The idea originated in Sweden in 2013: HOffice, in short the merging of Home and Office. During the Corona pandemic, the term has become more topical than ever. Your office at home doesn’t have to be an unpleasant environment if you set it up in an inspiring way. And why not invite friends or other people to share your everyday office life at home? We explain the pros and cons.

Ever since half of Switzerland suddenly started working from home in the first lockdown in March 2020, the term “home office” became within a short period of time one of the keywords of the year. I beg your pardon—and now another anglicism like HOffice?

The made-up word HOffice is actually a blend of home office and co-working space.

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HOffice: A brief history of the idea

The idea goes back to the Swedish psychologist Christofer Gradin Franzén. When he was writing his Master’s thesis alone in 2013, he felt isolated. He couldn’t cope with his working day sitting alone at the kitchen table. The idea became a reality when he invited first of all his girlfriend and later friends from his circle of colleagues to his home. They met at an agreed time in the mornings and talked about their plans for the day.

Tip: Co-working motivates!

Gradually, this developed into a concept with various methods taken from the fields of economics and psychology. Depending on the group, meditation or Buddhist approaches are thrown into the bargain. The goal: to work in a concentrated way with clear structures, to exchange ideas with others and to share ideas. The experiment succeeded: People felt significantly more at ease, were more motivated and more productive. Put simply, many people who work alone from home never really get going in the morning. They lack the ritual of freshening themselves up or even getting dressed.

“Working”: Enriching contacts

The cliché of the digital nomad sitting at the kitchen table in his pyjamas is not entirely misconceived. Many people are much more motivated when they can exchange ideas with others about their work. They are more likely to stick to the goals they set themselves, keep things in order and manage their own “self-organisation” much more successfully.

Typically, the idea was initially aimed chiefly at students, freelancers and people who work on a fee basis in all manner of projects. The idea was to make the daily routine as uncomplicated as possible and to spare people the usual costs associated with office buildings and co-working spaces.

There are now a large number of co-working office spaces on the open market: They are in most cases optimally set up for digital natives, with infrastructure, kitchen, catering and, depending on need, also other services, e.g. administration, telephone service, etc.

Tip: Are there free rooms available on your residential estate? 

“If you look around a bit, you will definitely find possibilities for a HOffice,” says Zurich interior designer Mabel Lutz. On many residential estates—such as those run by cooperatives or condominium owners’ associations—there are usually side rooms, craft rooms, workshops, etc. So if you don’t have enough space within your own four walls at home, you can usually find what you’re looking for—or you can simply ask friends and acquaintances who might be up for such an experiment and might have a room available. The only difficulty is when the flat is already very full and there simply isn’t any infrastructure or even an intelligent room layout. A common objection is that people working from home cannot imagine sharing their daily work routine with “strangers”. In Berlin, Zurich or other cities, there are in fact HOffice groups that are open to large numbers of people.

Public or purely private “self-help”?

Tip: It doesn’t have to take this organisational form. Very often the partner and many people in the private network are confronted with the same problems. Why not ask friends, colleagues or relatives? In practice, it is very often the case today that people set up their HOffice more as a private network—indeed with people they like to spend time with anyway. 

HOffice is not in this sense a business model, but rather is based on the idea of sharing. In the original group of the Swedish psychologist Franzén at least, the whole thing was flexibly organised and altruistic. The host not only provided the space free of charge, but also wi-fi, drinks, snacks etc.

HOffice: The pros

  • HOffice is originally based on the idea of sharing. It makes economic sense to share the office with others.
  • Not everyone, but many people work more productively and become energised from sharing with other people.
  • Shared breaks get people thinking about other things and help them to approach their next work task in a more focused way.
  • It is up to each group to decide how they organise their daily routine (talking about their own projects, taking a break together, sports, relaxation, yoga etc. in between).

HOffice: The cons

  • It is generally difficult to find very generous spaces, retreat rooms, meeting rooms, and other office infrastructure.  
  • Some people do feel a certain social pressure when they work together. In the HOffice group, they lack private space to withdraw to. Or the whole group dynamic is also associated with effort (questions of organisation, potential for conflict, different opinions about the use of the common rooms, distracting conversations, etc.).
  • If people don’t yet know each other, certain differences may only become apparent later. Some people might want to establish a more esoteric atmosphere, or a certain professional group might set the tone.

Guide: Set up the office properly

There is a lot to be gained from having the room set up properly. Interior designer Mabel Lutz comments: “The key is to take some time to furnish the shared space in advance and to organise it in a deliberate way.” One elementary rule is, for example: If, for example, the whole space looks like it was previously used as a “craft room” or a storage room, the new office should at the very least be cleaned and tidied up. It’s hard to get a good working atmosphere going if there are still things like gym equipment, laundry baskets or boxes of cables lying around and an old Scalextric track in one corner.

Plants, carpets, curtains, pictures, individual objects and other things can really help to create an inspiring atmosphere. The acoustics should not be underestimated either. If the room is not furnished properly, it will appear visually stark and lead to an unpleasant reverberation in the room during conversations and telephone calls. While the corona crisis continues, it is also important to remember the usual precautions (at least, partitions, spacing, ventilation, etc.).

Since many people in the world of “new work” often hold zoom conferences or make phone calls, a special room should be planned for this. “A separate corner or an armchair with a neutral background is ideal for video conferences,” says Mabel Lutz.

New work: Outlook

While the idea has enjoyed wide popularity in Scandinavia and Denmark for several years, the number of HOffice pioneers in Germany or Switzerland is still modest. There is of course no official number. Many groups have presumably organised themselves on a purely private basis. A certain scepticism may have something to do with not all people wanting to share their home, electricity, Internet connection and toilet with others. HOffice founder Franzén suspects that this also has to do with the mentality and culture in different countries. The German newspaper Die Zeit quotes him as saying: “Many people are hesitant to work with strangers. It has a lot to do with how high mutual trust is in the respective society.”

You can read more information about tomorrow’s living trends in our article Generation Z: how we’ll be living in future and Rurbanisation: the megatrends following the pandemic.