Have you ever stopped to ponder this question? Two things have prompted me to do so:
- The obvious impact of COVID which has found people working in different physical spaces to where they might normally work; and
- Renovations at home mean I am temporarily out of my much loved home office.
The impact of COVID
Up until the pandemic hit most people did the majority of their work at a desk or workstation in an office. There was already some movement to flexibility in location for work but then nearly everyone in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra has found they had no choice but to work from home.
Like me you have probably heard reports of some people being more productive and some being less productive in the different environment. There are some obvious reasons for that such as for parents who have been juggling home schooling and their work commitments. But it goes a bit deeper. I believe this is a really important topic because you may be able to make some changes to your (most likely temporary at present) workspace that will change how effectively you work and how good you feel.
Let me share my own recent experience to help explain this.
My partner Kate and I decided some time back that we would do some renovations on our house. We like the area, intend to be here a long time and wanted to enjoy some changes that would enhance our lifestyle. The renovations are being done in two stages and stage one has meant temporarily losing half the house including my much loved home office. That home office is my usual place of business, pandemic or no pandemic. (Although when there is no pandemic, I spend a fair bit of time face to face with others at client or other premises.)
The location factors impacting on your ability to do your best work
What I found was that when I set up a desk in the lounge room I was less motivated and less productive. It just didn’t feel right. That prompted me to consider why. Drawing on some post graduate study I did in design science (focused mostly on office fitout design), my Master of Business Coaching degree and research I did when building my workshop for accountants called Managing Yourself and Your Priorities, I identified a number of factors that can affect your ability to work in a particular location. These are:
- Air flow
- Visual cues
Let me talk about each in turn.
By this I mean do you have a setup that actually works? Is your desk space large enough to set up how you want? Have you got the right size and number of computer screens? Do you like to use a full size keyboard or the one on your notebook computer? Is your chair comfortable? (As I write this I am in a rented apartment in Perth and the answer is a resounding no!) Is the desk at the right height for you. If your set up is not functionally sound you will likely be uncomfortable and this will impact on your state of mind and ability to do your best work. Seems obvious right? Some of the others I discuss below might not have been so obvious to you.
When I was forced to work in the lounge room I realised this is really important for me. My home office has a high level of cool white light and the lounge room did not. Some temporary additional lighting made a big difference and then when a few extra lights were installed in the ceiling my mood really lifted. Until then I could feel my mood, motivation and productivity had dropped.
This can be related to light because your space may have access to external windows or doors that give you a connection with the outside and bring in natural light. This was also significant for me. My home office has double doors opening onto our North facing back deck and looking at the garden and swimming pool. While I love the pool to swim in, its greatest value is just being able to look at it. I find the water quite calming. I also like to be able to see the sky which I can do from my office. I had none of this in the lounge room. The position of my desk was such that natural light was poor and I could not see outside. Clever placement of a mirror helped a little, but only a little because it was a small mirror!
Another big one for me. I lived in Canberra for 20 years but now find myself quite intolerant of temperatures below 22 degrees! If my office goes below that I cease to function effectively. On the other hand, I know people where the opposite applies. Initially I found the lounge room cold but a heater soon fixed that! I felt an almost immediate lift in my wellbeing and ability to work effectively.
Many people say they can’t stand being in a stuffy room. I have a ceiling fan in my home office so can always get some air movement if I need it. For some if there is too much air movement that becomes a distraction. More recently the movement and replacement of air in rooms has become an important consideration in managing COVID. I read an article today that talked about the value of having a CO2 monitor to show how effective refreshing of the air is in the space you occupy. Seems like a good idea. Feeling tired or lethargic has been associated with higher levels of CO2 for example.
Like some of the other factors I see huge differences in preference. I grew up in a musical household so when I was studying for school and university there was nearly always music playing. And yet today I find I work best with silence, or close to it.
Do you like to be in a big room or a small room? I have seen studies that suggest the size and outlook of a room can impact on the effectiveness of meetings that go on inside it. I believe the same applies when we are working on our own. For me I like the combination of a bedroom sized room for my office and the outlook to the garden and pool. Everything I need is close by and I can look outside if I feel like I need more space for ideas to percolate.
By this I mean the pictures, knick knacks and other personal artifacts we tend to accumulate in our workspace. For me there are several that I have come to understand are important to me. They are very personal to me and provide joy and inspiration in a variety of ways. They include a picture of my partner Kate, a picture of me as young child with my younger brother, a picture of my father, grandfather, great grandfather and great, great grandfather, a picture of me on the summit of the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas and some photos taken on the summit of Mount Everest (not taken by me!). And then there are my books. Again I’ve seen research that indicates these visual cues can activate our brain in a positive way and I’m convinced they do for me. Or at least they will do when I get back to my office. I’ve missed them.
All of these factors contribute to your ability to get into a state of flow when you work. Some people think of that as getting in the zone. In a future article I’ll explore this concept more because it is an important one to understand if you want to achieve great things with your time.
If you are struggling to work well with your current set up go through this list of factors and think about whether one or more changes would make a difference. Even one change for me, getting more light, made a big difference.