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Working From Home – How To Be Productive, Healthy and Happy

So many of us have had to learn how to work effectively from home very quickly and in this episode of my ‘Wine and Wisdom’ show called ‘Working From Home – How To Be Productive, Healthy and Happy’ I talk with the very talented Ashley Casey from Steelcase on this subject.

We discuss:

  1. How Steelcase (with 13,000 employees globally) are managing to work from home?
  2. Tips on how to set up your home office.
  3. The future of the workplace – some of the positive changes we might see post COVID -19.
  4. Plus lots lots more.

You can either watch the Q&A here or read the full transcript below.

#leadership #humanresources #businessperformance #resilience #wineandwisdom #education #lovehowyouwork #steelcase #workingfromhome

H – We’ve put a bonus episode on tonight just because of these crazy times that we’re living in and I really wanted to bring to you somebody who could help you with the challenges that you have right now. And I knew that you would not be able to wait another week. So here we are, and in a minute, I’m going to introduce you to my very, very special guest. But before that, what I’d love to know is where you are tuning in from tonight. Even if you’re not watching right now and you’re going to watch the replay of this, I’d still love you to put in your comments, where you’re tuning in from while I talk to you a little bit about this show, because we’re living in such stressful, uncertain, and changeable times where connection is so important, even though we are so far apart. And to me, nothing is more important than coming together online because we can’t do it in person. And this is where the Wine & Wisdom show is coming into its grandest because social connection is so crucial to our physical and our mental health. And the fact that we can be here right now, share wine, share some stories, share the wisdom of my amazing guests that you’re all going to be able to benefit from, is something that’s really important. So, I hope you’ve got a glass of wine and I can see we’ve got someone from Rhode Island tuning in. Please let us know and tell us what you’re having for your wine tonight, maybe you’re not having wine. But if you’re having a red, a white Pinot, a beer, a bubbles. Last week’s guests had a rum, so, that’s okay too. Ashley, hello and thank you for being here. We have Ashley Jane Casey from Steelcase as our very special guest tonight. I’ve been very lucky in my life that I’ve been surrounded by amazing people, and Ashley is certainly one of those people. And for this show, I really wanted to bring the people who are at the top of their game, who are the absolute experts in what they do, so they can bring to you their wisdom and share it across this platform. So Ashley, welcome, lovely to have you here.

A – Thank you Heidi for having me. So much fun to be able to sit down and have a glass of wine and chat with you.

H – It’s always fun to do that with you. But not only are we having wine, but we’re sharing wisdom, which is a beautiful thing for us to combine, I think. So, talking about wisdom, let’s just start by you letting everybody know who you are, what you do, and what is the positive impact that you are making in our world right now.

A – Thank you Heidi for having us here tonight. For those who haven’t met me yet, my name is Ashley Casey and I imparted the Steelcase Australia team. At Steelcase, our aspiration and our reason for being is to help our global customers around the world unlock human promise. And so what that means today is helping their people, no matter where they are, whether they be working at home or in their office to do the best work that they can do.

H – Wow, and I mean, not a better time than now to be able to unlock human promise and performance, so that we can all try to do our very best in very uncharted territories. That’s why I really wanted to bring you on tonight to really guide us through these very uncharted territories and help us navigate the muddy waters and the uncertainty about how we can actually work from home and still be productive, happy and healthy, which is what this episode is all about. So, thank you, Ashley. I know that you’ve been in the industry for 18 years and I know that it’s a great passion of yours. But I’d love to know if there has been some kind of incident or a defining job moment that has made you feel this passionate about what you’re doing.

A – I actually started off in the art world, so after many years in school and working in art galleries here in Sydney, it made complete sense to go over to New York and go to art school over there. But of course, eating and paying the rent was important. And so, I accidentally found myself in a furniture store. So, Jeannie, who’s on line tonight, she believed in me and said “Yeah, you can do this, you’ve got this.” I said, “I feel like investing about furniture.” But it was all the thing as the art world. So, working with creative people, color, composition, texture. That was on the residential side and it was great to have people believe in you. It’s amazing what you can do when people believe in you and I hope that I can do that for others as well to empower them. That sounds quite accidental, but the reason I’m still here today, 18 years later, and transitioned from that sort of more residential side to the commercial side, is that I really do love what I do. So, you and I both had this amazing, privileged position where we get these backstage passes into all these different organisations, whether they be a government agency, they could be a private school, they could be an engineering firm. And we get to go in there and see what it is like, a day in the life in there. And I love that and it’s ever changing, doesn’t stop.

