Thursday 3 December 2020

Since lockdown began, the working day has changed forever and this has had an undeniable effect on the demands of the space in our homes, causing many of us to reconsider our priorities.

When lockdown was announced, many businesses found themselves facing the considerable challenge of moving to a home working model. Some were equipped and experienced in running their operations remotely. Others had begun to transition, anticipating the potential disruption to travel and the practicalities of maintaining social distancing in busy offices. But for many businesses, they faced an overnight change and the significant task of the logistics of moving to homeworking, from IT to sourcing suitable desk and chairs.

This rapid change, couple with school and university closures, meant that suddenly many households were having to accommodate two or more people working full time from home, balanced with educating their children.

Negotiating sharing work space, felt manageable as a short-term solution. Bus as lockdown was extended, business had been forced to consider more long-term arrangements. Many people are now assessing what they need from their home work stations, how they can make it work for them, and what their priorities are.

Businesses were quick to embrace technology such as Teams and Zoom to maintain regular communication with their employees, but a challenge for employers now is ensuring the physical and mental health of their remote workforce. ACAS reports that while it is unlikely that employers can undertake risk assessment at employees’ home, there are still checks that can and should be carried out, and the responsibility is with the employer for making sure that any required changes are made.

In addition to physical health and safety, the effects of lockdown and the ongoing changes to our daily life caused by the pandemic on our mental health has a high profile issue, with mental health organisations seeing an increase in the number of people contacting them to access support services. The impact on our wellbeing is a common theme running through our collective experience of the past five months.

While there are multiple contributing factors - coping with the loss of family and friends, risking unemployment, feeling isolated, the sudden change in the demands on our space and how we are living our lives in our homes, and the associated stress – is having a definite impact on our mental wellbeing.

Limited access to outdoor space has been particularly hard for anyone without a garden or outside space, and compounded to those with multiple people in smaller flats and houses, where everyone is home together for extended periods of time.

Many people in urban areas rely on parks and community spaces to enjoy the fresh air and take exercise, particularly following the temporary closure of gyms and leisure centres. But with lockdown restrictions limiting these trips to once a day, many have found themselves at home without sufficient space to have time alone, which we all need sometimes.

Another side effect to the pandemic has been how to achieve separation between work and home life when there is no longer a commute. It is a common theme when we have had to suddenly adapt how we use the space in our home – whether it is the move to two people working at home, balancing the available space with schooling, or those in single person households who may be using their primary living area as their workspace.

This change in lifestyle is prompting many people to rethink what they need from their homes. Whether that involves smaller investments in storage and furniture to adapt their existing space and making it comfortable, interior renovations, or looking for a new property that will check all the boxes for a new way of living and working.

The pandemic has had far reaching consequences, and the property market was always going to be impacted, although perhaps not quite as predicted.

There was early speculation about the effect on house prices, amid growing unemployment and the threat of recession. Initially, house prices fell in May with the house price index experiencing its largest decline for 11 years. However, Rightmove has reported a significant rise in the number of people searching for homes further from town and city centres, with larger gardens and space for a home office.

In July, the RICS UK Residential Survey results pointed to signs of recovery, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that the Stamp Duty holiday was significant in lifting demand.

Rightmove stated that in August they experienced their busiest month for ten years as home buying superseded summer holidays.

The flexibility of working from home regularly, if not indefinitely, also offers the potential for moving further out of cities, when a daily commute is no longer necessary.

Looking ahead, what effect will COVID-19 have on the design of our living spaces in the future? An article from the World Economic Forum predicts that shifts in the layout of our space will be made to accommodate working from home, with a potential move away from open plan living spaces, and investment in better home offices.

As designers, architects, planners and housebuilders look to the future, it is clear that the pandemic has had a profound effect on the way we use our space, and made us question and re-evaluate what we need to be happy in our homes.

Laura Outram, Business Development & Bid Manager, Crawford & Company

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