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  • Writer's pictureMichael Davisburchat

Getting Your Home to Work

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

(Photography by Toni Rosvall / FillCreative)

Seventeen months is a long time. Long enough for one to make behavioural changes. And long enough to see the effects of a slow transformation. Like muscle gain from a training program or weight loss from a new way of cooking. The people we’ve studied, experienced episodes of transition that lasted weeks and even months of time. Sudden changes that later crystallized as routine, or habit. New work at home habits emerged, and many of them became appreciated and cherished. Mostly, seventeen months is long enough that it can tuck away all that was felt or experienced during this intense period of being productive at home.

It is easy to recall specific events and feelings, but underlying motives and the triggers that required someone to change fade once the change was made. What was radically new now seems natural enough. Still, the blurring of boundaries can mask the many bumps we run into as we zig and zag from home to work and back again. How we switch productivity on and off, can be thought of by whether we feel at work or feel at home.

Now a new shift presents itself. According to Gallup, the number of people who thought that the best way to deal with the pandemic was to stay at home, versus going out into the world, has flipped. As we make significant headway, markers of endurance and despair found in the media such as “how long can this go on?” are shifting to “how ready are you to re-enter?” the working office world.

In a previous article we draw attention to previous bargains one makes with the world. Such as driving an SUV in the stop and go traffic of a superhighway. A two hour train commute from home to work, and back the same day. Or the silent drumbeat of meetings that take people from one meeting room to the next on a social form of autopilot. Participants from our study report that there's a lot not to be missed from the old ways of working.

A colleague was recently asked if they would be up for a client project that would take them on a plane from Toronto to New York City for a once in a lifetime project. That request was loaded with a lot to consider and a lot to reconsider. If the short answer was “hell, yes”, the long answer was more complicated. How can one possibly respond to the future before preparing for safety, productivity and wellbeing? This particular advert for Dentyne, considers re-entry from the point of coming to our senses, finding lost norms and rediscovering physical contact. It’s humorous in nature, but raises valid points of the shock of re-entry.

(Photography by Toni Rosvall / FillCreative)

Making the home work for work.

a) Establish a new deal about productivity.

The idea of work has run past a stage in how we understand productivity and creativity. However, there is still no clarity about who will work where, for what periods of time, and according to which incentives. It’s estimated that 1.7 Bn knowledge workers populate this market, so expect plenty of innovation to emerge in this space. The next three years will change assumptions about talent recruitment and retention, as well as the industrial design of products that are currently brought to customers through the contract furnishing market.

There are opportunities for innovation to create new objects. Such as, the perfect chair for working from home. The partitioning of space that helps create a division between work and home life. The desk that transitions from one aesthetic to the other.

Whatever becomes the dominant model of the corporate office one thing is certain. Success will hinge on making the home work for work in the first place. You can witness this movement for yourself. Follow the #RemoteFirst hashtag to witness a groundswell of employees asking for a different bargain in their work arrangements. With so many factors up in the air, it can feel hard to know what to make bargains with. At the same time, The people in HR we speak to struggle to balance the demands that new talent impose on them.

A work from home bargain is now a priority for 63% of US job seekers, for instance. A McKinsey Report, April 2021 indicates that 52% of employees prefer a more flexible working arrangement than not. And that change in preference makes this a good time to reimagine the role of an on-site model. Especially for talent scouts attracting the best talent, and for managers who want to feel present in the workflow of their direct reports. In order to draw up a good bargain, a good place to begin with is an annual budget per employee. Much like is done with medical benefits, gym memberships, or other workplace amenities.

Also, any good bargain will reimagine the conversation about productivity as well as creativity. New work models will continue to emerge, but all will revolve around one main insight: If the home doesn’t work, remote and hybrid working doesn’t work either.

b) Co-construct the workplace that works.

Start at the source. Equip the employee with the means to do their best work in the home.

From an employer’s standpoint, it’s essential to develop formulas for funding physical tools (seating, desking, partitioning, whiteboarding) and digital services (conversation channels, thinking spaces, making places).

Expect the optimal design to emerge in 2-3 years. Because, most workplace furnishings have been designed for a limited idea of the corporate office. For example, if the best ergonomic chair makes people think of work, you might have the wrong chair.

Open a whole new conversation about economics. Refactor annual budgets that consider the hybrid office. Budget for investments in people; how they anticipate, skill-up and transition for the future of work.

