Replied to I Returned to the Office and Found a Very Old Apple by Rachel Gutman (theatlantic.com)

I left a lot of things at my desk in March 2020: a toothbrush, shoes, several varieties of tea, a mug full of plastic utensils, at least three jars of peanut butter. But one of my colleagues left behind a less shelf-stable treasure: one Envy apple, coquettishly perched atop a pile of fact-checking notes.

It was interesting to return to the office recently. I discovered lollies, chocolate and biscuits in my draws. All of which were past their use-by date, but I still ate them. However, there was nothing like the preserved apple and really not sure that I would have ventured to eat it if there was.
Bookmarked The Case for Letting People Work From Home Forever by Jaclyn Greenberg (WIRED)

Do you want happier, productive, more engaged, and more fulfilled employees and coworkers? Well, you should campaign to let them work remotely. Here’s why.

Jaclyn Greenberg makes the case for a permanent move to working from home. She argues that at home we are more productive, it allows for flexibility, and provides more work-life balance. In addition to that, Greenberg argues that office spaces are conducive to social interruptions and office politics.

Regardless of your job or where you live, a commute to the office can take up large portions of the day. The average American commute in 2019 was 27 minutes each way, which adds up to approximately 200 hours per year for a full-time employee. Aside from the actual commute, getting out of the house at a specific time in the morning in an effort to avoid traffic can be stressful. Instead of worrying about rushing to the office on time or needing to leave early for personal obligations, employees are more productive when they work remotely, have fewer sick days, and take less time off.

Cal Newport pushes back on work from home, continuing his exploration of remote work. He suggests the distractions of the home do not create the right environment.

The home is filled with the familiar, and the familiar snares our attention, destabilizing the subtle neuronal dance required to think clearly. When we pass the laundry basket outside our home office (a.k.a. our bedroom), our brain shifts toward a household-chores context, even when we would like to maintain focus on our e-mail, or an upcoming Zoom meeting, or whatever else that needs to get done. This phenomenon is a consequence of the associative nature of our brains. Because the laundry basket is embedded in a thick, stress-inducing matrix of under-attended household tasks, it creates what the neuroscientist Daniel Levitin describes as “a traffic jam of neural nodes trying to get through to consciousness.”

He instead suggests near-home locations. This reminds me of Bill Ferriter marking in McDonalds or John Spencer doing creative work at Starbucks.

In other pieces on remote work, Sean Blanda argues that it becomes about tasks, not times, while Gideon Haigh questions simply reproducing the physical office.

Listened What should become of the office? from ABC Radio National

Will the experience of working-from-home make employees reluctant to resume the daily struggle with traffic or public transportation, or to put up with irritating co-workers and unproductive work environments? Or will we discover that we’ve missed something precious in being deprived of interactions with others?

Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens speak with Gideon Haigh about his book The Momentous, Uneventful Day: A Requiem for the Office. With so many forced to work offsite during the pandemic, the three consider the current purpose of the office and its futute moving forward.

Although many have raised fears associated with absenteeism, there is also a danger of presenteeism, where because you are present you are productive. One of the things to come out of the pandemic is the danger of the cult of reproducibility. Technology is not a direct substitution for face-to-face interactions. That is, not everything done in the office can be done at home, and vice versa. Both spaces are unique, with their own features and affordances, forever changing over time. For example, working from home can be more conducive for the deeper appreciation of ideas, whereas being in the presence of others often forces you to into answers. In addition to the space, the conditions of work changes things. For example, when people are mandated to work from home, this takes away from the opportunities to break up the day.

In addition to the space itself, there is the transition between different performances that occurs. Office life is a performance, but maybe just a different performance. Working from home offers certain lifestyle possibilities. With the lose of the commute, the transition between life and work becomes blurred. Associated with this, the technology we have come to depend upon has created something of a templated self, where we are conditioned to work in a particular way. This has all created the conditions for a perpetual work environment which has colonised the home. Work is subsequently no longer a vocation and deep ownership.

For me, this adds to Jennifer Moss’ discussion of burnout, Cal Newport’s exploration of productivity hacks, and Sean Blanda’s fear about the way in which remote work often becomes about tasks, rather than people.

Replied to Dream Home Office Setup – (benlcollins.com)

I’m using the new  Apple Mac Mini with the M1 chip, powering 2 monitors: an ultrawide Dell U3419W (supported by a Fully Jarvis monitor arm) and an Acer R240HY.

The microphone is a Blue Yeti on a Blue Compass arm, and the light is an Elgato Key light.

Everything sits on Fully’s Jarvis standing desk, which I’ve had for years and love.

Thank you Ben for sharing your setup. Another example to add to the list.
Bookmarked The End of Open-Plan Everything – Walls Are Back by Amanda Mull (The Atlantic)

Where space isn’t available, or when time is of the essence, both manufacturers that I spoke with expect the partition business to attract new customers and competitors for at least the next six months to a year, if not longer. And as the country has already learned this year with faulty masks and fake hand sanitizer, pandemic panic-buying can attract some unsavory operators and pose unforeseen risks to a desperate public—even cutting into a sheet of plexiglass and bolting it to a desk or counter isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. “That acrylic gets in your skin and cuts you, and I think you’d rather get cut with glass,” said Steve Alexander, True Manufacturing’s parts-marketing manager. Walls, in all their variations, aren’t created equally: Hastily purchased panels that haven’t been properly finished at the edges, that aren’t thick enough to stand rigidly, or whose bases are too narrow for their height could cause more problems than they solve, especially in sensitive environments such as hospitals or classrooms. “You can’t have these things fall on third or fourth graders if they go back to school,” Alexander noted. “That would be a big problem.”

