Work-life – a new balance for residential and mixed use developers?



Tom Mann, Director, Savills Residential Development Consultancy

After many months of radically different working practices for most businesses, we are increasingly being asked what impact this will have on the importance of home workspace. Interestingly and hardly surprising given the circumstances, last year, in Savills Office Fit client survey it became apparent that although the questions were about the workplace, the responses underlined how people were feeling about where they live and their ability to work there both now and in the future.

Despite this we don’t believe there will be a sudden swing towards mass demand for home offices, in the main because not everyone will find themselves in the same position, nor with the same budget.  However, we do think the breadth of requirements that a home needs to fulfill will broaden.  Indeed, those of us fortunate to be able to return to the office, at least in part last year, were reminded as to how beneficial being in an office can be for both productivity and the social and cultural sides of business.

The importance of the ongoing WFH experience - both good and bad - should not be underestimated by developers.  Giving people a choice, and understanding that there are a wide range of ways to satisfy needs will be critical for new residential and mixed-use schemes.

On the one hand there will be those who can afford that extra room as a home office where they can shut themselves away.  For those that can’t afford that, it will be much like most residential developments, where generous amenities shared amongst many can offer more than one could afford alone.  This is where more significant shared work spaces can make headway, and an opportunity to incorporate flexible workspace into mixed-use schemes.  Indeed the ability to physically separate work and home without the need to travel more than a few floors will be a real magnet for some buyers.  Added to that, being around others in “work mode” can lead to those water cooler moments that people miss and that can stimulate so much.  After all that is what led to the boom in the serviced office sector with the likes of WeWork, TOG, Fora etc. 

This opens up opportunities for developers to go beyond the mere “business suite” and they can now explore opportunities to add revenue generating co-working spaces offering more than a couple of meeting rooms.  The opportunity for businesses and individuals alike to rent desk space on a day, week or monthly basis just a stone’s throw from their front door is undoubtedly appealing and supports what could be a growing trend as we move forward of people wanting to work more locally for part of the week.  The concept of a shared home office where one can feel highly productive and that is set up specifically for working will have its fans. 

Access to new datasets allow us to interrogate market demand on a more local and granular level, enabling us to understand not only what people want but also to cross reference that with forthcoming supply. As part of our studies we look at what amenity is provided with what apartment sizes and product type.  In doing this we will be able to help our developer clients be more targeted in what they deliver to markets where there is a mismatch in supply and demand.  We touch on this in our recent research paper.

Residential developers will need to satisfy changing attitudes to how and where we work as well as how we want to live and one of the growth opportunities appear to be where space to work from home is currently unsatisfactory.  They ignore this trend at their peril.