Even after the pandemic has forced people to work from home for more than six months, nearly half of remote workers are working in their kitchens, living rooms, or randomly around their houses. Only 36% have a dedicated space for work, according to a survey conducted by commercial real estate internet listing service CommercialCafe.
Even so, many people are content with their work-from-home setup — not bad considering nearly half of the survey’s respondents are working in spaces that previously were dedicated to their personal lives rather than their professional careers.
It’s not for everyone, though. Take Wendy Aiello, president of Denver-based Aiello Public Relations & Marketing. Aiello cut her teeth in the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. corporate world where people went into the office every day. That practice continued after she started her own public relations firm but ended abruptly when Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order. Although that order has been lifted, Aiello is still working from home and struggles with focusing on her business.
“I don’t think working from home is helpful to the success of businesses,” Aiello said. “I see people drift away too easily. They lose their connection.”
Aiello said she is grateful to have a dedicated office in her home — otherwise, it’s too easy to get distracted and get behind in your work.
“It’s very easy to just goof around with your pets or go outside and work in your garden or talk to your mailman,” she said. “It’s important to have an office to keep yourself focused and dedicated. If you don’t have a dedicated workspace, you’re wandering around saying I better organize my Christmas ornaments.”
Aiello is lucky her husband, the general manager of a local news channel, whose job is deemed essential, continued to go to the office. But it’s more challenging for couples who both need to work from home.
Connie Ford, deputy vice president of member services for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, said she either shared her husband’s home office or worked in another location in their home until recently setting up an office in a guest bedroom.
“It was just too noisy,” Ford said. “Today is the first day I had it set up. It’s nice, it’s quiet, it’s my own dedicated space.”
Searching for More Space
And after months of being banished from their offices, many remote workers are looking for houses with designated office spaces.
“The home office feature in a home is so much more important than it was this time last year,” said Dee Chirafisi, founding broker of Denver-based Kentwood City Properties. “It used to be that a spot on the kitchen bar or dining table for a laptop was all someone needed to work at home.”
But with people engaging in Zoom calls and video conferences, they need more space and the ability to close a door for privacy. Nearly 60% of the CommercialCafe survey respondents said they planned to rent a larger apartment or buy a home that could incorporate an office.
“We are seeing some couples who need two private home offices since both are working from home,” Chirafisi said. “And then throw in the kids who are schooling from home. The days of a simple laptop on a counter may come back some day, but for now the true home office space with a door is a must for many people.”
Francie Malina, a real estate agent at Compass Real Estate in Irvington, New York, said she sees homebuyers request as many as three additional bedrooms if the homes don’t already have multiple office spaces.
“Families want ample room to work quietly away from their loved ones and are prepared to move and increase their budget for the peace of mind that isolated working areas provide,” Malina said. “Having room to work away from the other household activities helps to maintain a sense of normalcy during this unprecedented time.’’
The CompassCafe survey also found that even if people can’t have an entire room to use as an office, dedicated space in a living room or an extra bedroom with an office-style desk and chair can help with productivity, said study author Patrick McGregor.
“[Home]buyers are looking for space that can be used for an office,” he said. “Not necessarily a whole room, just more space that can be dedicated to workspace. Some are looking for a dedicated room, though. In those cases, buyers that previously wanted three bedrooms now maybe want four.”
Impact on Commercial Office Space
With today’s workforce relegated to remote work, the amount of space offered for sublease in the ten largest US office markets has increased by 12% since the pandemic forced a shutdown of local economies in March, according to a July report from CBRE. Office space offered for sublease increased by 6.1 million square feet in those ten markets to total nearly 59 million square feet in June.
“Space offered for sublease is a highly fluid and difficult-to-track metric since companies can put space on the market or withdraw it on a daily basis,” Ian Anderson, CBRE Americas’s head of research, said in a statement. “But the general increase in space offered for sublease amid the pandemic is to be expected. We believe that the second quarter was the low point for the market with office leasing activity down more than 40% from a year earlier — and that we’ll begin to see a gradual recovery.”
Margaret is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry. She has covered a variety of business topics, including residential and commercial real estate, technology, telecommunications, and cannabis.