Home and Office.
For most of us, these two words came with two separate post codes, two separate pins on Google maps. However in this COVID-19 world, home and office not only share the same post code, but the same room. That room, more than likely, shared by more than one person.
For some, the concept of “work from home” might fill you with dread for a number of reasons.
If you are anything like me, and have had the same desk for 5 years, and like...for lack of a better analogy...a donkey at a flour mill, your “office” routine is so set that it has literally formed proverbial track marks in the way you do things, how you lay out your day, how you drink your coffee and even how you physically do your job.
On the other side of the coin, the dread of WFH comes with the reality that your dining room table is now the boardroom, and your coffee table is where your printer lives. WFH means that your house or flat inevitably becomes more office and less home.
So how do we find the balance in trying to create an impromptu work station, whilst still managing to have a space where you can relax and put your feet up at the end of the day? Obviously we want to try and create the most opportune environment to work in, but we do need respite.
I am no scientist, but I image that WFH fatigue is a real thing, and it’s important that we feel like we are able to separate our home from our office in the coming weeks.
One thing that a regular office provides us with is a routine. Working from the confines of your home, this routine is typically interrupted. Goes without saying, but a typical Monday morning is vastly different from a typical Saturday. If you are new to the work from home world, and are tying to keep your sanity, you can’t apply Saturday morning routines to your Mondays or Tuesdays.
This one isn't really a case of ensuring your physical home doesn't get over run by office vibes, but if you are going to be working from home, you need this consistency in routine so that you can separate Home Time from Work Time. It might be quite theoretical, but this does help to find balance.
You need to get up, get showered, get dressed and leave for work…and by this I don’t mean throw on your gown and walk to the dining room. I mean leave the house like you would if the word "Corona" still only applied to light beer. Taking as little as 10 minutes to go grab a coffee or do a simple walk around the block will not only help keep a mental routine, but will help to keep your spirits alive so you don't feel so isolated in all of this.
For many it’s our metal health that will suffer more than our physical well being.
The best part about the end of a long work day, is being able to get up and leave your desk and shut the door behind you. At home you may not have this luxury. As much as we might be OK with having your laptop and files in the dining room or lounge for an initial night or two, being able to pack your home office away quickly and easily is a must. Especially if we are in this for the long haul.
When setting up a home office that will allow you some sense of normality, compartmentalising paired with and a swift tidy up is key. Applying the same principles you would in an office to your home, might actually be the key in allowing you to have a normal functioning house at the end of each day. Set your own clear desk policy... and stick to it.
Practically speaking, as boring as these next two words are, box files are a must. These not only allow you to rack, stack and hide your work, but if you know where to find the right ones, they can be good looking enough to sit out on display and not feel like you’re watching telly, or eating dinner, in a stationery supply closet.
Habitat UK have some amazing linen filing/drawer systems, with cute leather handles. These guys will easily fit into any home environment, and provide a good looking solution to hiding your work. I can exclusively reveal that even the likes of Sophie Ashby is a fan of these exact ones...
Being able to easily clear the table from all signs of work, to make room for dinner or family time, is super important in ensuring that your home and office can function side by side (inside) each other. It will also help ensure you aren't slowly swallowed by a sea of paperwork that creeps its way onto every flat surface.
Most importantly however, having a quick and easy solution to ridding office from home means that you are more than likely to keep doing it day by day. Nobody wants a chore at the end of a fake day in the office.
Another practical way to hide or conceal your work space, and literally shut the door (or draw a curtain) on your work at the end of the day, is to take advantage of your actual doors and windows.
Think Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind...
Stay with me here...in most houses there is some pretty significant pin board real estate on the backs of doors and on your windows. I get that this might sound a little OTT, but if you are a fan of a post-it or a check list, the back of a door is a great way of creating an area for all this "visual clutter" that doesn’t need to be tidied up the end of the day. Furthermore, just by simply shutting the curtain or blind, you can keep your "window to-do list" intact, but not be pestered by tomorrow's 10am conference call reminder whilst you tuck into you microwave isolation dinner.
