The power of art to support working from home
How curating the aesthetic of your ‘home office’ can boost productivity.
Now that so many of us are working from home, we’re confronted by a conflict of purpose – our domestic spaces now need to double as a professional work environment.
Previously, we would have relied on commutes and shared office workspaces to cue our brains to prepare for work. The act of leaving the house, travelling, drinking coffee from a thermal cup, and greeting colleagues all facilitated a transition from the private and personal to the public and professional.
Without these transitional spaces and cues, it can often be a challenge to maintain a work-oriented mindset. Not to mention the ready distractions of family members, Netflix, and the refrigerator.
But there are steps we can take to help our brains make the shift from being ‘at home’ to being ‘at work’, even though we may have only travelled a few steps.
Our brains are built to respond to a range of visceral cues, and we can use this to our advantage. By consciously curating the stimuli in our workspaces, we can signal to our subconscious that we are entering an environment dedicated to deep focus.
Everything that we sit on, sit at, drink from, and look at, can serve to keep us ‘at work’.
Bearing in mind that these new ‘office’ spaces have to fit within our living spaces, it is worth spending a little time assessing both the function and aesthetics of these cues. Because they will inhabit our domestic environment, they should serve double duty – as productivity tools that also enliven and enrich our homes.
We can break this down into 3 sensory categories – Visual, Tactile and Auditory:
What objects and artwork are in your space? In your eyeline? Have a look around you and assess whether these are helpful. Is there anything that is distracting? Is there anything that you could add as a source of inspiration?
I’ve recently created a series of posters to remind myself of key questions and ideas that I want to keep foremost in my mind. You could do something similar by placing an uplifting quote next to your monitor, hanging a picture of an inspirational figure (one of my posters is of entrepreneur Grant Cardone), choosing a fresh image for your desktop wallpaper, or even a sculptural object (Tim Ferriss recently mentioned keeping a bust of Seneca as a visual cue).
What visual cues do you want to use to reinforce your work mindset?
Designers have long appreciated how our physical experience of objects can affect our internal experience. Something that is easy to overlook until we have to interact with an object all day, every day. What are the objects that you touch on a regular basis? Are they annoying, uncomfortable or frustrating to use? What would an ideal version look and feel like? Do you have a favourite pen, notebook, or mug that you can reserve for ‘office work’?
At the very least, the objects that we handle, sit on, and otherwise physically engage with on a daily basis need to support our work. Ideally, they can also enhance our work environment. Selecting colourful, fabric bound journals, or tooled leather notebooks. A chair that is comfortable, attractive, and supports good posture. An attractive ceramic pot for pens and paperclips.
I’m a huge fan of natural materials and using handmade objects. Etsy.com and Folksy.com are great places to find handcrafted office supplies.
Our aural environment is one of the most powerful, but least curated, cues and is well worth designing consciously.
The general, predictable hum and buzz of a busy office has been replaced by the unexpected and unfamiliar noises of our neighbours, families, and even household appliances. (Now that my partner and I are both working from home, I’ve become aware of just how many mouse clicks we each make in any given minute! I’m seriously considering buying each of us a clickless mouse!)
Personal taste is key here – I can’t focus while listening to anything with lyrics, but find ambient, white-noise good for removing auditory distractions. Spotify is great for long playlists of every genre: birdsong, thunderstorms, acoustic hip-hop, even 10+ hours of music from Game of Thrones. Or curate your own playlists to generate the mood and energy that best suits the task at hand.
Moving from a work office to a home office can be frustrating, but it also poses an opportunity to revisit and refresh how you work. By consciously designing your new work environment and the attendant cues, you can create a space that not only boosts your productivity, but also enhances your home.