Remote Control.

Picture of Paul Travers

Paul Travers

Is a live/work revolution coming?

Everything has changed when it comes to working from home. Suddenly, millions of people who thought they’d be tied to commuting for life have discovered that their work can be done remotely, and many of them are finding it a delight. Even when faced with challenges around privacy, space and noise, the possibility to work from home for all or part of their working week is a reality, with technology providing digital alternatives to a desk, office and commute.

The advantage for most people is, of course, our most precious resource: time. Conventional workdays simply don’t account for anyone’s personal life: you must be at your place of work at the allotted hour with no questions asked. That can often mean an hour of getting ready, an hour of travelling there, plus an hour back… Three hours lost every day. Without having to go through all that, many people are finding they’re happy to work a little longer from home because of the time and hassle they save by not having to leave the house.

People in the creative industries – photography, art, design, music, fashion, architecture, etc – have been combining their home and workplace for years. Their property search would quite usually include viewing live/work spaces and could well be centred on them to have a home designed specifically to handle one or more people working in it.

For people outside the creative sector, the main issue is having a workspace in the home that’s away from the main living environment, so that home doesn’t become the office. Associating the bedroom or living room with the working day isn’t great from a mental perspective; so whether or not your physical addresses for work and home are different, the locations in the home most certainly should be.

However, live/work spaces have not historically worked that way. They often centre around an oversized space big enough for living, dining and working, because the equipment lying around from someone in the creative industries will usually look quite cool. The presence of cameras, lighting, a huge Mac, architectural models, mannequins, etc can fuel creative thought for people unbound by conventional working hours and prone to eureka moments in the night.

Live/work spaces have also usually been created in urban areas of inner city regeneration – think Hackney, Limehouse, Shoreditch, Brixton, Angel, Clerkenwell and Bermondsey – rather than the suburbs. They are associated with singles and couples leading a carefree social and cultural life, rather than with children, schools, commutes and family commitments.

So is it time for a new generation of live/work spaces to evolve to respond to a new demand from a different type of customer? Anyone whose work is more administrative, and where the evidence of work is mainly paper and files, will want to shut that away. And adults with children, who often base their lives around being near a decent school, will be unlikely to suddenly move into town and say to heck with their kids’ education.

Might live/work finally reach out to the suburbs? Could live/work houses designed around families become a reality, with a garden for the children and a separate workspace for the adults? Or could the second bathroom in a standard residential apartment give way to an office area in a live/work space?

As well as for schools, the journey to work is also a major consideration for people when choosing where to live. But if their company decides to relocate from one side of a city to another, where does that leave them? Suddenly their south-east London home that was an easy 10 minutes from London Bridge, becomes an hour-long crush to White City.

With more flexibility in home working, people could live exactly where they want based purely on the place itself, not on whether they can stuff themselves into a train with everyone else.

Obviously it’s not all plain sailing. We are hardwired to be among others and no amount of Zoom meetings can replace the spontaneous conversation and ideas that being in the same room engenders. Having to book an appointment with the person who once sat next to you, just to have a chat or discuss an idea, is a clear block to creative thought. But, as with everything, human innovation is likely to produce a solution that hasn’t been thought of yet.

Nonetheless, it feels like a point has been reached where the workplace environment and the place of work itself will undergo significant change. A lot more people in a lot of different fields have seen they can work from home, and a lot of them want to continue. That means many will be looking at how their homes meet the task and, where they don’t, that could well create a demand for something new in locations as yet untouched by live/work.

Property developers are always looking for ways to create spaces that people will jump at, so if a new demand does materialise, we could well see an evolution of live/work spaces and an expansion into new neighbourhoods. And if local authorities see the opportunity to create all-day economies in locations that usually empty each morning, that could reshape suburban life forever.

Will it happen? We’ll just have to watch this – live/work – space!

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