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Push to design for a work-from-home era

The explosion in telecommuting is changing the spaces where we both live and work.

Etualalla sänky, jonka takana nainen tekee töitä kaappiin rakennetussa etätyöpisteessä.
Marjo Ahola's is pleased with the conversion she's made, in part because once the closet doors are closed, the room no longer looks like a workspace. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

The massive upswing in the number of people working from home since the start of the coronavirus epidemic has brought a push to include workspaces for telecommuting in all types of housing in Finland.

A number of Finnish housing associations are considering offering residents dedicated teleworking facilities, and the trend is starting to make a breakthrough in the building sector.

Marjo Ahola, who lives in Kokkola in Central Ostrobothnia, works at least some of every day at home. Her solution to the question of where best to do her job in her house was to create a workstation in a bedroom closet.

“This was such a spacious bedroom that I thought I wanted a work station in here, so I gave up a little wardrobe space,” Ahola explains.

She says she's happy with it.

“I get everything hidden away. When I go to bed or when I'm not doing paperwork, this doesn’t look like an office. I want everything to be tidy. This has worked out really well,” she adds.

Story continues after photo.

Marjo Ahola istuu etätyöpisteessään kotona. Hänellä on vihko ja työvälineitä käsissään. Työpöydällä on kannettava tietokone.
As an independent entrepreneur Marjo Ahola does her paperwork and design work at home. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

Reassessing floor plans

Spaces suitable for work have become an increasingly item on the wish list of Finns shopping for new homes.

The trend is already having a clearly visible impact on the business of companies offering prefabricated houses.

According to Mika Uusimäki, CEO of Kannustalo, a house fabricator with a plant close to Kokkola, previously a lot of customers wanted a large living room-kitchen-dining area in their new homes. Now, but now the focus has shifted.

“Now people want their own quiet spots where you can work and teleconference without having to worry about other family members in the background in the field of view of the camera,” Uusimäki notes.

According to Uusimäki, it may not be possible to increase the size of a home because of construction costs, so families compromise on the size of other rooms.

“Large walk-in closets are being turned into work spaces, and so cupboards are installed in bedrooms to replace the walk-in. In living rooms, recesses, that is alcoves, can be built which are workspaces,” Uusimäki continues. “Another option is to build a separate, heated, one-room structure in the yard that can serve as a work space, a guest room, or an apartment for a younger family member.”

Story continues after photo.

Mika Uusimäki.
A remote workstation can be installed in a walk-in closet or even a kitchen cupboard says Mika Uusimäki. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

Office space in condos

Many housing associations are moving forward on creating office space in blocks or flats and other types of condominiums.

According to Jaakko Tokola, chairman of the board of the Sievi construction group and Findea, which both sells and leases homes, almost all of his companies' customers are now considering the use and possibilities of telecommuting. High among their concerns is whether or not new homes have enough rooms or whether a bedroom can be converted into a work space.

“It is also common to expand a closet into a work space, using sliding doors and different furnishings. Remote workstations are being set up hallways or in connection with different rooms. Sound insulation, electricity wiring, and so forth has to be modified,” says Tokola.

Story continues after photo.

Jaakko Tokola rakenteilla olevan rakennuksen sisällä. Johtoja roikkuu katosta ja seinien rakenteet ovat vielä auki.
House prefabrication plants and construction companies have good opportunities to develop flexible and adaptable teleworking facilities, believes Jaakko Tokola of Sievi Group and Findea. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

In addition to detached houses, telecommuting facilities are now being planned for common areas of blocks of flats and other condominiums.

The word of the day is adaptability.

“Put a billiard table and a work station in the same room. In this way, the space can be used during the day for [residents'] teleworking, customer meetings and negotiations. In the evenings and on weekends, it can be used as a common meeting room and game room for the housing association," Tokola explains.

Unanswered questions

How much work people will be doing at home in the future depends on several factors.

Tokola thinks that the need to maintain productivity and the ways in which it is measured will determine the development of telecommuting and how common telecommuting facilities will be in the long run.

There are also a number of unanswered questions that need to be examined.

As Tokola notes, “Up until now, employees have been obligated to arrange their telecommuting themselves, but will the situation change in the future? Who will pay for the facilities and how will it affect construction?

Story continues after photo.

Rakenteilla oleva kerrostalo Kokkolan Pikiruukissa. Nostokurki lähellä kerrsotaloa. Taustalla näkyy merta ja asuntomessualue.
Blocks of flats under construction in the Pikiruukki district of Kokkola under construction in Pikiruukki, have been designed with workstations connected to bedrooms. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

Social interaction and a sense of community, even while telecommuting, are still very important, though.

Tokola points out that social interaction is a basic human need and should in some way also be available while working from home.

“Housing is changing and work is changing. Could more than one person at a time work in a space provided by a housing association, or in the same flat? Students are increasingly studying remotely, which means that they must also have more and more common spaces where they can study,” says Tokola.

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