Multifamily Interior Design and Work from Home Spaces

 

 

Before this year, if you said you were a WFH, maybe one of out twenty people might know what that meant.  Who knew that WFH meant work-from-home?  Having a small home office is now a necessity for millions of people, and modern interior design is going mainstream within the multifamily development construction process.

WFH (work from home) means an employee is working from their house, apartment, or residence, rather than working from the office. Many companies have a WFH policy, or remote work policy, that allows their employees to work from home either full-time or when it’s most convenient for them. Owl Labs

Raise your hand if you work from home.  Wow – that’s a lot of hands! About 33% of the U.S. population lives in apartment homes.  That translates to millions of people working from home.  Before our current COVID-19 event, while fewer people had the same street address for both work and home, the numbers were growing before shelter-in-place was a thing. From the Washington Post:

Apartments and condominiums, known in real estate parlance as “multifamily” residences, are by definition places where neighbors live in proximity. For many residents of these buildings, a prime perk is the ability to get fit, co-work and socialize all in one place.

The novel coronavirus led to an immediate shutdown of most of these shared amenity spaces as well as a new point of view about how to improve health, cleanliness and safety while providing room for social interaction.  Article entitled: Apartment and condo communities get inventive to keep residents safe and connected during the pandemic

We get it; everything is changing; inside and outside of your apartment.  The “inside” part; however, for future built apartment properties, can require from 2 to 10-years to develop before the first shovel of dirt is turned over to start construction.

DO YOU WORK FROM HOME?

WFH adults require a workspace to make a living. From full-stack developers to YouTubers, millions of people are earning a living online. WFH professionals include legal and accounting offices staffed with work-from-home professionals. Add medical billing staff and all manner of customer service professionals.  Both low-tech and rocket scientists are online during the workday fully engaged in their profession.

The work-from-home job force just got a big push from the current global coronavirus pandemic. But even before COVID-19 became a factor, increasing numbers of people have been saying goodbye to their tiring commute to work. Thanks to ever-evolving technologies like Skype, Facetime, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, authenticator apps, and cloud computing—not to mention texting and email—it’s no longer necessary to be in an office full-time to be a productive member of the team. Many kinds of work can be done just as effectively, if not more so, from a home office. The Ultimate Working From Home Guide – Investopedia

Consider that between 10-20% of people work from home on a full-time basis.  Another 30% are working from home during their workweek requiring WFH environments to evolve into a fully functional workspace.  The multifamily industry must adapt to this sea-change and do so faster.  Why?  To better accommodate our paying customers (residents). Those who leap into providing quality work-from-home spaces will find their units rented faster than their competitors.

How soon until the place we call work and where we call home is the same all the time?  It’s true for millions of people now. Do we want to work from home as a society?  Probably not.  People are very accustomed to the separation of space; I work here, I live there. What does this paradigm shift mean for the future of societies that believe it’s ok for home and work to comingle?  Do we want to live and work in a “pod” encompassing our existence where there are barriers between our professional and personal lives?  Can one space fit all? How many offices do you have, and what is the optimal number of offices?  How many do you have now?

  • Corporate office
  • Regional office
  • State office
  • Metro office (in five or ten cities)
  • Mobile office (car, bus, train, plane)
  • Hot spot (coffee shop, open space, park, lobby)
  • Laptop (24/7)
  • Cloud (everywhere, all the time)
  • Smartphone (25/7 – that’s right, our phones are on more hours than there are in a day!).
  • Home office

What is the thing you do when you get home?  Charge your phone.  Why? To ensure you can access phone calls and email.  And we need an office in our home?  Of course, we do. Are we all insane? Of course, we are. Is there an app for that?  Of course, there is; this is why my watch has calendar reminders vibrating every hour.  See Room Sketcher for ideas on how to create a high-quality small home office.  They offer some ideas to bring sanity and functionality built into home office design.

My first laptop weighed 12 pounds.  When they arrived on our desk, my co-worker looked at me grimly, stating, “you know this means management expects us to work 24/7 now.”  That was 25-years ago.  Will companies take advantage of workers by reducing their overhead at the expense of upending our work-life/personal-life without compensation?

MODERN INTERIOR DESIGN FOR YOUR HOME OFFICE

Contemporary interior design in multifamily is picking up speed in future multifamily developments.  Developers now consider home office spaces in the design phase.  Once nine-foot ceilings were a requirement for institutional investors, they were miraculously part of every new large-scale development. Today, the modern interior design includes a home office layout as part of the unit mix to increase the competitiveness of a new asset.  In an attempt to change with the times, modern home office design ideas reflect the necessity of energy conservation and “at home” workspace.

