The new opportunities of working from home

Working from home has prompted many of us to ask whether our homes are working. Will the properties we live in still suit our lifestyle in a post-pandemic world? The answer opens up a range of new opportunities for our industry, writes Leanne Pilkington, Laing+Simmons Managing Director and President of the Real Estate Institute of NSW (REINSW).

Obviously, the pandemic is still a very much a reality for everyone. Yet as restrictions ease, it is also clear that people, at least in terms of mindset, are thinking about what comes next. It’s true across many aspects of our lives, including our homes.

After being in lockdown for so long, many people are reconsidering the suitability of their current homes, for a variety of reasons. Many have found the shift to working from home welcome, except for the physical set up of the home workspace. Throw home-schooling into the mix and for some people, the theory was much more effective than the practice.

The floorplan, layout and even furnishings of our home all have an impact on comfort and efficiency. But now we need to consider these two elements not just from a home-life perspective, but from a working-from-home perspective too.

For many people, it means change in the home’s interior would be beneficial. For others, it means change in location would be better still.

Regional locations may be key beneficiaries. The idea of more people leaving the city for a seachange or treechange, and potentially maintaining an apartment in town, is becoming more reasonable.

Consider this from the Regional Australia Institute: “In the five years to 2016, Sydney saw a net loss of 64,756 people to regional Australia, Melbourne 21,609 and Adelaide recorded a small net loss of around 1,000 residents. Brisbane bucked the trend with a net gain of 15,597 people. Between 2011 and 2016, more than 1.2 million people either moved to regional Australia or moved around regional Australia from one location to another.”

A change in what people want and need from their home, or a change in the place people want to live, are both lenses through which the real estate industry must consider the future needs of consumers. There are many other lenses as well.

We must consider what these mean and adapt our services accordingly.

For instance, it may be that we need to take more of a relationship approach with our customers, as opposed to a transactional one. Perhaps the conversations we need to have should focus less on our customers’ property aspirations and more on their desired lifestyle. We can work with them towards a property solution instead of just a property.

This relationship focus might need to extend to new partnerships too.

Residential developers, in the way they present their projects, have recently elevated the importance of the home study or studio-type features in their housing products.

The message they want to convey is that buyers need to consider workspaces in their home as well as living spaces, in order to facilitate working from home in the future.

It puts a new spin on the property implications of work-life balance. Instead of a ping pong table in the office, we’re setting up whiteboards in the garage.

What’s the role of agents? If interior designs are to change (potentially), and buyers are going to scrutinise the homes they look at in terms of a working environment as well as a living environment, does this mean the skill set of the agent must adapt too?

Or is it more efficient to seek to develop new partnerships with services like architects, interior designers, furniture companies, home tech providers, and other associated suppliers? Many leading agents have already mobilised in this space.

The point is, the pandemic is still playing out. We all have more questions than answers as to what the future may hold. But it’s clear that change is on the horizon.

Then again, in real estate, when is it not? Ours is a dynamic industry known for its capacity to adapt.

I’ll admit that, at the moment, the notion of not actually having an office to work out of is still foreign to me. My team and I have been working effectively from home, relying on technology and, of course, in this industry, many of us are on the road much of the time anyway.

Yet there’s a lingering feeling I have that we ‘should’ be in the office. I absolutely believe that the social collaboration it provides is deeply valuable. But 9am to 5pm (sometimes longer of course!), Monday to Friday? Perhaps I need to adapt my own thinking too.

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.