The best way to work from home

Five OsloMet students at an office space. Screen, keyboard and coffee cup on the left.

For a minority of people, work-from-anywhere has been a reality since the nineties. This changed dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020–2021, when many office workers had to move their offices into their homes.

But how can you work efficiently and have a good work environment at home?

A group of European Project Semester (EPS) students tried to find solutions that could improve inclusivity, productivity and well-being in a workspace located outside regular offices, such as the home.

EPS

European Project Semester (EPS) is a one-semester programme designed to train mainly engineering and technology students to carry out project work in international teams.

Teleworking guide

Teleworking is working away from the employer’s premises.

Using interviews and literature studies, the students developed a guide for those who want to work from home.

Named “How to Telework”, the manual contains seven chapters called Ergonomics; Healthy space; Technology; Nutrition and Exercise; Communication, Social interaction and feedback; Time management, Work-life balance and Settings boundaries.

‘The goal is to help people find tips that can solve their home office problems, like a toolbox,’ says one of the students, Noah Paessens.

The tips are based on scientific data, written in a language that everyone can understand.

For example, if you have ergonomic problems like back pain, or nutritional problems, you can go to the chapter “Ergonomics” or “Nutrition” and find out how to sit or what to eat.

It is a manual on how to telework the right way.

‘We tried to use the feedback from the people we interviewed,’ emphasize the students.

‘We gathered people who had already been working from home for a long time. Employees, not students,’ explains Noah.

Lack of information about teleworking

The EPS students read a lot of literature and conducted interviews that told them that there is a general lack of information about teleworking.

As new work practices emerge, teleworking has become a common and frequently used way of working remotely, as it is the solution to many different problems.

It offers new work opportunities for disabled people, increases work flexibility, reconciles the conflicting demands of work and family, and reduces labour and overhead costs.

However, there are also some disadvantages which are difficult to address due to the lack of information about this topic. The students’ project aims to compensate for this lack of information.

Experience from France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal and Spain

The group conducted qualitative interview-based research involving 17 interviewees, focusing on people who had worked, at least once, away from their regular workplace.

The project consisted of students from France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal and Spain:

They conducted the interviews in their home countries. The results are thus not linked to a specific country with similar work practices and work behaviours.

Through the interviews, the five students tried to identify the main problems related to teleworking and how they may relate to a sense of inclusion and fulfilment, or lack of it.

Portrait of the five OsloMet EPS students looking content.

Students from five countries carried out a project outside their own comfort zone in the European Project Semester at OsloMet. From left Natalia Garcia, Lucas Longein, Noah Paessens, Alice Oliveira and Annika Wittmann. Photo: Olav-Johan Øye

A manual for all digital nomads

The students decided that a manual would be useful to reach almost all digital nomads.

They created a manual based on the interviews and the literature they had read. The manual is a practical resource, as it is easy to consult when someone is facing a problem.

It includes practical tips that address and propose solutions for different aspects and drawbacks associated with remote working.

A physical product that is quickly at hand

The students decided that the manual should be in hard copy, since having a physical product makes it feel more real.

A paper manual could stay in the consumer’s desk or bag, so that it is quickly at hand if needed. That is not possible with digital manuals.

If the teleworker must go to a digital folder to find the manual, it requires an extra effort, which means they might not do it. If, on the other hand, they have the manual close by while working, they can read it whenever they need, or if a problem occurs.

A project outside the comfort zone

Working with a project like this was new to the students.

All of them were out of their comfort zone since they all work in more technical fields, and they were not really used to projects that are more related to social research.

The team was afraid that their project was outside the framework of the programme, since it was a brand-new project that no other group had done before them.

The project gave training in research and team-based project work. I usually work in automation, so this gave me new experience outside of what I normally do. – Noah Paessens

Interdisciplinary training

One of the goals of the European Project Semester programme is to give students training in working with interdisciplinary projects.

They chose the project because the subject was completely unrelated to their degrees, and because the semester is short.

‘It was something that we could collaborate on. We only had a few weeks to find out what we could do and could not do,’ they write in their report.

The group started from scratch. The ideas came from everyone and through the interviews. They had weekly meetings and found an approach that proved to be successful.

They received guidance along the way. Their supervisors were head of department Professor Laurence Habib and Jane Jorgensen, a researcher at the University of South Florida.

The students and the professor sitting on a sofa near the exam room at OsloMet.

The goal is to help people find tips that can solve their home office problems, like a toolbox. Four of the students on their exam day. From left Annika Wittman, Natalia Garcia, Alice Oliveira, Lucas Longein and Professor Laurence Habib. Photo: Olav-Johan Øye

Good communication and joint decisions

The team overcame struggles and doubts together by deciding on an important rule at the start of the project: good communication.

The team made all decisions together, mainly through voting to ensure that the decision would bring something good to the team.

Working as a team helped the group to stay motivated by looking forward and finding solutions to each problem as it arose.

Learned to work properly in a group

‘Everyone learned how to work properly in a group. The voting system we established was part of that. Every opinion was listened to, and arguments were understood,’ the students write in their report.

'However, everyone can’t always agree about everything. Therefore, democratic voting helped us a lot as a group. Moreover, we learned to be freer and more open-minded and work creatively on our project.’

Improved English skills

Working in a group enhanced the students’ English skills.

‘As everyone had a different mother tongue and we were all forced to communicate only in English, we expanded our vocabulary.'

‘We also created a positive atmosphere where making mistakes and helping each other when someone said the wrong word was normal and no one was made fun of.’

Freedom to be creative and innovative

‘Normally, studying at our own universities is restricted to listening to lectures, memorising the curriculum and writing it down in the exam.’

‘The European Project Semester programme gave us more freedom to develop creative and innovative ideas without being limited by academic restrictions.’

Even though they felt insecure and had some doubts in the beginning, the group became motivated to find a useful solution together within the framework of the subject and to create something they are proud of.

Important to be good at team projects

‘How is this project useful for your education?’

‘The project gave the students training in research and team-based project work. I usually work in automation, which has nothing to do with making a manual for working from home, so this gave me new experience outside of what I normally do,’ says Noah Paessens.

Why did you choose the European Project Semester (EPS) programme?

‘In my field, engineering, we do many projects. What I am going to do is more project-based,’ says Lucas Longein.

‘Here, we had an opportunity to work directly with researchers. That can open doors to job opportunities,’ elaborates Alice Oliveira.

Oslo is different

‘Why Oslo?’

‘I was given a list of schools I could go to. Norway was the most exciting to me. I had not been to Scandinavia before and OsloMet seemed to be a very good school. That is the reason I chose it,’ says Noah.

‘I looked at the university website, and it was completely different from Spain,’ adds Natalia Garcia.

They have travelled across Norway with trips like ‘Norway in a nutshell’.

The students think Oslo is different from other cities in Europe, with a different atmosphere. It is quiet. It does not have that many people.

‘It has been a very enriching experience,’ states Noah.

EPS gives opportunities

‘What is most exciting about the EPS programme?’

‘The opportunities it gives us, I think. We are in our twenties, and we were given the opportunity to work in another field, which we would not have had in a normal programme,’ says Alice.

‘A chance to meet students from other countries,’ continues Noah.  

‘It is a totally different way of teaching than in Belgium. The way that they interact with students, more interaction in general. And we call the teachers by their first name.’

At the top of the article, you can see the students at an office workplace. From left Lucas Longein, Natalia Garcia, Noah Paessens, Annika Wittmann and Alice Oliveira.

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Published: 26/07/2022 | Olav-Johan Øye