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Home Working in March 2020

As the coronavirus hits the construction industry and we’re told about all the construction sites closing down (or not) we find ourselves, the consultants, set to work from home for a considerable time. Of course that’s assuming we’re no on employment ‘furlough’, and lucky enough to still have clients pushing ahead and able to plan for the future.

I’m lucky enough to be in that position, although some of my colleagues are not. So I’m now working at a desk I had planned to occasionally work from, in the corner of a toddlers play room. Not ideal, but I did equip myself well when I left the office before the lock down a few weeks ago. I picked one of the HD monitors up off my desk as I left.

Working from home for a considerable amount of time has a very different feel to occasionally working from home, or even a regular day or two a week. Your home work-space needs various things, but for me there is one obvious thing we need. The clue in the title – work “space”. As designers we are usually only required to include a dedicated work space when we have a private client with a particular need. The building standards do take heed of home working in the latest section to be added, Sustainability.

Every new house (with a few exceptions) is required to display a Sustainability Label which indicates the degree to which the house has met various criteria. These include the obvious energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions, but also include ratings for ‘well being and security’, ‘ material use and waste’, ‘optimizing performance’ and ‘flexibility and adaptability’. But you aren’t required to meet these criteria beyond the ‘bronze’ level.

The last of the sustainability assessment criteria is “Flexibility and Adaptability”. This criteria, if you go beyond the bronze-baseline, actually includes requirements for space (a desk space 1800mm x 600mm), internet and daylight and a sightline of a window of some sort.

The world and how we all work is going to change following this pandemic. It seems that the building standards may be well placed to address that, but should the current standards make the requirement more than simply an ‘add on’? Or should this be a planning condition, rather like the energy requirements used by Aberdeenshire Council a few years ago? Or should funding bodies require the houses they are paying for to be built beyond a standard? Or perhaps there’s a monetary solution that developers may be keener to get on board with. How about more favourable lending conditions being used to push developers in the right direction? There is evidence of this being used in other European countries in order to encourage more energy efficient housing.

Could developers be encouraged to go a step further than a desk space? I recently saw a house design in a suburb of Melbourne where a small ‘retail unit’ had been included as part of the street frontage. This space could be multiple things and as an architect the obvious one for me is that it could be an office, but it could just as easily be an artists studio, where their work is clearly visible to the public.

To encourage this type of development, with home-working more to the fore, there would have to be greater thought and control at the planning stage of a project. As designers, architects are one cog in the wheel, especially with developer clients, so there would need to be a lot of joined up thinking from all levels and directions; from client, consultants and designers, to government bodies and local authority planning departments. The systems we have are set up to engage developers with planners and the public at early stages of developments to create and define masterplans, and different degrees of home-working can easily be prescribed as part of that.

The week that the formal ‘lockdown’ began I had several zoom and teams video meetings. The people involved ranged from other architects, students and tutors, to councilors and council employees. All hugely varied in age range. Some of the older generation that I had meetings with confirmed that the lockdown was the ‘push’ that they required to get beyond some of their technological trepidation. And they are now embracing their new found ability to meet without travelling. So I think this tells me that the ever-expanding generation gap has been reduced by the current crisis and the technology that enables life to continue in some semblance.

Thanks for reading.


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