Although we’ll see a return to workplaces once the circumstances allow, we have discovered that working from home gives people increased freedom, reduces commuting, and potentially reduces the cost of premises for employers.
Recently we have seen a good deal of input in the debate regarding efforts to make it easier to convert offices into housing as more people start working from home. However, far from everyone could work from home, and many others do not have the means to move into homes that allow this.
Alongside our need for more space for working from home, the closure of shops is resulting in empty space at street level. Ground-floor premises that provide public functions such as retail, culture, and services contribute to a more dynamic and attractive urban life within residential areas. Perhaps local office hubs can be one of the new services to move into ground-floor premises left vacant once retail has moved out. Now that we’re commuting less and we have the opportunity to work remotely, renting an office space close to home could seem like an attractive proposition.
And there’s no time like the present to put forward practical solutions in this area. Several government studies are currently underway, all of which will affect Swedish housing policy and construction in Sweden for many years to come. These include a social housing policy, the issue of market rents in newly built premises, the cost of newly built premises, negotiation systems for rents, simpler planning permission rules, and not least a major study into co-ordinating an increase in sustainable housing construction. In addition, programmes for sustainable renovation have been announced.
To facilitate remote working, both the study on co-ordinating housing construction and the study on the cost of newly built premises should look at how complete residential environments can be created without simply just providing every environment we need within the four walls of a home. Student housing already provides shared spaces, and this can be expanded to other settings. We should also be able to reward the growth of individual workplaces in connection with residential areas. We currently have requirements for the number of parking spaces in connection with housing. Perhaps we can apply the same logic to the provision of workstations and workplaces. Why not open up and broaden the activities of some libraries and other public institutions to cater for this?
All current studies are currently on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, which is forcing a shift in our habits and opening up a raft of new opportunities. I would like to see the government conduct an overall review of the ongoing studies relating to housing and add an additional directive to look at the impact of the pandemic on future proposals and the potential for new solutions.
The study on simplified planning permission should lead to proposals on how to make it easier to change the use of properties. Being able to quickly use vacant premises is crucial for these to contribute to the life and dynamism we want in our towns and cities.
Although I don’t have the answer to what constitutes a modern housing policy, these ongoing studies will help to answer this question. The starting point for their proposals must therefore be to take a different approach in response to our changed habits and needs.
/ Alexandra Hagen, CEO, White Arkitekter