If you read relevant guides on the subject of creativity, one piece of advice always comes up: “environment”. To be creative as an artist or non-artist, an appropriate environment is helpful. In the case of the artist, this does not have to be the 200m2 studio. It can be a fixed place that is connected to creativity. A place that forms a mental anchor for creativity: Whenever one sits down in this place, goes to this place, one dedicates oneself to creativity. NLP has explanations of how such anchors work, in this case the external anchor of a place and its equipment. And that they work, of course. That is why I am convinced that such a place of creativity is a very good tool for any artist.
Now, for almost a year now, we have been called upon from time to time to stay at home. To homeschool. Or homeoffice. Many of us knew the home office from before Covid19. Somehow I have the feeling that when it comes to the topic of home office, a kind of admiration or envy resonates with many people. “You have it good, you can do home office. I can’t do that in my job.” This year, this exaggeration of home office was then further increased by the home office regulation or the discussion around it. All of a sudden, in the public discourse, all employers demanded that all employees work from home. Because it is so great and the crowning glory of employee self-development. The ultimate level of freedom for the workforce. Or something like that. But do all these people who write about the home office in such a demanding and thoroughly convinced way know what home office really means? For all people? Sure, there will have been some journalists writing who have been in the home office for a long time. With an above-average living situation that is commensurate with their level of education and position. In other words, probably few of the journalists who called for a home office for all were sitting on the edge of their bed at home at the time, because they had no other place to work. And presumably few of the trade unionists who are stylising the home office have to work in their cars for lack of space at home. Or in a windowless, cold cellar. Instead, they assume that all workers have the same conditions at home as they have at home. Or even better: as they find them in the office. However, yes, it hurts: this is not so. Not every employee has reasonable conditions for a home office at home. Some do not have any at all. For some, home office is not desirable at all because of the lack of space or other external parameters. And if only because of the family, who do something completely different in what some would like to call a home office: live.
Apart from the fact that I believe that the home office is only really desirable for those who find the external conditions for it in their “home”, I also don’t know whether the home office is the right thing to do in terms of productivity. Yes, of course: less office space means lower costs. And less commuting means less risk of delays and (accident-related) absences. And in the home office, presumably, many an employee is more willing to work with a cold than they would be in the office. All plus points for the home office.
Back to the anchor point, to the place of creativity, to the fixed place with which artists link being creative. Back to the anchor point of productivity in the home office. This is where the problems of the home office begin. Can a kitchen table, centre of family activities, become such an anchor point for productivity? Or does anyone want this? Does someone want to go through his to-do list first thing whenever he sits down at the kitchen table? Because that automatically gets them into their productivity rhythm? No, that’s exactly what nobody wants. The home office is also part of the “home” and every employer must accept that this is the territory of the individual. The human being that every employee is. The person with his family and friends. The kitchen table may be converted into a notebook shelf for a few hours every day. But it will never become an anchor point for productivity. The family may retreat to other areas of the house for a few hours during the day or go for a walk, etc., but the work, the job are still only temporary guests in the home of this very family and not, as in the office, the master of the house.
The home office must therefore not only be productive, but also, and above all, family-friendly and social.
If one really wanted to make the home office the crowning glory of employee freedom, one would have to do much more than just make demands, issue a regulation and leave the rest up to the employee. Just as every office is designed according to ergonomic rules, every home office should be designed in the same way. Always with the “option of realisation”: the possibility that an employee’s living space may not allow for a (productive and family-compliant) home office. And for those employees for whom a home office is spatially possible, employers must be challenged to introduce ergonomics. A telephone booth may have to be installed, the balcony may have to be converted into an office, a mobile office may have to be placed in the garden, etc., etc.
But none of this happens.
Instead, there is cheering, a decree is issued and the employee and his family are left alone to grant the guest called home office the space in their family life that is demanded by politics, the employer, society.
And these are only the externals. The entry of another guest into family life -and I don’t consider home office and homeschooling to be anything else- always has psychological effects on the people who previously inhabited the place alone.
Something that makes the place of creativity special for an artist, besides the externals, is the sense of place. An artist goes to his place of creativity to become and be creative. Someone goes to the office to do their job productively. Someone is in the home office to…. to live there? Or to work? Or sometimes one, sometimes the other? From an occupational psychology point of view, there are numerous studies and papers that attribute the productivity of the employee in the home office to a large extent to his or her intrinsic motivation. Whereas in the office, for example, it is the colleagues and the boss who work with the employee, at home it is only the employee’s intrinsic motivation that ensures productivity. Except, of course, for activities that are externally controlled. Where there are such tight specifications that the worker does not have to be motivated, but simply has to do her job. But good work, quality, is created where the intrinsic motivation of the individual is important. There, where he has the freedom to shape his tasks or how he does them himself. And here, every homeworker is left to his own devices.
This is certainly something that many psychologists are currently working on, as they did in the past. Unheard by the masses, politicians and employers.
Personally, I find it a pity how quickly a public discourse, how quickly politics too, jumps on a bandwagon and deprives it of any course on its further path. Any possibility of still being able to correct the course. The familiar “business as usual” has led us to an unverified home office regulation. And it will probably lead us to many more things where I personally will think to myself: it would be better to look for possible switches before the train reaches 250 km/h.