There is a discussion thread on the AIA Practice Management Forum which started with the question, “How is your firm ensuring efficiency in a remote working environment?”
There have been a number of replies which I would characterize as mixed.
The comments range, from expressions of gratitude for the time regained from no longer needing to endure a commute, to complaints about having to adapt to working in pdf. Keep in mind these are Architects accustomed to reviewing large scale full size sheets. Reviewing drawings on a computer screen (in pdf) is very different from being able to make comments and corrections directly onto a drawing.
Regardless of whether you relish working from home or dread it, working from home is here to stay. The sooner people internalize this, the sooner they will be able to adapt. Only then will they achieve similar or perhaps even greater levels of efficiency as compared to working from an office.
Adapting to WFH
I’ve been working from home for over 4 years now, so for me this is literally just another day in the office, but it was not too long ago that WFH was new to me too. I certainly still recall and empathize with the challenges of being thrust into it in short order.
Setting up a Home Office
When you are in an office environment, you probably don’t give much thought to the desk and chair you sit in. The organization chooses these for you and you simply show up and take your place. That changes dramatically when you work from home.
All of a sudden you need a proper workplace.
The options available for home office furniture are huge and the costs can be too.
One of the first decisions you need to make is what kind of workstation you need.
Workstations and desks can be very expensive, so for this first step I suggest beginning by establishing a budget. This will determine whether you buy an IKEA desk or something more high end. The truth is that as long as you are happy with the aesthetics, you can achieve the same level of comfort and function from a $300 IKEA workstation as you can from a $3000 high end desk.
Obviously a high end desk will last longer, but the key to being efficient is to ensure you have an ergonomic desk with storage.
Today working styles have evolved to include sit-stand desks. If you are accustomed to using sit-stand desks, you don’t need to compromise. The cost of sit-stand desks have come down dramatically over the last few years and less expensive tabletop units convert fixed table tops for a lot less cost.
Your next consideration will be seating.
While the decision to buy a desk can be driven by budget, when it comes to seating, this is NOT the place to save money. My recommendation is to invest the money to buy a high-end ergonomic chair.
You will spend a lot of time in the chair, so investing in a high quality chair is the best thing you can do for yourself.
I’m especially fond of chairs from Herman Miller. I have a Herman Miller Mirra chair which I highly recommend.
A chair like the Mirra will be very comfortable and will last a long time. The trouble with Herman Miller chairs is cost. A new Herman Miller Mirra Chair will cost over $700. The good news is that these chairs are very well built, so buying a used chair is a very good option. I purchased my chairs refurbished for less than half the cost of new.
Regardless of which chair you choose and how you buy the chair, do not compromise quality in this item. It’s one of the most important choices you will make.
I’m sure most employers will supply you with a Company laptop to work from, but working all day directly on a laptop is very bad for your posture.
In order to get your ergonomics right you have to have a separate keyboard, mouse, and monitor. These devices make a huge difference in your comfort and can make you more productive as well.
As a WFH veteran I certainly have my preferences in these areas.
Just to give a quick summary without getting too deep into these options, I will list down the devices I use:
- Monitor: LG ultrwide screen 21:9 IPS monitor
- Keyboard: Logitech G613 wireless mechanical keyboard
- Mouse: Logitech G602 wireless laser mouse
There is one other piece of technology that I think is especially crucial when you work from home. This piece helps with ergonomics and productivity but it helps with the next topic of background noises as well.
When I first started working from home, I did not have a spare bedroom, finished basement, or other isolated space where I could close my door and work privately. In fact, I still don’t.
I live in a three bedroom Townhouse with my wife and two young Daughters. Every space in our house is accounted for, so I I have no choice but to set up my working space in a communal space adjacent to our dining table.
This has made controlling background noise an especially significant challenge.
Obviously, the most effective and direct way to address this is communication. Explaining that while I’m on a call, background sounds need to be kept to a minimum, is certainly essential, but that’s not entirely foolproof.
That is why I think a noise cancelling Bluetooth headset is an essential piece of WFH tech.
I’m especially fond of the Plantronics brand of headsets. I use the Plantronics Voyager 5200. I find that these do a great job of drowning out background sounds and projecting my voice clearly. I can also hear others very well with these.
Of course there are other brands, but the main thing to look for is that the microphone should provide active noise cancelling.
In this article we have addressed the physical requirements of creating a productive work area. The complexities of working with a remote team require other considerations as well. Not to mention the psychological impacts of moving from working in a group setting to working solo.
Perhaps I’ll take those topics on in future posts, but for now, let’s get the work area right and we can deal with the other concerns later.
What about you? What tools do you use to make your home office more productive? Do you have a private work space or do you have a shared communal space? Tell me your stories
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