There is no denying it – a global pandemic has changed life as we know it. As social distancing measures, self-isolation, and remote working become the norm, the outbreak of COVID-19 has shifted the way we think about home, work and community. Now, it is forcing us to reconsider how we collectively think about our needs and the world around us, from both personal and business perspectives.
For those of us fortunate enough to be healthy, the pandemic’s biggest impact has been on the way we work. The need for people to be separated from each other has brought the biggest business challenge of the new millenium: en masse and overnight, companies had to digitise. There has been explosive demand for software as a service (SaaS), video conferencing, chatbots and other sophisticated digital tools as workforces shift from the office to their kitchen tables and couches.
Though work-from-home measures are currently considered temporary, the crisis is persisting and the long-term effects of homeworking are likely to change how we think about home and work. Those of us in the business of creating homes for the community need to ask ourselves some key questions: ‘How will people want to live after COVID-19?’, ‘What will their needs be?’ and ‘How can we meet them?’
Flexibility Will be Key
Even before the global pandemic, flexibility in both home and work arrangements were crucial for young professionals, and increasingly important to people of all ages looking for solutions that cater to their evolving lifestyle and needs.
As people become accustomed to both working and living from home, days may be structured differently than they would be at the office. For example, parents whose children are home due to school closures may be spending their mornings supervising home-learning sessions, then shifting their focus to work later in the day.
Looking forward to when social distancing, self-isolation and “lockdown” measures are lifted, people will perhaps flock to bars and restaurants, hit the gym, make it a priority to enjoy communal activities. But, at the same time, people will also be accustomed to greater flexibility and will be thinking about their homes and spaces in new ways.
New Solutions for Living and Working
One way “home” might evolve in the wake of COVID-19, is that it could become synonymous with “office”. A Milieu survey found that in Singapore, 47% of employees believe team productivity is higher when working from home, and that both managers (55%) and employees (62%) prefer working from home as compared to in the office.
Because more workplaces have implemented technology that makes working from home seamless, some businesses may decide to make these measures permanent – especially if team productivity remains the same or increases.
This type of downsizing would heavily impact the real estate market. With more inventory available, real estate companies, property managers and landlords will have to shift their expectations in pricing, and may even need to rethink how their properties are used. If, for example, a startup does not renew its lease and moves out of a building in a creative hub, it may make sense for the company to become a co-working space catering to businesses or freelancers looking for part-time or even per-diem office space rather than look for a new, full-time tenant.
The Importance of Community
Aside from the shift to remote working, one of the biggest lessons the global pandemic has taught us is the importance of community. Finding and maintaining friendships has always been a vital part of life – and for some people, housing options like co-living have helped them discover a community. Indeed, the experience of being self-isolated for a prolonged period may nudge some people who live alone to consider a roommate or joining a co-living community that provides them with both privacy and an easily accessible network of peers.
Though co-living can achieve both the flexibility the future may require and the community people may be searching for immediately after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, not everyone will seek out this type of housing option. Instead, some people may want to move into a bigger place that gives them a dedicated workspace, and families may want to upgrade their housing. Regardless of situation, though, people will look for living arrangements that can be tailored to their lifestyle needs.
The Future of Housing
Because of these changes in assumptions towards lifestyle, work and community, and the rising need for additional flexibility in daily life, businesses specialising in housing will need to evolve and to consider how the crisis may change the way the category operates.
For example, real estate and housing companies could benefit from the adoption of digital platforms to provide greater efficiency and value to both their employees and tenants. From helping landlords with financial forecasting to allowing tenants to customise housing needs, innovative tech solutions that change how properties are managed could be the answer to how people find new housing options that match the requirements of their evolving lifestyle.
For those of us in property and lifestyle, it will be important to stay nimble, pivot, innovate and seize the new opportunities that emerge as the world recalibrates when the pandemic is over. We will continue to meet people’s housing needs – but perhaps in a different, more flexible way.