Same considerations for the headquarters. Consider designs that bring elements of home into the building. What is home in an office setting? What does home mean to the employee? What does home mean to the company culture? A vital source of creativity exists at the boundary between formal and informal workspaces.

c) Bargain about outcomes while negotiating a whole new role for ‘place’.

Make working from home a place of harmony, productivity, and regeneration. From a worker’s standpoint, make a point of discussing this as a right rather than a privilege during the interview, or renegotiation.

Become more aware about boundaries between the experience of work and the experience of home and family. Pay attention to when rest and family commitments can boost creativity and productivity. From an employer’s standpoint, ensure that access to #workfromhome is available to all; not portioned out by age, gender or ethnicity. Focus on respectful communication and nurture employee well-being, over office perks.

How do we present our best selves when working from a remote location?

One can think about tooling up a place for work only through the lens of very expensive practical items. But it’s not about paying for the most expensive objects. It is all about sending authentic social signals through the clothes we wear and the social presence we create. For example, the virtual background became a practical tool and fun conversational point in this era. There are deeper, more authentic ways to indicate who we are, what ideas we treasure, and what we hope to become.

d) Reimagining the creator economy.

Knowledge work is largely about the creation of new products, new services and experiences. That is, new ways of supporting others in an endeavour. Particularly the parts of that work which can be done remotely. Regardless of where the making takes place, making requires a wide array of tools, methods and related supplies. From standing desks to post-it notes, multi-player software or physical privacy walls. The design of a home has ideas of its own, and there is no single solution to finding the right kit of parts.

In a corporate setting, supply chains enter ‘the mail room’ or some centralized place and are distributed across the building or campus. Working from home can make it hard to anticipate who is working where. From one day to the next. These sources of supply must quickly map to a wider network of homes.

At first it’ll feel convenient to make use of a small set of massive online merchants particularly for physical goods such as a new monitor, ring light, or external camera. However, the costs of goods will inflate when taking this approach. Especially if every random purchase comes at the convenience of same day shipping. However, we end up losing any environmental gains made in the bargain. With so many places to furnish, why not lean on local sources instead?

To make #workfromhome work is to think about the workplace as an evolving, shifting solution.

e) Reimagine productivity and ‘the kitchen conversation’ as the commons.

A core discovery about knowledge work is how implicit and social a workplace can become. A ‘kitchen conversation’ is what occurs in the work office when one takes a rest, heads to the kitchen, and pauses for a casual conversation with whoever happens to be around.

Kitchen conversations hold no expectations of privacy, and they aren’t always about completing a task for work. They seem to work best when people can add a thought, ask a question, provide an example, or change the subject with a bit of humour or trivia. There’s plenty of room for wandering within a kitchen conversation. The creative commons is essential to work regardless of setting. Because it is where the social life of the company pours the foundation for more delicate or argumentative decision making that needs to happen.

Kitchen conversations may look like they are all about rest. But they are outlets for creative expression. They are how we prototype new ideas and build new forms of awareness.

When teams are distributed remotely, people also need social glue for thinking aloud with others, without the expectation of certainty. One approach that is growing rapidly is through the use of a multiplayer mode in software tools. Whether you watch someone’s cursor in Miro, Figma, or Google Docs, multiplayer tools enable shadowing others while thinking or making as an individual.

Advances in neuroscience indicate that people learn fastest when others show first and tell later. See the TED Talk here.

f) Construct a personal training routine.

Most people are familiar with developing a fitness routine by investing in a gym membership, acquiring a fitness coach or simply buying a great pair of trainers. Working from home brings new demands for staying productive and it challenges us to make use of a new level of autonomy. This requires a new type of training that many seem unaccustomed to.

The pandemic reminds us of how quickly new realities emerge, and how durable some of those changes can turn out to be. People who work from home have demonstrated new levels of efficiency.

This work at home training doesn’t need to be done alone. In addition to self-service learning platforms, more people are showing up as coaches to improve on tacit skills such as leadership, creativity, storytelling, and personal work discipline.

If all our work is conducted on a computer, how should we build in breaks during the day? What type of breaks, for how long, and what type of body movements are helpful? When permission comes from the self, then the self must find the right balance of discipline.

Getting the home to work is a day shift.

Success will hinge on making the home work for work. It’s about the ability for each of us to build a new mental model and learn ways to maintain it. It’s also an opportunity to experience a better way to live. So if you haven’t started, wait no longer and get your dayshift under way. And get in touch if you need advice on how define a model that is suited to your needs.

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