May 12, 2021
When the pandemic sent millions of office workers home to work, the shift was relatively simple compared to how it might have been a generation ago.
Today, laptops are easy to transport, and home broadband connections are widely available. And from cloud storage, to video conferencing, to mobile phones, there seems to be no shortage of technology that provides uninterrupted connectivity to customers, clients and colleagues from anywhere.
But there’s one thing that the majority of remote workers don’t have that could substantially help their productivity during remote work: a door. While it might sound like a small and simple thing, the ability to close a door and settle into a dedicated workspace that’s closed off from the distractions of home — whether that’s children, the TV or even the washing machine — is linked to the overall productivity of an employee.
Exploring the gender gap
In a survey conducted by my company last year, the concept of a closed door and dedicated workspace surfaced. The survey, which looked closely at the culture of a connected work environment in remote settings, was exploring the gender disparity around mental wellness between men and women who work from home when the door factor came up.
Men, the survey found, were more likely (58 percent) to feel mentally well than women (48 percent) while working from home during the pandemic. And among those, 53 percent of the men versus 39 percent of the women had a dedicated office space in the home, with a door that closed.
When I stumbled across this finding — the one about the door, not the gender disparity — it gave me pause, but I quickly realized that the finding made perfect sense. Regardless of if the work is technical or creative, the ability to shut out the distractions of home and concentrate on the task at hand is hugely significant. I certainly don’t mean to diminish the significance of the gender disparity finding, especially since the home “study” or “den” was traditionally a man’s space — the original man cave, perhaps.
Looking beyond gender
Then, I started thinking about how the door factor was about more than just gender. I thought about my own home environment today compared to my living situation during my days working in junior-level roles. Back then, I shared a place with my sister. It was a small home that was cozy enough for us to share the sofa while we watched a movie, but it would have been uncomfortably crowded had we both been forced to join conference calls from that same sofa.
That’s when I realized that, as much as gender was an important takeaway of this access-to-a-door issue, so was age, geography and socio-economic status. How many of your employees are right out of college and sharing an apartment with other roommates? How many live in a big city, where homes tend to be smaller in size? Many are raising kids or caring for elderly parents and don’t just have an extra room that can be converted into a home office.
So why does this matter, especially when the displacement caused by the pandemic is only temporary? It’s important because, like online voice and video communications, remote work is here to stay — or so say the experts.
The post-pandemic workplace
A hybrid workplace , one where some of the team works remote and others converge in an office, seems more likely for the foreseeable future, especially now that workers have proved that it can be done. As for the physical office space itself, companies are rethinking the look and feel of the workplace to accommodate a longer-lasting post-pandemic comfort level.
This closed-door revelation goes counter to the concept of open-plan workspaces, a pre-pandemic trend that was moving away from closed-door office space. The workplace of the future could end up looking like one of the past, one where office doors were the norm.
No one knows for sure what workplaces will look like a year from now, let alone a decade away. As the survey illustrated, though, there are valuable takeaways from the challenges and discoveries of non-traditional work environments from which leaders can learn from as they accommodate the next wave of employee needs. Just as work has shifted to a mobile and flexible nature, the ethos of our workplaces need to shift as well to account for changing needs, including making room for more or different physical or mental space.
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