In a previous DayShift report entitled Getting the Home to Work, we concluded that success in a hybrid mode of working will hinge on making the home work for work. Making the home work will have as much to do with finding the best ways to think about work practice. Practice is something that one can become conscious about and train for, but it requires a set of personal mental models. New questions arise from this, such as which mental models exist, how might they vary, and how does one make choices that produce the best results?
One of the main conclusions from our study is that working from home is almost entirely self guided.
There might be office structures about meeting times, ways of interacting online and distributing tasks, but everything in between is up to the individual to develop and interpret on their own. In our DayShift research, we heard insights from respondents who are taking control of their work time in a way that suits them best. These are often simple actions, such as deciding to turn off notifications and taking a break to play guitar for a few minutes before the next task or meeting. Booking lunch with a friend or relative just to get a breath of fresh air. Cooking up what feels like a four star Michelin meal in your own kitchen. Or taking a quick nap at a time when energy is felt lacking. These are simple gestures, but often hard to make happen on a consistent basis. They are examples of giving permission. Permission to work at home in a way that feels good for us in the moment. Training helps to future proof one’s self for difficult moments when they arise.
There are risks of getting lost when working at home. In the office we fit into the way of working through interacting and gaining feedback from others. There’s an office culture to rely upon. If we don’t have a set rhythm and work at home culture, then we might often find ourselves waking up in the morning and hoping for random success. We’ve all been there. Going through the motions of daily tasks with a feeling of just seeing how things go. There’s room for serendipity in letting work drift, but there’s also a risk element of feeling lost. A comparison is similar to an athlete or musician going through the motions of just practicing and playing along, or the deliberate purposeful training and practicing that goes into honing a craft. There’s joy in drifting and jamming along, and at the same time there’s an art in crafting our ability to work better in our environments.
Where do we find help when working remotely?
Our work modes at home will fluctuate during the day as we perform multiple roles. At home we are the office manager, human resources support, chef, cleaner, interior designer, operations manager, wellbeing consultant and more all at once. What elements should we focus on for self-guidance and where can we find help to navigate this? Through our DayShift research, we divided our findings into two main categories:
a. Things that a person does to build their home office.
b. Things that a person does to transition their cognitive abilities.
Building our home office.
Before the pandemic, the laptop was considered to be a portable office especially in an employed context. While the tools were in place to work remotely, the duty of the physical place lingered for some time. There was the office, and then there was remote work, but the default was always to return to the physical place as the office. With restrictions in place, we noticed a great deal of creativity emerging in how people prepared their home for work. It can be confusing to know how to improve this system. The home office is a complex arrangement of workarounds, because space for the home office used to be an afterthought, and the tools which are needed aren't necessarily designed for the purpose we need right now.
Global Workplace Analytics predicts that the longer people are required to work at home, the greater the adoption. Their best estimate is that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021 in this Work at Home Forecast.
Ever since working from home became the dominant mode of work, people have needed to think about the fourth wall differently. People no longer relied on the features of their laptop alone. Facial connections became vital, and so did the construction of identity for meetings of special formality. Choosing a painting, a library of books, a set of prints or a sculpture as a background are all conscious acts that make work conversations better. New cameras, additional monitors, and standing desks were also conscious changes in the design of the workspace at home.
Our work at home setup has the potential to be better than our office setup. The experimentation and maintenance of a new work space that is self driven and self maintained can happen on a much faster basis than what an office environment can sustain.
Where we work, and how people around us act can determine our own behavior. Spaces within the home each have a social life of their own. This meaning was assigned to them before the pandemic. Those prior associations need to allow for future uses of the space.
There isn't one single place for working while in the home, but there is a hierarchy. The home workspace is an evolving experiment. People use different parts of the home for different purposes. Function and creating change gives opportunity for a break. Moving to a different environment in the home creates a different function and feeling of work.
Transitioning our cognitive abilities.
People are often aware that they habitually respond to the norms of others, and to the norms triggered by a place or an object such as a chair. When others appear busy around us it can feel natural to concentrate on work. How do we self-motivate, when our habits are without social references?
In our DayShift research we asked the question of ‘what’s your best day at work?’ And it was often answered with simply going outside to take a break and enjoy natural light. This became the basis of this article for Helsinki Design Weekly entitled The Enlightened Discussion.
Is there a user manual for how we like to work? How might we create a rhythm to make time for magic. Going beyond the routine to make a breakthrough for ourselves. The individual cherishes focus, and that seems to be abundant at home. When to do certain tasks is entirely personal, but some natural rhythms exist. Author Daniel H. Pink elaborates on the topic of timing in his book entitled: When.
Then there are personal rituals, such as preparing for an important online meeting. What form does our body language take while working online? What is our body language communicating to the other person and vice versa? One respondent referred to experimenting with high-power poses through the frequent use of a high-power wonder-woman pose.
Transitioning our cognitive abilities is about giving ourselves the permission to do the things we feel are right for us and the way that we work. It is our home, but when work happens there may be a need for negotiating with the people we interact with. It might be with the people we live with, our colleagues, our boss, or our clients. This is a matter of giving ourselves permission to allow home life to come into work life. Our partner enters the background of a video call to grab a pair of pants, or a child runs in to give a hug and say hello. Once we feel we have permission, we’re free and it sets us on a path of new discovery.
Work as training is a day shift.
Work as training is about becoming our best self in our work, and that will involve deliberate preparation and practice. What is our sense of professional identity when working from home and who are we as a worker? Coming up next, our DayShift project will go deep into how we might help people build their own personal mental models for working at home. We see this as a constantly evolving day shift which requires a new set of tools to work with.