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Neil Usher: the ‘homeification’ of the workplace

Paradoxically speaking on the traditional workplace experience.

23/06/2022 2 min read
Part of Neil Usher’s Paradoxically Speaking series, this article first featured in Mix issue 220

It probably no longer qualifies as a trend, it’s been in train for so long. The idea, that is, that the office should be as warm, soft and reassuring as the old mohair jumper the cat sleeps on; that the demands of unquestioned habitual attendance should not be met by miles of laminated greige.

It was an understandable response: we needed to be reminded of a place we’d rather be. If we couldn’t be at home, we made the office look and feel like home. Or at least like an interior designer’s version of home. No matter that we repeatedly tripped over the rug and needed a course of osteopathy after every meeting. We were almost instinctively down to our smalls at times.

Then the hybrid wizard granted our only wish and we were at home for almost two years, tripping over our own rug. Yet remarkably, the domestication of the office has survived the downheaval, despite our new-found reticence to be there all day every day removing the need for it to remind us of a home we miss. The argument is now not that the office needs to be like a place we miss, but like the place we won’t miss. Our paradox therefore becomes: I’m looking forward to going to the office, because it looks like home.

Which is odd, because when we want to stay in a hotel we don’t want it to look like our bedroom. We want bolsters, a choice of 14 pillows of varying degrees of emptiness – one with an orchid on. When we want to visit a restaurant we don’t want the setting to resemble our dining room or kitchen. We want a tablecloth carved from granite, cutlery painted by Dali and a sommelier with more medals than Chris Hoy. We value the difference as a fundamental aspect of the experience. We often strive for it to be as vast as possible. The office, meanwhile? Nope, the bigger the hygge the better.

What’s driving this reluctance to challenge the ‘workplace experience’ for which we’ve settled? Perhaps a feeling that as that’s what we can have, so that’s what we want. Or at least a Farrow & Ball variant of it (other paints are available). Or maybe that moving away from its safety is a little scary, that we might end up with something that resembles the clerical tedium of many decades past, by mistake.

It could be, of course, that we just like being ‘at home’. Our breathing slows, we tune into a circadian rhythm like a stylus on vinyl, we’re cuddled rather than perforated by our environment. Spreadsheets will be spreadsheets. As the puppy playfully brushes past our legs, we sink into a cushion-laden sofa with our tepid latte and close our eyes. Only later, on waking, to find that we missed the web call, we’ve dribbled, and it’s all been an extraordinarily tedious dream.

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