H – It surely is. It is an absolute privilege to have that backstage pass to really get an idea on what is really going on, what are their challenges and how can we help support them so that they can, as you said, with Steelcase, unlock that human potential, so, they are performing at their very, very best? So, 18 years experience doing that is truly remarkable. So, thank you for all the guidance on behalf of everybody you have guided over the years. Ashley, well done to you. Steelcase has about 13,000 people around the globe. Coronavirus is here, it’s probably this kind of world that we’re living in, the new norm, the term is, we’ll be here for a little while, yes, we don’t know how long. But when we’re talking about working from home on this episode, I’d love to know, how is an organisation with 13,000 people updating different countries dealing with the fact that we cannot operate the way we would normally operate? What are you doing? What are the things that you are seeing that are working well? What are the challenges y’all still trying to work out? Because, of course, we all know we’re all trying to work this stuff out, but no one’s doing it perfectly yet. But what is Steelcase doing?

A – Look, I think it’s been fairly easy for us because we are so global, so, a lot of the technology and tools, we’ve already been using and it’s how we communicate. So when we talk that 13,000 people, there’s only about 20 of us only here in Australia. When we’re working with our teammates, they’re not here, they’re everywhere. We’re always dialing in and so it’s been easy and we’ve all been equipped to be able to work from wherever we are. So, wherever you are, you can work. The difference is that choice has been taken away from us. So, we didn’t have the choice to work from home or not. You are working from home. So, that, it’s probably taken the most getting used to. I guess it’s been more of also how we’re supporting our customers. They’re transitioning from everyone being within the office space, working with them on one office space for a thousand people and now we’re working with them setting up a thousand offices for individual little spaces. So yeah, it’s happening to us quite differently.

H – And I mean, we’re all talking about how we’re having to pivot. You are used to fitting out these great big grand office spaces compared to doing a whole lot of little ones is a pivot in itself and we’re all having to do that in some way. And I love the fact that a company as large as yours is… Obviously, you’ve had to embrace the work from home, the flexible work arrangements, working from wherever for quite a while for you to be able to exist. And I think that’s where the bonus is tonight, that you’re coming on, not just giving us examples of how you’ve been doing it in the last few weeks when we’ve all had to try and work it out, but you’ve been doing it prior to this, So, you’ve already learnt whole lot of lessons that everyone can learn from, which leads me to my next question. You’ve worked in this industry for 18 years and yes, there has been a big focus on the commercial side of it, but that doesn’t mean that the knowledge and experience and the skills that you’ve learned over those years about setting people up properly in a work space, whether that is in a commercial office or whether like now, it’s in their home environment. So, what are the tips that you’ve got, three to five tips that you have got for everybody listening either now or when they watch the replay, so that they can set up their workplace at home to ensure firstly, they’re pain-free, that’s a real big thing, isn’t it? That they’re pain-free and that they can work productively because of all the things that you’re going to tell me? I’m not even going to try.

A – I’ve put together a presentation for one of our clients and I wanted to bring together some observations. And I was looking through observations of what we see in the workplace. Those observations are the same unmet needs that we’ve got at home. So, not being able to find a meeting room available, not being able to find a quiet space to take a phone call, having to go into the bathroom because it’s the only quiet room in the house, sitting for too long and then getting back pain for sitting too long. It translates quite well. So, I think it’s just about thinking creatively about different places and also listening to your body. Nobody knows your body better than you do, so, if you’re uncomfortable, move. And to work with a lot of different postures, so, to have a pallet of postures, not just one posture throughout the day, to be able to stand. And Kristy, I saw your video of being able to stand at your kitchen bench, that’s a great one. The dining table for me is good, but I’m actually sitting at the dining table now. I’ve got a cushion underneath me because the dining table was too tall. My arms are up here like this, I can’t raise my chair, I can’t lower the table and so I’ve had to put the cushion underneath so now that I can have my shoulders back and down, and to be able to have my arms straight so that I can work away. Also to raise your laptop and your screen so that it can be at eye level. So, right now I’m sitting on some cookbooks because for me. Whatever you’ve got works, right?

H – Yes, absolutely.

A – It could be cookbooks, it could be shoe boxes. My lovely dining table has actually really good lumbar support, but if it didn’t, it could be a towel behind my lower back or it could be a rolled up jumper. So, you just need to think creatively and listen, keep moving. I also thought of thermal comfort too, like thinking of different spots around your space that could be a little bit warmer or a little bit cooler throughout the day, so you can change up, fresh air and being able to look out to nature.

