Suddenly working from home? How to stay productive and sane

Suddenly working from home? How to stay productive and sane

For some people working from home is a regular practice but for most of us it’s a new way of working and presents new challenges – especially if you are with family who are now at home too.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, Managing Director of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy said: “People are all at once discovering the benefits and frustrations of remote working. But you can take cues from great workplaces. You’ll get more done and feel better when your technology, space and the ways you need to work come together. Working from home should be no different.”

Here are some practical tips about how to improve the work from home experience.


It’s tempting to be “on” constantly when you work from home. Others find being home distracting and challenging to stay focused and productive. “Identifying boundaries can help you maintain a healthy and productive balance. Decide on your schedule each day and try to stick to it,” Galloway-Gaul advised.


If you are not at your computer, be sure to communicate that with your colleagues. Make your calendar visible to your team, update your status in any team/collaboration software you use or even leverage your out-of-office auto reply. Let your team know when you’re going to be away and when you’ll be back, especially when you work in different time zones.


Think about ways to keep relationships intact while working from home and practicing social distancing. Said Galloway-Gaul:” Consider creating a group chat for social interactions – during stressful times, everybody loves a good meme. Schedule coffee with a colleague over video to catch up. Remote workers need more of these checkpoints than those who are in the office.”


It can be easy to slip into a siloed work experience when everyone is working on their own, especially during more socially isolating times. Institute a quick daily virtual team connect to keep work moving forward.


The tools available to distributed teams aren’t perfect. No one technology does it all. “Pick some consistent tools for instant messaging, video conferencing, sharing documents, file transfers, etc. to keep your team connected virtually while social distancing,” Galloway-Gaul noted.


Video should be the default setting for any remote collaboration. Seeing facial reactions and body language lets you “read the room,” plus people are less likely to interrupt or speak over one another. “To do it well, keep the computer at eye level – put it on a stand or further back so it isn’t looking up your nose. Look into the camera and use natural light, but avoid putting your back to a window or you’ll look like a silhouette.”


“Avoid rooms with lots of hard surfaces that echo – like a kitchen,” said Galloway-Gaul. “Choose rooms with rugs or other softer materials, like the living room.” Headphones provide a better experience than computer audio. Finally, if you’re late for an online meeting or not speaking, mute your audio to avoid disrupting the conversation.


Not everyone has a home office, so think about establishing a territory that clearly signals “I’m at work.” Discuss protocol with other members of your household to signal when you’re “on at work,” even if you’re reading on the sofa. If you tend to be distracted by other household demands, find a way to create visual boundaries so you don’t see the dirty dishes. And, if acoustics are an issue and you can’t shut the door, headphones may be your new best friend.


A risk of working from home is becoming more sedentary. Look for ways to vary your posture and the spots where you work throughout the day. “Sit, stand, perch, go for a walk ¬– activating the body, activates the brain and can keep you from going stir crazy.” Galloway-Gaul added.

Particularly important: Most people slumped over their laptop and look down onto their screens when they have converted the dining room chair and table to an office. “We strongly suggest raising the laptop, even if on a couple of books, which allows the screen to be at the same level of your face. This is much better for your body, dramatically reducing strain on the back and neck.

Isla Galloway-Gaul is the Managing Director of Inspiration Office.

When hot desk turns into hot mess – time for an office rethink

When hot desk turns into hot mess – time for an office rethink

HOT desking, the idea that a desk in an office is used by my many people whenever they find it free, has mushroomed in use over the past decade. This is despite growing evidence that it is often highly unpopular with workers – and possibly bad for them too.

“The idea behind hot desking is simple: you could save a lot of money by reducing the amount of expensive office space needed by sharing the many desks that are unused while people are away in meetings or working elsewhere,” said Isla Galloway-Gaul, managing director of Inspiration Office.

She explained that while these cost-saving ambitions are admirable, the second-tier effects of hot desking haven’t been fully considered – especially by companies that haven’t adapted their offices to accommodate a style of working that is unfamiliar to many.

“We’ve noticed that workers often have to spend time finding somewhere to sit and can spend as much as 20 minutes a day on average looking for a spot. Clearly, this is unproductive and particularly impacts (on) those who have arrived later to work. It can mean that once someone has finally found a desk, they are already quite stressed even before the workday has begun.”

While hot desking suits some people, it can adversely affect those who have to be in the office each day and need to know they’ve got everything they need where they need it. Not knowing where the people you need to collaborate with are sitting can also impair productivity. “Often a query can be solved much quicker by simply going over to a co-worker’s desk, rather than relying on email ping-pong. But that can’t happen if you’re wandering the floor trying to find them,” said Galloway-Gaul.

