The Remote Office Frontier

Whether it's an apartment in Shanghai or a cottage in a small English town, people are moving out of the office and into workspaces that are full of pots, pans, pets, kids, spouses and noisy neighbors. In the premiere episode of Remote Works, we visit two home office rookies in China and the UK as they grapple with the shift to remote working. Amanda Carroll, Managing Direct & Principal at architecture and design firm Gensler, talks about how our new remote workplace might change the way we work forever. Arjun Kaicker, head of Insights and Analytics at Zaha Hadid Architects in London, explores the way offices have evolved pre-pandemic and how they will have to change now.

PODCAST | 20m
May 20, 2020
S1:Ep1

Executive summary

  • Finding the right home office space for optimal work life balance
  • Giving employees the right technology to succeed wherever they are
  • Exploring theories on what the office of the future will look like

Featured voices

  • Melanie Green, host
  • Amanda Carroll, Managing Director and Principal, Gensler
  • Arjun Kaicker, Head of Insights and Analytics, Zaha Hadid Architects

Melanie:        

Businesses have always had prognosticators, futurists, people that get paid a lot of

money to figure out where we'll all be in a few years. I think we can all agree that businesses never expected an overnight shift to remote working, the way we've seen as of late. Sharing your office space with children, pets, and spouses. But this isn't the first time we're seeing something like this.

You might not know his name, but you recognize him. Back in March of 2017, Robert Kelly was being interviewed on the BBC when his two young children barged into his home office on live national TV. Remember the baby in the round walker? Now that was cute. That moment of toddler joy took the internet and the world by storm. But now three years later, we're all at home having our own Robert Kelly moments.

Your weekly marketing meeting has been photo bombed by your cat. Your teenage son wanders in, in his underwear.

Your neighbor decides to demolish his dry wall the moment you dial in for the client presentation. Just another day at the office.

My name is Melanie Green. You're listening to Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. It's all about the world of remote work, from innovative companies and industries sharing best practices, to the realities of supporting and enabling a remote workforce. We'll dive into topics about employee experience, leadership strategies, building a remote culture and methodologies of building trust, all through the lens of remote work.

Today on Remote Works, The Remote Office Frontier, an episode about the challenges of moving out of the office and into a place that's full of pots and pans, and pets, and kids, and coffee makers, and noisy neighbors, and well, you get the picture. But it's also a place where you can create your own workspace, custom made to your needs. So many of us are becoming home office designers and some of the lessons we're learning from creating our home offices might actually inform the traditional office spaces of the future. It's an evolution in design that, for a lot of people, start something like this.

Lizzie
You want to go to the trampoline with your baby?

Daughter
Yeah.

Lizzie
Okay. Well, we can do that as well, but Mummy needs to do some work quickly, is that okay?

Daughter
Yeah.

Lizzie
Yeah? Okay, fine.

Melanie
Lizzie Dummer, her husband, and daughter live in the UK. They're about 40 minutes outside of London in Bishop's Stortford. That's a town of about 40,000 people. Lizzie works as a PR manager. When the UK went into lockdown during the pandemic and everyone went home to work, Lizzie's first thought was-

Lizzie              
The day that we found out that we had a complete lockdown was quite daunting, especially because my daughter goes to nursery, and it meant that my childcare wasn't obviously going to be in place to be able to look after her when I'd have to work from home. So it made a huge change for us.

Melanie
Fortunately for Lizzie, she worked in a company that had anticipated how the pandemic might impact the way we work.

Lizzie
My boss is a really great guy, and he's a guy who is very much a planner. And he had said every day before we left the office, previous to the lockdown, take your laptops home. You just don't know what's going to be around the corner. You don't know what we're going to wake up to the following day.

Melanie         
Lizzie knew she'd have access to the equipment she needed, she got used to bringing her laptop home with her. When the lockdown did happen, she was prepared to build her office at home. The right technology was the key aspect of feeling productive at home.

Lizzie
Before the lockdown properly came in, in the UK, I went to my office and I picked up my second screen, and I picked up a few other bits and pieces, to really be able to make my designated work area at home feel like a work area, and not just a pop-up laptop on a desk. I think that was really key, to be able to bring some of my office to my home office, because it just made me feel a bit more at home. And it made me feel a bit more like I would be able to be a lot more efficient if I had the right tools to be able to do what I do in the office normally.

