5th Jun 2020 — Inside our home office

Inside our home office

We’re not even halfway through the year and already 2020 has proved to be a significant year of reflection, uncertainty and contemplation. Following the Coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, for many of us we’ve had to dramatically change our day to day lives and have seen our spaces, routines and responsibilities completely turned on their heads. As architects, designers and built environment professionals we spend a lot of time thinking about the use of buildings, the design of spaces for specific functions and the division of rooms for their intended uses.

In mid-March SWA team members left behind the daily commute to Stock Orchard Street and began to work from home. As certain lockdown restrictions begin to ease and we look towards what this new future may be and how we as a society can help shape this, we reflect on what these past few months have felt like for some of our team members.

Some of us have discovered more time and patience for our hobbies or developing new creative skills. Some are taking more time to catch up with friends and family and some of us are using this time to take care of oneself and focus on mental wellbeing. We’ve thought about how the lockdown has affected our ways of working and collaborating, about how we engage with our surroundings in the city and slightly closer to home; with our housemates, neighbours and family members.



As every parent will tell you, trying to ‘lockdown’ a toddler is a demanding proposition! Over the first few weeks there was some adjustment to be made for all of us in our routines, and a significant curtailment to our son’s social calendar of play dates, play groups and visits from grandparents, and mummy/son trips to forest school and music classes. In essence I realised we had a significant lack of resources in the house for entertaining a toddler indoors!


Fast forward to where we are now and we’ve established a more steady routine and a vast array of different ways to play at home. Our selection of outdoor sports activities would rival the most organised sports day event! And one of our current art projects is an underwater scene, to which we add a different form of aquatic life to each day, made by painting and sticking anything and everything we find around the house. This is of course all done to the theme tune of the little mermaid (‘under the sea…’) and then followed by watching a little video of such creature found online.

One of things we have most enjoyed during this lockdown and has kept all our moods uplifted, has been the relationship we’ve developed with our neighbours. Whether it’s a socially distanced game of tennis, a water fight, or a joint painting session (separately either side the fence). We have created some fond memories of our time in lockdown and established long lasting friendships.



For someone who lives very close to work, I wondered how working from home and quarantine would affect my daily routine. With only a 10-minute cycle ride to work, I was able to exercise in the mornings or evenings and never feel rushed to cook. The main difference now, is that my workstation is located in my open plan living room shared with my housemates as opposed to my colleagues.

The location of my new workstation has meant that the comforts of home have very easily merged into my working from home life, which includes cooking my lunch, doing exercise during the day, carrying out chores and spending more time with my loved ones and housemates. Quarantine has slowed life down, taking the pressure off to be constantly doing things across London. It has allowed me to savour and enjoy the simpler moments in life, such as making coffee, cooking, walking in the park, playing cards with my housemates, as well as picking up old interests such as painting. My main hope after quarantine is that I am still able to really appreciate these moments in life as I have been doing over the past few months.



I’ve always been a ‘home person’. I love spending time at home, hosting at home and seeing how people inhabit their own homes. What’s been strange about the lockdown is how all of a sudden we’ve had to allow everyone – from friends, family members, colleagues and even complete strangers into a small part of our home every day.


I’ve had bouts of working from home before but never as a continuous period or as part of a fully remote team. Learning together the social etiquette of how to have office wide video meetings has been entertaining. How we’ve muddled through together, trying to ensure we’ve got the screenshare settings correct or remembered to send the meeting invite. Its been very comforting and open, even comical at times!

Collaboration is different now. Our team meetings feel more efficient and productive, yet we are allowing more time to let others speak, learning to really listen to each other and with more patience. More collective creative tasks are proving more challenging. I feel the architectural team miss the studio culture for these sorts of tasks and we will take time to find a new approach. Gone are the days of staff huddled around a small table scribbling over one’s drawing with their outbursts of creativity. Its more distant now, more procedural. It’s been important for us all to see each other everyday and we’ve made sure we continue the regular social events, discussions and project shares throughout this time. But through a screen is not quite the same. 


