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The Innovation of the Home Office

The Innovation of the Home Office

Posted In // Design Tips

Telecommuting has been gaining steam for some time. In 2009 Forrester Research estimated that almost 35 million American workers used a home office part or all of the time. That number was expected to rise substantially, exceeding 60 million, by 2016. Another assessment, per the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), found that telecommuting became 73% more prevalent between 2005 and 2011, despite hampered recession-era growth.

Furthermore, companies that Fortune included in its 100 best workplaces list largely have telecommuting programs, per Cindy Auten of Mobile Work Exchange.

Despite that overarching trend, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, created a ripple effect in 2013 when she outlawed telework at the Internet giant. She did it (somewhat ironically) to enhance collaboration and innovation with what she calls the “Reese's Peanut Butter Cups effect” – finding the value in integrating two elements through direct human interaction.

Best Buy quickly followed suit by downsizing, though not eliminating, its own incorporation of the home office.

Let’s look briefly at the two sides of the continuing debate.

Point: Home workspace design has devolved

In recent years, there has been ample implementation of open layouts, adaptive workspaces, and collaborative environments in the office. However, John Hockenberry agreed with Marissa Mayer in an op-ed for Metropolis Magazine, noting that “there had to be some intrinsic productive value to collective, face-to-face contact, or we would all still be hunter-gatherers.” Hockenberry uses his own experience with the home office to establish how it has evolved over time and question its acceptance in the business world. When John was an NPR reporter in the Middle East during the 1980s, the centerpiece of his telecommuting workspace was the Reuters wire machine, positioned beside his couch. Nearby were various reference materials and notebooks, along with a landline phone. In contrast to how “tethered” workers were to home offices in the 80s, today, telecommuting from anywhere using an iPad can result in disengagement.

Counterpoint: Modern workspace design includes the home office

On the home office skeptic side, we have Hockenberry and Mayer. Representing the alternate perspective are Cisco and the businessman who coined the terms telecommuting and telework, Jack Nilles of consultancy JALA International.

A 2009 study by Cisco found that 69% of employees who work from home reported higher productivity levels, while 4 out of 5 said that their quality of life was enhanced. Nilles, whose ideas about working from home are based on years of academic study that started in 1973, says that broadening workspace design to include employee homes improves organization, focus, loyalty, attendance (decrease in sick days), and stress management, positives that “[have] been proven repeatedly over the years” (SHRM).

The right plan for your office

Telecommuting is not an either/or proposition. Many businesses combine remote work programs with small enclaves and other spaces that allow employees to step away from their desks for focused individual work and collaborative projects. Contact a design specialist today to find out how innovative, intelligent, research-driven design can optimize your workplace.
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