Having lived and worked at home for over 40 days now I want to share my personal learnings and reflections. I have spent this time 24/7 with my partner in our rented Parisian 27 square metre flat.
Having lived and worked at home for over 40 days now I want to share my personal learnings and reflections. I have spent this time 24/7 with my partner in our rented Parisian 27 square metre flat. We live on the top floor, in one of those typical Parisian buildings where the service staff used to live and the only staircase leading up here is the unfinished service stair. This is the only floor where there is more than one family per floor in the building. We share our floor with 2 other couples, 3 flats in total and we call our way of living a ‘colloc’. The six of us do not have the benefit of having any shared communal space, something we very much would have enjoyed during this confinement, but we had the joy of conversing in our balcony spaces both with our next door neighbours as the neighbours in front of us.
My quaranteen working experience
I spent a lot of intense time working on many different architectural and crossfuncional projects for Colonies and collaborating online with my colleagues these last few weeks. I do understand the importance of human connection with colleagues, but overall I feel very productive and happy, although the sometimes overload online video calls made me extremely tired some days. At the same time it is clear that as a tech company we have fabulous tools in place that mean we do not always need to be together. So what qualities in the home have I experienced being the most precious during this time in confinement and in this particular time of not having the option to go to the office or to leave the home to perform work?
1. Incredible online connection & great online collaborative working tools: the most frustrating thing is when the video call breaks up and you are looking at the frozen image of your colleague. What we are really good at at Colonies is actually the use of online working tools as Slack, Trello, Notion etc so the transition from office to homeoffice when using these tools is seamless, but depends on a stable and strong online connectivity.
2. A dedicated personal workspace: My workdesk is not big: it measures 80 by 60 cm and this dimension plus shelves above and below is really ideal for all my paperwork and sketching although a fair amount is also done on my computer. On the other hand my partner sits at our oval dining table since he is a researcher and wants to constantly look out the window in front of him to think of his best ideas. It has been essential for us both to be able to have lot’s of electrical outlets and good enough wifi and phone reception to do calls or video both of us sometimes all day long.
I also need a space to make work lists and have my working tools. I know a lot of people use online tools only but I still like the traditional Post-its and sketches that I can see at anytime even without my computer being on, I need pencils, brushes, pantones and the space to have these easily accessible to make work easy. I also find that sometime the best ideas come in calm moments or breaks so it is of vital importance to step away from your desk frequently - new perspectives is good for both the body soul and the company you work for!
3. A place to have calls and exchange with others: Be it by call, video or by talking to your coinhabitants, it is important to keep contact with the world ‘bigger than yourself’ every day to keep it real, and not fall into a bubble. As I stated before we would have loved to have a shared kitchen and livingroom to share evenings with our collocs, but the balconies had to do for this, and had its own cosy effect when we placed warm outdoor lighting and lounging music to it. One issue we had, was that often one of us had to go to the balcony or to the toilet improvising a meetingroom if we had two meetings contemporarily. A benefit would have been to have an additional potential space to go to, like a meeting hub, a cosy meeting nook or a more lively shared working space with our neighbours.
4. Let there be light: I am putting natural light high up on the list as seeing the day pass by, having the connection to the exterior world is so important for the human wellbeing. At nighttime I also realized we do not have the best lighting scheme at home, so the articicial lighting at night is not cosy and certainly not adapted for home work, something that I should definitely improve and study more about. Light and its effect on human wellbeing is a whole other chapter on its own, that needs to be tackled in depth. Poor lighting is far too often ignored in the workplace or even in residential design which is unsustainable in the long run for our mental and physical health.
5. The benefit of a familiar space: I believe in the importance of personalizing your space on a neutral base and making it familiar to you and your need. In my homeoffice space I have lots of post-it notes hanging, sketches lying around, pictures of the family I love, tomatojars with graphic design I love filled with pens and pencils of different kinds, images of logos and brands of spaces I have visited, all the things that sparkle joy within me.
My partner does not like to go to his office because it is impersonal and he is unable to concentrate as a researcher in an open space, which leaves him unproductive and inefficient. What we need to have is a space where the mind can focus and concentrate as well as break out. For breaks, our two little balconies really saved my personal mental sanity, being able to step outside easily for a stretch, to get a distant viewpoint for my eyes to have a rest from the screen. I also conducted a lot of meetings from our outdoor space.
