How COVID Has Changed the Way We Live and Work

How COVID Has Changed the Way We Live and Work


Some of us today are working remotely, in a converted corner of our kitchens or living rooms or in a co-working space close to home. Others, on their way from home to office, may have used bike paths that, just two years ago, did not yet exist and might come across people working out, using parks and squares as outdoor gyms. Sidewalks are partly occupied by open-air tables of bars and restaurants.
The pandemic has been (and still is) a dramatic event, but it has also prompted us to review our living and working models to make them more resilient in the face of possible future shocks. The position paper New Living and Working Models After the COVID-19 Pandemic, which summarizes the results of the first year of research by Bocconi's SUR Lab, powered by Hines, Intesa Sanpaolo, Milanosesto and Prelios, looks at these changes, saying that “the pandemic should be exploited as an opportunity to address some of the most pressing challenges for cities in our time.”

About 90 percent of the world's COVID cases have occurred in cities, where most of human population and businesses are concentrated.
As early as April 2020, more than 4 billion people had been subject to some form of partial or total lockdown, while some form of social distancing affected the vast majority of the population. Businesses paid rents for empty office spaces and thus began to reconsider their physical space needs for the future. On the other hand, workers were forced to stay at home and often had to balance work and family care duties in inadequate spaces. This highlighted the importance of having access to adequate housing features (e.g., larger and adaptable spaces, the presence of a balcony and/or access to outdoor spaces) and a wide range of services in the neighborhood (e.g., proximity to amenities, access to childcare and elderly care services).
Among the trends highlighted by the position paper, which considers available literature, are the re-functionalization of public and private spaces, a growing use (and demand) for green spaces, strong changes in mobility habits, the reorganization of economic, social and cultural activities to ensure the necessary distancing, and an unprecedented push for digitization.
As far as housing is concerned, explains SUR Lab director Edoardo Croci, “the need for greater livability, both in terms of larger spaces and flexible, multifunctional spaces, is quite clear. Internet access has become a primary commodity. The demand for larger homes, if possible with green spaces, has increased; on the other hand, among the selection criteria, the importance of available services has risen, particularly at close range, in line with the 15-minute city paradigm.”
The use of office and commercial space has fallen drastically, creating the need for re-functionalization. “Businesses are experimenting with new ways of working, both remotely and in person, reducing the aggregation of employees and using office spaces more flexibly,” Croci adds. “Some Italian estimates say that 29 percent of companies plan to redesign their spaces, 12 percent would like to make them bigger and 10 percent want to make them smaller. Other studies on a global scale predict a 20 percent decline in demand for office space.”
The position paper closes by modeling possible evolutions based on four parameters; two deal with space use (flexibility and allowed interaction) and two with services (accessibility and integration, i.e., number and variety of services available). Depending on whether the parameters have high or low value and are considered in the living or working sphere, 16 development models are devised - not all of which are feasible in practice, but all of which are intellectually stimulating.
Four of the most promising among these models are presented with a short case study each: the new Google headquarters in Silicon Valley (working purpose, high flexibility and high interaction); the Adaptable House in Nyborg, Denmark (living purpose, high flexibility and low interaction); the Tour & Taxis in Brussels (living and working purpose, high integration and high accessibility); and the Flat Tower in Parco Vittoria, Milan (living purpose, high integration and low accessibility).
Bocconi's Sustainable Urban Regeneration (SUR) Lab, directed by Edoardo Croci and powered by Hines, Intesa Sanpaolo, Milanosesto and Prelios, studies the environmental, social and economic impacts of urban regeneration interventions in the global arena.
Edoardo Croci, Annamaria Bagaini, Benedetta Lucchitta, Tania Molteni, Mirco Monfardini, New Living and Working Models After the COVID-19 Pandemic, SUR Lab Position paper 2021.

by Fabio Todesco
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