WFH spaces, while still on the kitchen table all too often, is moving to permanent space as part of an apartment home.  Sometimes this is a nook; other times, a set-aside area with the best high-speed wireless internet. Why?  Because even for people that say they don’t work from home, work from home. Don’t believe me?  Are you tracking your “phone use” time?  Mine is around four hours a day. What percentage of that four hours is work-related while I’m at home?  Most of it. You are probably no different.  Admitting this usage is work-from-home is the hard part.

Thinking about home office design ideas assumes there is a space available for at least a small home office.  Where will this new small home office find a home inside of your home?  When it comes to creating this space within apartments, developers, builders, and owner-operators have expanded their offerings in the last ten years.  Today, the matter of home office design is front and center.  From experience, the dialog in the developers’ office now includes a conversation on home office design layout pre-construction.  It’s no longer an afterthought.

Today, a new construction multifamily development seldom comes online without consideration of livability beyond space for just eating and sleeping.

APARTMENT HOME OFFICE DESIGN LAYOUT OPTIONS

Apartment home office design layout begins years before the first residents walk through the doors to consider leasing.  Design meetings, between an architect and owner-operator, for example, start with building orientation and height (including the number of stories), unit counts, and bedroom counts.  Home office design is now part of the conversation early than ever before in the development process.  Architectural Digest offers some beautiful photos encompassing every type of space.

Historically, for apartment dwellers working from home, the “home office” was a second bedroom.  As rents continued to rise and roommates became commonplace, that small home office space was a “spot” in the bedroom.  Small home office space ideas included moving a dresser and replacing it with a desk.  Multifamily developers, recognizing this trend, are now designing small home office space into apartments pre-development.  For institutional assets, the initial realization came in the form of business centers as part of the clubhouse.  Then came apartment unit build-out interiors with working enclaves, nooks, and built-in bookcases, and property-wide internet connectivity.

Items for consideration for creating a functional workspace include larger windows to accommodate natural light as part of the design for home office workspaces and design layout to encompass a quiet working space.  Case in point; one of my co-workers has a home office space in a bedroom.  However, for essential phone calls, he retreats to the master bedroom walk-in closet.  Why?  It offers the best sound-proofing for a quiet phone call away from the “house noise” and kids at home.

MULTIFAMILY OWNERS AND OPERATORS MUST THINK AHEAD

If you believe the answer to the question “do you have home office space” is always no, that’s a problem. Being in the multifamily business includes providing customer service that matters to your residents.  Home office space is a thing.  And home office space needs are only going to increase.

A multifamily owner that believes home office design is not essential can expect competitors to take it seriously and capture leases faster.

Small spaces for a home office are presumed because, until recently, a home office was a luxury, something there for occasional use.  Our society was already evolving towards home offices for the gig economy.  COVID-19 has accelerated this conversation into overdrive.  Home office small space ideas include murphy desk made especially for apartment living.  There are multiple types and sizes. Ideas for home office design starts with an analysis of the existing space.

I think we find a compromise and multifamily home office design will advance with some long-term solutions that allow for work-at-home with sanity.  Work-home balance?  That another matter entirely. The home office workspace is here to stay. That’s the future, and the future is here.  Evolution always takes time.

HISTORY IS IMPORTANT AND TEACHES US ABOUT THE FUTURE

The troubled mind should remember that as much as we may desire or demean change, it seldom occurs at once (pun intended). Consider:

2000 YEARS AGO. The Romans created sustainable roads throughout their kingdom, a kingdom that spanned three continents; Europe, Africa, and Asia. They brought more than just military might; they brought governance- requiring taxes and commerce- requiring roads. It was an Englishman that established sustainable road building, roads that could withstand harsh use and all-weather.

500 YEARS AGO. In the middle ages, Europeans lived in the same space as their farm animals. The original home office workspace!  Living in the same area was necessary for the safety of the animals and the livelihood of humans. Losing a milking cow or goats raised for meat could mean the death of an entire human clan. Over time humans became immune to the deceases of domesticated animals. As herds grew and wealth grew, groups of people took the time to house animals in one place away from the family abode. But even then, they were nearby with a watchful eye on their greatest assets.

