When you’re at home you may have a favorite place to read a book, another to iron and fold clothes, another to relax, you may even have several favorite places for each activity. It is your space and you have the freedom to use it in whatever way works best for your objectives. Those that work from home also have the freedom to design their workspace for maximum productivity.
In many ways, modern office design tries to achieve the same thing. By giving employees the choice to work in different spaces, set individual heating and lighting preferences, even have a nap or a game of ping-pong when they feel like it, those offices are trying to recreate the home at work in many ways. A link has been established between comfort and productivity, and homes are the pinnacle of comfort.
This begs the question, in this age of connectivity, why would people go to an office trying to be like home, when they can just work from their home? A home where they already set the temperature, sit where they want, nap in their own bed, and even work in their pajamas if it makes them more comfortable and productive.
Academics seem split on the topic of remote work for productivity due to the lack of collaboration outside the office. One Harvard study found that researchers who worked in close physical proximity produced more impactful papers. Another report used data on employee interaction to argue that employees who have more chance encounters and unplanned interaction perform better. This idea, known as the “water cooler effect,” has been embraced by the most successful technology companies.
The workplace exists, not as a collection of isolated workers, but as a collaborative team of workers. It seems that things that are said in the hallways and over cubicle walls make a difference to overall company productivity. Digital interactions have not managed to replace these subtle forms of communication yet and, until they do, organizations are more productive with their employees in an office… and that office being more like a home.
“It’s a shift on what the office is… At home, you use your bedroom, you use your living room, you have access to the entire environment… That’s how people see the office environment today. You use the entire space like you use your entire house,” says Kylie Roth, Knoll’s Senior Director of Workplace Research during an interview at the NeoCon commercial design event. Roth calls this new trend, “homing from work.”
A dynamic work environment shapes the whole employee experience, according to Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work, who says the design of a space can greatly influence collaboration and productivity. “It’s about having some open, some closed, some café-like environments, some isolation — It’s about giving employees a choice,” he says. “You can’t have a house with just a kitchen, and you can’t have a work environment where we tell employees to do everything in one room.”
Dotcom companies are epitomized by office hammocks and pizza parties but the biggest of them all, Google, has taken that concept to a whole new level. Swiss chalets and igloo style meeting ‘pods’ , fireman poles as an alternative to stairs between floors, even a slide to the cafeteria, which can all be found in Google’s European engineering headquarters in Zurich Switzerland. There is a games room for brainstorming, an aquarium with a bath as a bed with dim lighting for chilling out and relaxing. There is also a lot of free food all around the office, in fact, Google guidelines insist that employees never be more than 100 meters from food.
“The new evolution of open office layout embraces the foundation of the original concept; it creates an environment in which employees can be most productive. It maintains the elements that foster creativity and innovation but accepts the reality that different employees, and a single employee at different times, require different workspace environments to be at their best,” states our report - The Future Workplace. “Dubbed ‘multi-spaces,’ this layout does not come about by wholesale physical change but by the provision of greater flexibility to the employee.”
While the results of this evolution can be debated the companies that adopt these homy design elements are often successful. Google receives well over a million job applications each year and hires only about 0.05 percent of them. They provide a workspace that people want to be in and it appears that allows them to have their pick of the best talent. They may pay well too, of course, but the comfortable design of their offices has created the perception of an employee-focused culture, which in turn attracts new recruits and motivates existing employees.
The trend towards home working continues to grow, however. About 25% of all US employees work remotely all or most of the time, according to a Gallup poll. Their research suggests remote workers are more productive and log more hours than employees who work in the office, which will no doubt strengthen the case for more employees to work from home. Offices will counter this trend, encouraging employees to spend more time in the office by making it homier. It doesn’t have to be one or the other though, all employees can do both.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, argues that a common mistake is thinking that working remotely, and working in an office, are either/or propositions. “Most people think of remote work as 100%, all or nothing,” she says. “But the reality we see is that’s it’s not all or nothing.” People might visit clients two days a week, thus technically working remotely, even if they’re not at home. Then they work in the office another day or two, and one day from home or a coffee shop.
Such a schedule allows for plenty of spontaneous interactions with colleagues, but also some focused, head-down productivity too. In the near future, “I believe that 50% of the workforce will be working remotely half the time,” Sutton Fell says. “I don’t think that 50% of the workforce will be working 100% remotely by 2020, or even 2030.”
Whether working from home or homing from work, the workplace landscape is evolving. Co-working spaces like WeWork have even emerged to fill the gap between home and the office, also employing “home design” aspects within a collaborative environment.
The common theme in all these trends is the same - giving employees more freedom to choose when and where they work. A comfortable employee is a productive employee, and an employee with the freedom to come to the office when they want will be more motivated and energized by that choice.