Working from home - why smart home office furniture matters more than ever

Already before the current COVID-19 crisis working from home (WFH)was a trend that was hard to ignore. However,WFH has suddenly become the norm and with itwe see a new set of challenges forcompanies and, especially, their workforce. We used this time to explore product concepts that address the challenges of this new ‘normal’ and create a healthier and more connected home office set-up.

COVID-19 as a driver for the remote working trend

The COVID-19 crisis is not only a global humanitarian and economic crisis that has a strong impact on people, businesses and whole industries worldwide, it also affects how we organise work on a daily basis. From one day to another offices were empty, we observed companies frantically investing into much required infrastructure and rewriting home office policies. Suddenly, the global workforce was dealing with digital collaboration via video calls –including kids, dogs and donkeys.Many companiesand (painfully so) their employees realised they did not have the right set-up of tools, hardware and software, or even furniture to work from home effectively. Yet, big tech companies, such as Twitter, Square, Shopify, Facebook, Slack, Coinbase, Upwork and Fujitsu are starting to offer the option of working remotely for an indefinite time and, therefore, providea hint on how work and collaboration might look likeafter the crisis.

Home office was already on the maps before

But if we take a step back and look at the big picture, home office was a workplace trend before COVID-19 and the crisis just acts as a catalyst for change of how we view and organise work. It seems like yesterday, when companies were remodelling their officeswith the clear goal to keep employees at work as much as possible. Many employers introduced clean-desk policies, catchy meeting room names and ping-pong tables to reflect their flat hierarchy and agile culture. However, studies found that 99% of the global workforce would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers (Buffer, 2019) and would even switch to a different company that offers the opportunity to work from home (74%; Zapier, 2019).

Challenges that come with home office

Like any trend, this onecomes with its own set of challenges that need to be addressed with the right solutions:

Homes are not properly equipped.The majority ofworkers does not have the right equipment to work effectively from home. There are two major categories when we talk about the right home office equipment. First, employees need the right furniture. The wrong table and chair will affectyour health, when working from home becomes a long-term aspect of your work life. Secondly, shortcomings on the technology side of your home office will have an impact on your effectiveness, for example, many people still deal with bad or no internet connection severely limiting the options for remote collaboration.

Difficulties in unplugging from work. Remote workers face an imbalancebetween work and life as they struggle with making a clear cut while being at home. “Work is infinite,” Conrado Lamas, head of marketing at Signaturit, states. “When you work from home, your office is where you live.” Shorter and interrupted resting periodsmight cause scaling health issues and in the long run a rise in cost due to increased sick leaves.

Loneliness and missing social interactions. A study by Buffer (2019) on the state of remote work found that every fifth person working from home suffers from loneliness and misses social links. When there are no rituals and routines in place to keep a team intact and to sustain connections between remote employees, work quickly loses the social aspect that is important for a company’s culture and performance.

Less direct collaboration and communication. Strongly linked to the previous challenge, the abovementioned study found that remote workers do miss the collaborative aspect during times of home office. Scheduling an extra video call and asking a short question via mail or internal messengers becomes a hurdle for quick collaboration and communication when working remotely.This can become a greater issue when informal collaboration is your company’s or team’s strong suit and creative exchange and regular input is an important part of your work.

Distractions. There are more potential distractions at home than in an office. Indeed, in a big office there are many people that might want to talk to you casually, but these interactions build important social ties and provide an informal way of information exchange. In contrast, employees face distractions at home that endanger productivity, as there are less informal control mechanisms.

How to deal with these challenges

Aticonmobile we asked ourselveshow the home office of the future might help us deal with these challenges. We identified three factors that promote a good home office experience:

  • Healthy working routine
  • Collaboration & Social Contact
  • Focus & Productivity

With these factors in mind webuild a solution that helps to improve working from home: A smart routine creator that understands and automates routines.

The core of this concept is an algorithm that uses signals from a variety of sensors around you (e.g. presence sensor in chair) and evaluates your level of concentration, the total time of work or the need for breaks and social contact, etc. Based on the evaluation, it supports your working routine, e.g.via small, unobtrusive nudges to take a break or by automatically adjusting the environment around you to your needs.

How does it help establishing a healthy working routine? The input from different sensors is used to evaluate the time spent sitting and working at the computer. The algorithm would analysethese different cues and use e.g. a Pomodoro technique to suggest adjustments. The smart routine creator would signal the user that it is time for a break or to end the working day by slowly dimming the light in the room into a relaxing mode and turning on the lights in the living room. Being synchronised with the company communication tools, itcould evenautomatically change the user’s status.

How does it support collaboration? When on a coffee break, the smart routine creator would get cues from the weight sensor in the working chair or other sensors or smart products in the house that signal that the user is heading to the kitchen, potentially making a coffee. The abovementioned algorithm would then analyse all these inputs and change the user’s status to “Available for chat” in the company communication tool. To engage with colleagues the user’s smart speaker in the kitchen could automatically connect to a Teams/Webex meeting with close colleagues who are also on a break.

How does it increase focus& productivity? There could be a variety of cues to indicate a focused state: Putting on headphones, eye-motion monitoring or consistent keyboard typing. The algorithm would analyse sensors’ inputs and realises that the user does not want to be disturbed.It would, therefore, automatically change the status on company communication channels and snooze all notifications

Let’s make a contribution to the future of work

If you are interested in learning more about our concepts for the home office of the future or would like to collaborate with us, feel free to reach out anytime via “contact us”.