A kid and a bagel

Q: I have a small consulting business.  Most of us work remotely, from a home office.  Some of us have home offices which are reasonable, private and professional.  One woman uses a spare bedroom and there is a simple painting on her wall, while another uses the corner of her basement.  I have a dedicated home office.  However, one colleague uses the end of a dining room table and her kitchen is in the background.  When someone is in her kitchen it is very distracting.

What are some good recommendations for professional home offices?  How can I tell this woman that we don’t need to see her child making a bagel every time we have a virtual call?

A:  More and more of us are working remotely.  Even larger employers are requesting that many employees work remotely in 2021 and beyond.  Microsoft, Twitter, Zillow, VMWare, Siemens and Facebook are now offering at least part-time work from home options.  Some employers are offering employees a one-time stipend to set up their remote workspace.  The employee may opt to purchase a new laptop, a printer, a new chair or a large monitor.

Many employers have given their workers increased flexibility and understand the blurring of the lines between work and home.  Many employees, with school-aged children, are struggling with the balance still, after 16 months of this pandemic.  Remote instruction for a seven-year-old is harder than most think!

Here are some tips –

  1. Having a defined space helps.  A private room, with a door, is preferable.  Four walls and a door generally keep the distractions to a minimum.
  2. Quiet corners of rooms can also work. For example, the corner of a basement recreation room or a corner of a spare bedroom can work also.
  3. Dining room tables can work, but typically not on a long-term basis.
  4. Loft spaces can sometimes work if noise doesn’t carry.  Noise from kids, dogs, televisions and even a delivery person can drift into an open loft area.
  5. Zoom, and other video call technologies, offer virtual backgrounds and have a “blur” background option.  Both are designed to minimize the visual of an unmade bed or walk-in closet.  This might be a good recommendation for your employee who sits in her dining room.  Also, I am wondering if she can move her chair to another spot, where the background might not be the kitchen?
  6. Many swear by noise-canceling headphones.  This is another way to help reduce background noise.
  7. Add structure to the workday, taking into account other possible interruptions.  Our landscapers tend to cut our grass on Wednesday or Thursday mornings.  I try to avoid business Zoom calls at those times as it sounds like they are in my office.

Rachael Peterson, a Boston-area compensation consultant, shares that some of her clients have mailed seasonal care packages to an employee’s home: a water bottle for summer walks or a succulent plant to add some greenery to a desk on a bleak winter day.  Also, companies are reminding their employees about a sometimes-forgotten benefit — the company’s employee assistance program (EAP).

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.