Office Focus: Planning requests for home offices

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Sonia Brown talks about the surge in planning requests and projects to create home offices since lockdown


EDITED BY CATHY HAYWARD

TIPS FOR DESIGNING THE PERFECT HOME OFFICE SPACE

  1. A human-centred approach is even more important in the home off ice. It needs to reflect the personality of the user
  2. Create space you can shut off at end of the day enabling the person to demarcate their home and work life. A separate room is ideal, but even being able to fold away a desk, or close folding doors of a cupboard can mark the separation between home and work
  3. Ensure the off ice design sits well within the overall home design – an industrial off ice might clash with a period home – although clear lines between work and play is good
  4. A good Wi-Fi connection and plenty of power is essential
  5. Curate the backdrop – what will people on video calls see?
  6. Bring the outside in through biophilic design tools such as plants, natural fabrics and colours and fresh air
  7. Consider bolder colours and softer fabrics which are harder to carry off in a corporate environment
  8. Make sure furniture is ergonomically sound, however small the space
  9. Personal motivators like prints and props should take centre stage. This is the chance for true personalization
  10. Good acoustics are key. How can the person ensure acoustic privacy for calls or concentrated work?

BEFORE 2020, home offices were largely reserved for senior executives and self-employed knowledge workers. While there was a market for external cabin products and designing high-end studies, it was a limited one and many home workers tended to convert spare bedrooms. But the pandemic made people realise that almost any space could be used as an office. It didn’t have to be a dedicated formal working area with a desk, task chair, storage cabinets and a comfy sofa.

Over the past 18 months, office workers have crammed themselves into every spare nook or cranny in their home – essentially anywhere they could perch a laptop. Sometimes that’s been the kitchen table, the sofa, a child’s bedroom or even the floor. And research from Leesman showed that people largely remained productive despite the obvious challenges.

The impact on the design community has been significant. Previously, many designers would rarely touch home office projects but now find themselves supporting clients on everything from creating a major office suite for an executive to converting an airing cupboard, alcove or mudroom, separating off a corner of a kitchen or bedroom to create working space, splitting rooms into two, knocking out the understairs cupboard or converting garden sheds. With the workplace discourse focusing on a future hybrid way of working, knowledge workers and designers alike have recognised that the home office is here to stay. The need is great to have a dedicated workspace where people can either close the door at the end of the day, or at least push the chair up to the desk and close the laptop.

Before the pandemic we worked on several projects where people wanted to mirror their corporate office in other buildings or environments. Previously this was reserved for senior executives and their expensive corner offices with the latest technology and furniture being replicated in equally expensive residential or corporate spaces, even down to the same sofa and task chair. Now that trend is extending further down the corporate ladder with some middle managers and below wanting the same feel as the office environment. This was accelerated by businesses providing employees with an emergency desk and task chairs for the home to ensure they were ergonomically supported during the pandemic. Just as many corporates like to create the same feel in their offices wherever they are in the world, with a slight nod to the local culture, it seems many people want the same set-up wherever they choose to work.

There has been an increasing use of calming blues and greens in home working spaces
There has been an increasing use of calming blues and greens in home working spaces

But at the same time, and almost in contradiction to that, we’re seeing increasing personality in home offices. As corporate workspaces becomes less owned and the ability for people to personalise them severely reduced, people can design their home office to reflect their own style and way of working. Even where people could personalise their space in the office, many have felt reluctant to do so but they don’t suffer that same reticence at home. Now they can go wild and really reflect their character through colour, planting, props or, as in the case of one client, by using their grandfather’s desk that was no longer permitted in their corporate office.

We’re also seeing increasing use of colour in home office environments. Many are using darker colours to absorb screen reflections and to soothe eyes, tired from more screen time than we’re used to. Dark colours absorb light while white reflects it back, which can be problematic for continuous screen use. Others are using colour to delineate working space, especially when the work set-up is part of an existing room. As people experience emerge from the trauma of the pandemic, we’re seeing increasing use of greens and blues in home offices, which are calming, natural colours and add more comfort and security than white or grey.

Softer fabrics have been used in corporate workspaces for years – rugs, curtains, cushions and squishy sofas are stalwarts in many business premises. But they’re even more popular in the home office environment as you might expect. For those with space, a sofa is a must, but even for those in smaller environments, cushions and even blankets are evident. Biophilia has also made the leap to the home office; whether it’s a pot plant on the desk, a view of a park or simply fresh air, people seek that connection with nature.

While having a dedicated work area – however small – is important, we’re also seeing people use different areas of their homes for different work activities, naturally practicing activity-based working. A desk might be ideal for quiet focused computer work for a few hours, but a sofa is good for a phone call, the garden a nice space to read a report and it’s easier to escape from work entirely and enjoy a walk around the block, an online pilates session or even a power nap to rejuvenate.

Th ere are numerous stories of different people in a house clambering for space or Wi-Fi access in lockdown. And while there have been examples of home office projects for two or more people, the majority tend to be for single use only. While open-plan working might be successful in the corporate environment, it’s more of a challenge at home. Where it does happen, careful delineation of space and a strict workplace etiquette is a must.

having a connection with the outdoors and access to fresh air can ensure the home off ice doesn’t become stifling
having a connection with the outdoors and access to fresh air can ensure the home off ice doesn’t become stifling

As organisations start occupying their corporate workplaces in greater numbers, many people will find leaving their carefully curated home offices a wrench. The evidence to date shows that only the minority of businesses will insist on people returning to work five days a week. Instead we’ll see people thinking carefully about what tasks they have to do and where they’re best to complete them. While the office will morph into a collaborative, social and cultural hub, the home office will live on as a place for focused work and perhaps a space to recharge. The market for home office design is here to stay.



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