HR & Management

Why workspaces need a 'sense of home' to function better

6 min read

07 November 2018

Bringing 'home comforts' to the office boosts wellbeing and productivity.

Thanks to technology and mobility, our work has come home with us. So it’s only fair that home should come to work, right?

It would seem logical that if people sit in front of a TV on the sofa at home while they work remotely, employees should be thrilled to have a similar set up within their office.

However, in the workplaces where we’ve seen companies install couches and big screen TVs, those ‘homely’ spaces are almost never used by employees.

Those companies missed the bigger picture. Home is as much an emotional experience as a physical one. It’s more than just about comfy seating or watching a football game.

Work isn’t where you go; it’s what you do. Home is similar. Yes, it is a place you go, but more than that, it’s an experience you have. Similarly, the best workplaces create memories, capture events and tell stories.

Create a work ‘home’– and create a sense of purpose

At home, we have a role to play. The best home experiences aren’t where we get to do whatever we want, but where we’re counted on for specific tasks and contributions.

In our home, for example, our son and daughter alternated clearing and wiping the table after dinner each night. While they detested the chore and would argue about whose turn it was (and still do), deep down they knew they were important to the household and had a contribution to make.

Work is like this too. In an effective workplace, we each have a role to play and having meaningful work gives us purpose.

“When we’re valued for what we do, recognised for it and held accountable, we see how our contribution matters to the business.”

Create a space where people are held accountable, and they’ll care more

I’ve always thought if we’re not driving our kids a bit crazy, we’re probably not doing our jobs as parents.

We ensure they rinse their cereal bowl before putting it in the dishwasher and don’t allow them to leave their dirty socks laying around.

The best home life allows us to truly relax and just be ourselves, but it also holds us accountable.

“A culture is defined by the worst behavior it is willing to tolerate, and a workplace where we’re held accountable for what we do and how we do it is one where performance and people get the payoff.”

Treat workers like adults, and they should become more engaged

They say the times when home happiness declines are during the toddler and teenage years. That’s because these are the years children test limits and push boundaries most significantly.

While challenging, these are also the times when humans are growing most into themselves, finding their voices, and exercising autonomy. These are the things that make for healthy adults – and as it turns out, healthy workplaces.

‘Putting home into work’ involves giving people more choice and control. In Steelcase’s global study on engagement (Engagement and the Global Workplace), we found highly engaged people also tended to have more choice and control in their work experiences.

“Workplaces that offer choice in where people work, when they work, and how they work (what they work on) have the right idea. They are places where people get to be grown-ups and make meaningful contributions.”

The benefits of forging an ‘office family’

Perhaps most of all, at home we’re able to just be ourselves. It’s a place where people know us well, and beyond liking us because they know us, they like us in spite of what they know about us – warts and all. The best workplaces are like this too.

“Employees at one company we worked with said they felt like they had to ‘put on their armor’ when they walked in the door. This is antithetical to a great experience.”

Creating the emotional experience of home at work means people feel safe to truly be themselves and they can trust others to hold them in positive regard.

At the end of the day, home is a place where we have an attachment. It’s our territory and our cocoon. It’s a place where we care about the people and the circumstances. This is the best of the work experience, too. Great workplaces have similar characteristics.

“At its best, the workplace engages us, pulls us in, and requires our passion. Slacking isn’t fulfilling, but being challenged to exercise our skills and talents is.”

– This is the best of bringing home to work, and SME owners must try to create a workplace that allows for the conditions for us to be our best, alongside colleagues whom we value and who value us.

Dr. Tracy Brower is a sociologist and Principal with the Applied Research + Consulting group at Steelcase.