy and safety in the working environment). In other words, sitting on a dining chair just won’t cut it. You need a supportive chair that allows the feet to rest on the ground with thighs parallel and elbows resting on the desk. Screens should be at eye level. Lighting needs to be suitable, as does the room temperature (not that the wearable blanket isn’t a fabulous fashion statement).

The dramatic rise in video conferencing has highlighted the need for efficient technology. It can be frustrating to freeze when you were about to deliver the closing statement of the century (and why does it always freeze with your eyes shut and mouth open?). Investing in technology with good security certainly can help reduce your stress levels and increase efficiency (not to mention greatly reducing the number of swear words used per day).

What’s ahead for this new era of home design is still being determined, however the ultimate goal is to create a professional space that supports your style of working and your wellbeing…and saves your sanity!