Sticking with the idea of compartmentalising, you need to designate both time and space for certain tasks. Our physical offices are great at providing us with times and zones in order to do certain jobs. Don’t let being forced to work from home mean that your lounge now has to be all things to all people at all times.
Put more than one person in the WFH equation, and not designating time and space is a recipe for disaster. How to do this practically? Set certain rooms for certain jobs. The kitchen for printing and office supplies for example, or the bedroom for long running conference calls.
I bet that the majority of fights in the next few weeks will be from spouses, only now learning how each other operate for 8 hours a day, or how loud they speak on the phone. Divide your space for certain tasks and conquer WFH.
Spreading the office around the house might sound slightly counter initiative to my point about not letting your office consume your home, but it means that you don’t really need to worry too much about the size of your actual desk. If you only have one end of a table to perch your laptop on, don’t try make that same table the makeshift printer zone, meeting room and conference call zone. You will frustrate yourself to death trying to recreate your exact office set up at home in a quarter of the square footage. Rather have multiple small zones, which is easy to pack up at the end of a day, than a full Churchill War Room plonked halfway between bedroom and lounge.
We hear all the time how important it is to bring life into our homes, and when creating an ideal home office scenario, I will bet any amount of money that any article written will mention something about incorporating plants into your home set up. A pot plant is great, definitely do that, but I personally feel that flowers are a far better bet.
The phrase “stop and smell the roses" comes to mind?
Not only do flowers liven up the scent of your new home office, but they can really help to provide some real variation to your day. A bunch of flowers looks different every day, and we all need a little bit of “different” when it comes to the repetitive boredom of working from home. Furthermore, flowers die. Now this isn’t meant to be symbolic of anything, but because flowers die, they need to be replaced. To replace flowers you need to put on your outside clothes, leave the house, and go and buy some more. A perfect opportunity for distraction and to help support local businesses at this time.
If you are in a fortunate position that you don’t need to set up your home office in the lounge but rather have a spare bedroom that you can give a makeover to, here are a few things to take into consideration.
Impromptu doesn’t mean forever. So before you rush off and spend a whack on a home office suite that you will look back on with disdain in 3 months, think about what you have that can be reused or re-purposed to suit. This doesn’t include building a desk area out of Lego or kids toys, but rather than buy a cheap desk, that you will throw away or battle to reuse, see if there is anything you already own that could be used to build this new home office.
More a comment of unnecessary waste than anything else, but I am pretty confident that most of us can scrape a few bits and bobs together to create a suitable work station. All this helps to prevent too much office furniture creeping into the home decor mix.
Alternatively if you are keen to spend some money to keep the economy ticking, but do appreciate that the bedroom will be back at some point, and the office relegated/dispersed elsewhere, don’t shop with “office” in mind. Buy things that you will easy incorporate back into your house. A chrome desk chair will never double up as an occasional chair in your lounge, so maybe think twice before buying a set of those for your home, just because you have them in your work office.
Speaking of chairs, a good chair is more important than a good desk. Call a desk by any other name and it will still just be a sturdy flat surface. A shoddy chair? There are a good combination of 4 letter words for that one.
Day light is good, but that doesn’t mean having to move all the furniture out of the room so your new desk has prime position in front of a window. Just open the curtains, and crack a window. Knowing that there is still a world out there is what's important. Don't start compromising how you have laid out your home so that your office takes precedence. Its home, then office
And finally, save the sofa for the end of the day like we should all be saving our *blank * for our *blank*. You want the first time to be special, don't ruin the euphoria of the first time with a video conference or a lazy email. Wrap up your work day, tidy the room, pour some wine, and then give that sofa everything you've got. Trust me, you'll savour the moment. Apply this principle to other areas too, but it's essentially about not diluting the "home pleasures" with the forgettable work ones just because home and office are one in the same for the time being.