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Right Brain, Left Brain: The Home Offices of Design and Information Professionals

Magazine article Searcher

Right Brain, Left Brain: The Home Offices of Design and Information Professionals

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Finally, the negative image of the home office has shattered. The past few years of "creative" officing, corporate overhead off-loading, communications technology breakthroughs, as well as long-standing usage by consultants, architects, and other professionals, have brought about the recognition of home offices as positive, productive workplaces and environments, and not just within the U.S. While most of us are not "making millions the easy way--with a home computer" as infamous spam e-mails tout, the numbers are growing around the globe. "Eurescom forecasts [home office] workers by 2005 to reach 20.4 percent in Finland, 25.2 percent in the Netherlands, 12.6 percent in Germany, 11.7 percent in the U.K. and... as many as 30 million workers in the U.S. by the end of 2004."(1)

Peter Drucker states that in the information age, "Knowledge is the resource of the new economy and society." (2) In such a knowledge-driven world, many have found the opportunity to return to a more holistic life of work at home, a return barely possible for over 200 years of the production-oriented Industrial Age. The office design needs of workers who can work anywhere more closely resemble those of artists and writers of the past 200 years than corporate office workers of today. Drucker defines knowledge workers as those "who 'own' their knowledge and take it with them wherever they go." Knowledge workers need right-brain and left-brain stimuli in order to generate knowledge from the information they scan, read, absorb, assimilate, and analyze.

The "built environment" is the physical landmark and support system for all our human activities. Magazine articles that display and discuss home office designs rarely clarify how those designs provide support to this new knowledge worker--represented here by the home office worker. Nearly all home office workers use a computer, printer, phone, fax, and other machines. It's not difficult to place the machines within a 6-foot circle of reach by minimal chair rolling so that the usual multi-tasking (printing while computing and on the phone) can take place. Less known are the differences--the crucial, peripheral, work-related activities that make each long, lone day at a computer productive--and what in the built environment makes those activities possible. To discover what knowledge has been gained by others, I interviewed several information professionals, a full-time corporate telecommuter, and several architects. Among them, three-quarters have been highly successful home office workers for 5 to 15 years an d two of them for over 30 years. Following are highlights of their office designs and ways of working at home.

September 11 reminded many of us of our deep connections with each other, our profound need for a vibrant living environment, and the importance of living fully now. But many of us live in featureless, bland spaces, some stem from responding to advice from realtors who fear any negative effects on the resale value of homes. Perhaps we can tolerate uninspiring environments if we only come home to sleep in them, but for living and working from the home, environments represent a near complete denial of our psychological needs and well-being.

When lack of attention and engagement happen in classrooms, University of Victoria, British Columbia, psychologist Robert Gifford calls it "environmental numbness." (3) When inattention happens in the home office, productivity suffers. Color, regarded by many designers as a modifier of behavior, remains a topic of disagreement between experts. Some believe that it influences behavior, others put a finer line on it. In a report for NASA, Western State University professor and human factors researcher, Jim Wise reported, "We need to use color because of what we want it to do." (4)

At Sherwin Williams [], paint color specialist Linda Trent relates, "In previous years, the most popular paint colors for home interiors were the neutrals--off-white, eggshell, and the beiges. …

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