2020 – a year of lessons for the built environment

There is no getting away from the fact that 2020 has been a life/work experiment that no-one could have predicted and it will shape the built environment for years to come.

But this is an evolution, not a revolution. Yes, bricks and mortar retail has had an extremely tough year but it was already struggling in some quarters.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

And working from home pre-dates the March lockdown – it just became a necessity rather than an option.

So what lessons can we take from the exceptional circustances of 2020?

We learned the value of the office and the important role it can play.

There are advantages to working from home – for some at least. It can be more productive when you just need to get your head down and concentrate, for example.

It gives time back as there is no commute which can mean a better work-life balance.

Value of interaction

But being forced to work from home has also shown the value of interaction which you get from working in a shared space.

It has highlighted how skills and knowledge can be more easily be built and shared – particularly for those starting out in their career.

Will this affect how office space is used – and ultimately designed? Undoubtedly.

Flexible working will mean harnessing the best of working from home and working in an office – and making sure space supports that.

We have also learned the value of what space we do and don’t have at home.

Outdoor space has been relished – or wished for. Space to work equally so. Not everyone has the advantage of a spare bedroom or the luxury of a home office.

Use of space at home

How we’ve used the space in our homes has been different this year and the likelihood of flexible working for the longer term will likely influence what and where we buy in the future.

And it will influence how homes are designed and marketed.

For example, will the floor plans of new homes mark out space for a desk as well as a bed? Some developers are already doing this.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

We’ve learned the value of our local neighbourhoods.

It’s not just our homes we’ve spent more time in this year. We’ve spent more time in our local neighbourhoods discovering the shops, cafes and eateries on our doorstep – once lockdown restrictions eased.

Longer term flexible working could be a win for local retail and leisure offer providing more weekday footfall and spend.

Localism and community

There may also be an opportunity for localised work hubs, hybrid cafes that offer ad hoc co-working or even community co-working hubs. It is certainly something I’m starting to see in my London neighbourhood.

We’ve learned the value of distribution.

You don’t appreciate something until it’s not there (on time). Lockdown forced us online in bigger numbers for shopping – and in particular, food giving us a greater appreciation for distribution and delivery networks.

This increase in demand is unlikely to subside to pre-Covid levels which raises questions about how and where we fit new warehouse space to service it, particularly for last mile deliveries.

No doubt it has been a challenging year for commercial property and there are still challenges ahead but there are also opportunities in the evolution of space and how we use the urban environment.

What do you think will influence property trends in 2021 and beyond?

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