Amanda Mull discusses the challenges associated with breaking down years of open planned spaces. Mull explores the long history associated with the move away from secretarial pools epitomised by companies like Apple and Google, as well as the difficulties with the technology and the subsequent business models around them. She also refers to Ian Bogust’s article which also provides a useful history.
Bookmarked Four Levels of Real World Home Classrooms (wiobyrne.com)

Online learning has shown significant growth over the last decade as the Internet and other communication technologies are use to provide learners with the opportunity to gain new skills. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, online learning has become more of a reality in people’s lives.
As our classrooms and learning spaces shift from public buildings to our homes, it can be a challenge to consider how best to connect digitally. This post will share some of the tools and profiles involved in online learning to help you stay connected.

Ian O’Byrne maps out four levels of home classroom. Starting with a Chromebook and a phone then ending with a desktop and two 24 inch monitors side-by-side. Maybe Troy Hunt’s epic setup is level five?

This also builds on reflections from Doug Belshaw and Aaron Parecki about options associated with remote working. This really is something that I need to look into.

I was left feeling slightly envious of Doug Belshaw’s office setup wondering how I could make my own working space at home better. Some of the problems I have is that in part I share my space with my wife and daughter. I am also still working solely from my laptop. It then occurred to me that the difference between Doug and I was not necessarily our setup, but rather the uncertainty moving forward. If I was told that this situation was more permanent, then I would investigate getting a screen and better headset. However, until I am provided some clarity I hesitant in investing too much and will persist with my good-enough setup.
Bookmarked The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them (Erin Bromage PhD:)

In order to get infected you need to get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on infectious dose studies with other coronaviruses, it appears that only small doses may be needed for infection to take hold. Some experts estimate that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 infectious viral particles are all that will be needed (ref 1, ref 2). Please note, this still needs to be determined experimentally, but we can use that number to demonstrate how infection can occur. Infection could occur, through 1000 infectious viral particles you receive in one breath or from one eye-rub, or 100 viral particles inhaled with each breath over 10 breaths, or 10 viral particles with 100 breaths. Each of these situations can lead to an infection.

Erin Bromage provides some perspective on why some places are riskier than others and how to avoid them. She explains that to be infected you need to be exposed to an infectious dose of the virus. The amount of dose is dependent on the delivery, whether this be a cough, a sneeze, a breath or speaking.

To make sense of this, Bromage reflects on a numbers of scenarios, including a restaurant, workplace, choir and birthday parties.

When assessing the risk of infection (via respiration) at the grocery store or mall, you need to consider the volume of the air space (very large), the number of people (restricted), how long people are spending in the store (workers – all day; customers – an hour). Taken together, for a person shopping: the low density, high air volume of the store, along with the restricted time you spend in the store, means that the opportunity to receive an infectious dose is low. But, for the store worker, the extended time they spend in the store provides a greater opportunity to receive the infectious dose and therefore the job becomes more risky.

This has me thinking about my own work and when we might return to open planned office space. Although we do not hot desk, it would seem that time and space are key ingredients to spread. No matter what strategies are put in place (one person in the lift, hand sanitiser units, limit to the size of meetings) it would seem that spread is somewhat inevitable given the right conditions?

Bookmarked How firms move to secret offices amid Covid-19 (bbc.com)

From 9/11 to coronavirus, big emergencies call for big responses – like how some firms move to secret empty offices in undisclosed locations to stay safe.

Charles Baraniuk talks about the organisations who have supplimentary spaces. I am amazed at the timelines outlined in this piece, especially as the organisation I work in has take a few weeks to work out if the infrastructure is good enough for staff to work offsite, let alone the months involved in setting up a whole new space as the various departments grow.
Replied to An Office Designed for Workers With Autism (nytimes.com)

What happens when people who have trouble fitting into a traditional workplace get one designed just for them?

Makes me wonder about the ways students are supported with such things in school? Although Auticon covers the workplace, I wonder what an ‘end-to-end’ solution may look like that celebrates strengths all the way through.

Open Office Stress

The claim is made that open offices were designed as a part of the third industrial revolution where skilled people could come together and collaborate. Reports since the 70’s have discovered that this is not the case and that such spaces increase stress and reduce productivity.

Another design-based example is open-plan offices. In the push to lower overheads—and under the false assumption that it would encourage better working practices—private rooms were traded for non-divided workspaces. This resulted in environments that increase stress, particularly due to noise. Stress has become the dominant cost to human health at work. A 2016 report found that stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases in the UK and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.Source

In response to Apple’s new open planned architecture, Rima Sabina Aouf summarises some scrutiny:

Open-plan offices have become more common since the 1990s but have come under scrutiny in recent years. A recent Haworth’s white paper said that open-plan offices are “sabotaging” employees’ ability to focus at work, with office workers losing 28 per cent of their productive time due to interruptions and distractions.

Similarly, Gensler’s 2016 UK Workplace Survey found that workers were more likely to innovate if they had access to a range of spaces supporting different working styles – including private, semi-private and open-plan environments.

These discussions remind me of the experience described by Aaron Swartz.

Wired has tried to make the offices look exciting by painting the walls bright pink but the gray office monotony sneaks through all the same. Gray walls, gray desks, gray noise. The first day I showed up here, I simply couldn’t take it. By lunch time I had literally locked myself in a bathroom stall and started crying. I can’t imagine staying sane with someone buzzing in my ear all day, let alone getting any actual work done.

Libby Sandler summarises some recent research into open-planned offices, highlighting that:

In many open-plan offices, the drive for increased interaction and collaboration comes at the expense of the ability to focus and concentrate.

When distraction makes it hard for employees to focus, cognitive and emotional resources are depleted. The result is increasing stress and errors, undermining performance.

When employees can’t concentrate on their work, their desire to interact and collaborate with others is reduced.

In some ways, open spaces kills what it is trying to encourage.