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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
Until we have a vaccine, and perhaps even after, many workers may determine that if they’re going to feel as alone in the office as they do at home, there’s no point to commuting in the first place.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.