WFH with COVID-19
Working from home (WFH) during COVID-19. Photo – Canva.
  • It's likely more people will have flexible working arrangements from now on
  • Organisations may not require such large office spaces anymore
  • Meanwhile, workers may demand larger houses with well equipped office space

Work from home (WFH) and flexible office spaces seem to have baked themselves into the mix from hereon. At least for the time being.

Why battle into the city along the same jammed urban ways next to the same people travelling at the same time to the same place? Why not – at least – take a couple of days a week to work from home, or use a flexible workspace in the suburbs?

As the pandemic ticks over a year, we can look back at the various temporary, and other more permanent, changes that have taken place.

The effects of the crisis have already begun to manifest themselves in property.

The ‘death of the office’ was probably over-stated. We can’t all work from home, all the time. Nor would be want to. Nor would the organisation want us to.

As the World Economic Forum noted recently, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers analysed communication networks among students and faculty members, both before and during the March lockdown.

“Preliminary data seem to show that these networks are weakening while people work from home, as individuals tend to interact remotely with a smaller selection of peers and colleagues in their immediate circles,” said Carlo Ratti, Director of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT.

“This is different from what happens in the physical office, where people naturally entertain many ‘weak ties’ and exchange ideas with broader groups of co-workers.”

If this is correct, then shared workspaces may be crucial, allowing new ideas to emerge while maintaining the corporate culture. A mix of this and work from home, in-person and online will be blended together.

The net effect of this will be a decline in demand for workspaces and traditional office space. Maybe companies will need less office space, but not none.

If offices do become smaller, will demand for larger homes grow? Possibly so, and perhaps we’ve already seen this. House sales have been outstripping unit sales in Australia since the pandemic started, and well before.

As we cocoon ourselves in our own homes, with flat-screen TVs, subscription services and restaurant deliveries, we will need more space to accommodate our home offices, and space for the kids to do their homework as well.

One might wonder what happens to work-life balance when fewer people have a commute that conveniently separates the two activities.

Also, what happens to all those otherwise bustling city ground floor cafes and coffee shops that give cities their vibrancy? Perhaps the suburban coffee shops benefit, but the city ones have been badly affected and even with offices mostly open around Australia, numbers of city workers are well down.

As Mr Ratti argues, the challenge for cities will be to make those lower floor spaces, which “animates our life on the streets… among the first places to understand and rebuild.”

We may very well look back on this pandemic, and realise that it made some things – such as WFH and flexible working arrangements – more possible, seeing us buy larger homes, and organisations require smaller office space.

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