The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused a large proportion of the global population to adapt their daily lives rapidly and in some cases quite drastically. Much of the working sector has moved to remote working and has had to quickly utilize new or unfamiliar technologies and procedures in order to continue running businesses effectively. This has meant, however temporarily, that our homes have become hubs of industry and it is a working trend that could be here to stay. Could the COVID-19 pandemic be the crash test needed to instigate a remote working future?
In the last few years, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, a move to remote working has arguably been the natural projected progression for many working sectors. The amount of people that work from home or freelance has been steadily increasing. According to Forbes ‘Since 2007, there has been a 159% rise in remote working in the US and by 2020 it is estimated that 50% of the UK workforce will work remotely. In [the] UK, more than 1.54 million people worked from home for their primary job in 2019, compared to just 884,000 in 2009, according to the ONS Labour Force Survey.’
For many workers, the move to remote working has of course been fueled by technology capabilities but also a desire for a better work-life balance. The lack of a commute, more autonomy over your working day and a variety of other benefits have also been the draw for many. Quoted in Fast Company, Greg Caplan, CEO of Remote Year, stated: “Coronavirus is going to expose more people to working remotely than ever, most people will see that it is very possible and start to grow accustomed to the benefits of [remote work], including autonomy, no commute, and less distractions than open offices. Companies that don’t allow remote work already are going to have to continue supporting it going forward, now that they have proven to themselves that it works.”
For many businesses able to work remotely, the coronavirus pandemic may have accelerated a move into the digital sphere much sooner than anticipated, if it has proved successful to that sector. Remote working could benefit companies in many ways, including reducing overheads as there is less need for a large office space (if any at all). Employers could sample from a larger pool of talent as they look for freelancers across the country or even the globe. For workers, productivity may be on the rise as they can navigate their working days in a way that best suits them and even perhaps, be paid more as businesses save money on renting office space.
Remote working would be beneficial for climate change and would help to reduce carbon emissions, not only from the reduction of CO2 deriving from office spaces, but from the decrease in traffic on the roads as commuters will not need to make their way elsewhere for work. In some countries such as the UK, climate change bodies, such as the Committee on Climate Change advised that where possible, remote working should be part of a clean economy recovery initiative, in order to harness the strides that the world has taken in reducing carbon emissions whilst in lockdown.
If remote working is on the rise it could change the structure of the housing market. As homes double as office spaces, people may begin looking to purchase bigger homes to accommodate their working needs. Some have even suggested that the interior design of homes could fundamentally change to make way for better home offices, more economic energy structures and so forth. Further, housing areas and estates will need to be fitted with reliable broadband to support home working. House prices may also change in different areas. Commuter belts could become less expensive and cities cheaper as worker’s homes need not be crowded around cities that offer work but can instead be situated further out.
The inevitable removal of the daily commute (even partially) from a move to remote working would be a major factor in job accessibly and increase the appeal of houses further afield. These house prices may go up as the ‘commuter belt’ expands. The removal of the daily commute could also have emotional benefits, according to The Atlantic, ‘As jobs concentrate in downtown areas without affordable housing, workers’ homes are pushed into the far suburbs. The American commute is a psychological and environmental scourge that increases depression, divorce, and fossil-fuel emissions. The average commute in the U.S. recently hit an all-time record of 27 minutes one-way.’ All in all, remote working could change the way we look at housing.