2020, and most likely 2021, will be a fascinating period to study in the not too distant future. I’m not talking about the news or what history will say about this last year and change, but for those who study sociology, the housing market, and human behaviour, it is going to be incredibly interesting. With most of us are now cooped up indoors to work, rest and play, our view of work is changing. My thoughts stem from one small but mighty shift that you may be experiencing right now while reading this; working from home.
To say that the regular working environment is gone forever may feel like grasping at straws. Still, the truth is that with so many businesses now settled into a system of remote working, even when things have passed and the majority of people are vaccinated, I am struggling to see a complete return to the norm in how we collectively approach the average working day. For those now working from their kitchen table or spare room reading this, can you even imagine getting up every weekday morning for a lengthy commute when the alternative is a bit of yoga, brewing a good cup of coffee, and listening to your favourite music before clocking in?
With The Guardian reporting that the percentage of people in the UK exclusively working from home is sitting around 25%, and the figure holding steady for the time being, there are going to be some unique knock-on effects for how we live and work. I want to take a quick look through some of those ideas, and how the ways we live are going to shift without anyone really taking notice.
How many bedrooms? No! How many offices!
The property market has been fascinating to watch this last year, with the Stamp Duty holiday and mortgage rates making things more competitive than they should for a market which was supposed to be quite dormant. One can only assume that many first-time buyers making the decision couldn’t hack living with their parents under one roof anymore.
One of the immediate effects of home working is now cropping up more frequently on property sites. It used to be that you would be looking for a home with the right number of bedrooms and working backwards from there. Now though, many estate agents are ditching the idyllic three-bed for a one or two bed with one room now acting as dedicated office space. Those looking to move into new homes are looking to free themselves from hunching over the dining room table or have to use a bunch of books as a makeshift laptop holder in the spare room.
You only have to look at Google Trends to see that the popularity in “home office furniture” didn’t just peak when the first lockdown was announced and then flatten out. It has increased in popularity over time. People now want to live somewhere where they have dedicated working space instead of carving out a corner of the room. It highlights a changing attitude, which gets even more interesting when looking at how big cities are handling the shift.
Living it up with all the mod-cons
I don’t know about you, but I had a love/hate relationship with commuting. I was in the lucky position of being close enough to the office that I could leisurely walk while listening to podcasts on dry days, and quickly nip on any passing bus on those miserable mornings where the sky is as grey as can be. For the vast majority of people, commuting has been something akin to a necessary evil. With the TUC discovering last year that the average commute to work in the UK was 59 minutes each way every day, when you get your calculator out and start totting it up, you’re looking at either a generous amount of time to listen to podcasts, or hours wasted.
So what are some cities like London doing in the absence of commuters to make people want to stick around? Well, it requires a little out the box thinking and understanding that people want something more while everything else is closed.
There’s a very unique example of this happening right in the middle of London’s Canary Wharf, which I feel may soon become a common theme in letting. Take a look here at this two-bedroom apartment from Vertus. It looks like a lovely place to live in an area of London which is becoming more residential. But what makes it so special? It is already fully equipped with mod-cons but goes way beyond that to offer tenants a roof terrace, private bar, screening room, garden and private dining room.
For those who are clocking out at 5 pm from the kitchen table, and can only go as far as the back gate to move around, additional services like these will make people want to live there. I miss the cinema just as much as anyone else, so imagine what it must feel like to say “ok, work is done, I may as well just book a slot in the cinema downstairs or do a quick workout up on the roof terrace”.
The desirability of access to services when renting will only get more desirable when you remember what I said earlier; people spend too long commuting. Apartments like these could see people opt to live in the city closer to work, and why would they do that…
Flexibility above all else
Even though your part of the world may be in “lockdown”, people still want some control over how their day can go. Examples like I’ve mentioned above are only going to shift how we look at buying, selling, and renting accommodation in the near future. After the stamp duty holiday is over, and businesses start to lean on asking staff whether they think remote life is working for them (expect office downsizing, which is another story for another day), the average person will look to changing their home and living space to suit their needs.
I’m not saying it will happen overnight, but when you’re looking at a house or flat in the future, don’t be surprised if the agent declares that “the home office is ideally suited for peace and quiet”.
Then again, I am writing this from my kitchen table, so what do I know?