Creating an Enlightened Workspace – At the Office or Working from Home
Did you know that in a typical year you will take two million breaths in your office? That statistic alone is compelling enough to warrant taking a closer look at the workspace environments where you spend a vast amount of your waking time. Research has shown that our surroundings play a key role in our health and wellbeing and, therefore, productivity. Before 2020, this conversation might have leaned toward the physical office spaces where the majority of people spent their workdays. However, given the increasing numbers of remote workers in recent years and the massive disruption that the global pandemic brought to in-person work environments, it’s also important to look at the quality of our remote work environments.
First and foremost, an enlightened workspace is safe. This ties directly to the first of the 7 Elements of an Enlightened Workplace. The definition of safety includes the need for environments to be healthy – both physically and psychologically. Productive, joyful work can’t happen unless people believe their health and safety are assured. Physically healthy environments take into account factors including ventilation, air quality, moisture, water quality, noise, lighting and views. Many corporate office environments have teams that regularly assess these factors. But if you find yourself working from home on a regular basis, how does your workspace rate on these factors and if you’re finding issues with productivity, might one of these be a culprit?
Prior to the pandemic of 2020, about 15% of Americans worked from home according to M.I.T., although only 5% of Americans worked from home full-time according to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau. When COVID-19 hit, those numbers soared to 50% nearly overnight.
As many of us have experienced, there are pros and cons to working remotely versus working in an office. From the standpoint of the business, research shows that working remotely increases productivity between 4% and 20%. This is due mostly to fewer interruptions than happen in the office and extended working hours replacing what was formerly commute time. Employees also report benefits to working remotely, including “more focus time, shorter meetings, more flexible time with family, and no daily commute.” An attraction of work-from-home for many employers is the savings in real estate costs given the ability to release office space.
One of the key balancing acts around making work from home positive for employees is the ability for them to maintain boundaries between work life and home life. The same computers, phones, Internet and video conferencing technologies that enable working from anywhere also erode the lines between our work and personal lives. The boundaries between the two can be highly permeable if managers expect employees to respond to email, Slack and other work communication at all hours. This makes it more difficult for employees to psychologically detach and recover from work and is not conducive to building an enlightened work environment.
An enlightened workplace also places an emphasis on the aesthetic office. An aesthetically pleasing and comfortable workspace can inspire and motivate workers and contribute directly to increasing their joy when they’re working. Whether in an office environment or a remote work environment, elements such as soft lighting, ideal temperature, natural light, plants, color, art and well-designed furniture all contribute to an enlightened workplace aesthetic.
A research study showed that workers in environments where there were plants and artwork were 15% more productive than those without them. And productivity doubled in cases where workers were provided with art and plants that they could arrange themselves any way they liked. This suggests that the combination of the aesthetic elements with the empowerment to arrange them provides a positive and productive experience.
Tips to Improve Your Workspace
From a physical perspective, here are some tips to improve your physical work environment, whether you’re in an office or working from home:
- Identify and claim your space, especially if you’re at home. It may be a kitchen table, but when you’re working, it’s your desk.
- Establish clear agreements with others in your household or workplace about working time and what your tolerance is for interruptions.
- Bring in a living plant, which will add not only beauty, but also some fresh oxygen.
- If something isn’t working, try to identify what it is and figure out a solution.
- Talk with your family or co-workers about challenges you’re having and brainstorm ways to make it better.
Time will tell just how many of us will continue to work remotely on a global level in the years to come. What is becoming apparent is that the former divide between those at home and those in the office is shrinking dramatically. Whether we yearn to be back in a collaborative office space with our colleagues, or hold the hope that we can continue working from home indefinitely, what is certain is that the quality of the office space matters for our wellbeing and our productivity and is worth taking a closer look at.