As more and more residents are working from home, apartment design and community culture is being reshaped. Operators are being tasked with providing appropriate spaces for residents who must work remotely while enhancing the property’s living experience under these new conditions.
Working from home has increased in recent years, but the pandemic put it into high gear due to social distancing and workplace shutdowns. Even as restrictions are being relaxed with COVID-19 vaccines kicking in, remote working has received a boost that’s unlikely to diminish. Companies and organizations across the world believe remote working is here to stay, and IT infrastructures are being transformed in the process. Office space will still be needed, but many workers were already shifting to home offices before the pandemic.
Buffer, a brand and social media marketing company, polled 3,500 teleworkers at the end of 2019 and 98% said they want to work remotely for the remainder of their careers.
Speaking at RealWorld 2020, futurist Geoff Colvin said apartments can provide value by accommodating residents who either must or prefer to work from home. Their comfort with all things digital makes Millennials and Gen Z’s, who constitute a core apartment demographic, more likely to embrace working remotely for the long term.
Retaining residents who telework
The confluence of working and living in the same space is changing the way rental housing operators, developers and architects are thinking about the resident experience.
The vacation rental industry quickly pivoted a few months into the pandemic when teleworkers began seeking local – even exotic – getaways where they could work and play. “Flexcations” or “bleasure” trips incentivized by a good Internet connection and a change of scenery are the latest targets for an industry that has embraced this new traveler demographic. WiFi, telephone, printers and cable connections are now on amenity lists with cycling, water parks, tennis courts, and shopping.
Multifamily housing leaders see great potential for accommodating teleworking and apartments with office space. No longer bound by a commute to an office, remote workers have more freedom in where they live. They are an intriguing new prospect base.
HPA Design Group noted in Humphreys & Partners Architects’ 2021 Kick-Off Webinar in January that apartment spaces are being designed to accommodate co-working and social distancing. Glass-enclosed workspaces and partitioned seating are among the new perks helping apartments retain and attract residents.
“I think we can all acknowledge that the working-from-home lifestyle is not going away anytime soon,” says HPA Design Group President Chelsea Dora-Shibley. “It’s going to be a critical element that maintains your residents and keeps them there, having this capability to work from home outside of their unit.”
Good connectivity a must for working from home
Providing reliable access to the Internet is a must, and so is the ability to manage all the devices that residents bring into today’s apartments. Teleworkers and children learning from home depend on a secure, stable connection 24 hours a day.
Communications providers continue to shift to wireless technology while targeting mobile devices and cloud-based technology. With so many gadgets depending on good connectivity, property managers must become proficient at managing telecom.
In a session at the 2021 RealPage Energy Summit, Tim Haddon, Director of Strategic Business Services at PK Management, said property managers should work closely with technology providers to ensure telecommunication networks are properly stitched together to provide residents the best possible service.
Resident technology services that include system design and infrastructure installations – from basic wiring, fiber and WiFi to the Internet of Things – should accommodate the needs of remote workers. RealPage’s CommunityConnect Smart Building platform, particularly Smart WiFi, compliments the needs of a properties to satisfy both its stay-at-home and other residents. Ultra-High Speed WiFi with lightning-fast, secure internet provides a personal area network for each resident inside homes and throughout the community.
Linda Willey, Director of Ancillary Services at Camden Property Trust, says properties must have the flexibility to pivot technologically even if it is to just meet the basic needs of connectivity for residents working from home.
“Make sure your Internet works,” she said.
Space is more meaningful
Every inch of apartment space counts, especially in areas outside of the unit. Nancy Simmons Starrs, who founded the apartment search firm Apartment Detectives, says that apartment balconies and proximity to outdoor activities are now coveted.
Renters with balconies large enough for a table can work outside for a change of pace or just take a break from their laptops.
“If you can sit on a balcony, away from the phone and the computer, you will come back to work refreshed and able to handle tasks more effectively,” she wrote in a recent article posted on MSN. “The technology we have has most of us starting our day reading emails, even before coffee or getting out of bed. This makes a work recess highly important for sanity and well-being.”
Teleworkers in dense urban areas can now consider moving to the suburbs, where the cost per square foot is less. A second bedroom is ideal for a home office, versus a desk or table in a small, cramped apartment downtown.
Apartments close to parks and green belts where teleworkers can get fresh air are especially desirable.
“Considering most of the units have gotten smaller over the years, having dedicated workspaces for residents is paramount,” says Dora-Shibley.
New designs incorporate blending privacy and visibility using glass partitions and moveable screens to create environments where residents can feel they are in productive spaces, yet not isolated.
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