Eva Aetopoulou is one of a growing number of architects interested in homeworking, but her focus is on how to reduce overworking by homeworkers.
Do you work from home and are the boundaries between home and work becoming increasingly blurred as a result?
While the stereotype is that homeworkers are all sitting in their pyjamas watching daytime tv, the reality is somewhat different. Research consistently shows that homeworkers tend to be more productive and to work longer hours than those who go to offices. An Acas report on homeworking says work hours are shortest among office workers, with homeworkers and partial homeworkers more likely to work in excess of their contracted hours.
How do you turn off when your computer may be sitting there glinting on the kitchen table while you do the dinner? Homeworking is of increasing interest to architects who are looking to design homes that integrate home and work functions, but one architecture student is also looking at ways to ensure homeworkers do not overwork.
Eva Aetopoulou is doing her masters project on parents who work from home at Central Saint Martins in London. It's a spatial design project that aims to control overwork and provide the framework for a better work life balance. She says: “Usually architecture deals with homeworking from a spatial point of view, for instance, home offices in new buildings.” She has conducted a survey of full- and part-time homeworkers for the project. Seventy per cent of these believe they work more hours than those who work in the office full time. She is trying to find out why this is and among the questions in the survey is one about where people work. She says that while homeworkers don’t always have a dedicated space for work, parents are more likely to so they can keep their paperwork away from children’s hands.
Eva believes the problem is it is too tempting to hop back on the computer and start working in the evening and that part of the reason homeworkers tend to go over their hours is because they lack the sensory cues that tell them the working day has finished, such as the noise of co-workers leaving. She is therefore building a structure that provides these cues and shows that time has passed.
The design, which can be adapted to individual circumstances, consists of a hanging semi-transparent structure which is set up, controlled and complemented by the personal computer of the homeworker and hangs on the ceiling or wall. The structure is made out of electroactive polymer membranes. The material has been chosen because of its ability to contract and change its form when it is triggered by electricity, providing a visual cue in a spatial way. It can be programmed to provide an immersive visual experience, such as the wall changing form or contracting. It can also transmit sound clues that the working day is over which can grow in intensity as time passes. “The idea is to give the impression that time has passed so people need to stop working,” says Eva, who has been working with a psychologist on the project.
Eva’s project will be included in an exhibition in June. Before that, she is keen to gather more information from parents who work from home about their experience and has created a survey to get more feedback. Click here to take part.