Melanie
Doing things normally also meant rethinking her workspace. At first, Lizzie set herself up in the kitchen, right in the heart of her home. For a while, it was great. She could look out into the garden and see her husband and daughter playing outside, but she realized the things she was used to doing at the office wouldn't all be possible in her kitchen workspace.

Lizzie
As time went on, I really needed to have a designated office with a door, that I could shut and I could get on with the work for a few hours and then come down and be Mum. As lovely as it is all being together, sometimes you just need some headspace to get away, to actually get on with your job, and feel like you've done a really good day's work.

Melanie
So she put a little fresh paint on the walls of her daughter's old nursery and moved her desk out of the kitchen and into a more private workspace. The privacy made her job easier, having uninterrupted opportunities to talk to clients, and the proper technology to seamlessly continue her work was key.

At the same time, Lizzie wonders about everyone working remotely and the need for technology to be able to scale up and down for entire workforces.

Lizzie
As long as the technology can stay up with what the needs are for the public, I think we'll be fine, but you just hope that it'll still continue to offer what we all need.

Melanie
Since she's made the quick switch from office to home, Lizzie's reflected on what it takes to make remote work, work. Her advice for the rest of us who are still reeling from leaving the office behind?

Lizzie
Don't sweat it. Some days I leave my little office and think, great, that's worked really well today. I've done a really good couple of hours. Let's go have a cup of tea or have some lunch, or whatever. You go back up and you can carry on working really, really well. There are also some days where I can't get in the zone and I'm finding it really hard to concentrate, or my daughter needs me, or my husband needs something, or I'm being pulled in a million different directions. And you get to the end of the day and you think, I've not really accomplished anything.

Melanie
And what about whether we're going to be able to stick to a nine-to-five schedule?

Lizzie
People are working from home and I think there has to be some leeway, and some sort of flexibility. And you have to take the rough with the smooth. And some days you have great days and some days you'll have trickier days, but I think if you balance them all together, I think overall, if we're all getting through this and we're also happy at the end of the day, and we're all still getting our job done within some degree, then I think it's a positive.

Melanie
For Lizzie, it's all about balance. She needed to find the right space and technology to work from home, and find the happy divide between how much time she would spend with family and how much time in her private workspace. Meanwhile, a continent away, in one of the world's largest cities, while Lizzie was converting her daughter's nursery, Lily Yaping Lang had been in lockdown for weeks.

Lily
I work as the application engineer in a multinational software company.

Melanie
The software company Lily works for is in Shanghai. When the lockdown kicked in, Lily self isolated in her own apartment in Shanghai, then moved to her family's apartment to be closer to them. Her brother had also moved into the family apartment to work, and to wait out the lockdown. Space was tight. Lily set up her laptop in the living area, so did her brother.

Lily
Actually, we don't have the independent workspace at my home for that so I just got a pair of ear plugs and have my dining table as my work desk.

Melanie
So picture this: a tiny apartment. Lily at the dining table, her brother in the living area. Meanwhile, her parents were just a few feet away in the living room, doing their best to keep the TV volume low. It was frustratingly hard to concentrate. In the tiny space, Lily couldn't even get up to walk around and clear her mind. Staying focused was pretty much impossible. Eventually, Lily was able to move back to her own apartment in Shanghai, although using technology like a traditional VPN that doesn't adequately meet the needs of evolving use cases, it took some time before Lily could work the way she was used to working at the office.

Lily
I can't do anything without connecting to a VPN, but as we all know, all the VPNs suck, so I can be better if that connection is better.

Melanie
Before the pandemic, Lily wouldn't have considered remote work.

Lily
In my opinion, I thought people should be working in the office. If I'm managing a team, I would worry about the productivity and effective communication, and such problems.

Melanie
But as time went on, Lily got used to working from home. She learned a valuable lesson in remote work. For Lily, having a similar schedule and the right technology to do what she had done in the office was important.

Lily
For the lunch break, I just go to the bedroom to take a nap, and they have a quick lunch and get back to the desk to work again.

Melanie
Lily's employer became more creative about connecting to employees.

