With the airwaves dominated by talk of Brexit, you’d be forgiven for thinking this blog is about the governmental department. A topical thought-piece on immigration and national security, perhaps?
Not today. Instead, I’d like to share with readers my home office – a place of sanctuary away from distractions and, dare I say it, the somewhat calamitous political landscape of the UK right now.
The nature of my day job dictates a significant proportion of my time is spent behind a screen or taking video calls with colleagues from around the globe. Indeed, my “official” location for work has been home for nearly 10 years now. So, when the opportunity arose to design my own bespoke home office set-up in my garden (after years of working out of the “spare room”), I seized it with both hands.
The principles for optimising the space centred around three key factors. It needed to be:
Bright, airy and well-lit
Minimalist in design to eliminate distractions and the temptation to procrastinate
ENTER THE iMACS...
I’m yet to meet someone who has been underwhelmed by their first experience with an Apple computer. For most – as it was for me - it is the entry point to a lifelong affinity with Apple products.
It was a no-brainer, then, that my new office outfit should be kitted out with as many iMacs as I could find a purpose for. Seven in total.
I have two desktop-based iMacs for day-to-day work including presentations, demos and managing situations such as outages or security incidents, with a further five iMac screens embedded within the wall. I use these to display useful information – time zones, reports, key metrics, deadlines and so on. Linked to the desktop computers is a microphone, regularly used for recording voice-overs – many of which you can hear on this site!
I also have a projector screen which comes down on the wall in front of my desk. It’s great for movies but also for large town hall meetings. I typically use the screen to display what others are presenting so I can work on my iMac at the same time.
But, whilst on paper working from home sounds like a cushy existence, the reality can be extraordinarily tough…
IT CAN BE LONELY
If you’re used to working in a bustling environment or, like me, enjoy lively and varied conversation, the silence of solitude can be deafening at first.
There are days that pass by where you might spend 8 hours on back-to-back phone calls, and yet feel like you haven’t spoken to a single soul all day. Global video conferencing is one of the many wonders of corporate technology, but it still amazes me how disconnected this “connected’ medium can feel on a personal level. No amount of FaceTime can replace face-to-face time, and that soon becomes apparent when you spend your day, alone, within the same four walls, without a co-worker to talk tech with over morning coffee.
Luckily, I travel for about 50% of my working week, so only a proportion of my time is spent alone at home. However, there are members of my team (engineers and software developers) who only travel for work one week per year, for our annual team meeting. To combat feelings of disconnect and to ensure their well-being, we track wellness and health-related activities via Slack and encourage one another to enjoy the great outdoors as much as possible.
SETTING A SCHEDULE IS VITAL
Without a regular daily commute (a walk to the station, for instance), exercise can prove tricky to accommodate. Whilst I genuinely love going to the gym, my good intentions to attend regularly become just that – intentions. By the time I have woken up and seen my inbox overflowing with unread messages, it is too late to divert my attention from the digital realm to the physical one.
My solution? For the past six months, I have employed a personal trainer to visit my house three times a week to exercise outdoors. I haven’t missed a single session, and the resultant increase in my energy levels and improved state of mind are testament to its success.
Despite the sarcastic and downright hilarious Twitter threads poking fun at Peloton bikes, I frequently use mine as a stress buster. Short bursts of exhilarating exercise are the perfect antidote for my otherwise sedentary state, and I wouldn’t be without it now.
IT TAKES DISCIPLINE
For me, the hardest part is knowing my favourite people in the world – my wife and children – can be mere metres away in the house and I’m unable to join them. It is one thing to share a family meal with them each evening and read them a bedtime story, but it’s another thing entirely to have an area of your home out-of-bounds to them. An area you reside in for hours at a time on an evening or during school holidays, and of which they cannot be a part.
Separation is key, but it is challenging. It is not the same as waving goodbye to your colleagues on an evening before undertaking the hour plus long commute home. In these instances, the physical distance between work and home can be hugely beneficial to your state of mind.
However, we live in an age now where it is considered “normal” for employees to take their work laptops home on an evening, to be on call 24 hours a day, to be omnipresent and always available at the behest of their employer. It’s called “going the extra mile”. Or at least it used to be. Now it could just be called employment!
On this basis, it was incredibly important that I designed a space that would inspire me every time I crossed the threshold. I genuinely love what I do - I’m one of the lucky ones, but it’s obvious to me that environment plays a huge part in productivity, fulfilment and overall wellbeing.
Habits play a significant part too, and my top tip to aid separation is to change your clothes. I often wear a shirt to work even though I’m technically at home. Many of the video conference calls I partake in include teams with dress codes, so it is important that I’m presentable and smart too. I am representing my employer as well as myself, after all. There is also something incredibly satisfying about switching to casual wear in the evening when returning home to bathe the kids. It’s only a small thing, but it has a huge impact.
Similarly, I have calibrated my home automation system to kill notifications to my phone and watch when I'm away from my physical office. The barrage of incoming email and Slack messages is constant, and it’s very important to me that I’m not distracted when spending time with my family.