Nationwide Insurance announced that it has decided to close most of its smaller offices and transition about 4,000 people to permanent work-from-home status.
According to Global Workforce Analytics, it is their best estimate that 25-30 percent of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by 2021.
A Gartner HR Survey reveals that 41 percent of employees are likely to work remotely “some of the time,” post-coronavirus pandemic.
Even Warren Buffett is wondering if people will return to the office. “The supply and demand for office space may change significantly,” he has been quoted as saying. “A lot of people have learned that they can work at home or that there’s other methods of conducting their business than they might have thought from what they were doing a couple of years ago. When change happens in the world, you adjust to it.”
Business owners like me are learning to manage a remote team and our own personal productivity. In the last six weeks, as America shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19, we found ourselves at home looking for space to work. For me, I’m live from my dining room table, which I take over each workday and clean up in time for dinner. My husband, who now works part-time at home, has found himself in the basement, as it allows him to conduct multiple calls a day without being disturbed. As for the spare bedroom that has a physical desk, it has been commandeered by my girls, 12 and 13, to play video games with friends using a desktop and laptop where they are all in the same “world.”
So far, we have all been reactionary. But as this pandemic continues and work from home becomes more prevalent and long term, will we see the rise of a new home office space? And what will it look like? Gone is the day of having a desk in the bedroom because so many of today’s web-based meetings include a live video element, which requires a background that you’re willing to show the world. (I am not a fan of the virtual backdrops and find them more distracting than seeing whatever it might be that you’re trying to hide.)
Perhaps we will see more corporations offering stipends to set up the home offices. But, what will the home office space of tomorrow need? Here are my recommendations:
A Robust Network. Any commercial video-conferencing application should be able to adjust to different internet speeds, and its quality will automatically work with almost any “high-speed” internet connection. For example, Microsoft says that Teams will work with a connection as small as 1mbps x 500kbps, while Zoom says a conference call will work down to 600kbps x 600kbps. Microsoft recommends at least 2mbps x 1mbps for an HD video conference.
All of these numbers are far below what you would see from any high-speed internet provider (except DSL) these days. Yet, we see issues all the time on a video call. At that point, the problem is probably Wi-Fi. Time to invest in a robust mesh Wi-Fi system.
Seating. My most important “non-tech” suggestion for improving the working-from-home experience is to invest in an ergonomic desk chair. “You are still working eight hours, if not more, so you need a comfortable chair that can help get you through the day,” agreed Sara Evans, the lead interior designer at MidCity Office Furniture, Buffalo’s leading office furniture company. She goes on to advise that you should look for a chair with a breathable mesh back that conforms to your shape, adjustable arms that allow you to sit properly at any desk or table height, and an adjustable lumbar that allows you to adjust that tension on your lower back.
Beyond Computer Technology. In addition to the computer, a camera and a microphone go a long way to make virtual meetings more productive. If you find the built-ins in your laptop lacking, even a good pair of headphones with a built-in microphone will make all the difference. A headset can help you concentrate while the world is happening around you, and with the mic closer to your mouth, others will hear you more clearly.
Pro tip: Check into your virtual meetings five minutes early to test the video and sound as well as familiarize yourself if you are on a new platform. Remember to raise your camera height by placing your laptop on a box or books. That way you can look your team in the eyes as if you were in the same room and avoid the ceiling fan backdrop that so many poorly places cameras show.
Décor. Now that you’ve set up your workspace, turn around. What will people see behind you during your video conference? How is the lighting in the room? Consider bringing the outside in with a plant if you do not have a window nearby. Wellness plays a significant role in our overall state of mind; don’t ignore it.
Whatever you don, make sure your work-from-home space works for you! As America begins to open back up, our office spaces may become a hybrid of what used to be us behind the desk from nine to five. Outdated thinking has prevented this in the past, but there is no more denying that today’s work can happen anywhere.