“In many workplaces now, poor acoustics and lack of visual privacy are a major concern,” she added. “But they’re fixable.” Hot desking doesn’t have to be a complete disaster, and employers could be doing a lot more to make it work better for everyone. For example, they could consider acoustic treatments for noisy open-plan offices and ensure there is a decent balance of collaborative and private work areas.

“Rows of open-plan space with hundreds of desks are not appealing to anyone. Companies need to rethink how people move, create and collaborate – and then translate that into a thoughtfully designed space.” Galloway-Gaul recommended that companies use light-scale, light-weight, easily movable furniture. It allows teams to feel empowered to take over the space and easily create one that best suits their needs.

Another suggestion is to combine furniture and technology in a way that encourages equal contribution by all team members. “Companies also need to enable privacy and control over the environment by providing ‘safe haven’ spaces where new ideas can incubate,” she concluded.

Isla Galloway-Gaul is the managing director of Inspiration Office, an office space and furniture consultancy.

How an attitude adjustment can shift the traditional office

How an attitude adjustment can shift the traditional office

The speed and changing disruption to the global business environment has leaders rethinking how to create more robust organisations – the impact is likely to be felt most keenly in the office, the frontline of the change.  

Isla Galloway-Gaul, the managing director of Inspiration Office, an office space and furniture consultancy, said: “Business leaders are reporting and working on new ways to create a more agile workforce and boost employee engagement. Collaboration and inclusion is increasingly important for companies to thrive as vibrant organisations.” 

So, what major changes are on the way? 

Physical space as a tool
Instead of a private office, which can often create a barrier between colleagues, executives are increasingly using open-plan workstations. 
She said: “To stay within a closed office is representative of an old management style of clear hierarchy, which is no longer a good perception for management.
“Increasingly, the culture and personality of the leader who needs to be physically seen by his workers, especially in moments of uncertainty, is catching on.” 
Leaders are, therefore, placing themselves in the midst of the flow of ideas and people. The invitation to the rest of the organisation is clear. Anyone can work anywhere, no matter what his or her title or status may be. The leadership prototype is no longer a destination. It is a thoroughfare that is opening up and strengthening relationships.
A physical workspace can send a message to employees. Leaders need to be involved in how the workplace supports their people. 

New mobile world 
“These new ways of working require an evolution of the workplace environment designed to support new leaders. Forward-thinking organisations are recognising how the work environment can be used more efficiently as people are now able to work anywhere, anytime.” said Galloway-Gaul.
 Because of this phenomenon, many companies have a reduced real-estate footprint, making it even more important to fully leverage existing office space. 
“There’s great benefit to this ability to work while on the move, but there are risks in working away from a centralised office. They are that executives face even greater challenges in maintaining relationships and connections, especially in globally integrated organisations,” she added. 

How design matters even more 
The office is of course front and centre of the changes needed for an inclusive culture. “There are new ways to see the office, particularly for leadership teams, so that all their functions are easily carried out,” said Galloway-Gaul. 
Steelcase, a global office services design company, has created a simple model. It encompasses the following:

Space as nexus 
Because organisations are more networked and integrated, and because executives maintain tightly controlled schedules to respond to demands for their time and presence, maintaining relationships is a challenge. 
Leadership environments can help to better connect people and information. These spaces can also provide remote executives with a virtual presence more similar to the leaders who are physically in the room.

Nurture the individual 
Science has confirmed a link between physical and mental health, and how our brain performs. “Significant stress can impact on how we think and solve problems if it isn’t managed properly. A workspace designed to help leaders deal with stress and promote their well-being can improve cognitive performance,” she added. 

Enable transitions 
Leaders need to constantly switch gears throughout the day and those shifts cost time – a critical resource. The workplace can help to speed up contextual immersion and support leaders get into flow faster.

Isla Galloway-Gaul is the managing director of Inspiration Office, an office space and furniture consultancy.
What office workers can learn from successful rugby teams

What office workers can learn from successful rugby teams

THE business case for increased collaboration in the workplace keeps getting stronger, according to Isla Galloway-Gaul, the managing director of Inspiration Office, a space and furniture consultancy.

A new study conducted by Steelcase, a global offices services design company that is represented by Inspiration Office in South Africa, found that 90% of staff said collaboration is essential to create new and better ideas. Business leaders are even more convinced, with 93% believing it is essential to generating successful ideas.

