Tens of millions of workers are now working from home at least some of the time. We're using Zoom and Teams to collaborate, working on tablets and laptops, and attempting to juggle domestic and professional lives.
In a perfect world, everyone's home would have enough space to accommodate these needs. These homes would also be fitted with the perfect blend of technology and innovation to enable seamless work from home (WFH), and they would have enough space for us to multitask living and working in one place. The reality is different. Those in cramped housing where social distancing is impossible can be disproportionately impacted. Even the wealthy young workers in city centers tend to be in accommodations unsuited to live, work and play.
Moving forward, companies will need to support a workforce that wants to work from home, alongside one that cannot or would prefer not to.
The great outdoors
We're also seeing changing relationships with outside space. In an attempt to avoid viral clusters, people seek the outdoors. Sales of outdoor furniture and equipment climbed exponentially during the crisis, and sales of patio heating equipment and protective awnings are expected to rise this winter. We're seeing people find new workspaces. StudioShed makes prefabricated home office sheds and delivers them to your home, and sales are booming. Estate agents report movement out of cities as newly-liberated employees begin to realize the opportunity of working remotely. Of course, those who don't have access to green spaces are making much more use of local parks, which are seen as essential spaces for preserving mental and physical health.
Designing a new world order
The way we design our homes will inevitably reflect these culturally significant transformations. It has happened before. Historically, responding to tuberculosis helped drive the evolution of modernist architecture. Le Corbusier raised his home designs from the ground to avoid contamination.
"Tuberculosis helped make modern architecture modern," wrote Princeton Professor Beatriz Colomina.
Humans are adaptable, and when crises emerge, they will try to find solutions. Apple's Steve Jobs once said that design is not just what it looks like and feels like, but how it works. Lauralee Alben, who founded the highly-influential Sea Change Design Institute, defines design as "Conscious planning and meaningful action that creates relationship – with humanity, nature, spirit, and time." We expect the pandemic will permanently alter home design, moving away from open-plan living to more compartmentalized spaces to allow for privacy.
Homes will become multi-use, modular spaces. Innovative storage systems will be hidden inside even the smallest spaces as people seek smart solutions that help them work, rest and play. Your office is also your bedroom, kitchen and kid's playroom and will be designed to meet all those needs as efficiently – and comfortably – as possible. Such confinement will pose mental health challenges, and it's important that homes feel like homes, not productive prisons.
The connected home
Pew Research data showed that roughly half of adults say the Internet was essential to them during the pandemic but also notes that almost 43 million Americans lack high-speed Internet access. This pattern was repeated globally, yet, as education, employment and community become increasingly digital, it seems inevitable that fast broadband will become as essential a utility as gas, electricity or water.
As access proliferates and multiple-use becomes normalized, smart home automation systems should also have a part to play. Smart home devices, such as video doorbells that reduce the need for direct physical interaction, and money-saving devices, such as smart thermostats, are already seeing adoption.
Lighting to enhance mood, automated systems to reduce living stress, and equipment to help set the scene for the different components of stay-in-place living, manufacturers will look to introduce DIY solutions to add to existing homes as they seek to avoid the risk and expense of sending technicians into people's homes to set them up.
The evolution of connected building design means larger constructions will boast smart energy efficiency, while IoT-based technologies will emerge to help maintain better levels of air quality and sanitation. Digital transformation already means we have device choice, but workers will also demand more from the buildings they work in – they will want these to be at least as safe as their homes. That means health and wellness will become as crucial as security systems in future office design.
Another trend has been the rise of telehealth services as people stay away from medical offices and hospitals. The Doctor on Demand service saw usage climb 139% in the U.S.; likewise, with gyms recognized as viral clusters, sales of connected fitness equipment has also climbed fast – Peloton Q4 sales surged 172%. Searches for home cooking and home fitness videos on YouTube are also high at this time, and the market for online food delivery and takeaway is booming globally. Put simply, future home designs will see health and self-care become even more important components of what they provide. Even swimming pool installations have grown rapidly during the crisis.
It remains to be seen how all these disparate trends will expose themselves in future home design, but the historical imperative that drives them to do so seems clear.
"We want to make sure that the future that we are designing is the future that we want. And looking at things systemically from an individual, a community, and a societal lens," said Robin Beers, Senior Vice President, Digital Solutions for Business, Wells Fargo.
The home is evolving into a multi-faceted, multi-modal space. The pandemic has forced many people to assume new digital lives, where activities and events that were once regularly conducted face to face are now online. Many of these changes will endure long past the end of the pandemic.
Listen to Katy Hunt of Orange Silicon Valley discussing Home 2.0 with Robin Beers, Senior Vice President, Digital Solutions for Business, Wells Fargo in this on-demand webinar.
Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.