Ricky discusses the impact of working from home on his life and on architecture’s relationship with the work/life balance as a whole.
Sitting around the table in March last year to discuss closing The Studio and working from home for 2 weeks, I doubt any one of the team imagined it would last for as long as it has. As we approach one year on from that meeting, this insight piece reflects my experience of working from home as a newly qualified architect and touches on my thoughts on the future of the working environment.
At the beginning it was more excitement than fear, working in a new environment for a couple of weeks did not seem that challenging. However, early on excitement lessened when it was announced nurseries would shut indefinitely.
My partner and I now had to juggle our one-year-old daughter, Sienna, and our full-time jobs in our two-bedroom flat. Like tens of thousands of others across the UK we were moving into unknown territory.
We found hope through collaboration and supportive employers allowing us the freedom to work flexibly. We split our days in half, switching parent roles at lunch time and catching up on work in the evenings and weekends to achieve individual project targets.
To avoid interruption and potentially embarrassing video calls, we set up a permanent workstation within the bay window of our bedroom. Although…by month three Sienna was tall enough to reach the door handle and we thought it would be cruel to lock ourselves in!
A new temporary workstation was set up on our dining table for those meetings or tasks which could not wait. For the most part this worked well.
As young professionals and first-tim
e parents, we met the challenge head on and relished the additional time we were given together. However, as the pandemic worsened and weeks turned into months, the energy zapping task began to take its toll mentally. What initially seemed like a sprint had turned into a marathon and we were exhausted.
After being at home for five months, Sienna returned to full-time nursery in September and was very excited to be back with her friends. My partner and I also returned to a traditional working week and enjoyed having more control and structure in our careers.
I started exercising during my lunchbreak, taking advantage of working from home. Although some weeks I could only manage two days, each time was refreshing and gave me extra motivation for the remainder of the day.
Sharing a home office has its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is spending your day with another human being, which is a fortunate position to be in.
The main disadvantage is a clash of working styles that can be disruptive if you’re not used to it, as well as other issues around confidentiality and competing for bandwidth. These raise questions about hot desking across multiple disciplines.
During a recent discussion with a friend, I learnt their company will not be renewing their commercial lease in a prominent London location. They are restructuring and aim to reduce their office space worldwide by 50% by 2030. The compromise is hot desking and promoting staff working from home.
The key things I have learnt this past year is the need to have face-to-face interaction and a need to separate work and personal life.
Working from home is not a new concept, it was well established prior to the pandemic. However, the extensive use of video conferencing is, and the various platforms have been great in improving face-to-
face interaction and remote team working.
As numerous studies have already concluded, a work/life balance is critical to mental wellbeing.
As architects, the current situation should change our thinking about how internal spaces can be multi-functional, and yet, provide the opportunity to be functional.
Where space is restricted, especially in city centre locations, a separate study space is unlikely. Clever ideas are therefore needed to create a working zone within a living room or bedroom environment. A comfortable workspace can be compact and bespoke to the end user and could be in a corner of a room or close to a wall, for example, a hinged desk that can fold away.
It is important that the occupant can disconnect when the workday is finished and one way to achieve this is to incorporate movable furniture or wall panels. The process of removing the office from sight and restoring the space to its original function could become the new “commute home”.
My perception of working from home has changed. Flexible ways of working and flexible hours of working are great for many people who can accommodate it and I think it should still be an option post-pandemic.
However, I believe the working environment should return largely to pre-pandemic ways and am truly excited for when it can happen. Our main Studio in Loughton is a great environment to work in. The internal spaces have been designed to promote teamwork and creativity, and the sustainable additions are a great talking point with our clients.