Rethinking our towns and cities
Jane Embury considers the impact of home-working on our built environment
One of the consequences of Covid-19 has been the requirement wherever possible to work from home.
In response, programs and platforms to facilitate remote working have replaced face-to-face contact – with remarkable success.
For example, Zoom, the collaborative video conferencing platform, saw revenues grow 367% on an annualised basis in the quarter to October last year.
The firm saw more than 300 million daily users in virtual meetings, while paying customers have more than tripled.
The evidence is that remote employees are just as productive when working from home, and are generally happier.
Home-working isn’t just about being able to work in your pyjamas, it’s about work-life balance. Working the hours that suit you, while being able to take the kids to school.
Importantly, it does away with the hassle and expense of the daily commute. According to a survey, the average commute in the UK is 62 minutes a day, with 15% of workers commuting for 102 minutes or more.
Hardly surprising then that a report has found that home-working is here to stay after the pandemic. A third of staff say they’ll continue to work from home.
Underling that assessment, the CBI told the Commons treasury committee that businesses may only keep 70% of their current office space because so many staff will be working from home.
The CBI believes that there is a move to hybrid working in 40% of the economy where the internet allows for relatively easy home-working.
That may be good news for companies reducing their rent and rates bills, but it will have a huge impact on our towns and cities.
In turn, it also poses challenges to local and national leaders to rethink the future of our built environment.
We’ve written about the future of our towns and cities as a kind of new Darwinism. We need innovative strategies for the health of the High Street. We’ve also highlighted how the office landscape will change from the impact of home-working.
Our response has to be more than just regeneration, because regeneration suggests starting from an old set of principles and assumptions.
The next normal will have torn up those principles. Instead of building new offices, what do we do with existing offices? Do we, for example, repurpose them for housing? That’s already happening in, for example, Singapore.
Do we, for example, create collaborative office hubs closer to where people live? Rather than oblige people to come into offices, do we bring those offices closer to people?
From offices and hospitality to retail, we have long experience in building and regeneration, from the UK to Hong Kong. Our internal screens and doors, and external systems, provide a perfect solution to build or reconfigure any building project.
But those new agendas need to be worked on fast, and then acted on by national and local government, working with industry, commerce and communities.
It will involve nothing less than step changes to local and regional economies and how the built environment can facilitate commercial and social progress.
We may now be suppressing Covid-19, but the real challenges lie ahead.