H – Yeah, absolutely. And I was just thinking, even if you saw my set up right now that is in front of me for my computer, I’m actually… Once we get off, I’m going to take a selfie of what this looks like because it’s certainly not fancy pants and I’m going to put it in the post and I would love everybody–

A – Let everybody do that.

H – That’d be really fun to have a selfie of how you’ve got your set up right now ’cause I bet, what is it? It’s quarter past eight here in Sydney, I’m not sure or aware what time it is in London and Hong Kong and New York where everyone else is, but I bet everyone’s not in the most perfect ergonomical set up, but we’re all just doing our best, aren’t we? We’re just trying very hard to do our best.

A – And it’s about moving, so it doesn’t need to be perfect. Doesn’t need to be bright, just needs to be changed up. I don’t care if you sit on the sofa, does that really matter? But this is not for too long.

H – I think I like… This is certainly not my expression, I’ve learned it from other experts, but ‘your best posture is your next posture’, isn’t that the way it is?

A – Yeah.

H – Yeah. Actually, it does worry me though, a lot of organisations who are, unlike Steelcase, who are, for the very first time, they’ve got dozens, hundreds of thousands of employees having to work from home and they’re perhaps not skilled to have their team members set up very well at home. And what worries me is that this great risk of musculoskeletal problems that are going to come from this period of time that we’re in right now. And this is part of the reason to getting you on tonight to really share with the tip. Like how, what do you have to do? I’ve had Kristy, the traveling ergonomist and I’ve had Emily from Axion Workplaces, all talking about how our work spaces… We spend, I think it’s like 90,000 hours of our lives at work. So when we’re doing that, now it doesn’t matter that our work is at home, but that’s still a lot of time. We have to make sure that we are getting ourselves set up properly so our body can be in a position until the next position. But, what is that number one tip with… I know you’re saying about use cookbooks, whatever you need to do, But what is the number one thing, as someone who’s been in the industry for so long, setting up offices, that people can do right now at home to make sure their work place will help their bodies?

A – I think the number one tip is to have variety. I really do, I think variety is very important. And I know that’s hard too. Imagine you’ve got kids at home, you’ve got playmates, you’ve got partners, that might be harder for some to do. But we’ve had to set up in our garage. So, our shed is now our office space because of serious lack of being able to get that privacy to be able to both be on the phone and the same time be having confidential conversations in different areas.

H – Yeah, it’s really tough, isn’t it?

A – It really has to be moving.

H – I think that’s the only way we’re all going to cope. If not for pain reasons, just for that reason, like the privacy and being able to get some quiet space to do deep work, this is something I know that you got to be designed for over the years, that being able to go somewhere… It’s wonderful to have these collaboration spaces and we probably can all do that around the kitchen bench and dining room table right now but when we need to do some deep work and have quiet space for thinking or privacy or client calls, that’s when we need to find a way in our homes to be able to still do that. Otherwise we’ll go a little bit crazy, I think.

A – Absolutely.

H – The future of the workplace, this pandemic that we’ve got going on right now has disrupted us all in one way or another, but there are some positive things that are going to come out of this in regards to the future of work, aren’t there? It’s hard to imagine that right now when we’re in the middle of just how do we operate, that being somebody who is so on top of the research and such a… Always looking at what are the positives that come out of every situation, you’re an eternal optimist. What do you see as some of the positives in the changes that we will experience past COVID-19?

A – What we could see, we really don’t know, but we are already seeing a lot of positive changes happening in such a short period of time. Like, do you think that working from home and working remotely, working from wherever is, that you happen to be, will be a thing, will be adopted more? Will people be allowed to? Will you have proven that it works? Maybe we’re not all working from the offices not, maybe it’s designated times. That could be one of them and the adoption of technology. We’re now all doing video conferencing and calls. At Steelcase, we have so many apps. Oh my gosh! For like every single platform, and it is a little bit overload ’cause you don’t quite know where someone’s going to pin you from or message you from and you learn which colleagues prefer which platform. But it’s funny, I was speaking with some designers the other day, they’re like, “Oh, it’s very confusing.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is normal for us.”

H – You’ve got pings coming from everywhere.

A – What about the materials that are being used? Are we going to see some new awesome materials being made that are going to be more anti-microbial and to prevent the spread of germs around spaces? There could be advancements there, I think that that’s quite exciting. And then also just, I think now more than ever, and this is where it’s very exciting for us, is, to be able to bring people back to the office is critical. So, we know to be true that the best learning and innovation happens when people come together. And so, what we’re now going to have to create really compelling reasons to bring people back, which means really awesome spaces, caring about people’s wellbeing. And Heidi, I think you’re going to be busier than ever.

