This Is My Day, This Is My Work

The separation between work, leisure and family used to be much clearer. In those days the period between when you leave home and travel to your place of work would be spent reading or looking at the world and people around you. When you get to your place of work, office, field or factory, and start where you left off the previous day or even the Friday before. Once work is over, you make the return journey home where you could interact with your family, learn what they had been up to, then eat, relax and sleep.

There were clear divisions and practical reasons that made clear distinctions between the various parts of ones day. As we are all very well aware, the last decade or two has seen these distinctions gradually become less and less clear and the rise of mobile communications has effectively eroded all boundaries. Your location no longer has a significant impact on your ability to communicate either with your work or your family and friends. Many of us have taken the notion of full time employment from operating within working hours to working all day, everyday. The only difference is that while we are at work, we communicate with friends and family too. So instead of having clear  distinctions between parts of our day, we have a concurrent set of activities occurring in small chunks throughout the day (and night).

This change in communication has led to a new working  pattern. The idea of distance or remote working means more often than not, more people are working from home. Invariably, people have started working from the dining room table, a corner of the living room and for the more fortunate, the spare room or storage shed at the backyard. As a result, there is a need to make adjustments and overlap our schedule to accommodate both workspace and family space within our homes. Whatever the decision, there is always the dilemma of having to choose between concentrating on one or the other and separating both time and mind.

Consequently, this new pattern has steered many simple or more complex solutions to dealing with the need to define or isolate spaces in the home for work related activities. As soon as you are able to move into another space at home which is your workspace, you will often be psychologically better placed to work. I have known people who worked at home but needed to enact a commute to get in the right frame of mind. They would actually leave the house, walk a little and then re-enter and go directly to their desk and work. Those who didn’t have a separate space to go to would screen off areas of the room or undertake other forms of habits to redefine their spaces for work.

Ironically, whether for good or bad, we have become much more used to being in constant movement between work/social / family frames of mind. Our smart phones keep us constantly in touch with everything and everyone.

We are more likely to consider a deadline for tomorrow at 9am as needing completing by that time rather than end  of office day at 5 or 6pm a day before, as might have been the case in previous generations. Similarly, our 7 or  8-hour working day is more likely to be spread across a 24hr period than tightly defined in two periods split by lunch.

So how does this affect the growing number of people who work from home and how can design help to define and resolve the issues arising from it? As I have noted in previous editions, it always starts with defining the existing  condition, observing and analysing how and where you work, what works already and what hinders your productivity.

Looking at the spaces and options that might be available. Only then can we start considering looking at previous solutions, options that have worked elsewhere and how we can tune and adapt them to the specific circumstances.
The key goal of most home offices / workspaces should be isolation. That means trying to avoid working in your home environment or more likely living in your office. It often means coming up with rules about how these spaces can be used and who has access to them. The design of the space will benefit from considering these from the beginning. If you have a separate room/space then how do you signal to the other occupants that you are in work time? Is it a closed door, a big sign or something subtler? Does your work mean that you need to appear (on the phone) to be in a ‘proper’ office and getting interrupted by the kids will burst the illusion? Again for many of us, this is less of an issue than it used to be, since more and more people are doing exactly the same thing.

The other consideration to all of this is that you may not be the only one working from home. So, like the blurring of our boundaries that we opened the article with, it may be that the spaces we occupy will also begin to exhibit more
overlap, less clearly defined spaces. What we should be looking for in the design of our spaces are smaller areas
that better reflect our contemporary life, such as: Areas to take a business call, chat with family, and receive a work
colleague or a space that is both for laptops and dinner.

Now, these may sound like the space we already have, but they will be distributed and may occur in several places, not just whole rooms with a single function. Every innovation comes with a level of change in lifestyle. Perhaps, it may be time to adjust our homes to become more like our smartphones, multi-functional and most essentially, adaptable!

By Titi Ogufere

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