At the peak of the pandemic, up to 44% percent of employees in the U.S. were working from home. The sudden shift from office cubicles to Zoom conferences left normally busy commuter lines and bustling downtown districts temporarily deserted. However, with the vaccine rollout, returning to the office is on the menu again. Some employees welcome this, but not all workers have a renewed appetite for suiting up and heading back to HQ. Here’s our take on what to expect in the future and how multifamily developers can elevate rental coworking amenities for those who choose to work from home in communal workspaces permanently.
How Work From Home Surged in the Pandemic
COVID-19 didn’t invent remote working. Before the pandemic, some 17% of employees were working remotely or in shared workspaces. In fact, one study puts the rise of coworking spaces at 158% since 2020. Nevertheless, social distancing measures shone a spotlight on the purpose and function of the workplace. It forced us to differentiate between jobs that involved high physical proximity to coworkers and customers, such as medical care, on-site customer service, leisure and travel, and those ripe for online, computer-based remote work.
Given the central position professional life occupies in our personal life, particularly in the U.S., working from home also created some notable knock-on effects:
- Rise of e-commerce. In the U.S., online sales tripled during the pandemic.
- Rush to the suburbs. Even if the trend has slowed, many city-dwellers embraced the opportunity to move to larger multifamily homes in suburban areas which offer coworking facilities and reliable Wi-Fi.
- Single-family demand. Long-term job uncertainty and a shortage of homes for sale resulted in a massive rise in single-family rentals.
All these factors combined have arguably changed the rental market landscape. Things may not be going back to normal any time soon, instead establishing a hybrid of what once was and what will be.
We’re Not Ready to Return to the Office
One of the surprising revelations from the pandemic was how well working from home or in communal office hubs worked. In one Deloitte survey, 83% of workers indicated that they would prefer to work off-site or from home, even if only partially, beyond the pandemic. For the most part, employers are ready to accommodate this shift in mood. Employers in the U.S. expect 2 in 5 workers to still be remote by the end of 2021, and according to research by McKinsey, roughly 20% to 25% of workforces could work away from the office at least three days a week in the future. The benefits are tangible. Remote working promises lower operating costs, happier employees and better productivity (by up to 40%).
These industries continue to embrace remote working
Not surprisingly, tech, marketing and communications companies have taken the lead in supporting remote or hybrid working, including Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google. Some have committed to it wholeheartedly, while others plan to review it in the latter half of 2021.
These industries want their workers back
Client-facing or highly collaborative organizations, typically banking and financial services, are less keen to support remote working long term. Ford might be shifting to a flexible hybrid working model, but Wall Street wants staff back in the office, most notably Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
Bear in mind, too, that not all workers are against a return to the cubicle. With the lines increasingly blurred between personal and professional life, and the fact that 15% of remote workers are working longer hours, many are happy to treat working from home as an experiment that has now run its course.
The Future Is a Hybrid, Automated Workplace
The pandemic was the catalyst, not the cause, for change. It is just one action-packed chapter of an ongoing narrative in which artificial intelligence and automation are reshaping the workplace. In the future, we will be working from home or in pop-up workspaces, not because of lockdowns or social distancing, but because ordinarily office-based tasks have been automated or have the tech to support scattered teams. With that in mind, here’s what the future workplace may look like.
The office as clubhouse
Physical workspaces still have a role to play in building community and nurturing collaboration. New employees, in particular, need a place to connect, and the office is also essential as the venue for personal and professional development. Around 70% of managers are concerned about maintaining company culture with a hybrid model, so it’s unlikely that corporations will be shutting down their HQ entirely. Instead, the office will be a place to brainstorm, connect and network.
Rise in demand for safe coworking spaces
As we move away from hierarchical management structures to team-centric and network-based activity, there’s a market for an ‘office as a service’ model. Employees will be looking for coworking spaces that are health-guideline-compliant, where they can collaborate with more flexibility on location, opening hours and amenities such as:
- Voice tech to minimize the need for buttons and switches that can harbor bacteria
- Automated cleaning systems, particularly at points of entry
- Air-improvement systems to make enclosed spaces safe
- Smart sensors to monitor room occupation and traffic
- Green energy solutions for a zero-carbon footprint
This creates a tantalizing opportunity for developers to provide these as standard features in multifamily home communities, creating an interactive hub that supports a more flexible lifestyle.
How Do Multifamily Home Developers Need to Prepare?
With the extra demands placed on the home by remote working, developers should look for creative, affordable ways to accommodate workspaces in the multifamily home community. At one end, this can mean investing in smart tech and home automation to attract tech-savvy tenants. Despite the cost, there is a return on investment through enhanced property intelligence and improved efficiency.
Attractive coworking features for prospective tenants include a blend of open collaborative spaces and meeting rooms, with public access for face-to-face client contact. It can be as informal as a community coffee shop, or can lean towards a more formal setting that evokes the corporate atmosphere with glass walls, video conferencing suites and a degree of IT support.
At the other end, it can be as simple as revisiting the current function and potential purpose of shared spaces. Instead of just a lobby, what other amenities can you offer that make remote work more plausible? Which areas can be converted into shared work areas, or where could a coworking space for multiple tenants be created in the development as a whole? Overall, developers should consider not just amenities that boost comfort but also those that support productivity.
McKinsey – The future of work after COVID-19
Economics Observatory – What is the future of working from home?
The Guardian – Covid-19 could cause permanent shift towards home working