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The New Home Office

31 Jan 2021 11:32 AM | Birdie Brennan, CPO®

I have been a professional organizer for over twenty (20) years!  While I can still remember the very spot I stood in when the I made the decision, I am shocked that it has been two decades of work in this profession.  Those two decades account for hundreds of visits, thousands of hours, and a never-ending string of creative problem solving.

Even with all those differences, every time I walk into a new client’s home there is a story to be told.  A lot of those stories have similar traits, but each is unique and personal to the client.  Maybe it is even the first time the client has gone through the current problem, which makes it front and center in their brain.  Addressing the organizational issues usually leads to an emotional weight being taken off of the family.

All the above is true in any ‘normal’ year, but 2020 was not a normal year by any definition.  Even at the beginning of February 2021, school day rotations, work meetings, and changing expectations, can all lead to frustration on a daily (maybe hourly) basis.  In the spirit of telling stories, I wanted to give two examples of how clients have dealt with the uneasiness of working from home.  The first is a family located in Central Ohio, two parents that had to start working from home along with three boys that started attending virtual school.  The second is of an individual that left the hustle of New York City to work from her home in Hudson, NY.  While the situations may sound different, the emotional need for organization was very much the same.

While the day started before 6 AM, real work didn’t really begin until after 10.  When Ohio went to lockdown, the dad would get up early and begin prepping for his workday.  The mom, a middle school teacher, would also begin to prep for the lessons of the day…while learning the new technology that would bring her lessons into the homes of her students.  The three boys would roll out of bed with ten minutes to spare until their classes began for the day.  By 8 AM, the kids broke to their different zones for the school day.  One at a makeshift desk, one from a chair, and one from the comfort of their bed.  The mom reserved a corner of the bedroom for her classroom, and the dad sat a desk behind a laptop.  Then the musical chairs would start…technology problems for the first kid, checking to make sure the almost teenager was actually ‘in’ school, and then running up stairs to make sure the other near teenager hadn’t fallen back to sleep.  The dad felt like Tigger, bouncing from room to room, putting in a half days work before he had time to check email.

I would venture to guess that most families shared the same struggles and dealt with the overwhelming emotions of not knowing how to handle the uncertainty of a new world.  The story of this family is that they needed simple organizational tools so that each member could create their own world to learn and work.  After talking with the parents and learning more about their needs, I focused my efforts on the following…

  • ·        Essentials – Create a small list of the essential items each person needed to complete their work.  The kids did not need an entire book bag spread out on the floor next to them for the entire day.  Instead, the bag hooks stayed in the same place and when a new subject started the kid could go take out the required work.  The same is true for parents…by taking 10 minutes at night to plan for the next day, they could identify the required paperwork/computer/etc. that would be needed for the next morning.  Don’t bring ten different items to a meeting but let the priorities of the moment tell you what is necessary.
  • ·        Zones and Communication – Even though the house was big enough for everyone to have their own room, noise travels loud and fast.  We developed ‘signs’ for each person to use when they couldn’t be interrupted.  The dad chose to only put on his headphones when he was in a meeting.  If the kids needed help and saw that the headphones were on, they knew to either write a note or check with another person.  The reverse was true of the children as they always wanted their headphones on.  Waving, thumbs up, or a quick sign allowed the parents to check on the kids and make sure they were okay.
  • ·        Personalization – This standard is true for all of my organization clients…they need systems and a space that works FOR them and not AGAINST them.  The classroom set up for the mom was a great example of being creative with space and storage.  First, we emptied and pivoted the large dresser to serve as her ‘desk’.  This allowed for plenty of storage of papers, markers, computer battery, devices, and everything else that was needed for the day.  Second, we focused on sunlight and made sure she had access to the three large windows in the bedroom.  Lastly, stools from the kitchen bar were brought upstairs so that she could ‘rest’ while teaching throughout the day.

Even though the emotions of this family were shared by nearly every family out there, the situation was new to them and therefore demanded a creative approach.

Now take a moment to think about our second story.  An individual that gets away from the constant movement, noise, and disruption of a traditional office and goes into the solitude of single living/working hundreds of miles away from coworkers.  My guess is that many of us would welcome this second example … “I can work in peace and quiet”.  What many of us found is that after weeks of being alone the workday stretched from before sunup to well after sundown.  That constant workday stretched to being one long work week, and eventually to extremely long work months.  Knowing the additional stress that many of us felt, I focused my efforts on the following…

  • ·        Environment – Use art, especially art that elicits a positive reaction, to reinvent your workspace.  The neutered white walls of an office should not be brought home to create a sterile environment.  We went through the paintings of this clients and arranged them as a great front drop so that happiness was generated when looking up or taking a break.
  • ·        Storage – The Hudson home was a second home/Airbnb property for this client.  While it was set up extremely well for vacationers, quick and accessible storage for work purposes was not present.  One remedy was to create a sleek looking workstation that provided ample amounts of quick storage.  The result was to create a wall long bookshelf with cabinets on either end.  Paperwork could be arranged based on need, scheduled meetings, or completion.
  • ·        Time Management – What many other have experienced are days that blend into each other.  Just because you have work in front of you all the time does not mean that you should be working all the time.  Creating breaks in your schedule for a walk, lunch, or maybe a quick nap are necessities in this new work environment.  The hard part is that while designing a schedule is the easy part but holding yourself accountable to these breaks is something that many of us need to work on.

Many large corporations have already stated that their office workers will not come back to the traditional office until at least the third quarter of 2021.  That news provides us with nearly six more months of working from home…and don’t forget spring and summer break for the kids.  Even though the two stories I outlined were different in nature, the solutions were focused on meeting their specific needs.  Working with each client on a one to one basis, while sticking to the tried and true fundamentals of organization allowed me to develop answers to their problems and give them the chance to be successful.



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