Lily
The company opens up a channel for all of the employees to post their work from home pictures, anything about their daily life to keep the connection between the employees. And it's actually making me feel more connected to the wider range of my colleagues. We don't have to be physically together to get things done in a professional manner. And it also makes me think that working from home is actually helping us to organize our work and life better, because you have more freedom to allocate your time. And also to get the work done.

Melanie
Lily says that working from home gives her more freedom to get her work done. So, as we plan for the future, turning to flexible work environments that enable employees to do very best work wherever they are, will keep us and our teams on track.

Amanda Carroll is a managing director of the New York office of Gensler, an architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm. Amanda believes that this remote work experience has had a huge impact on the way we work. It's opened up bold new ideas about workplaces, not just in our home, but back at the office. Amanda says, employees are going to have a new benchmark for what their experience should be working from home.

Amanda
And a much more informed point of view on how, when starting with a blank slate, they can be their most effective. And with also no confinement around where they choose to work within their own home, they may be surprised and, potentially, now more informed by some of the choices that they make. Those adaptations, I feel, will be very beneficial to the way that they come back to work, the mindset and the attitude that they bring to the office, because there will be a lot of experimentation around the individual's routine, during this work from home, that will ultimately create a more informed participant in the workplace.

Melanie
Amanda thinks that when we return to the office, mental health and employee well-being will be a stronger focus for businesses.

Amanda
Work wellness has been a key focus for architecture and design since its inception. It started with life safety, then it went to ADA, then to sustainability. More recently, we had diversity and inclusion as a hot topic and an area for more widespread focus. And alongside all of that was, at its core principle was, a need to protect and enforce health and well-being prioritized in the workplace.

Now, we're really truly talking about health. The overall well-being aspect is something that is right there, standing front and center next to it because there is so much anxiety, and stress, and angst that individuals are feeling around their jobs, and their health, and their home life, and what the future looks like.

Melanie
Amanda predicts a major shift in office culture as well.

Amanda
It's going to be adapted to new policies and procedures that we will see written in the coming months. And that a lot of individuality will take shape in the way that people author their days, in the way that they return to work, in the manner with which they collaborate with their teams. There's going to be a much more sophisticated combination of routines, efforts, policies, procedures, and ultimately, personal definition of how work will take shape.

Melanie
So how will offices change post pandemic?

Arjun
Over the last 15, 20, 25 years, workplaces have changed pretty radically.

Melanie
Arjun Kaicker is Head of Insights and Analytics at Zaha Hadid Architects in London. He says the way offices have evolved pre-pandemic will have to change now.

Arjun
They used to be a lot more closed off, they used to be a lot less dense than they are now. People are packed into offices a lot more than they used to be. And I think that there's going to be a real shift with that. That workplaces are going to be a lot less dense going forward, that they're going to really thin out because we're social distancing, even if that's just in the short to medium term, that's an absolute necessity of workplaces. But then going forward, I think people are just going to be a lot less comfortable, feel a lot less comfortable sitting very close to people.

Melanie
When you think about an office space, it's much more than just desks. There are hallways, common areas, and of course the center of it all, the meeting room.

Arjun
I think meeting rooms will have to be a lot more generous with people, a lot more spaced out in them. People are going to want to use elevators, lifts, less than they do at the moment. And one of the best ways to do that is if you've got a building where people might just go across two or three floors, is to put in staircases and not just fire escapes, but attractive stairwells that are easy to access for people.

Melanie
When we think about the office of the future, we are looking at what's worked in the past through a new lens. It's taking the best of what works with interior and architectural design, and blending it with the latest in technology. It's also planning for and enabling agile work models, to ensure continuity from office, to home, and back.

Arjun
And then I think that, that another thing that is going to happen as well is, there might be a shift away from people feeling as comfortable working in very high rise office buildings. Maybe they'll feel less comfortable sharing an elevator with people from 40 different companies who might be in that building on 40 different floors. There might be a move to more lower rise office campuses. I think another thing is that there might be a lot less open plan. There might be more of a move back to people having their own offices, with a door they can close. Although not necessarily a door with a door handle, maybe an automatic door that will close as they walk in through it.

Melanie
See, an innovative take on the past, a new look at automatic doors. This is the Final Frontier, just like James T. Kirk. And we're all wearing our pajamas just like on the Enterprise.

Until next time, I'm Melanie Green. You've been listening to Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. To learn more about how to make working from anywhere work for you, visit citrix.com/RemoteWorks.

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