This is a guest post by Scott Bryant, Business Requirements Manager & Private Rented Sector Manager at Greater London Authority and FoL Alumni Rep.
COVID-19 has made home-working a day-to-day reality. In the process, it has led to what many organisations (and many individual Londoners) have been trying to achieve for years: a corporate culture that is less reliant on office space and that better utilises technology to enable communication and collaboration. How should policy makers best respond to this? Should new homes be built to better accommodate home-working? In the long-term, will this promote further suburbanisation as Londoners increasingly value space in their homes and neighbourhoods over a manageable commute?
These issues were the focus of the Communities of Practice forum’s second session exploring how home space standards could change in the wake of the pandemic. Chaired by Lucy Webb, Head of Regeneration at LB Croydon and a Future of London alumni board director, the session brought together alumni from across the local authority and housing association sectors.
The home-based work global experiment
The session kicked off with a presentation from guest speaker Dr Frances Holliss, Emeritus Reader in Architecture at London Metropolitan University, author of Beyond Live/Work: the architecture of home-based work (2015) and contributor to Home Work City: Living and Working in the Urban Block (2019). Frances set out that the number of people working mainly from home in the UK has increased from 14 to 49 per cent during the Covid-19 pandemic, and research suggests that this isn’t going to return to pre-Covid levels.
So how should we plan for this new reality? 43 per cent of the homes we’ve built in England since 2002 are purpose-built flats with almost no potential for alterations or extensions to allow home-based work. Frances argued that we need to rethink design; home-based work must become an automatic and universal consideration in development and space standards should be increased. This could be achieved through public subsidy, clever design and an incremental approach to housebuilding – that is, development that allows room for expansion by its occupiers. Frances challenged the London Plan to go further in proactively supporting home-working and drew on international examples of where home-working is built into design (e.g. Netherlands) or where opportunity for future adaptation is integral (e.g. Chile).
Time for a rethink of national standards?
The forum then heard from Elliot Kemp, Policy Team Leader for Design, Heritage and Housing at the Greater London Authority. Elliot set out that National Described Space Standards incorporated space for working from home, although this assumed that space would be provided in an existing room and did not anticipate multiple people needing to work from home at the same time. Increased home-based working makes the quality of the internal environment – such as levels of daylight, noise and ventilation – even more important.
Changing national space standards will require evidence that the current space standards do not meet functional requirements. We also need to ensure that the provision of outdoor space meets the needs of home-based workers and consider how this new trend impacts on people’s choices about where to live. Elliot argued that we need time to observe and evidence these trends before deciding if policy change is required – although planning guidance can be used to rapidly respond to changing design needs.
The practitioner view
The guest speakers opened up interesting an discussion with alumni on a range of topics, including:
- The options for reviewing space standards to better accommodate home-based working – including standards that allow separate rooms for work – and the importance of good and flexible design
- The trade-off between additional space for home-based working and house prices, particularly in the context of the need for high environmental standards and rapid housing delivery to meet housing need
- The contribution that home-based working can potentially make to tackling climate change – and the need for more research on this topic
- The challenges to adapting existing homes to better provide for long-term home-based working, and the potential role of co-working space
- The important role of local authorities, housing associations and the GLA in pushing for high-quality design
This event was part of Future of London’s Alumni Communities of Practice forum, bringing together alumni to share challenges and ideas on some of the critical issues they face during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond. It is also part of FoL’s Learning From Crisis response and recovery programme. Find out more about the Alumni network and Learning From Crisis, and get in touch with future Communities of Practice forum suggestions.