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A Human-Centered Approach to Working from Home

Sara Tetreault

Brand Strategy Director, Forum One

Kassandra Swenson

Marketing Operations Specialist, Forum One

A lot has been written recently about how to work from home, everything from how to stay productive to how to make sure you take a shower and eat lunch. Taking a human-centered approach to working from home is an easy exercise in having empathy, particularly since you are the human in question and your audience (that is, your colleagues and staff) are probably experiencing some of the same challenges.

Permanently working from home is not for everyone, but sometimes circumstances make it a temporary necessity. Feeling like a human while working at home will require taking into consideration the motivations, biases, and needs of yourself and those around you: what we would call a human-centered approach. We all want to be productive while working remotely, and happiness and comfort are the keys to that goal.

Understand the situation

The first thing we do when taking a human-centered approach to designing an experience is to understand the audience it is being built for. People likely enjoy many aspects of work that they don’t realize until they are gone: catching up with colleagues, the structure and routine of it all, being able to leave work when it’s over.  Most workplaces provide structure and social interaction between colleagues and teams, which is completely lost when you are at home. If you aren’t a person who works from home on a regular basis, it can be hard to make the transition so quickly. 

The first order of business is to figure out how to replicate the experience for yourself and others so that you won’t work crazy hours, spend the whole day in your pajamas, or skip lunch. What are the challenges you are all facing to being successful in your everyday work? What do you need in order to get your work done and maintain mental stability at the end of it?

Have empathy—for your colleagues & yourself

If you’re required to work from home because your office is closed or because of “social distancing,” it’s likely that your colleagues are, too. During the COVID-19 “social distancing” period, this is meant to protect everyone’s physical health. But what about your mental health and that of those around you? Working remotely can take a toll on your mental state, particularly if you are stuck at home with children or all alone. 

Finding time to have canteen conversations like you would at work will go a long way in allowing everyone (including yourself!) to vent, talk about what’s going on in their lives, and create a community around the situation at hand. Having empathy also means practicing patience for others as you learn to navigate a shared, though isolated, working from home experience. Some people may be anxious while others are overly chatty. Practicing empathy gets to the very core of human-centered design: it allows us to understand the situation and be more mindful of how we build an experience for those who will be using it. 

Perhaps you need to set up an additional time at the start of a meeting to ensure that your team has time to talk through their experience. Setting up a time to have non-work related interactions, such as virtual coffee time or a game night or afternoon with colleagues, will help people keep a sense of normalcy. Maybe deadlines need to be extended or schedules need to be more flexible to ensure that people have time to situate their children during the day or take care of a loved one. You should also speak up and ask for these things yourself if you need them to be successful in your work from home experience.

Design an experience that works for you

Getting up first thing in the morning, picking up your laptop from the floor, and working before you’ve brushed your teeth or had your morning beverage is probably a recipe for disaster. You are likely used to getting up, taking a shower, having a hot drink, and trekking to work. A human-centered approach allows you to think about what will work best for you to replicate the environment you are used to being in while working.

Find a routine

Maybe you don’t need to get fully dressed or do your full routine, but at least leave your bedroom and put on something that makes you feel like you aren’t working over the weekend. If your organization is requiring you to be on calls, consider business on the top, weekend on the bottom. Working from home can mean that you also lose track of what time it is, working late into the night and waking up early to start the same cycle over again. Also, consider how you will stay nourished and energized either through quick snack breaks or a leisurely lunch.

Make yourself a comfortable (but not too comfortable) workspace

Understanding your mental model for the purpose of a place will be helpful in creating a workspace that is just the right amount of comfort suitable to your work. Maybe working from your bed is comfortable, but it may come with the baggage of knowing that the intention of that space is for sleeping. Try to find a space where you can set up the way you might at work, with a table and chair or however you typically sit in the office.

Measure and adjust as you go

The most successful experience design is revisited on a regular basis to determine how it can be improved and where new functionality or features can be added. The same goes for working from home. You might be thrown a new requirement, such as keeping in touch with a team in another time zone or running an event virtually, or you’ve noticed something about yourself in that working in close proximity to your television is too tempting for you to be productive.

When you get new pieces of information, use it to optimize your work from home experience by making small tweaks to make yourself more comfortable and to fortify your mental stability. These adjustments will better equip you to take on organizational changes that may affect your ability to be productive.

Learn more about human-centered design

Written By

Sara Tetreault

Brand Strategy Director, Forum One

Kassandra Swenson

Marketing Operations Specialist, Forum One

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