HOW TO DESIGN HOME OFFICES?
COVID-19 displayed working from home is possible resulting for most companies to decide to work half of the time from home permanently. Working from home works rather good, but most of us also experienced it is difficult to feel connected and it might be boring to work all day from home for months. How do you make sure you get a maximum performance out of the home office?
There are three major themes of attention when it comes to nowadays work spaces: Sitting, stress and satisfaction. The Triple S - CARE method guides you through these themes and points out how to design the home office for maximum well-being and satisfaction.
People with a regular office job in Australia sat around 11,3 hours a day including time spend off from work (2013). When you work from home, you miss the movements you would normally make to commute, to go around the office for coffees, colleagues and meetings and to visit clients or suppliers elsewhere. Just giving employees a regular desk chair at home is not enough to keep one's body in a healthy condition at the home office. The aim for working from home should be to have worked in at least three different postures and to feel slightly physically exhausted at the end of the day, making you sleep well. Although it is possible to measure physical activity during the day with a wearable, there is no index yet displaying how much activity desk chairs are causing when people work from it at home.
Because there is a lack of physical activity at the home office, anything you can do to keep people active should be supplied. As an employer, you can provide a product catalogue with active furniture pieces which supply movement for active sitting. For light activity, inflated cushions can reduce back pains. Active furniture ensures the person balances while sitting and are designed to give enough support to focus on the computer.
But even active furniture is not enough when people are working from home all day. A body should not remain in the same posture for longer than 3 hours. The home office should be designed to facilitate at least 3 different postures and intensities of movements:
Video calls calls can be done from a treadmill desk or you can put the laptop on a rotating device making you walk in circles.
Phone calls with a walk outside in the park preferably (also stress reducing)
Routine tasks like processing emails from active furniture with large movements (furniture with a bowl-type bottom like the Buoy chair) or from an unconventional posture: laying down or have a video call from a leaning desk
New challenging tasks can be done from active furniture with more stability like the Macaron active cushion or Moonraker seat or standing desk
Apart from the physical home desk, an employer can also stimulate employees to go for a walk by providing vouchers to do sports or to have lunch outside the house, for example at a lunchroom in the park at walking distance from someones home.
awareness of stress with sensors and smart watches
supply personal budgets for renting or using quiet spaces in direct surroundings of the house
minimize video calls and digital communication
At the home office there are different stressors compared to work. You're private life is mingled at home, having to deal with kids, pets but also maintenance to the house and neighbors can be a serious cause of stress. Especially low-wage employees and starters might face the downside of working from home, considering they have lower income, less ability to choose a house with a garden and little noise from the street. They are more likely to live in a space that is not big enough for a proper home office. Employees without enough income to rent or buy a two-room apartment can be supplemented with vouchers. As an employer you could facilitate by providing a monthly budget for employees for being able to use a co-working space, consume drinks at a cafe, library or rent a room for a couple of hours close-by in case one is distracted at home.
What should also be considered is the type of tasks you do from home. At the home office, it is more likely you need to communicate more often with video calls, phone or email compared to working from the office. When your work predominantly consists of the use of digital communication devices, you are twice as likely to get stressed (TNO, 2018). Working from home should aim for as little video calls and digital communication as possible. These meetings can better be saved for the days people work from the office.
Another interesting fact is that people become more resilient to stress when they are aware of their stress. Using smart watches or other stress measuring devices can provide insight to the extend work activities cause stress to you. It might be you feel stress but lack awareness to notice your mouth getting dry. When you start to measure your stress levels, it helps with noticing the bodily signals. With paying attention to your breathing, you can get back into a normal state of mind within a couple of minutes. These exercises make it possible to prevent yourself from remaining stressed for too long.
There are two autonomic nervous systems (ANS): the Sympathetic nervous system and the Parasympathetic nervous system. This autonomic nervous system is is charge of the metabolism and keeping all organs active. When you are in a normal situation, you are in a state of rest & digest. The parasympathetic nervous system is in control then. When you are in an exciting situation, you are in a state of fight or flight. The body needs to be able to run or to defend itself to keep itself alive. This is something we experience as stress. The Sympathetic nervous system prioritizes the energy different, making sure the organs needed to run or fight are active instead of the metabolism. When we are stressed for too long, it might be the case the Parasympathetic nervous system has difficulties to get back control over the body making us remain in a constant state of stress and having no ability to recover from it. When this happens, we are burned out.
The two nervous systems are noticeable by looking at heart rate variability. When you look at the time a person goes back from being in a fight or flight mode to a rest or digest mode, you can determine to what extend a person is able to deal with stress. With Institute for Applied Motions we are working on a device to provide feedback on stress by using a smart cushion. Aim is to optimize work activities along the day by providing personal feedback based on stress.
Provide maximum autonomy with leadership and management style: reduce all sensations of being controlled at the home office
The reason most employees like to work from home partly, is because at home you have more autonomy. At home you are in charge of organizing your own workflow. You can decide what to wear, what to drink, when to take your breaks, to work from the kitchen, balcony, garden, park or a cafe. You are also able to express your emotions freely. Working from home is complementary for a couple of days a week to the main office when it comes to increasing satisfaction.
For being satisfied, you also need to feel 'competence' at the home office. This is an element which is difficult to supplement at home. A person feels competent when someone is asked to give advice, to share knowledge or to lead. This happens more naturally in a social environment. It can be supplied at the home office by making a person perform task related to personal competences. More easily 'competence' is supplied at the office, making the office also complementary to the home office.
The home office is ideal for experiencing autonomy. If you want employees to benefit from the natural presence of having more autonomy at the home office, an employer should make sure there is a management culture based on trust. If a person feels controlled at the home office, the element of autonomy is gone, making employees unsatisfied despite working partly from home.
When you work from home, it is more difficult to relate to fellow colleagues, suppliers and clients. But you do have the possibility to relate to people in your private life, like your family or roommates. When it comes to working from home and relatedness: you should be aware as an employer there is a huge difference to how people experience relatedness while working from home when they live together or by themselves.
Be aware as a company that maintaining relatedness with private life by making people work from home is contributing to employee satisfaction as well. For example by being flexible with working hours: team members can take into account times colleagues want to bring their kids to school and be open to exchange some working hours in the afternoon for working after dinner time.
Environmental Enrichment in a private environment is often what people already decide to surround themselves with. If people are sensitive to making their homes beautiful, they will naturally choose plants, flowers, sport devices, artworks and make for themselves a home environment which meets their biological needs. As an employer you can stimulate a person to enrich the home office by supplying products meeting one of the five informational paths. For example sport accessories, active furniture, scents, flowers, plants, acoustic elements, bio lighting and healthy meal subscriptions. Novelty and complexity are also part of enrichment. Surprising employees sometimes with a novel artifact for the home office might have an enriching effect.