Sarah Reynolds, a woman with dark hair against an out-of-focus outdoor background.
Sarah Reynolds. Image: Organised Chaos

How to replicate office investments in an at-home workspace

19 Jun 2020

As remote working looks set to continue, Organised Chaos founder Sarah Reynolds looks at how employers can replicate office investments in employees’ homes.

While employers are busy focusing on technology support and getting fitness perks up online, very little has been said of the physical space in which employees now find themselves working in their homes. Work-from-home environments vary drastically from person to person, and getting the home workspace right will be a valuable tool for talent acquisition, retention and engagement.

As the number of employees working from home increases, the need for office space, upgrades and developments may reduce. To put this into context, prior to Covid-19, the average new office fit-out cost was €2,100 per sq m. If space per person is allocated at a minimum 10sq m, fitting out an office is usually estimated in the region of €21,000 per person. In a modern office of 250 employees, the total cost could mount to over €5m.

If a fraction of these fit-out costs are now redirected to an upgrade of an employee’s workspace at home, companies can keep employees happy and productive in their new work environment, while maintaining brand standards and saving money.

From a stunning office to the kitchen table

As Covid-19 started, employees cobbled together a work area at home. While this ‘needs must’ approach was fine initially, our physical space affects us, which means a poor workspace and increased clutter will start to take its toll.

A survey conducted in May 2020 by Alternatives found that 28pc of employees surveyed don’t have an adequate office area. A remote working employee survey from NUI Galway found that poor physical workspace was in the top three challenges of working from home, along with not being able to switch off and communication difficulties.

Working from home is also likely to create an increase in clutter and disorganisation around the home, and this can make it hard to switch off in the evenings because work items are still in your eyeline. Clutter is a physical stressor. In the workplace, it has a negative impact on performance and decision making. It also brings with it a feeling of shame and that we’re not coping well enough.

Replicating the corporate experience for client-facing roles

Clutter also shows a potential lack of care and attention to detail. Without realising it, the disorganisation on show in the office, or in this case, visible in the background of online calls, can give a poor impression of the employee and, by extension, the company.

Organisations that rely on sales teams or consultants in client-facing roles to attract clients and win contracts need backgrounds that look as professional as possible. The cluttered shelves in the background, the laundry on the bed, the dog jumping up on the lap was all well and good in the first few months of Covid-19, but as working from home continues, organisations will want to ensure that clients are getting the same, professional, sharp, exclusive service that they always got.

Now with administrators, account and project managers, and C-level executives working from home, organisations must look to the standard of the home office. When the team is speaking to a client, is having a messy background putting their best face forward?

Having a workspace behind every team member, no matter what level in the company, that is organised, branded and professional is critical in order to portray that even though work is online, the company is still very much in control of what they’re doing.

How to improve your at-home workspace

The working environment of the employee needs to be assessed by looking at all elements from decluttering, storage solutions and technology needs, to sound, lighting and branding. Requirements will vary based on the level of the employee and where in the home they are working from.

The desk is for work, not for storage

The desk space needs your computer, a mouse, a notepad, pens and the files for the project you’re working on.

Any other work or office supplies should be homed elsewhere, retrieved as you need them and brought to the desk. Having multiple items and files out causes distraction in the brain, multi-tasking and frustration.

Establish boundaries by creating zones

For those working from a dining room table or a desk in the corner of a bedroom, creating zones is tricky but essential. Use furniture if you can such as a couch, shelves or even the rug on the floor to create a ‘line’ between the living space and the workspace. Our brains will register that the furniture is creating the boundary and therefore we keep ‘home’ items in the ‘home zone’ and ‘work’ items in the ‘work zone’.

Create a portable office system

To help you keep control of your work items around the house or to and from the office, you need a portable office system.

These mobile workstations can be created in a variety of ways, including using a shelved trolley or cart that contains all the essentials, storage containers for files and an open basket for supplies that can easily be put away on a shelf, a large travel bag divided up by project folders and smaller bags containing stationery and technology, or a simple tray to place your laptop, notepads, diary on and an open storage container to hold smaller, loose supplies.

The portable offices allow you to clear everything into them easily when you clock out, and it’s all ready to pull out and use in the morning.

Companies have always sought to improve and become a great place to work. Moving forward, strategically applying organisation into the homes of their employees will be an increasingly important way for them to remain professional, productive and ahead of the game in today’s at-home work environment.

By Sarah Reynolds

Sarah Reynolds is a speaker, author, broadcaster and the founder of Organised Chaos, a Dublin-based decluttering and organisation service.

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