The Design of Working From Home
I live in a NYC apartment with my partner - we have a very hard time separating our work space from our living space. Luckily we are fortunate enough to have a 2 bedroom apartment and I have gotten very good at leaving my work “at work” behind a separate door when I’m done for the day. We do share a desk and I get the sense my organized chaos is less than appreciated, but we’ve managed not to kill each other yet.
I’ve gotten curious about how everyone around me who is fortunate enough to still have a job is dealing with working from home. That’s when the lightbulb went off. How are people designing their work from home situation? I am surrounded by my ideal users! I asked (through an anonymous google form) how they were dividing their WFM time from their non-work time. I was also curious as to how they liked working from home - was this going to be more permanent than anyone expected?
Before I got to my user test results, I did a little reading of my own. Two MIT studies conducted in April and May found that half of all American workforce is now working from home. To put this in perspective, prior to the pandemic, about 29% of college graduates worked from home. According to a survey by Fishbowl 55% of employees want to remain at home. So what does this mean to my tiny sample size of my personal network?
Out of my 24 responses, only 33.3% were already working from home at least 1 day per week pre-pandemic shutdown. This was not super surprising to me since my network of friends and colleagues were mostly laid off at the start of the lockdown and had jobs that were unable to be continued from home since they work in live entertainment (so please wear your masks so we can have theatre again!!!). However, what were the remaining 66.7% doing about their workspace now that they were working from home? Well, 54.2% had a home office that was separate from their living space, but 45.8% were living and working in the same environment. The former group were the ones I was the most interested in. How did they design their day around work vs not-work?
This question was harder to quantify, work-life balance is a tricky subject on the best of days and is downright difficult to define in the age of constant communication. Most people commented on how hard it was to make the “hard switch” off of work and on to personal time. Some delineated a time where they would log off their email or switch to a personal computer or even disconnecting a second monitor, others had specific areas or chairs they would use only when working, my favorite solution (and I may be biased since this is what I do) was going for a walk at the end of the day to symbolize a commute or a physical leaving of the office.
Great! Now we can leave work and “go home”, but are workplaces respecting downtime? 58.3% of users interviewed said no. They are still answering emails outside of work hours more often now than when they were in the office. This could be chalked up to people working differently and taking more breaks during the day which could extend their work day a little longer - but now that we are connected even further beyond our smart phones outside of the office this line is getting blurrier.
But what could make this experience more enjoyable? So. Many. Users. Just want different equipment/furniture. So many requests for comfortable chairs!! Second request was a different location or office space - this is my #1 complaint as well. Users (and I, personally) miss the social aspect of working in an office and zoom calls aren’t cutting it. This leads to 41.7% of users not wanting to work from home full time given the option, but only 8.3% want to go back to the office 5/5 days of the week. By far the most popular option (with 41.7%) was to work from home 3 days and in the office 2: which I’m sure everyone's pets would be thrilled by.
In the end - how can we make the best of a bad situation? For a majority of people - buy your employees a nice comfy chair! For the actual employees stuck at home, here is my (totally well researched and 100% unbiased and achievable by everyone /sarcasm) advice on:
How to Design Your Work From Home Situation in Four Simple Steps:
If you can, separate your work area from your living area. Obviously best if you have a room you can leave, but even just designating a chair or table as the “office” could help.
Log on and off at the same time every day - really designate your work hours to a set time frame.
Turn off email notifications outside of that time frame! If it’s important - they’ll call ya.
Go for a lil walk at the end of the day - leave the office and commute home. Grab a cocktail at the bar near you who will make you buy a $1 quesadilla with it so they don’t get shut down and wind down from the work day.
We don’t know when working from home will taper, but designing your mindset could be really helpful. You also can make your own new coworkers out of cutout magazines like in this weeks collage - I promise I won’t judge you ;)