She said: “As teams increase their collaboration, teams innovate faster, achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. Profitability also increases.” Galloway-Gaul added that the working world now requires rapid responses that focus on creativity, innovation and design, rather than solely on delivery. “To achieve this, work will increasingly be project-based rather than segmented by department, and will need to take place across teams and silos.” She likened the approach to the difference between a rugby team and a swimming team.

“Swimmers stay in their own lane, but rugby players interact and transition constantly, relying on one another to win. Teams today need to do that too – navigate a fast-paced flow, bouncing between team members, iterating and improving on one another’s ideas. Everyone is responsible to keep work moving forward.” But most offices are still designed to support individual work in a linear process.

“These businesses risk losing out,” she warned. “Companies that promote collaborative work are five times more likely to be high-performing, according to the Seattle-based Institute for Corporate Productivity. “This drive for increased collaboration has led to the amount of time people spend in team-based work to explode, ballooning by 50% in the past two decades, according to The Harvard Business Review.

Today, people are spending more than half of their day collaborating with others.” How should teams adapt to the increased focus on hyper-collaboration and the need for greater interdependence? “Work is becoming much more dynamic,” said Galloway-Gaul. Teams are increasingly leading workshops, brainstorming, filling walls and whiteboards with content and coming together to share their ideas. Team members sit together so they can interact with one another in real time, build cohesion and work faster.” However, she added that they also need moments of retreat from the group to focus, absorb information and process their own ideas.

Another factor, the Agile Revolution is increasingly taking root at work. “Agile is a set of values and principles derived from software development and now used by lots of industries to improve speed, flexibility and customer focus. “Agile teams structure their work into a sequence of activities that guide them to execute quickly, monitor progress and readjust workflow. Their practice includes daily stand-up meetings, pair-based work and sprint reviews. These teams constantly shift between modes of work, working alone and together as the task demands,” said Galloway-Gaul.

Isla Galloway-Gaul is the managing director at Inspiration Office, a space and furniture consultancy.

5 ways to make the office more productive

5 ways to make the office more productive

FOR many employees, well-being in the workplace means physical health: ergonomic furniture, a fitness centre and healthy choices in the canteen. 
But while these things are vitally important, they don’t make up the full story. 

Isla Galloway-Gaul, a managing director of Inspiration Office, a space and furniture consultancy, said that many organisations are thinking about well-being more holistically and realising cognitive health is just as important as physical health. 

She said: “All workplaces need to consider a range of health dimensions such as cognitive, emotional, social and financial too. Without these in the mix, the more traditional health considerations won’t be nearly as beneficial.” 

A recent study by Ohio State University and the National Institute of Mental Health in the US showed that the physical work environment dramatically influences emotional and physical well-being. 

Galloway-Gaul said: “Workers in an old-style office space (low ceilings, rows of cubicles, limited natural light, noisy air handling and unattractive views) had significantly higher levels of stress hormones and heart rate variability than workers in more open, spacious, well-lit offices. 

“Most worryingly, these rates stayed high even when workers were at home, which underlines just what profound impact the workplace has on everyone’s health.” 

In other research, Steelcase, a global firm of office architects and furniture designers, identified some common principles for cognitive well-being at work. They include: 

1. Support a range of places
Every worker wants some control over how they work. “Superior connections and support for technology, plus an adequate array space can transform even a small footprint into an appealing, effective space for work,” said Galloway-Gaul. 

2. Support an easy switch between the modes of work
Different kinds of workplace settings make it easier for workers to tap into the vibe they seek and transition between work modes. “For example this could mean a quiet booth for solo work or a more relaxed lounge setting for a team chat,” she said. 

3. Support expectations for collaboration and privacy
Although people tend to think of privacy in relation to other people bothering them, it really needs management to support a culture that doesn’t look down on people working in different ways. “The message needs to be sent to people that it is okay to work alone or in groups as you see fit,” Galloway-Gaul advised. 

4. Make common spaces an instant fit 
Intuitive adjustments and easy technology connections make common spaces uncommonly supportive for on-the-move individuals and teams, enabling them to be efficient right from the start. 

5. Help employees identify mental health risks
“Promoting good mental health in the workplaces is one of the most important steps employers can take to improve their organisations. Helping people recognise the signs of illness such as depression can assist in earlier treatment and better recovery outcomes,” Galloway-Gaul concluded. 

Isla Galloway-Gaul is a managing director of Inspiration Office, a space and furniture consultancy.

Pin It on Pinterest