Liz Male Consulting (LMC) is a PR and communications consultancy that specialises in supporting purpose-driven organisations, innovators and thought leaders in property and construction, with a particular focus on the big policy issues of environmental sustainability, quality and safety in the built environment.
In March 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19, the team packed up their desks, picked up their laptops and set up to work from home. Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint meant that the technology was already in place to seamlessly shift to homeworking and the team soon adapted to the no commute, lunch in the garden and cameo appearances on video calls from family, children and pets.
For the LMC team, working from home meant carving out a new working space in their spare bedroom, lounge, at the kitchen table or in a home office.
Nikki Wilson, senior copywriter and editor at LMC explains, “Apart from making sure we had an adequate desk, a chair and a quiet place to set up our lap-tops, I don’t think any of us gave much thought to where we were working or how that environment might affect our ability to concentrate or to be creative.”
After some months of working from home, it became clear that the team was working well remotely and there were even some benefits to doing so. Managing director Liz Male asked everyone to provide feedback on returning to the office when Covid-19 allowed, and the team opted for a blended approach with a couple of core days in the office, and the rest of the week working from home.
Taking a fresh look at our work from home spaces
LMC is a small agency with a big heart. Looking after employee health and wellbeing forms a key element of the company’s core values, alongside other aspects such as creativity and attention to detail.
With the prospect of a long-term shift to a combination of home-working and office-working, Liz was keen to ensure her staff have the best environment to work in. When she heard that Grigoriou Interiors were offering bespoke work from home consultations, Liz jumped at the chance.
“I’ve known Elina from the work we did together 10 years ago when we collaborated on a stand at the Ecobuild exhibition”, she explains.
“Elina is one of the country’s leading experts on interiors, health and wellbeing. I was very interested in the concept of considering work from home spaces and how they can affect our energy levels, concentration, creativity and productivity.”
The Grigoriou Interiors work from home consultations focus on the cross-section between interior design, health and wellbeing and work effectiveness. They are carried out remotely, and take the form of an online questionnaire, a personal online consultation using Zoom or Teams and a bespoke written report.
An in-depth questionnaire
Prior to the initial consultation, each of the LMC team members completed an in-depth, online questionnaire.
This covered practical questions about the working from home location, lighting, privacy, equipment and chairs before delving into each individual’s aesthetic preferences for colour, texture, shape and materials.
In addition, the questionnaire went in depth into job tasks and how much time was spent on those. This gave Elina and her team a much greater understanding about how long each person spent on tasks where they needed to concentrate, to be creative, to communicate or to collaborate.
“Having worked with Elina previously, when I received the questionnaire, I had an understanding of what to expect,” says Liz. “This is no standard workplace assessment where we were simply ticking boxes about ergonomic chairs, screen height or sitting at right angles to the desk. Instead, the questionnaire was actually very thought-provoking – it wasn’t easy to answer – and I had to think about things in more depth.”
Hannah Cooper, account manager at LMC agrees,
“The questionnaire was very in depth and got me to think about things I hadn’t considered before. Although it took a while to fill out, it was worth it because it meant that the time on the consultation call was very focused and useful.”
A one-to-one consultation
Having completed the questionnaire, the team each had an initial one-hour consultation with a design consultant. This used the questionnaire as a basis for the discussion and provided the opportunity to take a closer look at the individual spaces.
“The design consultation was both inspirational and thought-provoking”, says Nikki. “Although I am fortunate to have a dedicated home office, I had never thought about how the layout, colour, furniture and storage could impact on my wellbeing and also on my ability to work effectively.”
“I really enjoyed the initial consultation”, says Vickie Cox, account manager at LMC. “Rebecca was very easy to talk to and was ready to run ideas past me. I was able to show her around my space and instantly she was able to offer some advice. It was interesting to go through my answers from the questionnaire and confirm if the answers truly matched my style.”
Liz goes on to explain,
“I found the initial consultation very challenging – but in a good way. Elina took me through my answers to the questionnaire and worked through the consultation with me. She challenged me – why were things like this?
“For example, I had files stacked behind me on a bookshelf. They were convenient and easy to access. Elina suggested I put them on a lower-level shelf instead so they won’t be in my line of vision, and also not in the view of the web camera when I’m on video calls.”
