COVID-19 has swept across the globe, leaving behind a trail of uncertainty. Around nine million people are expected to be furloughed in the UK, while store closures are leading many businesses into administration and a whole lot of ambiguity. Unless you’re Amazon or Netflix, with the streaming service’s stocks surpassing US oil giant Exxon Mobil as quarantine continues.

There is no part of the property market that hasn’t been struck by the pandemic. But with change comes opportunity as experts start to evaluate how the pandemic may affect the future of design.

The changing face of the office

Over the past decade there has certainly been a blurring of the lines between homes, offices and third space working environments. In this respect, COVID-19 will be a catalyst, but not an initiator, in moving people to agile working.

The annual population survey revealed that before this, less than 30 percent of the workforce had ever worked from home. So as we all now adjust to life without the physical office, what does the future look like?

Kate Vine, principal at Perkins and Will, wrote in OnOffice magazine, “It may result in a broader shift to agile or more flexible working, empowering employees to choose when, where, and how they work – which may be a newer concept for more traditional companies. It will be our responsibility as architects and designers to help them through this journey, and office design as we know will change dramatically.”

Before the pandemic modern businesses had already moved away from the traditional stretches of dull grey cubicles, with modern design introducing office spaces with a choice of working options – from lounging areas, to privacy pods and collaborative meeting room spaces – to give employees a flexible and engaging workplace.

Offices post-crisis, will not only continue to expand on agile working, but we may also see a shift to self-cleaning materials in the workplace, air purification and areas that give employees more space – as looking after employee’s physical health climbs to the top of the agenda.

As we learn to appreciate the single outing per day for exercise that COVID-19 permits, we could see more employees exercising on their way to work. This calls for office spaces with bike racks, showers and changing facilities.

Independence in Later Living design

“The pandemic has demonstrated to people that there is an issue around how we look after our loved ones and older people,” Guild Living co-founder Eugene Marchese told BISNOW.

While the feeling of isolation and loneliness is new to many of the younger generation, Age UK reports more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

To tackle this, former Treasury economist Chris Walker called for 30,000 later living homes to be built each year in his ‘Healthier & Happier‘ report, published in October 2019.

Through innovative modern design, Guild Living creates communities for the older generation to thrive. Gone are the corridors and handrails associated with hospitals and old-fashioned institutions. Instead Guild Living creates apartments with living room and dining areas, so that residents have a proper place to call home. Illuminated wayfinding saves the embarrassment of getting lost, with schemes commonly designed to have ground floor social areas to encourage residents to integrate with the wider community.

Félicie Krikler, director at Assael wrote in Property Week: “Making these schemes aspirational and places where we would all want to live, regardless of age, will be key to appeal to Boomers. The developments must be characterful and homely, incorporating care in an unobtrusive way and allowing residents to live their lives.”

“We must balance privacy and sociability while enabling independence without loneliness, through skilful design.”

Build-to-Rent (BTR): Focus on amenities 

As lenders exercise caution – with some having already withdrawn products aimed at buyers with smaller deposits temporarily during lockdown – many will likely turn to the rental market while they wait to build up their savings or for the economic climate to improve.

This poses an opportunity for BTR, especially as post-pandemic renters will likely be searching for schemes with the amenities that COVID-19 restricted us from. For example Blackhorse Mills in Walthamstow, designed by Assael for developer Legal & General, includes flexible workspace, communal roof terraces and even a heated outdoor swimming pool.

While design will adapt with an added focus on amenities, we may see an increase in suburban living schemes as people look for housing with a community feel, which also offers access to nature and fresh air.

“And who knows – the tenants may be so impressed by the lifestyle, friendship and the flexibility of a BTR community, they may decide to rent for the long term” said Russell Pedley, director and co-founder of Assael.