Greener and bigger—how permanently is the trend toward remote work influencing housing wishes?

May 7, 2021

For more than a year, many of us have repeatedly been working from home—and still do so. Enough time to re-evaluate our own living situation in terms of “workplace suitability”, challenging much of what was uncritically imitated before the pandemic.

© Shutterstock, Maren Winter
EXPO REAL Picture, Garden office with laptop, smart phone, etc.

Is the loft obsolete?

A typical example of this reassessment is the trend towards open-plan living spaces, which has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. Spacious, light-filled and connected rooms, only bathrooms and guest toilets have a door. Fancy and loft-like, but woe betide us if several persons must work at home at the same time—possibly even with telephone or video calls. Absolutely unsuitable for everyday life in the pandemic with home-schooling and working from home. Futurologist Oona Horx-Strathern describes the situation: “Many had to seclude themselves to the kitchen or laundry room for work, while others migrated to the garden shed to have enough peace to work.” The consequence is clear: if work and private life take place—not only exceptionally, but frequently or even regularly—in one’s own home, this is only possible with more space and with more opportunities for separation and privacy.

Away from the asphalt into the green

The need for privacy within the home corresponds with the attractiveness of the room for privacy within the residential environment: the Institute of the German Economy (IW) expects an increasing migration from (inner) cities. “With remote work, a larger radius around metropolitan areas could become attractive,” Prof. Dr. Michael Voigtländer, Head of IW's Research Unit Financial and Real Estate Markets, presumed as early as summer 2020. If the time and money spent on commuting had previously prevented a move to the countryside, the commute can now be quite longer if one only has to be present at the workplace once or twice a week.

However, rural areas can only score points with broadband connections—working from home and homeschooling only function satisfactorily with a stable network, which is not a matter of course everywhere in Germany.

So, in terms of housing, the coronavirus pandemic also acts as an accelerator of trends that predate COVID-19: both trends—the breakthrough of online retail and the trend toward quieter living—had emerged beforehand. Especially the age group around and over 40 leaves the bustling inner cities behind and moves to quieter areas, which must, however, be well connected.

Teamwork in satellite offices

In the future, office workstations could partially follow employees: Prof. Dr. Angela Million of the Technical University of Berlin, for instance, considers office spaces close to homes to be a conceivable alternative to the classic inner-city office building. BASF, for example, is currently experimenting with so-called “satellite offices”, i. e., several decentralized office units to supplement the work at headquarters. Accepting that COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic we experience, decentralized office properties close to homes may prove more beneficial: rather than providing space passing a predefined number of work hours each day, the future office will likely serve meeting and communicating purposes to promote teamwork.

In addition, meeting/working spaces close to homes are climate-friendly—short distances eliminate the need for car trips and could thus enable more sustainable, crisis-resistant urban development, promoting cities' resilience to crises.

Such an interpretation of the crisis could indeed prove to be an opportunity —if we respond to the challenges intelligently.

Stephanie von Keudell

Independent journalist