H – Maybe.

A – Steelcase do their research piece with Ipsos on engagement in the global workplace. And so what they found, was of the engaged employees, there were 90 of the engaged employees, there were 93% of them that said that their employer cared about their wellbeing. So there’s a deep link their, and then of the disengaged employees, 9% of them said that their employer care about their wellbeing. So, I think wellbeing is going to be a really big thing.

H – I think it is and when I think about the fact that in Australia normally prior to this pandemic, 23% of Australians experienced anxiety. Now, we’re living in such a different time where people are feeling so overwhelmed with what’s going on. That anxiety is going to spike amongst the general population, amongst workers who are trying to navigate this whole new world of working with so much distraction at home, going on without having that social connection they get at work and perhaps the face to face leadership that they used to. I think exactly what you’re saying, when we come at the other end of this, which we will, we will come out the other end and we will be able to tap into some really great positives that come from it. And one of those things will be the fact that we can acknowledge that the coming together and looking after the people within our organisations should be a high priority because we will notice the difference that this time makes. And I think there is not a better time for organisations to really prioritise that on. When they’re looking after their people, whether that is in the spaces that they create or whether it’s the programs and policies that they put in place.

A – And the leadership.

H – And the leadership, yeah. Because it’s people first, profit second. Because even if you put your people first, profits will just follow. I’ve always believed so much in that and I see it in every workplace who actually put their people first, their profits will follow. So, I think definitely, we will see a change but I think we’ll see lots of changes for the good. And thank you, ’cause I know Steelcase will be right in front of that.

A – The team are busier than ever. So, we’ve got a futures team and the content, it’s content overload, which is but it seems to be in even more at the moment. It’s good.

H – I see a comment here from Shirley, she says, “We are literally using every room in the house “at different times of the day for work, homeschool meetings “since privacy is shifting hour to hour.” She says, “Whatever it takes, but will keep you moving.” I suppose Shirley, that’s a good thing. And Andrea says that she has used the bathroom once as well. Oh, dear! You’ve just got it right, Andrea.

A – Just send the video off first before you go to

H – And the sounds, definitely we’ve seen that gone viral, haven’t we? Ashley, tell me, with all the work that you’ve done over the years, 18 years of working in helping humans reach their full working potential, what do you see is the number one tip to help people be as productive as they can be at work, how they can perform their very best at work? What’s the number one tip?

A – I think the number one tip is to not stop improving and not stop learning new things. When you’re talking about performance, it’s a learning thing. So, when you’re creating spaces within organisations, how are you creating spaces to allow for that learning to happen? It’s a people thing.

H – Yeah, it is a people thing.

A – And when you’re not in the office, how is it that what’s in here can be out here so that everybody else can benefit from that? How are you designing in spaces so that you can brainstorm and have those half-baked ideas? And since you’ve got that privacy, you can shut the door and you can be in there, that it’s safe environments for people to share their ideas and try new things?

H – Or develop their ideas. That quiet time, the deep work time where… There’s that little idea that comes in the head, it’s not formed properly, but we need to actually have some quiet time and the deep work time to be able to develop it. And once we can do that, that’s when we can really perform well and be as productive as we can be, because we’ve got that opportunity for a different kind of space to do that. Whether that is in your normal office space or at my room, and that private time may only be with the bathroom door closed or the toilet at the moment, on the hutch. Whatever it’s got to be, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

A – Yes imagine it’s like you have a magic wand, you are now the workplace experience manager of your own place, you are now in control.

H – Actually, I’ve got one last question for you, so we can wrap up and everybody can get back to doing what they need to be doing. I’m just going to check in quickly with the comments before I do that. Working from home has made me realise how my kids are such a source of inspiration about agility, resilience, and creativity. Oh, I like that a lot. Ken, Irish builder, working from home, it’s made me realise who the real boss is, my wife. And Christina, who is a very talented architect.

A – I know Christina. Hi Christina.

H – Hello Christina, thank you for that, it’s so true because we have had to create new boundaries definitely in the physical boundaries or mental boundaries to allow us to perform our very best in our jobs in this new environment. Last question for you, going to Ashley. What is the most impactful piece of wisdom that you have been given in your life and why?