For Hannah, the consultation was a chance to consider elements of her space and to talk through different ideas.
“Elina suggested I move my desk away from the wall and into the centre of the room so that I could look up past my laptop and have things to look at rather than just a plain wall. This would also give me a greater sense of refuge by having the wall closer to my back, while also enabling me to look out of the window without having to turn my head.
“She also gave some practical advice on how to make better use of my storage space. For example, my shoes were on a rack in the room and by reshelving and adjusting the inside of a cupboard, they are now all neatly stored away and out of sight.”
A bespoke report
Following the initial consultation, the design consultants wrote individual reports for the team, clarifying the observations and discussions and outlining recommendations for each individual and their space. This included advice on room layout, furnishings and colour combinations, to create spaces that will help to concentrate, communicate or create, depending on the work task.
The report formed the basis of a follow-up discussion, where the design consultants answered any questions and provided further advice and guidance.
“My working from home space was previously a home office for my husband and a home admin location for me, so furniture and décor had been chosen for that practical purpose. During the initial consultation, Elina challenged me on the layout, colours and also the amount of stuff stored in the room”, says Nikki.
“She suggested a radical overhaul which involved a substantial de-clutter, changing the décor, moving the desk and replacing some of the furniture.”
Vickie says, “I knew improvements needed to be made. I am working from my bedroom due to an awkward living room layout, so I was keen for some input on separating work from home. I have my own ideas of how I want things to look but can’t always piece them together.
“One of the major changes was to source a screen to provide a boundary between my desk and the rest of the room but also to use it to close off that space when I’m done with the working day. I’m fortunate to be in a bright space but it can be too dazzling at times. Rebecca recommended sheer voiles to hang at the window so the light isn’t blocked out, but glare is prevented. She also advised on images, furnishings and plants that could be introduced to create a softer, cosier space.”
Improving wellbeing, comfort and productivity
For Vickie, the benefits of the consultation are ongoing:
“As a result of the consultation, I now have a better understanding of what makes my working space truly comfortable. Rebecca gave me plenty of new and practical ideas that I hadn’t previously thought of. And importantly, the report is a useful tool that I can keep referring back to.”
“Due to the amount of changes required, my home office overhaul remains a work in progress”, says Nikki. “Since the consultations I have done some substantial decluttering and have experimented with a different room layout. I’ve also switched to a Hue lightbulb to alter the lighting according to the tasks I’m doing.
“Having the report to refer back to has really helped me to make decisions about what items I want in the space, colours and textures to incorporate, how to balance different elements and what to keep and what to avoid.
“Already, with increased awareness of how my space affects my wellbeing and ability to concentrate or be creative, I’m looking forward to redecorating and changing the layout in the coming weeks.”
For Hannah, the changes have been positive:
“The impact on my wellbeing has been positive. I’m regularly experimenting with small changes to see how I work best. Since moving my desk, I’ve much preferred being able to look out of the window, rather than looking at a wall.
“I would definitely recommend the working from home consultation to others. Elina takes the time to really understand you and your motivations which means the advice is mostly spot on. Although we talked a lot about how I feel about textures, colours etc. the final advice was very practical which I liked – move your desk here, get rid of this, change that etc.”
Liz says she now feels like her office is twice the size it was before – simply by changing a couple of pieces of furniture.
“I wasn’t aware of how cluttered my office space was. There were things on the walls, on surfaces, bits and bobs, pictures in frames, things that had built up over many years. I had a lot going on in the space.
“Elina challenged me and asked, ‘Why do you need this?’
“In fact – all the clutter was acting as a permanent stimulant to my brain. Some of the work I do needs a calmer space and lower levels of stimulation to enable me to concentrate better. I’ve learnt that by calming your environment, you get a better sense of space and airiness and it helps you to settle in your work.
“Crucially, this consultation process isn’t just about comfort and wellbeing, nor is it just about beauty and aesthetic, in fact my space has a huge impact on the work that I do. Now, I definitely feel the difference when I need to concentrate and as a result, I feel more productive and less stressed.”