With the absence of a long and very busy commute, I can’t say I’ve written a novel, made lots of sourdough or become fluent in a new language with all this extra time I have. But that’s ok and I know that. I feel very lucky having a balcony, where I can de-digitise with a book after cooking proper lunches and get messy with clay in the evening, whilst the kids from the flats below play ‘teachers and parents’ out in the communal garden. Whatever this ‘new normal’ may be, it’s these sights and sounds I’ll miss each day.



A lot has changed in a short period of time, here are two aspects of my working from home experience that I have noticed within the last few weeks. 


To give a little background the pre-isolation me is someone with a short attention span, prone to having 15 internet tabs open at a time. Although I sometimes still fall back into these patterns, I have found this time an eye opener to my ways of doing and being. When I started working from home and interacting in the virtual landscape that is currently being populated by an overwhelming number of possibilities, I realised the importance of rejecting the idea of ‘productivity as queen’ to instead opt for slowness and setting boundaries. In short, I quickly learnt that I actually function best sticking to one task at a time and doing things I actually want to do.

Secondly, something a friend mentioned to me which resonated is: the lament for periods of transition between tasks and environments. As I swiftly roll from a work meeting into an exercise class or a catch up with friends I have come into understanding how important the in-between is. This realisation has caused me to cultivate more space in-between – space to be in nature, to breathe, to notice how I feel and move into the next moment consciously. 


These two thoughts have been supportive while adapting and learning how move through all the uncertainty and subsequent changes in my life and the world.



Who knew that the logistics of always being at home to accept your parcel or let the plumber in would be this satisfying?


Particularly useful given the plant delivery obsession I seem to have developed. Caring for my home jungle has given me a lot of joy whilst working from home, especially when living – like majority of the city – in a flat with no outdoor space. Despite my best efforts to resist, I’m officially a plant mum.


At work, I think I’m most happy when I can strike the perfect balance between working collaboratively and autonomously. Autonomy at home feels pretty achievable, collaboration on the other hand, is pinned on a good internet connection. Generally, the ‘work’ part of my working day hasn’t changed much, apart from the fact that all the activities – meetings, design crits etc – which previously gave me a break from the screen, now can’t happen without the screen.

Post lockdown, I’m looking forward to office-wide ‘hot beverage’ rounds which make me feel less guilty about my Yorkshire tea addiction and tucking into a Friday fruit salad made from the most niche contents left over from our weekly fruit delivery (I fear my vitamin levels have dropped significantly). As one of those lucky ‘walk-to-work-ers’, I’ve realised how much I miss seeing school children dressed up for world book day, the dogs I use to stroke (and instantly fall in love with) and saying hi to that elderly lady who was heading to the shops every morning. When this all ‘blows over’, I must ask for her name.



Working from home has given me time to read my book in the morning and have breakfast at my own pace. A start and end to the day which I feel more in control off, and which is not at the mercy of public transport. A journey to my desk which does not involve being crushed onto a crowded train, which is even more of a bonus while being pregnant – my requested ‘baby on board’ badge never even arrived! Simple things like a lunch break which can involve toast and food cooked on the hob and sitting down with my partner. The ease of managing the day to day tasks of life – doing washing, life-admin, watering the plants – at a more gradual and satisfying pace, not squashed into the evening along with a hasty dinner.


However, paired with these benefits the commute is a means to walk and interact with the city which I miss. The automatic nature of exercise through walking for purpose is gone, and it becomes a challenge to make time for physical activity in to the working day. The extra time I thought I’d gain without the commute has typically given away to a longer working day necessitated by projects continuing at a pace. Something of a positive, given the economic climate.

New ways of working at first take time to adjust to, processes are different, require re-thinking, and initially take longer. Frustrations must be overcome, a shared, levelling experience and can do attitude has been key. The etiquette of remote working is developing – how to take a loo break in a meeting with people you don’t know well? How to eat a biscuit and without loud crunching disrupting others? How to communicate fairly and equally in a meeting where not all parties are visible without the nuances of eye contact and body language?


Things are different, and I’m not quite there with the perfect balance of home working and wellbeing but we have all demonstrated that different methods of working are possible, productive and enjoyable.