140 YEARS AGO. In-door plumbing began widespread use in Europe.  Even Disneyland plays homage to this advanced “technology” with its European themed streets having painted an open sewer running through the cityscape as it did in London at one time. It was another eighty years until half of the newly built homes had indoor plumbing.

SO LAST CENTURY. It was just 50-years ago that we started to travel throughout the country and around the world through a wire that carries electronic pulses and “packages” of information. Today, we go where we want with no land-based wiring at all using bandwidth and spectrum.  These changes directly impact the place we call home and how we work.  We move on electronic highways via satellite moving more information in a second than our grandparents consumed in a lifetime.

I recall a sermon where the speaker held up a Sunday Los Angeles Times sharing that one newspaper contained more new knowledge than the average American would learn in their lifetime a century ago.  To prove his point, the speaker told a story about American Travelers to Africa being asked about the great man Lincoln some 30-years after his death; they were curious to know what had become of him.

Connectivity will drive multifamily housing choices.  If you don’t believe me, ask leasing agents about the first question potential lessors ask: “do you have dependable internet?”

NOW. Sustainable cities devote significant portions of their shrinking budgets to creating transportation districts, centralized living, and working environments that reduce the need for motorized transportation. Is this evolution dissolving the already vague line between work and home?  If yes, it’s being helped along by the home offices and home workspaces.

EVEN WORKING FROM HOME HUMANS STILL NEED STUFF

If you can work from home, you still need food, water, clothing, and hair care.   While it’s great to have a home office, support of that space demands access to supplies and commodities even if you are growing your vegetables on the roof.  No man or woman is an island.  I hope we do not drift too far apart, having trouble re-connecting on the other side of our current circumstances.

You can’t eat Netflix.

President Truman initiated the Federal Highway Program beginning construction in St. Louis, Missouri, creating a roadway across the country from sea to shining sea. The highway project was advanced and named after his predecessor, President Eisenhower. This highway made coast-to-coast travel possible in days versus weeks and created multiple transportation hubs throughout the country.  Quality access to long-range transportation pathways brought freedom of movement to a vast country. This freedom to travel acted as a springboard to the American experience. While consumers and employees may travel fewer miles today, they all need goods and services. Products are delivered by truck and train across our nationwide transportation network.  This system allows us to remain at home and have food, water, soap, and socks delivered to our door.

IS WFH A PERMANENT STATE OF AFFAIRS?

A recent article from National Public Radio (NPR) calls out why we should begin to believe that permanent work from home is coming to our home. One primary reason is that employers realize the possibilities and can correlate savings from no longer needing—office space.  My thinking is if this is true, and employers begin to provide a “work from home” stipend, then multifamily owners will pick up on this immediately and adjust rents upward accordingly.

Permanent work from home would be nothing short of a cosmic shift placing the more significant burden on a workforce now isolated from their natural work environment.  Yet employees are expected to produce at the same level of productivity with kids and pets and extended family all looking on. Said another way: a hot mess!

The Federal Government and private sector have expanded “work from home” policies exponentially in recent years. These policies reduce the need for office space and commute times. They are referred to as family-friendly policies, remote work, and telecommute.  All terms that are all feeling dated today.

Communal workspaces have reduced the need and costs associated with formal office space to create a place we call work that allows for productivity without isolation. Many have tried, and few have succeeded in making this model sustainable, but more will try.

We have turned our televisions into e-machines and cell phones into M.S. Office mini-suites to edit documents and e-sign.  Like the six-million-dollar man, how long until we can no longer tell the difference between human and artificial intelligence?  This same line informs our thinking concerning work/home spaces.

Providing secure internet is just a starting point of what we used to call “business services.”  A work-from-home economy demands quality internet accessibility. Remember when hotels were charging a fee for internet access?  Bandwidth represents the crowded highways of today. A great apartment with a quality modern interior design home office without high-quality connectivity is useless.

To ensure properties are competitive, multifamily developers will continue to advance functional and beautiful modern home office interior design options.  Hopefully, the outcome will provide quality long-term (in-home) work from home environments that make people want to extend their current lease.  A lease renewal based on a single amenity is a win.  Know that building out a suite of amenities that people love will extend lease terms and bolster revenue.  Paying attention to home office design layout represents a return on investment for owner-operators and investors alike.

John Wilhoit is the author of the best selling book on rent roll analysis: How to Read and Rent Roll. See also the companion guide to measuring the quality of rental income: Rent Roll Triangle.  Find JW’s Podcast here.

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