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Working from home or living at work?

On March 23rd, 2020 UK was formally placed into lockdown. Those who were not key workers were asked to not work or to work from home. This meant the decades-old tradition of working professionals putting on suits and commuting into work to go into an office and sit at a desk for several hours a day ended. Abruptly.

At first, some rejoiced at this news. We all learned about the intricacies between Zoom and Microsoft Teams and most of us became pop-quiz experts. The concept of moving from your home to go miles away to do the same thing you could do from your couch seemed insane. Most of us also found that we work better in pyjamas and are never late when our bed is also our office. Long live the “Boffice” we cried!

However, as time went on, difficulties emerged for the working poor. Those who could leave their cramped city flat and run away to a big house in the country did. Oxford University found that during lockdown over 250,000 people left London to go to live elsewhere, many whom were under 30. Those who could upgrade their Wi-Fi did. Those who could create an “office” like environment with comfy chairs, a working desk, and several monitors, did. Those who could not – struggled.

Many young people realised that no garden, no living room, and several people using the same kitchen and bathroom were acceptable before Covid-19, but not during lockdown. Landlords profiteering from turning that pesky living room into a third, fourth or even fifth bedroom in a House of Multiple Occupancy were making homes unliveable in lockdown. After a few weeks – the “Boffice” was not as great as we thought it was. People were not working from home. They were living at work.

The property developer Pocket Living found that 37% of those in London who were living in shared accommodation, were living and working in their bedrooms during the lockdown. Many reported that this was affecting their mental and physical health.

Participants reported issues like “noise, lack of work surfaces, and privacy” that severely affected their ability to work. Of those asked, 46% of participants reported not having a suitable place to work. Now, after the first lockdown and as a result of these changes, the Independent reported that 70% of young people are feeling more anxious about the future as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year might be the first time that young people move out of London and other city centres on masse – or do not actually move there in the first place. At the beginning of the year, it was predicted that the number of young people living in their own private rented sector (PRS) was going to rise by over 1.3 million. Now, I would not be so sure.

But fear not landlords – help is at hand. A landlord’s best bet lies in effectively extending regulation of the minimum shared space required for houses in multiple occupation (HMO). Regulation should enhance the need for shared living spaces. Young renters need to have space in order to live and work in separate and private areas. Ensuring shared living spaces are available would provide the stability and space young people need to be efficient and productive at work.

By creating living spaces that are living and working friendly – landlords will ensure that they can keep their tenants in good mental and emotional health, and ensure their properties are occupied. It is not a huge amount of effort – but it will be well received by tenants thrice over. As young people find themselves in a new working environments and central offices become a thing of the past – landlords should act now to ensure a good relationship with their tenants for the future and the “New Normal”.

Additionally, for those unlucky enough to be on the ever-growing list of industries impacted by Covid-19 and find themselves now on furlough or in a tough job market, landlords should allow late or partial rent payments. The stress of renting as a young person is high enough, and a little flexibility from landlords would go a long way.

The “New Normal” does not have to be all bad for young renters. Instead – tenants and landlords must act together to ensure better working and living conditions. There should always be a difference between working from home and living at work and with a little communication and adjustment, better housing is possible.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Cathleen Clarke</span></strong>
Cathleen Clarke

Cathleen Clarke is a youth campaigner and Labour Party activist. She is currently running for Chair of Young Labour and works for a migrants’ rights charity.

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