Remember when working from home was a big perk?
In search of a more balanced life, the number of people working from home has been steadily rising for decades.
In mid-March 2020, many people unexpectedly got their wish to work from home. Experts say that this sudden influx of remote workers is likely to lower productivity for many.
Those who are new to remote work may share office space with children, other family members, roommates or pets. These multi-tasking environments mean little privacy and no in-person interaction with colleagues—both important elements of a happy and productive work life.
Itai Palti, Director of Hume, a science-informed architecture and urban design practice explained, “When the roles we are used to taking on outside the house are displaced into the home, this can cause dissonance. This mixing of roles in a single space means divided attention and the need to create boundaries between work and rest.”
Why Environment Matters
Most cognitive psychologists agree that attention was likely an early adaptation in the evolution of cognitive systems because of its connection to our survival. Our brains focus on the thing we want them to focus on, also known as the “conscious” or “attended” input, while also monitoring all other stimuli in the environment unconsciously.
This involuntary scanning and monitoring can be a real barrier to both working productively and relaxing and replenishing your mental reserves.
The good news is there are many small tweaks you can make at home to reduce your fogginess and up your mindfulness.
How to Design a Space That Works for You
According to architect and Reddymade founder Suchi Reddy, it’s possible to create spaces for both work and relaxation, whether you live in a spacious single-family home, studio apartment or micro-unit.
These universal aesthetic principles can boost your overall mood and focus, helping to create a space for either productivity or restoration.
Natural lighting has been shown to improve learning, mood, recovery and a variety of other indicators. Likewise, greenery and other natural features indoors may improve mood, enhance working memory and accelerate recovery from stress.
To bring a little of the outside in, try to orient your work or restorative space near a window or close to a few household plants.
Noisy environments impair cognitive functioning, so take care to create a sound barrier, if possible. Close the door to your space or try using a white noise app or noise-cancelling headphones to buffer environmental sounds.
To enhance productivity, light sources that point downward or bounce off the walls, augmented with task lighting on a work surface are recommended.
Perhaps the most easily adjustable element, Reddy suggests grabbing a soft pillow or blanket to enhance your restoration activities and a firm, supportive cushion that promotes a good work posture to enhance productivity.
Use energizing scents like rosemary, citrus and peppermint channeled through essential oils, candles or fresh fruits and herbs for a productivity boost, says Reddy. Switch to the soothing aromas of lavender and chamomile for restoration.
Perhaps most importantly, take the time to tailor your design to your personality and unique preferences.
Introverts may prefer silence, soft instrumental music or ambient noise. Extroverts, on the other hand, often prefer more background noise and music with lyrics. Plan your playlist accordingly.
Color can affect our mood, cognitive functioning and energy level, but in a highly personal way depending on age, gender, culture and several other factors. See which colors give you energy and which help you to unwind.