There’s No Place Like Home

Over a year later, the pandemic presents a new normal for the world.

By Ron Nestor

For most, it happened suddenly. One day, we were told by order of the government to protect the health of all people, an indefinite stay-at-home directive was in place. With a high degree of uncertainty about the future, we were forced to adapt. For the lucky ones who had the ability to work from home, our IT Departments became heroes as they worked to make it happen. We had to figure out how to arrange office and study spaces in the home, how to balance our work and family life in tight quarters and how to attend virtual meetings — literally overnight.

Most adapted well. In fact, many got used to the various advantages of remote work. In a survey conducted by Typeform, 73% of respondents reported being able to work from home during COVID (an additional 11% were already working remotely), while 43% reported increased productivity due to fewer distractions, less commuting time and more flexible hours (19% reported less productivity).  

At the same time, many noted that it was harder to switch off work, found communication difficult and felt more distractions and greater isolation from being home all day. Overall, a 22% very positive and 39% positive impact to job satisfaction was reported.

Remote working changed our urban patterns with employees no longer needing to live close to work – the island of Barbados encouraged Americans to come and live for a year with special visas where no local income tax was required for remote work. Suburbs and exurbs suddenly became the most desirable locations for primary residences. At least for a while, traffic disappeared and air quality was the best in decades.

As we transition to the next normal, businesses have started to reopen. Where it was once considered nearly inconceivable (and for a lucky few, a desirable perk), we have proved that Work-From-Home (WFH) works, and may be here to stay to some degree. Hybrid models are likely to become the norm where work is split one or more days between home and office. The Typeform survey reports that more than 90% believe a company attracts more talent when allowing for remote work. A Gallup poll shows engagement levels for remote workers at 32% compared to office workers at 28%. Major companies like Google and Facebook have embraced WFH. It will lead to a healthier population less exposed to germs because workers won’t need to come into the office when mildly sick or taking care of a sick child, able to maintain productivity at home.  

We have found that home office spaces are among the most desirable features buyers (and increasingly renters) seek. While some have said that the popular “open floor plan,” with a great room and kitchen combined is doomed — I do not share that opinion. The open plan provides a gathering space for family as the heart of the home. What is important is creating the small nooks and alcoves that can have multiple uses. Study spaces can be integrated into hallways, in the space below stairs, on expanded stair landings and in lofts. Barn doors and pocket doors may see increased use as we close off alcoves for sound privacy or to prevent interruptions by kids and cats during Zoom meetings. 

In the popular 3-story townhome typology, where the first floor is dominated by the garage, the remaining space has always been an issue. If large enough, it can be a remote bedroom suite, but if too small, what to do with it? Well, this type of space suddenly has a very desirable purpose. 

Formal dining rooms had all but disappeared; they may make a comeback as flex office space with an adaptable china hutch/desk. Flexible furniture and storage solutions like modern “Murphy” beds and robotic systems like ORI and Ikea’s ROGNAN will become increasingly popular as we make our living spaces more adaptable to changing needs.  

Where space allows, a dedicated office with a door to close it off can be a prudent addition to the home.  On some plans, we have provided flexible options for the use of this space as a separate suite or an integrated room, with interior glazing or movable walls to reflect the spacious quality of the home.

Our collective adaptation to a suddenly disruptive event was, in a word, remarkable. On so many levels, our lives were disrupted forcing us to navigate an uncertain future. Our homes, too, required adaptation and flexibility and this experience has led us to the next level of thinking about home design and how and where we live. And, in an uncertain world, the one certain thing is, there’s no place like home.

Ron Nestor picture for Color articleRon Nestor, AIA, LEED AP, is a senior principal of WHA – William Hezmalhalch Architects. He may be contacted at ronn@whainc.com.

 

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