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Work From Home, Or Live At The Office?

As boundaries between work and private life fall away, telecommuting has been a rising trend in recent years. But some now have begun to opt for living at work.

Nap time first. Stay the night is next...
Nap time first. Stay the night is next...
Ghislaine Bloch

LAUSANNE — "I live in my office," a somewhat embarrassed Virginie Le Moigne admits. As head of the Swiss agency My Playground, a communications and media relations company that employs seven people, she set up a sofa bed in her conference room and regularly spends nights there. "My husband, a designer, and my 2-year-old daughter join me," the 37-year-old adds.

The living conditions are pleasant. Her company is located in the Marie-Antoinette Villa, a 20th century property in Lausanne"s chic Rumine neighborhood. Her office looks like a huge showroom, presenting all kinds of objects My Playground has promoted. Contemporary paintings decorate the walls of this apartment-office. "I wouldn't sleep in an open-space-style office," says Le Moigne, who enjoys changing things up. "I like waking up on Saturday mornings to go and have a brunch in town. Not being linked to just one home is a way to be freer."

She also rents an apaprtment in a home in Cheseaux, in the Swiss countryside. Her next step: working and living in My Playground's offices in Zurich. "We're currently looking for a new workspace that could also serve several purposes there."

Thinner boundaries

Sleeping and living at work could become a trend. Companies are already offering more perks to their employees such as kitchens, and rooms to nap, workout or play. And employees are continuously linked to their jobs via their smartphones and computers. The boundaries between work and private life have never been less clear. A business incubator from the University of Utah, in the United States, has even offered its members the opportunity to move into their workspaces full-time.

Still just a project, these small boxes are designed like bedrooms with only the most basic needs: a bed, shelves, a coffee table and first aid kit. These pods are created in the incubator, and students have communal spaces at their disposal: living room, kitchen and bathroom. Mehrdad Yazdani, the designer of Yazdani Studio in charge of the development of these pods, says ideas sometimes come in the middle of the night. It would be a shame not to be able to get up immediately, wake up co-workers and develop the idea right away.

In Paris, 24-year-old Jean-Baptiste Charpenay-Limon lives in his shop that doubles as his apartment, where everything is for sale, from the coffee mugs to the cushions, lamps, paintings and even the bed.

"I worked at home as an independent, but I didn't at all enjoy this mix between private life and my clients," a professional coach in Lausanne says.

Clark Eliott, an architect, social psychologist and work environment advisor, says living at work goes against a good psychological balance. "In my 32-year career, I've never met a single employee who lived at work," he says. On the other hand, he strongly recommends working remotely, occasionally working from home, which is on the rise in Switzerland.

The heads of Microsoft Switzerland, the Swiss insurance group La Mobilière, the national postal service, the Swiss Federal Railways, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and Witzig The Office Company even signed an agreement in June to engage in flexible work models and encourage other companies to follow suit. According to a study by the School of Applied Psychology of Western Switzerland, employees are more productive and creative in companies that don't require a physical presence. Transport networks would also be less congested because remote working would reduce commuter flows by 13% during rush hours. This would also reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

The corporate union Economiesuisse encourages this practice because it's an alternative way to feed innovation, but it notes that it has limits in terms of employee and data protection.

Cultural, not just technological

"Work flexibility is done through technology, but it also requires a cultural change," says Olivier Collombin, a 53-year-old banker who launched E-merging, a social network designed for independent financial experts. "There is still a certain reluctance among human resource executives and managers. But also, sometimes, in the family, which doesn't necessarily want to devote a room to an office."

He's now launching a start-up based in Monaco called WorkCocoon. It develops concepts designed to favor remote working in the business world. To do so, it offers office kits that are light, recyclable and foldable so that they can easily be stored at the end of the day. They will probably be built in Switzerland.

Companies will be able to customize these offices to their own colors and have a professional background. "Users will be able to hold a conference call without revealing that they're working from home," Collombin explains. "We will probably rent these workstations to companies. The concept will be completed by software enabling the user to supervise the professional activity of his associates thanks to a facial recognition system."

At the same time, employees will be compensated for the space taken at home. "We planned financial compensation linked to the cost of the rent," says Collombin, who hopes to rent his first units in the next six months both in Switzerland and in Monaco.

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