Architect’s Thoughts: Tips on Working From Home Effectively

The majority of the world have been advised to work from home whenever possible to combat the pandemic. Remote working is a common practice today, and many discussions have indicated that post-pandemic, a large number of individuals will have further flexibility to choose to work from home. On the 12th of May 2020, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey even announced that their employees will be allowed to work from home forever given their work that has an emphasis on decentralization and supporting a distributed workforce capable of working from anywhere. Ultimately this shifts the dialogue between the home that serves its primary function, and now, to include a new function which is the work environment. Sure, many people use their laptops to catch up on work in the evenings and the weekends. However, if the function of the home includes long-term use as an office which many unprepared individuals have been thrown into today, it begs landlords, property developers and architects to rethink the spatial needs when designing homes.

The primary function of our homes is a place to sleep, eat and rest within a private and safe environment. In cities, in particular, there is a rise of the tiny apartment whereby the cost per square foot is so high that the home becomes a place merely to meet its primary function. Taking examples from our neighbourhood, I had the opportunity to visit Asta House before the lockdown. Asta House is part of the 80 Charlotte Street development with 20 private apartments, 2 penthouses and 14 affordable units. Although a typical two-bedroom apartment is selling for £1,675,000, the bedrooms were designed to fit a double bed and not much more. I believe it will be a struggle to fit a study desk or a vanity desk in the bedrooms. Fortunately, the Reception Rooms are decently-sized so one can perhaps work from the dining table in the Reception Room. Compared to the Georgian houses by Fitzroy Square in its original state, such as those that received Grade I listed status, the new homes delivered today and the townhouses that have been converted into multiple units often lack a freedom of space to carve out new spaces. Today, new spaces such as a dedicated Study Area will be immensely useful.

As working from home becomes a new norm, what are the key aspects to create a healthy and professional office space within the home? For those who are working from home right now, to the architects who are designing the next residential development, let’s take a moment to consider a few key aspects to make the home a pleasant environment to work from:

1. Carve out a dedicated work space within the home

Find and carve a dedicated work space within your home if it is possible. If you live with other people, have a discussion to designate specific locations within the home that is meant for work. For most people, the quickest way to transform a space at home into an office is converting your dining table into a work desk. This works but read below ‘Ergonomic’ section to ensure you are working comfortably.

Spatially, some of you may be able to afford adding a work desk within the reception room or bedroom. This is a good way to have a dedicated work space, so whenever you sit on this desk, you are transported to a work scenario which is similar to your desk in your office. For people living with others, sitting on this desk can also provide some separation whereby casual chat is discouraged. For those who are often on video or phone calls, a physical separation of space should be carefully considered as well to ensure others can have a conducive environment to work from.

For some with a spare bedroom, it is the ideal time to look into converting it as a dedicated study room. This will provide an ideal separation between live and work. Arriving in this room sets you into a work mode and sets a clear signal to people you live with.

2. Ergonomics

Are you working in good posture? In your office, you will likely have an ergonomic chair to ensure the long hours at the desk do not cause any lower back or hip pain. When you work from home for an extended period, you should look into investing in an ergonomic chair. From a cost effective ergonomic chair to the office specialist chair, having one that ensures you are in a comfortable and optimum position is important for your comfort.

Besides that, screen heights are also important to minimise neck strain. If you work on a laptop, you could look into investing in a laptop stand, coupled with a separate keyboard and mouse. If your company gives permission, you could bring your office screen home with you for the time being.

For the ultimate comfort and ergonomics? A standing desk. There are options in the office furniture market that allows the desk to be transformed from a sitting desk to a standing desk with the push of a button. As we lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle during this pandemic, the standing desk provide an alternative way to encourage body movement.

3. The camera view, set up your tech strategically

The rise of virtual meetings mean many will utilise platforms such as Zoom, Teams, and other platforms to carry on with work meetings. We often get a glimpse of how others live because the camera reveals details ranging from bedroom to kitchen. Think how much personal space you are willing to share with your co-workers, clients and even first-time meetings too.

Whilst Skype has a fantastic feature to blur backgrounds, not all platforms have it. So the question is, how much do you want to share? Test your camera view and set your tech accordingly in a strategic way.

Lastly, recent statistics show that as a workforce, we have all been working longer hours as we shift to remote working for the time being. Perhaps it is time saved from travelling or perhaps the ambiguous blurring of the home and the work place, we have been spending more time on our work. For me, I have been applying the ROWE mindset which is a “results-only work environment”. This means it is not about filling in the hours but getting the results required (yes, sometimes it does take longer than planned but that is okay). By focusing on results and goals, the number of hours we put in and track becomes an informed data for our own awareness when planning the next task. So when today’s tasks are done, turn off your computer and relax.

Stay safe.  

Written by Von Chua. First published on Fitzrovia Centre’s Newsletter – Thoughts from Fitzrovia Centre on 19/07/2020. Von Chua is a Chartered Architect living and working in Fitzrovia. Passionate about heritage buildings, branding and art, she leads the creative directions at Von X Architects, a small studio with big experiences working across architecture and interiors projects. From the straightforward interior design refurbishment through to the complex multi-unit residential development, Von X Architects work carefully with limited resources and apply the same design thinking.