With the changes caused by COVID-19 which started in March 2020, the question arises of how the changes to office work will affect the urban structure?
In the future, work environments will be tailored to the needs of users. This will increase the demand for office properties with flexible floor plans. As the need for flexible spaces increases, old deep-framed and technically overhauled office properties are becoming unpopular. The desire to rezone work properties for alternative uses is often low and for larger areas the zoning process is slow. The gap between business premises in different areas is growing in terms of rent payments and desirability. When it comes to the urban structure, the change is likely to lead to the conversion of office areas to new uses, but only after practice has shown them to be uncomfortable and dysfunctional. Office jobs will shift close to hubs with good public transportation connections, where their popularity is growing faster.
Last year’s migration statistics for the whole of Finland show that Helsinki’s neighbouring municipalities have increased their popularity. Helsinki is no longer at the forefront of migration statistics. Compared to the average migration gains of 2015-19, according to statistics from the consulting company MDI, during January-September 2020, Helsinki doesn’t even make it into the top 20 list.
In addition to the actual migration, multi-location is also on the rise. The demand for holiday homes has risen sharply, with sales growing by about 40% a year. Remote working allows flexibility for the workstation location. Depending on the job, the focus can even change radically and previously rare remote work days become the new mainstream.
Are people moving to the countryside in large numbers? Hardly so. There are signs of this when looking at the current migration statistics, but urbanisation is still a global megatrend. Urban areas are particularly attractive to young people moving for study and work. After starting a family, people move a little further away from the centres due to the need for living space. However, family sizes have decreased, making it increasingly possible to stay in the city’s downtown areas.
It is not possible for everyone to work remotely. Industry, construction, healthcare, trade, hotel, food and tourism are examples of industries that mainly require a physical presence. In these industries, daily commutes limit the distance between home and work.
The increase in remote working is having an impact on migration, the housing market, and the demand for services. The urban structure is constantly changing under different influences, leaving causal relationships to be speculated on. Change is merely positive. As cities expand, and for example ports and industrial facilities move from the city centre to elsewhere, changes in the use of industrial properties that remain in place create a distinctive and multi-storey urban structure. You can see the added value by walking, for example, in the centre of Tampere, where old industrial properties have been preserved.
Is this change ultimately close to the zero-sum game? The urban structural changes will not be as major as was thought in the darkest moments of the pandemic. The biggest change is probably the expansion of people’s thinking: new, creative places and ways to work have been discovered. With travel restrictions abroad, Finland and its opportunities have been discovered. There are great places to travel, live, and work nearby. Our good digital capabilities play a crucial role in this change.
Architect SAFA, partner