At its worst, the home workspace is a dark, damp, depressing place. There’s a creaky dining room chair, a homemade desk, and a dead plant in a pot. But at its best, the home workspace is a clear headspace, a hidden hub for productivity, and a sanctum for dodging daytime TV.
The secret to work-from-home success has nothing to do with finances. We don’t need a third story or garage conversion to be more productive. But scientists say the size and sounds of our workspaces matter. Work in a quiet, dedicated room? Work-from-home’s desirable. Work in a noisy shared space? You can’t wait to return to the office.
What the Science Says
One in four of us will work from home in 2021. Some love it. Some loathe it. But it’s not our attitude to work that shapes our perception of WFH. It’s our environment.
Those who spend 9-5 at a quiet workspace — no dogs, no neighbors, no “Ellen” — appreciate WFH more than those in loud, cramped conditions. (Think sharing the dining room table with Lego-playing kids.)
Working in a separate room, preferably with a locked door, is the preferred option. But not all of us can afford this luxury. Only 49 percent of Americans work remotely in a dedicated room, so they’re not really “remote” at all. Fifty-one percent work from a bedroom or communal area, sharing space with kids, spouses, pets, and dirty laundry.
Give Me Space
Loud, congested workspaces wreck our collective mental health, but the problem plagues some more than others. People with a lower socioeconomic status disproportionately live in spaces with high noise levels — cramped apartment blocks, shared homes, even hotel rooms.
“Sound is a big one because it really highlights a lot of the inequities we see in terms of remote work and productivity,” says environmental-design psychologist Kati Peditto. “Individuals who have the luxury of detached offices with doors they can close, or those who can afford daycare or live-in assistance, are going to fare better in terms of productivity.”
And that sucks.
Optimize Your Workspace (Even if You Don’t Have a Separate Room)
- Create ground rules with people in your “space.” Decide who works where, when, and how.
- Block out noise with sound-canceling headphones.
- Hire a hot desk at a local co-working space. (If permitted in your city.)
- Invest in a white noise machine.
- Remove other distractions from WFH life — too much social media, the temptation to do chores, or “The View.”
- Is WFH too stressful? Get help. Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation provides financial aid and supportive counseling for theatrical exhibition and distribution workers.
Before You Leave Us
Much of our beloved theatrical and distribution talent is still working from home. But how we perceive our new work lives is all down to our surroundings. A quiet, dedicated room? WFH = good. Noisy, cramped conditions? WFH = Bad. Unfortunately, whether someone wants to return to the office could depend on socioeconomics.