In these unprecedented times of uncertainty and isolation, we have lost many of the typical day-to-day encounters of the office and it’s only now that we realise that we took them for granted. The pleasures of bumping into a colleague in the breakout, having a choice of work settings or just simply sitting at a desk by the window – these experiences are now a distant memory of life pre-Covid.

Miles McLeod

Workplace Consultant

06th May 2020

Despite the yearning for what went before, lessons from the workplace can help us recreate the best experiences of the office, at home. By applying the same principles of office design and culture, we can make subtle changes to our working environment and behaviours that can boost our wellbeing. Here is a starter for 10 on how you can simulate the best workplace experiences at home:

Space changes

Activity Based (Home)Working

Activity Based Working (ABW) is conducive to a happier and healthier workforce, as opposed to Binary Working where the choice of work settings is limited to just a desk or a meeting room. Taking this into consideration, wouldn’t it make sense to apply the same principles of an ABW environment at home?

The desk is not the most suitable work setting for all day-to-day tasks, and this is still the case at home. You have your spaces for collaboration, creativity, focusing and socialising in the office, so replicate that environment by utilising the garden, the living room, the bedroom and even the park down the road.

Trying walking around the garden whilst on a phone call, getting comfortable on the sofa for low-concentration admin tasks, sitting in bed for a video-conference or taking a stroll around the local park to encourage creative thinking (obviously whilst adhering to government guidelines).

Perfecting your posture

For those of you that have not worked from home frequently in the past, we would not expect many of you, if any, to have the luxury of an ergonomic chair, desk and monitor at home. Therefore, most of you have probably adapted your dining table, kitchen island, bed or sofa, into a fully – or partially – functioning workplace. None of these spaces were designed for someone to be sat upright, working for hours, on a laptop.

To adapt your chair for better posture, you can buy lumbar supports online for as little as £5, or if you struggle to find one because everyone else has got there first, a rolled-up towel is a great alternative. Whilst seated, your arms should be at a right angle whilst resting on the table, if this is not the case then consider sitting on a cushion to raise yourself up or propping up the table if you are seated too high. Remember that your feet should always be flat on the floor, so adapt your position to accommodate this.

Finally, to ergonomically adapt your laptop, we would recommend a separate keyboard and mouse – both can be bought for relatively cheap online. You can also use a laptop riser stand to prevent hunching, however, a stack of cookbooks is a good no-cost alternative!

Bring the outside in

This follows the notion of biophilia, which is human’s innate attraction towards nature and something that we always design into our spaces. Recent studies have demonstrated that being close to biophilic elements can reduce stress, make us feel happier and improve productivity – even just seeing images or a representation of nature can have the same positive effects.

Take a look around your home, or even on your next weekly shop, keep your eyes peeled for any potted plants that would be suitable for your working environment at home. We would also suggest sitting as close as possible to a window that looks out on greenery, ideally in line of sight from your desk.

Biophilia does not just apply to sight, but also to sound and smell, so to satisfy these senses leave a window or door open to create the most immersive biophilic experience possible.

Behaviour changes

Simulate the open-plan

It is evident that what we miss most about the office is the ‘buzz’. Large Zoom calls with numerous attendees can be a laugh but nothing will replace the face-to-face social interaction of the office.

The reality of work life means that most people have periods where they do not require high levels of concentration, therefore they leave themselves open to distraction. However, distraction is not always a bad thing as it allows an individual to unconsciously take regular breaks by casually chatting to colleagues. These low concentration periods do not disappear when working from home so why not simulate that experience?

You can create a virtual open-plan office by setting up a Zoom / Teams call with some close colleagues to just run in the background whilst you work. You don’t need to be collaborating on a certain task and there doesn’t even need to be someone talking at any one time, it just replicates the experience of sitting at a bank of desks with your friends. If you all have a reliable wi-fi network, then why not!

Happy hour

Prolonged periods of homeworking can cause people to fall out of touch with colleagues on a personal level, so it is incredibly important to maintain work relationships by dedicating time to chat socially.

We’re not encouraging alcohol consumption but creating a team ‘happy hour’ at the end of each day is a great way of socially interacting with each other. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a full hour, but there is one rule: Talking about work is banned! The call shouldn’t be mandatory, but it should be in people’s calendars. It gives team members something to work towards at the end of the day, and even acts as a little reward for the day’s work.

The best way to run this call would be on a platform like Zoom or Houseparty, where you can see every attendee. Some recommendations on activities include quizzes, charades or book clubs – a weekly Friday quiz is always well received!

Video > Audio

We have a variety of video-conferencing tools at our finger tips, and with a totally 5G network expected in the next year or so, these tools will be more reliable than ever. Calls are a huge element of day-to-day working life, therefore we should make them the most interactive experiences as possible.

Mobile phones and landlines have long been the tool of choice for calls, however the one-dimensional element of a phone call can often make them monotonous and disengaging. Now that you can video-call on demand through Teams, Skype, etc., phone calls should be a last resort for virtual collaboration.

By choosing to video call over audio call, you are creating the most ‘human’ interaction that is technologically possible – at the moment, that is. We are social beings so by humanising the interaction you are satisfying our innate desire to engage with others face-to-face – something that comes naturally in the office environment.

By making these little changes to your working environment and behaviours at home, you can simulate the best elements of your workplace, whilst also building that excitement to return to the office. Remember that the workplace is so much more than just a place of work!