Published in Sep-Oct 2020
The housing market is closely tied to consumer spending. No wonder economies love a housing boom. After all, when the price of your home goes up, you feel more confident and better off. Enough for you to want to borrow against the value of your house for reasons that include anything from spending on a 120-inch-touchscreen-3D-4K-Smart-TV to, more prudently, paying off other debts. When the price of your home goes down, however, then the value of your house will be worth less than your outstanding mortgage. Which is why you will likely cut down on spending and put a pause on making personal investments – including that trip to Bali you promised the family.
Making an investment in housing plays a measureable (and often unpredictable) role in how governments can measure the total output of their economy – as the recent slew of announcements for ‘affordable housing’ have made more than obvious. There is no doubt that even if you buy an affordable new home, it will directly contribute to the GDP by virtue of investments in land, building, material, creation of additional jobs and a spike in allied businesses (from legal and estate agent fees to buying a new doorknob). Moreover, once planning permission is granted, otherwise lost and forgotten swathes of land will attract local trade, industry and enterprise. So, all in all, an investment in mass-scale housing is a clarion call for peace and prosperity.
Until it isn’t.
As Albert Einstein once pronounced: “Not everything that can be counted… counts.” In other words, sometimes it’s impossible to measure what is really important (health, relationships, education, skills, to name a few). And, these days, as more and more of us become battle-hardened with the onslaught of Covid-19 and its multiple societal consequences, the division between a home and an office is one of the first causalities that has people wondering about the future of their relationship with both.
But as time goes by, in the observation of the randomised global trial of WFH kick-started by the pandemic, the results, for now, suggest that WFH is something of a preference; and while some companies are encouraging employees to come ‘back to work’ (by which they mean ‘back to the office’), there are others who are rearranging expectations, cutting down on fixed costs, cancelling leases and arguing for a more ‘distributed workforce.’ This isn’t coming from a place of corporate goodwill, but from a sense of what is good for business. Many of us realised a month or two into the lockdown that having employees work from home not only boosted productivity, but positively impacted agency earnings.
To be fair, the experience of the lockdown may merely have accelerated pre-existing trends. The number of people WFH was always rising before the pandemic. Trouble is, most office-goers did not recognise its true worth until the pandemic forced us to. What is more, if going to work at an office remained such a dominant fixture of our lives, we can potentially argue that (for both firms and their employees) it must have been more efficient to keep doing so. It follows then, that calculating the number of people back at their desks is a better metric to gauge the success of a country’s emergence from lockdown. But maybe there is another way to look at it?
Maybe the glory days of the office are actually over? Maybe WFH really is more efficient than working from an office? The office, after all, was a place where work actually meant processing paperwork. And having proximity to that paper and to those who processed it created efficiencies. But ever since paper became ‘electronic,’ ever since a laptop and a sure connection to WiFi became the norm, ever since the lockdown’s cast of doom and gloom morphed into ‘doom and Zoom™,’ more of us have realised that we are all owed over a decade’s worth of overtime for the days we spent at the office.
At the end of the day, for all the things that the pandemic has upended, it may actually have corrected the perception of working from home as a harbinger of our future workspaces. And this is also something that new housing developments should take into account. That is, the future of housing is not just about living, but even more so about working. Which means that alongside the bed and bath, we will all be asking for an additional room whose door leads to our office.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.