Corona - let's stay at home

Let’s stay at home

The “Multicase Aluminum as a home office” is too high for children, they would have to go back to face-to-face lessons after all, sorry

Photo: Stylehiker

“Hey, home office!”: This is the motto under which Tchibo advertises “Pure nordic living” in a sales catalog. The business principle of the coffee roaster is to offer, in addition to its core product, many other articles that are in keeping with the spirit of the times - in order to attract customers to its branches or to its own online portal. For example, a “dining table with an integrated work station” is currently available. It can be conveniently opened and closed and also contains a so-called storage space base plate. In this, as the advertising photo illustrates, the home worker can quickly make her tablet, documents or smartphone disappear - in order to serve lunch in the same place immediately after the video conference.

Home office needs space

The fight against the coronavirus has shifted parts of the world of work and the education system to private homes. But these are often unsuitable for permanent home office and homeschooling. The activities at home, which have become more diverse and time-consuming, encounter spatial obstacles. Because especially in large cities with high rents, people live in rather small areas. Inevitably, these are then used in various ways. They serve as dining and work space at the same time, are kitchen and classroom in one. With office cabinets for the living room, back-friendly chairs or curtain scarves as room dividers, it's not just Tchibo that offers the right accessories. The whole furniture industry is changing, developing new products.

Before the pandemic, only twelve percent of employees worked from home at times. In the first lockdown in spring 2020, the number jumped to up to 40 percent and then fell again. The potential of mobile working is limited; even digitizable activities occasionally require personal meetings and coordination processes. Automobile workers, elderly care workers, bus drivers or saleswomen cannot earn money in their own four walls anyway. To what extent the home office will establish itself permanently as a form of employment cannot yet be reliably assessed.

However, the consequences are already noticeable on the real estate market: rents and purchase prices for private living continue to rise. The commercial rental of shops, on the other hand, causes problems because of the long-term closed retail trade. Office space is also in abundance at the moment because many companies want to reduce their size. For years they have been experimenting with usage concepts in which there are no longer any personally assigned desks. Working from home saves them considerable costs that they pass on to their employees. Because additional services such as company cell phones or company laptops in no way compensate for what an optimized home office setting that complies with health protection regulations would devour. The newly introduced home office flat rate in the private tax return of a maximum of 600 euros per year only symbolically compensates for the additional expenditure for additional investments. With this sum, you can just finance an ergonomic seat.

Online sales, parcel deliveries to your doorstep and streaming offers are changing cities. There is a disentanglement of urban spaces, in some places, for example in districts with low purchasing power, even desertification. The center is becoming less attractive, which need not necessarily be cause for complaint. Cheap chains in loveless and unimaginative architecture have been anything but an urban magnet in the past. After the end of the permanent closings, the consequences of the ruinous state corona policy should become particularly visible here. The shopping areas in structurally weak areas in particular are threatened with nailed-up shops, insolvent cafes and abandoned department stores.

A central cause are the astronomical rents. 30 or even 50 euros per square meter are quite common in good locations, and prices are traditionally well above those of private apartments almost everywhere. In addition, the commercial properties in the city centers often belong to speculative hedge funds, large private investors or large insurance groups, who at times do not care much about vacancies. Only state regulation can stop this wild west economy. Why hasn't there been a nationwide rent cap for such properties for a long time? This is the only way urban planners can realize other ideas for use that break away from the one-sided fixation on shopping - by rededicating shops and offices to apartments and creating more cultural offers in the largely identical, uniformly designed pedestrian zones.

The increased space requirement due to mobile work has not yet triggered an escape from the city. This alleged trend is mentioned by some feature sections, but has not yet been statistically proven. Young and well-educated people still want to live mostly in the big cities. The housing crisis could worsen here because larger properties are in demand due to the greater presence at home - ideally with a balcony or terrace. Rents, standard land values ​​and real estate prices therefore threaten to rise further. This underscores the need for state intervention in order to make the cities socially balanced - despite the notorious protests and complaints of the housing lobby against any intervention.

In the best case, the experiences from the pandemic could act as a corrective for a more livable environment. The future belongs to neighborhood and multifunctional city quarters in which people can live, work and shop at the same time. Creative solutions are helpful, even on a small scale. Assemblies or housing cooperatives have long since presented so-called co-housing concepts, which reduce individual living requirements through shared use of gardens, kitchens, guest rooms, workshops or offices. It is true that such ideas are funded to a limited extent in some municipal development projects or are taken into account as award criteria in architects' competitions. Usually, however, the demand for new forms of living clearly exceeds the supply. If the market alone determines to whom lucrative urban land is sold, socially oriented initiatives hardly stand a chance.