Topophilia, Placemaking, and Boundary Work: Envisioning Future Technologies in Work-from-home Era

The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the nature of work by shifting most in-person work to a predominantly remote modality. Given new modes of working (i.e., hybrid mode or permanent work-from-home (WFH), people who generally lacked prior experience working primarily (or exclusively) from home, needed to reconstruct their homes as work-friendly places and their virtual work offices as home-friendly spaces. As these boundaries between home and workspaces have become blurred, people have had to modify or redefine the sense of home places (i.e., topophilia). Given the fact that domestic environments are unique and complex — and sometimes contradictory to design requirements common in the office workplace –, I believe that the locational shift of work provides an opportunity to think critically about the role of digital technologies to embrace uncertainty in everyday life. 

In this project, I draw on boundary theory and humanistic geography as theoretical lenses to understand remote workers’ experiences when working from home and envision digital technologies to support remote workers’ wellness. Home is a material and an affective space, shaped by everyday practices, lived experiences, social relations, and emotions. To reimagine how technology can support remote workers’ wellness (including work–family balance), I argue that understanding people’s relations with a place, their possessions, and co-present individuals in the space should take precedence. In this proposed research, I plan to investigate how people enact boundary work as a placemaking practice for (re)creating topophilia — how people respond to and make meanings of home, as a place, through their spatial feelings and ideas, and their relations with family.

As part of this project, I conducted a qualitative analysis of Reddit data drawn from two work-from-home related subreddits between March 2020 and January 2021. The findings revealed six types of boundary work that shape remote workers’ placemaking practices in WFH situations (Figure 1, 2).

Figure 1. Themes of Boundary Work from Reddit Data
Figure 2. The segmentation–integration continuum for boundary work

WFH experiences are varied depending on the industry, personal background or characteristics, social and cultural factors at home, and so on. However, our findings seem to be three distinct patterns in leveraging boundaries as a resource for placemaking (Figure 3)

Figure 3. Three distinct patterns in leveraging boundaries as a resource for making a home office

This study was conditionally accepted at the GROUP 2022 conference, and you will find the details about it soon! My future work will investigate remote workers’ everyday experiences (esp. people who live with a family member) and explore how digital and physical objects can shape and affect the family dynamics for better supporting holistic wellness at home.

Stay tuned!