Developers Adjust For Work-From-Home Shift


Before the pandemic, the premise of working from home (WFH) was largely contained to Fridays and the occasional long weekend by only about 10 percent of full-time employees.

However, over the past eight months, the percentage of people not going into the office has quadrupled. In fact, many remote workers have become so accustomed to their new work life that they don’t want to go back to the old ways.

The WFH trend has caused innumerable implications on society and the economy, as well as the multi-family housing industry, where developers are reportedly tweaking their floor plans on the premise that at least some of this surge in remote workers will become permanent.

“The multifamily industry has turned a keen focus on how to address immediate concerns around safety and flexibility, but has also begun to seriously consider the idea that more of their current and future tenant base may be remotely employed long-term,” stated a new report from global real estate firm Newmark.

According to Newmark’s “Nooks, Balconies and Beyond: Rethinking Multifamily Design Post-Pandemic” study, one of the most notable changes is “an increasing diversity in unit mixes” that adds more space for working.

“There is a clear expectation that the one-bedroom-plus-den format (1BR+den) will emerge as an increasingly attractive unit option,” the research showed. It also predicts an increased inclusion of common area workspaces, like a WeWork in the lobby, as well as the need for outdoor access via balconies.

While Newmark acknowledges that many developers have shown a “demonstrated aversion to overcorrection” on the WFH shift given the “volatile and fluid nature of the current environment,” others have already started to make incremental design and development changes.

Post-Pandemic Considerations

Assuming the coronavirus will eventually be tamed and people will be inoculated, labor market watchers predict that at least some portion of the current remote workforce will return to the way things used to be.

At the same time, Newmark points out that nearly two-thirds of jobs require a “significant on-site presence,” leaving about 37 percent of workers that can actually do their jobs from home.

At the same time, when Google announced last summer that it was extending its voluntary WFH policy for a year, it seemed like an aggressive strategic change at the time. However, now that it’s December, July 2021 doesn’t seem so distant anymore.

While it’s hard to precisely predict the degree to which people and companies will revert once the pandemic subsides, it’s clear that WFH is working well for many in the meantime. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, 54 percent of respondents who are currently doing their jobs from home all or most of the time said they would want to keep doing so after the pandemic if given the choice.

In addition, Pew found that three out of four workers said the shift to WFH had been easy, and that they had the technology, equipment and workspace needed to do their jobs.

Soundproof Work Vaults

Having space at home to work is one thing, but having a quiet environment that is free from interruptions is an entirely different story. Whether the apartment or condo of the future will include a soundproof work vault remains to be seen, but the ability to get work done at home without interruptions was shown to be highly dependent on whether or not people have kids, Pew said.

Specifically, more than half of teleworking parents with children younger than 18 told Pew they had a hard time getting work done without interruptions, compared to only 20 percent of their kidless colleagues. Of course, plenty of remote workers are happily settled into their current living quarters and have no intention of moving to a new space. Even so, adjustments and modifications to make the home office more WFH-friendly are also on the rise.

Demand for space-saving furnishings like sliding bookshelves that split to reveal/conceal a desk or workspace, beds and filing cabinets that descend from the ceiling, and other types of what the New York Times called “Swiss Army” or “robotic” furniture are all on the rise in the COVID-era.

The proliferation of Zoom calls and other videoconferencing services have also spurred a cottage industry in the WFH space. Demand is up for gadgets like wireless mouse and keyboard sets, as well as things like office chairs, laptop stands, headphones and power strips designed to make the home office as comfortable, functional and familiar as possible.

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