6. Sharing is caring: Know the people next door, help and support eachother. If you are not living in a coliving, but perhaps similar to me on a floor where there are 3 young couples, you can help and support eachother easily. For printing I know I can always ask my next door neighbour or the family downstairs on the 3rd floor, if I need some homemade cookies I do my puppyface to my second door neighbour and for a song I ask my performance artist neighbour to do a concert on the balcony. The give back culture is definitely something we see as a factor to remain following this pandemic.
How many people are actually able to work from home?
In Europe overall a minimum 15% of the working population worked from home in 2019. By the end of 2020 an increase to more than 50% could be expected. During the time of covid-19 in France approximately 7.9 million (31% of the workforce) are in homeoffice (full or partial) of the total approximate 25 million working population. We clearly need to reflect and take this data into consideration in order to improve the way we combine home and work.
If the average worker spends nearly a quarter of their lifetime working (during a typical 50-year stint of employment), working in your private, semicommon and supercommon and exterior spaces (garden, rooftop…) spaces in coliving gives a real variety to pick and choose depending on your daily or hourly need.
How can we adapt the interior environment to our new needs and can coliving be a very good new form of home and work combined?
Working from home is now more than ever a phenomenon that affects a growing amount of people, by choice or not. Businesses need to keep going, employees need to stay productive and efficient and the human physical and psychological wellbeing needs to be assured. Those who have the possibility to work from home will more often take the opportunity to do so, and coliving and any type of living spaces need to cater for this need. The multitude of different scales of spaces, in a flexible format is an excellent idea. I myself lived in shared living from 1998 to 2014 so for 16 years I chose to live in a shared format in order to have access to a bigger and more beautiful space. On my own, and especially with my ever discovering travelling lifestyle, I would never have been able to afford a place with an immense garden or a rooftop terrace, and I would also have been less flexible in packing up my bags and swopping country and job easily and quickly.
So what exactly is the role of Colonies in all this? How can we make good spaces for living and working?
· For safety and comfort, including the very important acoustical wellbeing, now more than ever we see the importance of the family scale of our coliving spaces, and we are keeping it to the scale of maximum 8-12 people in a home, which gives the opportunity for a large amount of people to live in larger spaces with access to both private and shared spaces, on a familiar scale. Health & Safety as well as intimacy can then be assured much more easily and comfortably than in large scale homes of 100+ people. We really believe in our concept of the family scale, while still allowing the flexibility to be with everyone, or alone in your comfortable private bubble if so wished.
· As I felt more productive while working at home I looked up some numbers and I was amazed: Productivity in homeoffice can increase as much as to 22%. Great news for all company owners that going forward choose to let employees work more remotely, perhaps not even in the same city: the decentralization of work is happening now more than ever and is becoming real.
· Technology has an immense impact on how spaces need to be designed. The mere fact that today I can sit and work in architecture and design from a lightweight laptops is incredible. Up until 2014 I always had a fixed workstation so I could only be located in the office to perform my work. The flexibility and freedom this has allowed has an immense value to me personally. Strong and fast Internet connection, telephone reception, tech tools to be able to work collaboratively on the same files at the same time with a colleague are all amazing and necessary utilities essential in order to work successfully the way many of us will in Europe from now on. The societal changes will have the same tech requirements in the city as in the countryside; a partial demographic is expected to move to more rural forms of living, which gives an opportunity as to why not coliving, and why not also allow for colivers wishes to live and work all over our park - exchanging for example between Berlin and Paris for a change of scenery, but still knowing exactly what service to expect. There is a huge market expansion possible in simply following the way people want to live, while also pushing for innovation.
· To conclude, taking inspiration from architect Herman Hertzberger; our job at Colonies is to create the prerequisites for those who will use the space, and in particular in the case of Colonies we do not see architecture as a style, but every project is site and user specific, and we simply learn and get new ideas to test as we go along. Like Charlotte Perriand said about 100 years ago now; The subject is not the building or the object; it is the human.
Perhaps by now you are a bit curious about architecture? Here below I would like to recommend you some architectural reading tips on the subjects of living:
· Charlotte Perriand - Un Art D'habiter 1903-1959
· Gennaro Postiglione - One hundred houses for one hundred architects
· Herman Hertzberger - Space and the Architect
Laura Sundin is Head of Architecture and Design at Colonies. She studied Culture sociology at Lund University, Architecture at the Politecnico in Milan and New Entertainment design at the Polidesign in Milan and has worked across the globe both for architecture practices and brands before joining Colonies in 2018.