By Jodie Wardell, Head of BTR, Hatch Interiors
There used to be work and home. Now, work has become home and home has become work – professional and personal lives have integrated throughout the last few months. The huge transition – initially enforced throughout the UK during the move to lockdown – to working from home could be set to stay, which means that residents are likely to want more flexibility from their Build to Rent property.
Data from the Office for National Statistics found that 5% of the UK workforce operated mainly from home in 2019. Where once, working from home might have been just an occasional arrangement, there has been a major turnaround, post lockdown. In fact, according to Savills, some 49% of people have indicated they are more inclined to work from home in the future.
Companies are prepared to embrace the change, too. Twitter, for example, has said its employees can work from home indefinitely. Many companies have been talking to staff about providing the correct desks and seats – and in some cases, funding the purchase of home office furniture to ensure safety and productivity.
In the future, HR workplace assessments might even take place in an employee’s home, instead of in the office. Technology, and the use of video meeting software such as Zoom, has enabled colleagues to stay in touch, without the need to be physically present in the same room. This perhaps represents the removal of the last barrier to home working in the minds of employers, who have realised and accepted that it’s possible for many office-based professions to operate seamlessly away from HQ.
Working from home has obvious benefits: less cost and time spent commuting, more time in the working day, more flexibility and increased leisure time. But potential downsides include never properly switching off – it can be tempting to work for ‘just one more hour’ – distractions in the home, and possibly an element of isolation from staring at the same four walls.
Reviewing perceptions of living spaces
If working from home is going to be a more popular long-term arrangement, then we need to review our perception of living space. Sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop might work in the short term, but beyond that a more permanent area is surely going to be a key consideration for people – and 44% told Savills that a separate space to work from home had become more important.
For Build to Rent providers, encompassing an appealing home working function within an apartment could clearly provide an advantage in attracting future residents. A defined area can help to keep that important divide between work and home, and maintain that balance.
It’s easier to accomplish in larger apartments of course – where we now offer the option of a second bedroom or a home study – but also perfectly achievable in more compact properties with the use of clever interior design. Having lots of flexible options is important; think laptop trays and fold down desks which can be stored away when not in use. If there isn’t room to have a dedicated workspace, using lightweight and portable equipment means a resident can revert their living space to be a home when work is finished for the day.
Layout and design of flexible workspaces
At Hatch we’re very mindful of the psychological elements of layout and design. If layout allows, we look to establish the work area in a comfortable environment. Near natural light – by a window or patio doors – perhaps with plants or greenery close by to stimulate the brain. We also consider the close surroundings, understanding that many people have the type of work which requires video calls with clients and need to create a good impression.
However well designed the work area, we know that it’s important to get a break away from the home desk, too. Our designs allow for separate zones to be maintained within an apartment, ensuring residents can get away from the working area both physically and mentally.
While the focus to date has been on working within the home, as normality returns, we expect to see communal working areas provide a great compromise: with all the convenience of home working, but without the isolation.
At Hatch we have experience in developing flexible workspaces for leading Build to Rent providers. Now more than ever, we’re using our experience in sourcing high quality materials for bespoke installations to ensure that communal areas are built with hygiene in mind. Selecting working surfaces which are easy to keep clean and well maintained in order to support good hygiene is a priority, as we all plan for the post lockdown future.