Home working not the panacea

This article forms part of our ‘New How: Perspectives’ report: ‘Can real estate help solve the productivity puzzle?. To access this free report, please click on the download link to the right of this page.


Home. Noun. Meaning: “The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.”

Not any longer. Home is now also where many of us work. If there was a productivity puzzle before 2020, it has certainly morphed into an even bigger conundrum now. Which begs the question: what will happen now that so many of us are working from home (or should I say living at work) more regularly?

Anecdotally, productivity has rocketed during the pandemic and the percentage of workers around the world permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021, however, it is hard to believe this is sustainable. Issues around wellbeing and collaboration will likely rise in greater numbers, potentially leading to a pandemic of a different kind. Which begs an even bigger question: “can our homes really replace the numerous benefits of office working over the long-term?”

In any case, it is safe to say that we will not be going back to the old way of working – and indeed now living – which have necessarily changed forever. In which case, we will all have to face up to this fact and make some adaptations. Minor things like more storage, a new desk, better WI-FI etc can help to build in comfort and convenience, but will that really be sufficient? Our existing housing stock is not designed with permanent home working in mind, to the extent that we have already started to see changes to layout design in the new build sector. Recent design had focussed on open plan living yet now, full circle, we crave a dedicated room (not at the end of a spare room bed or dining room table) where we can actually shut the door and work in peace.

Flexibility of future home design will be key. Developers will not want to make immediate changes in the eye of the storm and live to regret those decisions later. They want design that is compatible with home working but not designed solely with it in mind. Cellular, adaptable design will need to be utilised. Reliable and fast broadband will also be more important than ever. In BTR and new build communities, for example, central co-working areas with post rooms and concierge services will become more widespread. Outdoor space, garden rooms or larger balconies will also be on the future buyer’s shopping list to offer a counterbalance to staring at a screen all day.

More fascinating than tweaking the floorplans on new builds, however, is the wider shift of the housing market, from urban to suburban to rural. Not a day has gone by in this pandemic when the papers haven’t commented on its impact on the real estate market and how and where we live and work. The race for space, the future of the high street, the demise of town centres, 15-minute neighbourhoods, shopping local, the rise of Amazon. The list goes on. The extent to which these wider shifts will serve to influence our national workforce productivity, however, will not be evident for decades to come.

But for me, being unconnected and separated from colleagues will not solve the productivity puzzle in the long-term. We should absolutely be making sure that we are not living at work but also finding new ways to work with our teams from somewhere other than an office for at least some of the time.

Housebuilders and developers will no doubt be pondering all of this and asking their architects to look at housing layout designs that will better equip the homeworker and make them more comfortable throughout a working day. In my view, no architect can design a home which fully caters for what we are missing out on by not being in the office, at least some of the time. A blended office/home working week is surely the long-term solution, and the most effective way to drive productivity. Our housing and office stock and the infrastructure that connects it will need to adapt to a new era of flexibility.


To read more of our perspectives on whether real estate can help solve the productivity puzzle, download our free report using the link to the right of this page.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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