As someone who has worked from home for much of my career, the lockdown transition was fairly painless and I am grateful for that, but I know that was not the case for many people.
Just getting on top of the digital work platforms rather than sitting alongside your work colleagues was a huge adjustment, let alone having to do that in a houseful of other people/children/pets who were also adjusting to lockdown conditions, often in a house that was never intended to support these activities. The value of a quality and flexible home environment has never been more obvious but, sadly, also shown to be lacking in most new-build homes.
Lockdown has also shown us the potential upside of working from home, with benefits for us as individuals, for our communities, and for the planet. We avoid the daily commute, we get to know our neighbours better, we have more time with our family, and we can be more flexible in our daily timetable to do other activities whether that’s a walk in nature or online learning.
It seems pretty clear that work-from-home is here to stay and a well designed ecohouse can support it.
At the most basic level lockdown has shown that space is the greatest luxury. Many new-build homes and apartments are designed to minimum space standards, and whilst that is fine if the only activity you do in a bedroom is sleep or in a living room is watch TV, as soon as you start to add other activities the minimum is no longer adequate. Careful design can optimise the use of tight spaces, and micro-homes have a really important role to play in providing a more diverse and affordable supply, but to accommodate multiple people and multiple actvities the answer will inevitably be more floor area.
Another design issue that lockdown has put a focus on is that open plan rooms are not always the best option. We all respond to the images of an open plan living space flowing seemlessly from living room to kitchen to terrace and there are many aspects of this which support our modern lifestyles. However they are not condusive to homelife when everybody is in the home all the time. The alternative is to create spaces that are more flexible. We can use large sliding doors to open up the space when we want the connection, or close it down when we don’t. And this doesn’t just support home working, it also allows us to better accommodate other short term demands like a guest staying overnight or needing space to prepare for a big event.
Related to that is the need for private space, the ability to just shut the door and most importantly that means acoustic privacy. No matter how much physical space you might have, unless you can get acouctic privacy it won’t make life any easier. And that isn’t just for the person working. You might be plugged into your headphones and assume you are not bothering anyone else in the house (and of course you can’t hear them with the headphones on either) but when one person is having endless phone calls and clattering away on their keyboard it can be very disruptive to everyone else who are trying to get on with normal family life. Hence good acoustic insulation between rooms, and ensuring noise reverberation in spaces is minimised, is crucial.
One of the biggest things about WFH I have observed is that people will quite happily operate from any space, no matter how small or shut away, as long as they have it to themselves. This might be some leftover space off a staircase or hall, an alcove off a larger room, or a small room that was originally a store of some kind. I have even seen someone use their laundry because it was the only space they could claim for themselves. A great example of this is an internal room without windows (in Scotland these are called Boxrooms and are common in traditional townhouses and apartments). These provide a fixed workspace for when you need to sit down and focus, but allow you to step back out into the main living spaces when the separation is not required. It’s a really strong case for designing every house to include one little space of no specific use.