The Myth of the Ideal Workspace and What Environment Is Best for Focus
The wide spread rapid adoption of remote work has been largely successful, and here to stay in some capacity. This isn’t just because people work better at home than at the office, but because people work better when they have more control over where they work. Now that millions more people have this control (whether they choose to stay home, go back to the office, or pick a third option) they are more conscious about their workspace. Know first off that there is no ideal workspace, and whatever workspace your old office utilized, whether it was quiet and closed or raucous and open, isn’t the “ideal” either. Your space doesn’t need to reflect that of your co-workers. As long as your work is still good, your space could be a park bench or walking on a treadmill. We aren’t talking about equipment here by the way; stand up desks or double monitors. We’re talking about environment, and that brings as many options as there are habitats on this earth.
WHY NOISE IS YOUR FRIEND
One of the aspects of office life you might miss is the noise. Not that it was loud, but there was always some sort of background noise going whether it was a printer, or a conversation, or just someone’s footsteps. In your home office, you may have none of those, unless you live right next to a train which isn’t the kind of noise you want. While on the surface this setup may seem superior, noise, at least in the background, can be far more beneficial to productivity than you might think. In some ways, silence can be more of a distraction than noise because we feel as though we need to fill it.
There are plenty of ways to create this noise outside the office. If you’re at home, turn the TV on, play some music, open the windows, or invest in one of those cute indoor waterfalls. You should spend time trying to calibrate your ideal noise situation, and noise doesn’t only mean sound. Noise in this case means any type of information going on around you that fills your senses, but isn’t your main focus. You could turn the TV on, but keep it on mute, or maybe you can get one of those lamps that cycle through colors, or maybe you work up against your window so you can see people on the street. Some combination of visual and audio noise may be best. Perhaps you have the TV on mute and are playing classical music, or perhaps the TV sound is on but you're facing out a window.
THESE ARE THE BREAKS
Your workspace is just one part of your overall work experience. Knowing your natural rhythms will help further inform the space you’re in, and it doesn’t have to be just one. Maybe you are a real “sound of silence” kind of guy when you work, but what about when you take a break? Where should those breaks be? Do you want the breaks to be silent or more noise-filled? When taking a break, or grabbing lunch, it’s healthy to leave your workspace. This could just be to a different room in the house, or it could be to a park or a restaurant. The point is, your ideal workspace doesn’t have to be just one space. Whether you change spaces for a break, or you move every time you focus on a new assignment, variety can be incredibly helpful when it comes to focus and productivity. If you’re tackling simpler tasks like data entry or writing emails, you may want to choose purposeful distraction to help you accomplish these boring tasks faster. Picking an upbeat song to listen to for example may help you complete boring tasks without procrastinating. If you’re working on something more complex like creating a strategy for an advertising campaign or designing a detailed graphic you may want just some light background noise (ambient music perhaps) so you can use most of your focus on the task at hand. Now if you’re working on something really creative like a song, or if you’re just brainstorming, the sound of a coffee shop or an office can actually increase creativity. Any type of continuous and indeterminate sound (as long as it’s not too loud) promotes imagination.
COMPROMISE AND COLLABORATION
There will of course be times when you can’t control your work setting. You may be required to work at a client’s office or collaborate with others in another setting you don’t usually visit (someone’s home, the library, even the beach). As a freelancer, this probably won’t be the case most of the time, but when it is, know that different rules apply. The same environment that proves productive when solo may not be so when working directly with others. Whoever you’re working with may prefer a different type of environment from you, but even so, the way one works alone is not the same when collaborating. You may need to work in a place quiet enough so you can easily converse with each other, or maybe you need to meet in a place that is somehow referential to the thing you’re working on. Most likely though, you’ll probably meet in a place that is convenient for all parties. It’s obviously impossible to prepare yourself for working in every setting, so don’t. When collaborating, setting isn’t quite as important. Your energy and focus will come more from your peers than it will from your environment.
When you’re able, tailor your environment to your work. There is of course no one correct environment for anything, so experiment. What setting is best for creativity? What’s best for a break? Explore different options and have fun with them. Most importantly, never feel embarrassed or self-conscious about your process. Do what you need to do to make the best work possible.