Aug. 9, 2022 - There's been an overwhelming number of articles, podcasts, eBooks, and other content analyzing the pros and pitfalls of remote work. The driving force behind this blizzard of info is, of course, the explosion of hybrid work realities driven by the pandemic. As the world has come to understand how to "live with COVID" with its waves, dips, and spikes, the need for the right tools and practices for remote work has become just as critical as its in-office counterpart.
A huge part of this flurry of words deals with advice: How to set up the right camera rig, how to lessen videoconferencing fatigue, and so on. All those "best-practice" columns have something in common: They all seem to traffic, ultimately, in the concept of "wellness" in the modern connected home. To help both integrators and their clients sort through it all, we've broken down the aspects of creating wellness in the residential office into three overarching topics: connectivity, environment, and scheduling.
This encompasses the traditional unified communications field that one likely first associates with a work-from-home setup. Cameras, microphones, and displays are all items that come under this broad category, and there's no shortage of excellent info on the topic. Although the tech's advanced considerably over the 18 months between now and when this piece was written, CEDIA's Walt Zerbe offers an excellent overview of home-office basics: a great signal (delivered, preferably, via hardwired cabling), the fundamentals of camera and audio needs, and a few details on lighting (more on illumination shortly).
To sum up:
Most of us likely don't need a 4K camera, but we do need an image that allows us to transmit our facial expressions clearly,
For example, note this passage from the Crestron blog that digs into the Sightline videoconferencing experience:
[The] factors that create the most natural-seeming environment for those in a hybrid meeting are increased engagement and decreased "screen fatigue." "The goal is to minimize the extra emotional and physical toll it takes on an individual to overcompensate for the unnaturalness of the environment," says [Crestron's Lauren] Simmen.
When you can see, hear, and communicate with your colleagues in a clear, distinct manner, free from the annoyances that come with a poor signal link, the disengagements that can chip away at your mental health are vastly reduced. But there's another aspect of connectivity that can interfere with your peace of mind: cyber security. As Robert Bach wrote on the Crestron blog:
IT and security experts have lived with two truisms for decades: "Anything that can be hacked, will be hacked" and "Not if, but when." … The sudden — and explosive — growth of remote workers triggered by the pandemic created new opportunities for those with malicious digital intentions.
The bad guys are everywhere, but, simply put, enhanced security measures can reduce stress. Jamie Gold, author of "Wellness by Design," notes: "Wellness also means protecting your privacy and data when your home is connected to the Internet." Crestron's Robert Bach offers several.
Crestron's partners at Delos published a terrific list regarding work-from-home stress reduction in May of this year. Interestingly, their first entry deals with the disconnection from the natural world that's so common for the modern human:
Most hybrid professionals spend a significant amount of time indoors, and it is not uncommon for a day to go by without feeling the sun on your face or enjoying a change of scenery. This sense of confinement can feel uninspiring or even detrimental to our well-being.
The starting point here: Lighting. It's a topic we've covered extensively on the Crestron blog, most notable with regard to the potential impacts of circadian (sometimes dubbed "bio-centric") lighting:
As Brian Stacy notes for the design and engineering collective Arup, there's a growing belief among his colleagues that the benefits of circadian lighting are both physical and psychological as color temperatures shift to mirror natural daylight. That shift would begin with warmer temps in the morning that drift into the blue spectrum at midday – with the effect, hopefully, of sharpening the senses as would a bright sun in a clear blue sky — then warming again into twilight.
That kind of lighting in a home office — coupled with shading that allows for natural light to fill the room — is undoubtedly beneficial. Still, other aspects of the space, from proper air quality to ergonomic furniture, are critical, too.
One more aspect to be mindful of: CE Pro founder Julie Jacobson has spoken at length about her experiences with "biophilia," which literally means "love of nature." Jacobson once kept her offices (both home and at the publication's HQ) free from any noise or motion. She learned that this was a mistake since that's an unnatural space for humans. She defined the relevant term in a glossary piece:
Stochastic Process — Randomly determined. Humans evolved to live in stochastic environments as seen in nature – critters, wind, the motion of trees, and the shadows cast by clouds. Static environments, like many offices, create fatigue and stymie productivity.
Some of the advice given to Team WFH is remarkably similar to words of wisdom we've heard regarding in-office work. Give yourself regular breaks. Get up from the desk and move about. Talk to actual humans (in person) when it's feasible (and safe).
For those holding down the home office, booking back-to-back-to-back video meetings is — while sometimes unavoidable — one of many causes of the peculiar fatigue that's become very common among remote workers. In fact, a team at Stanford University has been digging into the causes of this syndrome — constant eye contact, seeing oneself on a screen ad infinitum, and so on — and how to fix them. (One immediate tip: Turn off your camera when you can.)
Early in the pandemic, the Center for Workplace Mental Health laid out that speaks to maintaining a routine — with clear boundaries! — for the working day. (The piece from Delos mentioned above also leans into the need for set schedules.) Remote workers have often noted that the positives of losing that daily commute were often outweighed by the way in which the line between home life and office life had blurred. As Kai Ryssdal, host of American Public Media's radio show "Marketplace," noted (paraphrasing a sentiment he'd seen on social media): "We're not working from home, we're living at work."