COVID-19 has made a whirlwind, worldwide changes and while at it, it has widened the human perspective on many accounts. One outlook it has changed is how we work. As the COVID-19 took the world by storm and governments across the world issued lockdowns in their territories even businesses that naysaid the WFH concept scrambled to buy laptops and other necessary devices to allow their employees to work from the climes of their homes.
Going by media reports it is almost certain Work-From-Home (WFH) will be the norm in most companies. Even if the employer opens up for Work-From-Office (WFO) I strongly believe many will want to WFH or will come to office hesitantly (else they will be fired).
Many corporates are thinking of vacating their office space and move to 100% WFH. This, of course, is limited to IT companies and a few more verticals.
- Gartner survey of CFOs found 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID-19.
- TCS, which employs about 500,000 people, says it is sufficient for employees to spend about 25% of their time in the office to be 100% productive. 100% of the workforce at the office for 100% of the time is ruled out.
- Top 10 consultancy & advisory firms may surrender 500,000 sq ft of office space by June 2020 end.
- Tenants may invoke force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract – Act of God, earthquake & now invisible-enemy COVID-19) to exit existing rental agreements
- Many tenants are re-negotiating for a 30-50% reduction in rentals
- Property consultancy firm Anarock expects residential sales to dip by 35%, office space leasing to slide by 30% to 28 million sq ft in 2020 against 40 million sq ft in 2019.
In my blog post which talks about WFH is not suitable for most homes in India. A few architects and builders have already started planning on relooking at the floor plans to accommodate WFH.
Real Estate Developers & Architects Will Need to Innovate
Homes were previously seen as a place to relax, to leisure away from the drudgery of work. But now homes will be expected to allow for work in the most effective manner. As COVID-19 champions social distancing we can almost expect the death of the open-plan concept in offices.
Developers will need to model in spaces for work in the mass-produced apartments that will have to cater to people from different professions.
Real estate prices have increased in most metros. Families had to settle for smaller apartments. To accommodate a workspace in that apartment is not an easy job. Without increasing the budget significantly they need to rework floor plans for,
- Occupied apartments
- Apartments under construction
- Apartments which are about to be occupied
Convertible spaces will be the norm, home office or study seen as a necessity, open-plan apartments will need to have options for secluding or partitioning off spaces, with two people or more working from home pods will be the future especially in small apartments where additional rooms may not be possible.
Builders plan to have ecommerce delivery zones, contactless access, balconies (in view of future lockdowns).
Community spaces though still relevant will not necessarily be the selling point in multiple complex apartments anymore. Each unit will then have to be self-sufficient in terms of work, play, study, exercise and possibly every activity that the residents will have to undertake. Suggested are a few trajectories that homes will have to take in the post-Covid-era.
Convertible Spaces Will Be the Norm
Have you heard of the third bedroom being converted into a study? Now, how about the additional bedroom being converted into a den, the dining room the conference table, the TV projector screen the whiteboard, the pooja room the meditation chamber, the bedroom the gym?’
There is an urgent need for the study table to make way for the bed, the bed to disappear into walls, the walls to be a vault of storage. It is nothing but a ballet of furniture that will transform rooms not even day by day but hour by hour.
Think murphy beds (wall beds), think rooms that are free of furniture till they all emerge from walls tucked away. Essentially making spaces easily convertible to the need of the hour.
Murphy beds have made great strides in terms of design and function today. A single or a double bed can be easily folded into the wall. Existing furniture can be remodeled to literally disappear into walls, upgraded with the right hardware at a little over a sum of fifty-thousand and generate space worth much more.
The legendary French architect Le Corbusier had once disrupted the architecture and building industry by terming and designing homes as machines for living.
With the budgets, the scope and space at our disposal today we must convert our furniture into machines for living, besides these furniture machines have to be capable to transform to allow for our dynamic standards of living.
Home Office or Study Seen As Necessity
The selling point of homes will no longer be the size of the community spaces, the number of squash courts, the length of the running track but the positioning and the having of a study or a home office space.
One that translates to a cordoned off room or space that looks professional, houses everything from gadgets, adept with the latest of technological necessities, a desk, storage, everything.
Think of an average office goers cubicle, or a Director’s room, or the assistants cubicle, depending on which level of the hierarchy one belongs to, the room will need to reflect that. Picture the bonhomie of the analyst, the gravitas of the CEO or the casual indifference of the freelancer.
Where separate rooms or entities are not possible, much for the common workers or employees a zone or a wall at the very least will be required to make for an office environment. A corner of any lesser-used room for daily activities would be ideal.
Open Plan Apartments
We might as well already bid goodbye to the open-plan offices and with that the open-plan homes. The cubicle is ought to make a comeback in a big way.
Solitude brings better ideas, creative solutions and drives work in a big way. If additional rooms are not possible partitioning systems will be the norm to make for secluded spaces in terms of sight or sound.
Having a screaming toddler or a blasting whistle of the pressure cooker are just two sounds that are unnecessary. Sound insulation and spatial isolation make for steady work from home spaces.
The Need for Home Pods
With 2 or more people working from home pods will be the future especially in small apartments where additional rooms may not be possible.
Like the capsule hotels in Japan, these work pods or work capsules that are ergonomically designed supply every need of the average worker and can be bought off shelves, placed wherever convenient in any part of the house.
There are some fancy solutions in the US, but those are for large homes. We need to innovate for the Indian market, especially for apartments. These pods will do well to be flexible such that they can be folded away when not required.
Work pods that have been dotting the open free-plan office spaces over the past few years are going to make a huge comeback and this time in homes. Prices starting at a little over Rs 100,000, these work pods are equipped with ergonomic sitting spaces, sound insulation, optimum lighting and relevant infrastructure like charging points.
The essentials in WFH
While having a custom made workspace may well be the dream, there are a few essentials that any workspace needs. Don’t forget to use cybersecurity tools while working at home.
- An ergonomic chair (adjustable with arms)
- A mat if one is ready to sit crosslegged for hours (the best way to work)
- A Swiss ball (the best chair to fuse fitness and work)
- Yoga seats (chairs that facilitate various yoga poses)
- Working on a table as per the seated height
- With or without storage
- Clutter-free cable management
- Fixed or concealed
- Movable or open
Work Area Background Options
- The backdrop to all the calls and meeting (could be a canvas). Or use digital wallpapers available for Zoom, Webex etc.
- A plant or plants
At work you have easy access to office supplies. Now, you need to plan this well in advance (just in case there is another lockdown!)
- Gadgets (printers/modems/charging points)
- Light fittings
The real worry about WFH is the effect it will have on the economy. Public transportation, restaurants, corporate outings, commercial construction will take a hit.