Urban living set to adapt as working from home takes hold long-term

January 26th 2021

First published on React News on 24th November 2020

By Jim Atkinson, Director of Residential at Linkcity

It’s an undisputed fact, now well into our second national lockdown, that home working has brought about some of the biggest changes the property sector has ever seen. We’ve all had to adapt quickly when forced to change working, shopping and leisure habits overnight. The future of the office has been hotly debated and there has been much speculation about the impact that long-term, even partial working from home will have on offices themselves, from design to location to amenities, and everything in between. Far less has been said about what impact this trend will have on our homes in the months and years to come. Residential developers targeting both the for sale and the rental market need to adapt their models to factor in this new convergence of living and working, which looks like it’s here to stay.

Despite a number of recent surveys showing that residents are moving out of city centres in search of more space and the perfect work from home (WFH) environment, demand continues to outstrip supply in the majority of dense urban centres. In fact, lockdown itself might cause a resurgence of interest from those who suddenly realise the lifestyle benefits of having such a wide amenity offer within walking distance. Those that don’t move further afield will demand more from their homes, and I’d argue that this gives developers a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves and to collaborate with consumers to understand what they truly need from their homes in this new Covid era.

Linkcity has been an active residential developer in the UK since 2007, delivering the first purpose designed and institutionally backed Built to Rent scheme in the UK, in Barking. While the world we are living in today couldn’t be more different, one of our founding principles is even more true now than it was then: we create communities for the long term. The way we have always done that – and will continue to – is by collaborating with our customers to understand what they truly want and need. And right now, customers need their homes to do more than ever before.

New schemes need to allow for flexible living and working space: developers should consider actually designing and equipping (not just marketing) additional bedrooms as offices; they need to remember that parents of young children will need to work from home during school holidays, and take into account the need to simultaneously manage work and family in the layout of homes. We are exploring how to cater for parents in this position by giving them the ability to supervise children’s outside play from within their home – for example with a natural view from their workspace onto a shared or private green space.

The economics of housing delivery tell you it’s not as simple as just building larger homes but rather making spaces work harder. A forward-thinking approach is to reconfigure the amenity space at developments to offer the equivalent of the business centre you’d find in a hotel or resort – as Linkcity are offering at our Carrick Yard scheme in Westminster. The other is to reconsider how to create social interaction in the utilisation of the ground floor of residential and mixed-use schemes, which may not be available for retail use in the same way and/or extent as they were in the past.

Consumers aren’t only concerned with having the space for a desk and with better broadband: they are also now more likely to consider whether a property is generally a welcoming place to spend a significant amount of time – from the space and natural light they receive to the outdoor amenities and access to green open spaces – rather than a conveniently located crash-pad. The provision of genuinely useable private amenity over planning compliance is a must have, as is the inclusion of rooftops as communal outdoor terraces. Admittedly developing in urban areas always involves very specific site constraints not every scheme will be able to deliver this whilst maintaining an efficient design.

At the same time, I am certain there will be an increasing demand for – and movement to – neighbourhoods which promote health and wellbeing, whether via greater green space and planting provision, more mixed-use sustainable, walkable places, or with better local amenities and convenience-based retail and leisure provision. WELL scores for buildings, and other wellbeing scoring schemes for developments, will become ever more pertinent factors for prospective buyers and renters.

Finally, savvy developers will be looking to the future and trying to make their residential products work harder across all tenures: this need for properties to offer more than just somewhere to live is critical everywhere from senior living to BTR to student housing.

It’s unlikely that all lockdown behaviours will evolve into long term living trends but rather that they will hasten the evolution of residential design in some key areas. We’ve chosen to focus on WFH, flexible spaces and the wellbeing agenda, but what is important is that the development industry uses this opportunity to review our offer to the market with a view to ensuring we collectively create great places for the long term.

Category: Corporate news, Development news