29th April 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the trend towards working from home. The result has seen an explosion of PC monitor, desk and office chair sales over recent weeks.
Home working is certainly not a new concept. The blurring of lines between office and home life has been ongoing for some time with the introduction of smart phones, laptops, tablets and the iPad meaning that we have 24-hour access to e mails and work files. Introduce FaceTime, Skype and more recently Zoom, and the ‘virtual’ meeting has now become the operating norm.
ONS statistics suggest that 14% of UK employees who use computers for their job work from home every day or almost every day, and a further 18% do so at least once a week. As part of this evolution of flexible working patterns, new companies such as We Work and The Office Group have emerged to deliver a hybrid model offering a flexible solution to both company and employee alike.
The blending of home and work life is also increasingly apparent in how we design our homes and how companies are designing office space. Many homes already incorporate a fixed work space including desk, office chair and desktop computer and many corporate offices now include a coffee machine, sofas, exercise machines, bean bags and table football!
There seems to be an almost unstoppable momentum towards making our home and work lives fungible, and this has been accelerated by the recent outbreak of COVID-19. But what does this all mean for the residential property market over the years to come? Here are a few trends and scenario’s which could possibly emerge.
- It is almost certain that new housing developments will incorporate office space as part of the build design. Space standards currently play a role in determining the size (gross internal area) of properties, and so squeezing a dedicated office space might impact on bedroom or living room area, if developers want to maximise unit density as well as providing some work space. There may even be a premium for new homes with built-in office space. Alternatively, developers might include co-working spaces as a shared amenity.
- For existing homes, working from the kitchen counter or living room sofa is obviously not a long-term solution. Home owners will need to consider attic or garage conversions, extensions or forgoing a bedroom to accommodate the home office. Weighing up the cost of converting or expanding the homes footprint will be at the forefront of owner’s minds, but such investment will inevitably be reflected in the property’s future resale value.
- A key enabler (or potential constraint) on the effectiveness of home working is internet speed. Again, this trend is not new as streaming online video and gaming has already focussed the minds of home buyers on band width. The Government has achieved its target of 95% of homes having superfast broadband, and has now proposed a full rollout of fibre, which may cause complexities for existing dwellings and new developments alike. A poll found that 55% of UK house buyers would reject their ideal house if speeds were below 100 Mbps, with many willing to pay a premium to ensure it. Adequate internet speed is quickly becoming a prerequisite for home buyers and properties offered for sale that are unable to offer acceptable speeds are likely to face a challenge.
- Today, our cities are the centres of employment and the drivers of economic growth and demand for urban property has consistently pushed prices in these locations. An acceleration of the trend in home working will allow people to make different lifestyle choices around where they live and the size of property that they can afford. Urban and coastal locations potentially stand to gain as peoples’ preferences of where they want to live change.
- A change in how and where people choose to live and work will likely, over time, have a knock on implication for both travel infrastructure and the environment. Many big cities in the UK are facing problems of congestion and pollution, but with more people working from home, the problem may be dissipated, although not entirely eliminated. It could put added pressure on minor roads as households move further from urban centres.
So, will the current coronavirus pandemic completely revolutionise how we work? After all, it should be remembered that claims in the past that videoconferencing would lead to the end of face-to-face meetings did not fully materialise. But the current situation is different, as it has ‘forced’ a considerable proportion of the UK office-based employment market to try something different, be they an employer or an employee. It is certainly possible that current events will accelerate the work from home trend.
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