Many crises have caused societies to explore new opportunities, and the pandemic-induced switch to remote work is certainly an example. It is likely to accelerate underlying trends in urban living and enhance the quality of life for city dwellers. Even though the pandemic isn’t over and no one really knows for sure what will come next, we’re already seeing some new trends that are changing our living environments, based on the influence of teleworking. But as the physical world interacts more with the virtual, there will be technology that empowers these shifts that we’ll need to make sure doesn’t threaten our digital safety.
Less Contact and Smarter Homes
The pandemic experience is truly global. Never before have so many people found themselves in such similar conditions at the same time. For the second year running, people everywhere are working from home and different sectors of the economy have actually been boosted by the change. One obvious example is e-commerce, with traditional shopping suddenly posing a risk. Pandemic measures worldwide have led to more online shopping and driven growth for delivery services. People are getting used to spending more time at home, so the overall digitalization of the commerce experience will likely continue to grow, making contactless payments the new norm.
Urban life varies greatly depending on the work, leisure and consumption patterns of citizens. So, with most of us living and working at home, COVID-19 has become a catalyst for the acceleration of intelligent buildings and smart home technologies that were already being implemented in the real estate industry, albeit at a slower pace. Today, things like keyless entry, voice-activated elevators, digital room service, remote notarizations and valet parking are getting even more common, as consumers embrace the trend toward hands-off technology. This seamless fusion of the digital and physical worlds will need to be built with the concept of cyber immunity in mind, so the technology is capable of performing even in an aggressive environment, without the need for additional security features.
When it comes to securing smart homes, certain elements are essential, like correctly configuring home Wi-Fi networks and protecting devices and control panels with a strong unique password. That way, an attacker will not be able to simply use brute force to enter users’ homes.
Fortunately, people are becoming more careful. According to recent research, 48% of online users protect their Wi-Fi network with a password, 58% are currently using internet security software and most are at least familiar with the concept of good “digital hygiene.”
Offices for Hybrid Work
Millions of white-collar employees who have been enjoying the opportunity to work from anywhere have encountered the need to create a virtual office at home, where they can fully concentrate. And, as the world starts to consider the hybrid work model, most workers will be likely heading to the office just two or three days a week. This all affects commercial real estate, with new open office layouts built around meeting rooms, small private offices, hot desks and co-working spaces.
Workers and their employers can gain a number of benefits from the hybrid work concept, like rent savings, lower overheads, a made-to-order work environment and less time spent on a long daily commute. With this pop-up workspace paradigm, virtual work will be available to anyone who wants it. However, the necessity of organizing IT support adds a burden on employees, as well. One simple piece of advice is to use a VPN – whether you’re working at home or on a public Wi-Fi network – to protect data, hide your IP address and ensure online actions aren’t intercepted.
The “death of the suburbs” narrative has been trotted out many times by demographers and sociologists, but due to COVID-19, we are now observing a return to suburban life, as millions of people have left their apartments in dense downtown neighborhoods in favor of more socially distanced homes. Meanwhile, “Zoom towns” are gaining attention in the media, with vacation destinations turning into real estate hot spots as workers escape densely packed cities to work from their ideal location.
However, the other lesson this pandemic has taught us is that we often still want to meet face-to-face, because it’s human nature to communicate and live together. People want to go to bars and restaurants, they need eye contact at meetings and to feel connected to other teammates to be productive – and that’s why big cities will always be desirable.
Some signs of what our future cities might look like emerged last year, with the concept of 15 minute cities becoming more of a reality. Many citizens can now access most of their daily needs within a short walk or get fresh air in the context of teleworking. Huge malls are making way for local grocery stores, only a bike ride away. People can spend more time in their neighborhoods and prioritize their lifestyle needs based on affordability, commercial infrastructure, leisure capacity, parks or whatever else they value most.
Post-pandemic habits will shape the look of future neighborhoods to provide for people who enjoy city-living but in a more family-friendly environment. This could include more mixed-use real estate developments that pair residential housing with offices, green roofs and balconies, large courtyards and playgrounds, restaurants, and retail.
When planning a living environment, developers need to provide people with infrastructure, create opportunities for communication and leisure, enhance a sense of community and invest in human development and health. The technologies that sanitize public spaces, make contactless entry possible, or even those that transform tourism during stay-at-home orders with the help of VR and AR tours, will help bring us closer to a future of smarter homes and cities. We’ll just need to be careful to make sure that digital security comes built-in.