A – Only because it’s been really relevant lately, to focus on the things that are within your power to control. And you see, at the moment, there’s so much going on that we didn’t choose, that is happening to us, we’re not in control of it. So, what can you, what part surrounds that you can make a conscious choice unchangeable? And also And great people, everything is going to be online. So, if haven’t read this book, please go to the bathroom, find out about resilience and making sure your bucket’s nice and not holy or rusty.

H – I did not cue her for that, I just wanted to say I had no idea she was going to do that. But thank you Ashley. Because when we talk, I actually do have another question now that you’ve said that, because to me, for us to have resilient organisation, I feel like I’m on a crusade right now to ensure that organisations and their people have enough resilience to navigate out at the end of the stress one, uncertain and changeable times. And I know we’ve talked about resilience on a number of levels at different times and I’d love to know what you are doing right now to ensure that you are. It’s not easy, it’s not very easy being a business development manager when you’re stuck at home, but what are you doing to make sure that your back is strong and steady so you can keep moving forward in these really tricky times?

A – Look, fitness and health is just a stable habit, so, that one’s always good and easy because that one’s both physical and mental all at the same time. And we’ve been really lucky, meditation’s named one of those things that I want to make more of a habit that’s not really a habit. It’s like most theoretic and just having But Steelcase has had a meditation that they’ve put online. So, it’s like it’s in the U.S. in the morning, that we get to watch it on video and so, we’ve got the time to start developing new habits. So, I think that’ll be one for us.

H – And can I just say to you and to everybody, perfection is a fairy tale? So if that habit is a bit sporadic, that is absolutely okay. The fact that you acknowledged that that is going to be a benefit to making your resilience bucket strong and steady, is a great thing. So, congratulations for continuing to try to make sure that habit starts.

A – Have you heard of the book, Tiny Habits?

H – I have heard of that book, yes.

A – Yeah, make it really achievable.

H – It makes me feel like little just micro changes, that’s all we need, little micro changes. Don’t try to go for the big things. So Ashley, thank you very much for being my guest tonight on the Wine & Wisdom show. It’s been wonderful to have somebody who has got such deep experience about setting up workplaces that allow us to be productive, healthy, and happy and pain-free, which of course we spoke a little bit about. And I know that you and Steelcase are doing such impactful work with ensuring that organisations across the globe are being able to maneuver themselves and pivot and change to allow organisations, people, to set up at home. I know that is also a pivot and a change for you guys, but it’s what we’re all doing. So, thank you for doing your best to support everybody through this time where we’re all just learning as we go. And I’d like to have one final cheers to you.

A – Cheers.

H – Cheers to everybody around the globe, from New York to London, to Hong Kong, to Australia. It’s been wonderful to have you here tonight and to share in the wisdom of someone with such experience. I hope you’ve gained a lot. We will be editing… Not editing anything out, but putting on transcriptions and re-posting this. So, you will be able to get a copy and share it with anybody else who you believe could really benefit from Ashley’s amazing experience and wisdom that she shared with us tonight. But until next time, which is actually next week with another Ashley, I hope you have a wonderful week, stay safe, stay at home and do what’s right for you to ensure that you’re going to be able to navigate through these stressful, uncertain and changeable times. And if you have any questions for either Ashley or myself, you can either post them in this Facebook live, in the comment area, or you can contact us directly. And I will put some contact details for both of us so that you are able to get in touch. But have a great night, lovely to see you all from around the world.

About Ashley:

Ashley Jane Casey is part of the Steelcase Australia Sydney team. She says that “I genuinely love what I do, the industry at large and the people we work with. I’ve been working in the furniture and interior industry since 2002, and am excited about what’s ahead! The workplace is constantly changing, keeping us all highly engaged! I love helping our clients navigate their interior requirements.

All projects require a team to deliver. We have been lucky enough to work on many projects and within many teams over the years, with Interior Designers, Architects, Project Managers, Engineers, Builders, Suppliers, Services and Workplace Consultants who together bring a design concept to life.

I love meeting new people, and finding out what makes them and their organisation tick. I love learning and am lucky to work at Steelcase, where learning and continued education is actively encouraged … with an unending list of material. If you’re interested, here’s a link to Steelcase’s recent research.

Personal growth and peek performance are favourite research topics of mine. I am interested in how this integrates with the workplace, where organisations are looking to get the best out of their people, and the people within the workplace are looking to work at their best. We continually ask how the physical environment can positively influence people and performance. Through both research and experience we’re keeping up to date on best practice.

I am passionate about leading organisations who care about their people. In turn I care about delivering the best outcome for the organisations and the people I work with. Reach out to me directly if you would like to discuss all things workplace and hear about what we’re doing here at Steelcase.”

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