Home is (now) where the office is

What a difference less than a year makes…

Last June, at the Architectural Fringe, I asked who was ready for the future of the workplace.

Little did we know that the future was just round the lockdown corner.

I doubt that anyone was ready, but here we are…and many, many people are now working from home.

This means that keeping the work-life balance is more important than ever. It’s not just bringing work home to catch up. Work has come right into the home.

How your place can include a workspace

This has come as a bit of a shock to some, particularly in the “traditional” professions. One solicitor told me that he had never worked at home in his career and wasn’t looking forward to it at all.

But even legal life must go on and new ways have been found of doing the familiar, even conveyancing!

So, now we know about Zoom or Microsoft Teams and the IT department has got us working remotely, how do you change your home to make the most of this “new normal?”

‘Mind the Gap’

Just as social distancing is essential when you go out, so too should there be a suitable space between the laptop and the living room.

It’s very easy to commandeer the dining or coffee table, but that’s the beginning of work taking over.

Here’s the dining table of someone who was used to homeworking even before now.

Not really fit for purpose as a dining table – and running the risk of papers getting lost in the tidy up before the dinner guests arrive. Not to mention computing and photographic equipment suffering collateral damage as a result of the coffee mug getting knocked over!

And now after…

But even then, dining tables were made for, well, dining…and having a separate area for working in will make all the difference to your productivity.

With so much of our life becoming blurred (even to the extent of knowing what day it is), that separate area will help you focus and get more done. Much better to feel “at work” for the hours that are appropriate or necessary and look forward to going “home” when the working day is done.

Yes, the coffee machine might be your own and you’ll definitely have to make sure that there’s enough milk, but the separate spaces keep their separate identities – and so allow you to create a sense of normality.

How to Create Your In-House Work Space

Do You Carry a Spare?

A client of mine lives in a two-bedroom flat. Having that second bedroom meant that his grown-up son could stay over when he came to visit, but grown-up sons do not come to visit all that often.

The client had every good intention of also using the bedroom as a study, but more and more paperwork, books and magazines and other stuff never made it there.

Instead, they came to take up residence on, guess what, the dining table. And when there wasn’t enough space for them and the laptop, what better place than one of the chairs that he wasn’t sitting on.

Then came a new job, with, given present circumstances, what looks like a prescient decision to work primarily from home.

The result:

More and more chairs being pressed into use as unlikely open storage.

This was not in the interests of efficient and productive working.

And what did it take for the second bedroom to become a proper home office?

A larger desk and low-level filing cabinet (both free to a good home), rearranging the existing desk and bookcase – and the designer’s eye for maximising the available space.

The client still has obvious issues when it comes to the tidiness of the papers on which he is working (a lifelong affliction, according to his mother, but that is his problem not mine). At least the dining table is (relatively) clear!

Box Clever

My edition of The Chambers Dictionary defines a box room as being “a room (esp a small room without an outside window) in which boxes etc, are stored.”

That is certainly a very factual definition (the clue possibly being in the name), but here is another space that can be put to much more than just storing boxes.

Building control officers are unlikely to approve, but many a box room becomes an occasional or even longer-term bedroom. This is because they are often quite big and that floor area will give plenty of space for a desk and chair, filing cabinet and other suitable office furniture.

Box rooms may already get borrowed light from an adjacent lounge, kitchen or bedroom, but your designer can help with the artificial illumination. This will not only reduce the eye strain but also make sure that your workspace is actually one that you want to visit and enjoy being in, which will help with productivity.

Set Store by the Store

Cupboard love is not of the romantic kind, but a good deep cupboard can become a workspace that you become attached to.

The potential can be obvious.

One of my friends had recently moved home. His sister-in-law had come round with her husband for a flat-warming visit and was being given the usual tour.

“And here’s a cupboard,” said my friend as they moved down the hall.

“Cupboard?” came the immediate response. “That’s big enough to be a spare bedroom.”

I have seen the cupboard and making it a bedroom might challenge even the most talented designer, although my friend’s sister-in-law is quite a small person.

But it would easily take a work station and there is plenty of room on the fitted shelves for files and books. It already has a ceiling light, although, just as with a box room, your designer will be able to make it brighter and otherwise transform plain storage space into an attractive work environment.

They will also be able to advise you on what furniture to buy. Space may be small, but it should still be beautifully (and ergonomically) formed.

Even One Degree of Separation…

Finally, you may not have a spare room – or a box room or cupboard going spare.

The chief executive of Barclays, Jes Stayley, has said that the bank was now being run by staff working “from their kitchens.”

Which rather takes us back in the general direction of the dining table.

An insurance broker I know is, like many others, working from home and the company he works for is considering making that a more permanent arrangement (as is Mr Stayley for his employees).

His workplace is now his living come dining room.

To have a more interesting background to his Zoom calls than the wall behind him, he has bought a green screen.

But that green screen doesn’t just allow him to appear in front of either a professional or entertaining backdrop as the mood or his audience dictates, he is using it as a way of separating his workspace from the living area.

So, even in the one room, it is possible – and so important – to keep work and home life apart.


Hone the Zone

Want to be in “in the zone” for working?

Make sure you’re in the right one before you begin!

Contact us today for help on how you can make space in your homework better for better home working.