Over the last ten years, the number of Britons working from home has increased five-fold. With more than four million people now classing part of their property as a workspace, bedrooms and garages across the UK are being repurposed as improvised offices.
However, few of us live in homes specifically designed also as a place of employment. It’s often impractical for parents of young children to concentrate when they’re working from home, and spare rooms are hardly a professional environment for meeting clients. That’s why the UK is experiencing a growing trend for accommodation designed to be equal parts professional and personal…
Work from home, live at work
Known as live/work spaces, the concept of merging a small office with a number of residential dwellings originated in pre-gentrification Hackney. The council was looking to find a way of repurposing derelict industrial units, without them being replaced by swathes of anodyne new-build apartments. It hit on the idea of regenerating redundant commercial buildings for mixed-use roles – combining loft-style apartments with open-plan offices designed for creatives. Typically costing ten to twenty per cent less than comparable residential properties, these live/work spaces are also more affordable and cost less than paying for both residential and commercial rents every month.
Given the chronic overcrowding and astronomical property prices endured by Londoners, it won’t come as a surprise that live/work spaces were enthusiastically embraced across the capital. And, as is often the way with concepts pioneered in London, similar schemes now exist from Southampton to the Shetland Isles. They are ideal for young professionals in creative industries whose imagination isn’t necessarily commensurate with their income. They’re also great for those whose careers don’t fit into a spare room, such as photographers and artists.
Being in close proximity to other vibrant minds fosters an inspirational environment while having co-workers as neighbours engenders community spirit. Live/work accommodation in remote locations suits artists who can be inspired by their surroundings day and night, without having to brave the elements or rely on patchy transport links. Live/work spaces aren’t forever homes, but they suit creatives and entrepreneurs. They also mirror the short-term aspirations of transient young professionals yet to want (or need) a three-bed semi in the suburbs.
Traditional benefits of working from home also apply. The absence of commuting frees up huge amounts of time and saves money which can be reinvested in business development – or simply more of a chance to enjoy life. Businesses requiring out-of-hours maintenance can be serviced spontaneously at night, or on a quiet Sunday morning, and adverse weather becomes a topic of conversation, rather than a cause for alarm or problematic journeys.
Within a decade of introducing this concept, Hackney Council began clamping down on tenants. It claimed residents were ignoring the requirement to work in the places they lived, breaching planning consent by treating these spaces as cheap accommodation. While some residents were probably guilty of trying to exploit a loophole, proving the use of a dwelling as a workspace isn’t always easy. That’s particularly true given the undefined nature of certain creative industries – it’s quite difficult to ‘prove’ you’re a comedian or a counsellor.
One way to formalise live/work environments involves paying business rates as well as council tax and accepting a capital gains tax liability on equity amassed from a sale. However, paying two lots of tax during occupancy and then surrendering a share of the profits is a bitter financial pill to swallow. And most people are forced to rent anyway – two-bedroom live/work flats in central London still command seven-figure price tags.
There are also other obvious drawbacks. Working and living with the same group of people may become claustrophobic, particularly following the breakdown of friendships or professional/personal relationships. Similarly, it’s difficult to switch off from work when it’s in your living space. There’s also a growing sense this ship has already sailed, with partially abandoned industry websites and a lack of public awareness suggesting that Hackney’s bold experiment hasn’t captured the national mood. Then again, as flexible working increases in popularity and more of us look to escape the drudgery of commuting, perhaps those early live/work pioneers were simply ahead of their time…