The idea of working from home has been on the cards for a long time. Since the computer entered the home and went from Galactic Space games to personal organizer, and now portable working space.
For many people homeworking is already a reality. Learning the new work rhythms, and coping with the unforeseen problems that come with homeworking takes time and patience.
Office Environment Vs Homework Space
The office environment is purpose built. Uninterrupted work flow is optimized through well-designed spaces and direct access to tools that we need. Safety in the event of fire and unexpected disasters has been well thought through.
In the traditional office space we don’t have to worry about what’s happening down the corridor. The kids are at school, the building is insulated against street noise. We can ignore conversations that don’t concern us, and get on and focus on tasks that such an environment is designed for.
Smooth sailing from and office to home-working, doesn’t happen overnight. Problems reveal themselves and need to be thought through, so that in future they are no longer a problem.
Quick Snacks, High Output, and Children
The obvious problem with homeworking is that home is a place to relax, and be with your family. You may have small children who are not at school, but you must work — and deliver the same quality of output that was always the norm in an office environment. An Office is purpose built, so is your home.
At home, things that originally meant a way to relax now become a temptation, a distraction to your work. The kitchen that is full of sweet promises of enjoyable snacks, coffee and tea as you please, a decent meal that’d put any office canteen to shame, suddenly become a problem.
Some people have a big problem with applying basic self-discipline. Luckily, it is something that we can learn, and see results manifest in after a few weeks of reining in our thoughts to focus on the tasks, one by one. We’re going to have to rediscover the importance exerting mental discipline at work, at home.
The Upside of Homeworking
The upside of homeworking is clear; no travelling on the train, or sitting in traffic. Maybe in a year’s time the car that was only used for work related travel, can go to the scrap heap.
In a home office we might think that Managing by Walking Around is now a thing of the past — hopefully so. But managers need to feel needed. They could easily figure out their own new system of staying in touch with workers, and be a source of interruption more than support.
Outside Your Window there’s a Whole World of Noise
Depending on where you live, noise can be a serious distraction that isn’t under your control. External street noises, cars, busses, and trains are a major problem in cities; they create noise, but are necessary in any modern city. Generally the knotted areas where people live, is where public transport clusters itself and creates a racket.
Noise during the day can tire a person, wear them down, and make a normal day at homeworking seem like an especially hard day.
The rumble and tumble of a city is hard to ignore. Studies in New Jersey, close to a residential area where a new highway was to be built, showed the negative effects caused by one newly built highway.
The change in traffic directions afterwards meant that older bypasses and roads now connected to the new highway. It caused a faster flow of traffic in the area, less congestion, but an unbearable rise in noise pollution for residents. It disrupted their lives, and they had no control over it.
Nearby people complained that they couldn’t think of anything else but the sound of heavy traffic after the highway was built.
Neil Weinstein, professor emirate of Rutgers University, conducted the study and questioned residents before and after the highway construction. His intent was to discover if people can adapt to high levels of noise.
Neil Weinstein concluded that people’s concentration becomes depleted when exposed to constant noise. Even when it is at a distance.
People also found that they became preoccupied with the noise itself, and neglected other tasks due to forgetfulness.
The study discovered many aspects of the negative impact noise has on a person’s health. The human voice has many tones and the sound of crying babies can stop any mother (or father) in her tracks, just to listen for a moment, to be sure all is well.
On the other hand, in other studies, when “people noise” was heard from their homes, such as street parties, celebrations and musical events in a nearby park, it was reported that they could put the noise into a context that was acceptable. Even while busy at work.
Maybe this indicates that if we understand why a noise is necessary, music for example, we can accept it as a healthy pursuit by other people — and join in if we wish — or find the ability to tolerate it and carry on with our own tasks, effectively.
Music has a context that fits time of day, place and likeability for a group of people.
Sleep is conducive to good concentration. We need sleep to regenerate after becoming fatigued. It restores the body and the brain, and we’re still not 100% clear on why we dream, we just know that it’s important for us to do so.
The Drip of a Bathroom Tap
A working day with interruptions, broken concentration and external noise that we can’t control can lead to a fitful sleep and unpleasant dreams.
A dripping bathroom tap can keep the mind alert at night. The sound of a worker tapping a hammer in the distance, while you work in the day, can create a demanding rhythm that leads to an agitated mind later in the day.
Sleep becomes a problem when the mind still hears the ingrained sound of tools hammering tacks into wood on a construction site. Almost as if the bathroom tap is still dripping. We can turn the tap off, but not the remembered noise of the hammer. That takes time and happens when we give ourselves space to wind-down after work.
Dividing the home into a focused work place and family space for relaxation, is a tough call that requires some serious planning.
To compromise the home and give it over to work will only threaten the harmony of family atmosphere. A couple of red lights should start blinking in your mental warning panel.
Even a person living solo has the natural feeling of, “my kingdom, my castle” about their home. Home is what they envision it to be.
Employers must take their side of responsibility seriously, and not expect families forced into home-working to budge over and redesign their daily lives, their front rooms and niche-corners, into a replica traditional office space.
Fitting a space for work into the home, not compromising, and being able to achieve a level of quality output that satisfies, then walk away from it, and forget it at the end of each day, is going to be an ongoing task of experimentation for business and families.