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April 2, 2020

Hartford designers offer tips to maximize your home-office environment

Many employees are working at home right now as the coronavirus shuts down company offices.

As numerous Connecticut companies implement work-from-home policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many executives and employees are testing the effectiveness of long-term teleworking.

Hartford area architecture/design firms say the abrupt move to remote work is creating challenges for workers now dealing with reduced office space, more distractions and fewer technological resources.

But while the in-office environment cannot be entirely replicated at home, the remote experience can be salvaged with some creativity, they say.

Ted Cutler, principal and CEO of Tecton Architects, said his Hartford-based firm is encouraging clients and their employees to recreate certain elements of the office at home and to embrace a personalized work environment. That includes optimizing ergonomics (including buying a comfy chair), accessing daylight and creating spaces for quiet work and collaboration.

“Many people are juggling work and family priorities in the same space, and it’s easy for the lines between work and personal life to become blurred,” Cutler said. “Creating a physical separation, whether a dedicated home office, a separate room with a door, or even a less traveled corner can help minimize additional stress and burnout.”

Cutler also recommended testing room acoustics and lighting as firms rely on videoconferencing during the public health crisis.
“Ultimately the adaptation and innovation required during this time of crisis is an opportunity to develop habits that will help us all be more effective and empathetic teammates,” he said.

It’s also crucial for workers to get physically comfortable at home, according to Debra Seay, a senior project manager at Hartford’s Amenta Emma Architects. That means bringing your office chair or computer monitor home if needed.

Seay said telecommuters should also select a home area with minimal distractions and access to natural light due to its positive effect on mood. Common areas, including the kitchen or rooms with a TV, create distractions, she said.
Alyssa Jones, showroom and marketing manager at Manchester office furniture retailer Transfer Enterprises Inc., said her company has been selling a lot of accessories, especially monitor arms and keyboard trays, to people trying to make up for a lack of space at home. 
“The ultimate goal with any office accessory is to increase function and maximize workable space,” Jones said. “When you utilize a monitor arm or keyboard tray, the entire desktop is clear to work off of.”

Staying on task
For those working traditional hours, dedicated work times should be communicated to household members to maintain continuity, Seay said. She also said to be adequately dressed in case of impromptu videoconferencing; set reminders to take breaks; and step away from the computer because a break from technology is important for mental health purposes.

“Remember, we are all trying to get through these unprecedented times, and nothing is going to be perfect,” she said.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s “stay safe, stay home” policy that ordered all non-essential businesses to either temporarily close or allow their employees to work from home has created some logistical issues for employers, including Hartford’s Crosskey Architects, said Laura Crosskey, an architectural designer at the firm.

That’s because the company typically uses complex design programs in the office that rely on fast, stable internet connection.

Pivoting to remove work has also forced Crosskey Architects to reevaluate its virtual communications system as it recently implemented a video conferencing service provided by Zoom. (The California-based company in recent weeks has jumped to the top of iOS and Android app stores.)

On video conferences, Crosskey said she’s found that a flat, uniform office background helps staff maintain focus on a task rather than personal work environments.

“I think it is not only important for our environments to be appropriate for the sake of each other, but most importantly for ourselves,” she said.

It’s still unclear when the state will urge non-essential offices to reopen, or how the temporary office closures will impact telecommuting in the long term. 

As previously reported, some business and transportation leaders across the region expect that more employers in-state will adopt telecommuting as they see workers being productive at home amid the current health crisis.

HBJ Editor Greg Bordonaro contributed to this report

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