When the first case of Covid-19 was announced in March, Nation Media Group (NMG) and Safaricom were among the first few companies in the country to facilitate their employees’ working from home.
At the time, Safaricom announced that over 95 per cent of its workforce has been asked to work from home.
“We will be engaging collaboration tech tools such as Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Yammer & Cisco Jabber to enable teams that would ordinarily be required to work from a certain location to work remotely,” the company’s chief human resources officer, Paul Kasimu, said.
Meanwhile, NMG, under the ‘Safe Nation’ initiative, rolled out the business continuity plan for remote working protocols, connecting various teams to a VPN that allowed staff to access corporate resources remotely.
While many more local firms have followed suit as the reality of Covid-19 deepens, it’s becoming apparent that working from home will become a permanent feature, the new normal.
Twitter, for instance, has adopted a work-from-home model that allows staff to keep working from home “forever” if they wish.
In a statement, the social networking service said it was “one of the first companies to go to a work-from-home model in the face of Covid-19, but [doesn’t] anticipate being one of the first to return to offices.”
The social media giant said that if employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue doing so “forever,” then “we will make that happen.”
For a firm with about 5,000 staff, with offices in at least 35 locations across the world, this move does not only throw the future of the traditional office into disarray, but also gives some insights into life after the Covid-19 outbreak, which pundits say will never be the same as before.
This week, we speak to interior designers to get some insights into the home of the future and the various roles it will serve after Covid-19.
Home as the new office
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, one of the measures taken by countries to tame the spread of the highly infectious disease was to institute a work-from-home order. In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked government offices and businesses to allow employees to work from home beginning mid-March. Several other countries are already into months of what analysts now believe will be ground zero for the new normal.
Interior designer, George Karani, who is also the Interior Designers Association of Kenya (IDAK) president Karani, who is also the Interior Designers Association of Kenya (IDAK) president, going into the future, one of the things that will change as far as homes are concerned is their design.
He says: “Most people do not consider having a home office when putting up their homes, going forward, majority of our houses will factor in a working space in their concept design.”
Mr Albert Makambi, an interior designer and a member of IDAK, shares similar sentiments, observing that due to the widespread acceptance of the work-from-home culture, which has proven effective with the use of teleconferencing services such as Zoom, Skype, and Bitrix24 office management tools among others, there is no doubt that most people will want to incorporate office spaces into their residential units.
“These will be formal spaces with office furniture, shelving and noise/sound management. This will help save the cost of hiring a traditional office space, save time spent in traffic and make the experience less of a hustle, only opting to move around when necessary,” he says.
Ms Wambui Kimutai foresees a change in furniture choice. While those with large homes will opt to have a study/home office, she says that for those that own relatively small homes, the dining room will most likely serve as the home office.
“Most will decide to forego the sofa/armchair to create room for a study table and chair,” she says.
Single-family dwelling unit versus apartments
Due to the high population in cities and urban centres, high-rise buildings, which are designed to accommodate as many people as possible in one place, are favoured over single dwelling units. In most cases, the health and hygiene of occupants are not a major consideration when putting up these apartments, making it hard to effectively deploy measures to fight a pandemic such as Covid-19.
While the primary function of the house since the beginning of time has been safety, sheltering the occupants from bad weather and keeping predatory animals out, today, people need a house that can effectively provide social isolation as well.
While noting that the apartment building concept is here to stay especially in Kenya where income levels keep most people out of the housing market, Mr Karani notes that what is likely to change is the approach towards health and hygiene.
“The problem in cities such as Nairobi is that we design with money in mind, therefore squeeze several houses together to accommodate more people and get more money through rent. We need to design houses with people’s needs in mind,” he says.
The foyer makes a major return
Foyer describes a space that usually connects the entrance of a building to other rooms. Some may refer to it as the entrance hall, hallway, entryway and even vestibule. Generally though, the foyer is where you welcome your guests when they enter your home.
Despite the significance of this space, it has disappeared over the years thanks to changes in design and preferences. But interior designers are betting big on a return of the foyer and for a number of good reasons.
“With new hygiene measures becoming the new normal, there will be need to have a foyer space as a transition area for a number of uses, for instance, to clean hands and to act as the space where people can remove and store away dirty clothes and shoes or even shopping bags,”says Ms Kimutai.
Still, a homeowner could consider having what Mr Karani calls ‘a vacuum link’ at the main entrance.
“So, instead of having the single main door that we know of, you have double doors. This creates a small vacuum before you enter the main house that could be used as the sanitisation area before one enters the house,” he says.
As the Covid-19 cases continued to soar, the government, a few weeks ago, made a clarion call to urban residents to start small vegetable gardens on their balconies.
The reasoning behind the idea is to ensure more Kenyans have access to a balanced diet, which is essential in boosting their immunity and therefore increases their chances of beating Covid-19 in case of infection.
But starting a kitchen garden or even growing vegetables on the balcony in a city such as Nairobi, especially at a time when the metropolis area has been locked up, is easier said than done. To begin with, one would require soil of the right texture, composition and fertility, which is only available in the nearby rural areas. You also need gunny bags, metal or plastic containers or even pots.
But even if you could acquire all these supplies, you would still have to contend with other challenges.
“In most houses, balconies are not designed for farming, they are laundry areas, which makes them unsuitable for vegetable farming. This makes it difficult to use the same balcony for hydroponics,” Mr Karani observes.
But the idea of growing vegetables on the balcony remains a noble one, he notes adding that this is something designers need to consider. Alternatively, city dwellers could make use of their buildings’ perimeter wall, he advises.
Self-sufficient homes and more personalised spaces
Apart from working from home, interior designers say that people will need their homes to serve more than one purpose. For instance, mobile application-guided workouts have become popular during this period, and Mr Makambi believes this will go on even after the pandemic. This means the home gym will become a necessity as more people will prefer to work out from the comfort of their homes, where it is safer.
He also predicts that there will be more home-based recreational space such as mini-bars, liquor corners or fun rooms.
“Pretty much, think of a society with minimal physical contact and more online-based activities such as conference calls, chats and more,” he says.
On her part, Ms Cecilia Mbati, a Nairobi-based interior designer, believes we will be seeing more of personalised spaces since people have had an opportunity to interact with their spaces for a long time and have an idea of what works for them.
“I think interior decor will gain popularity because people are seeking to enhance their spaces without breaking the bank,” she says.
Bunkers versus open-plan
Elsewhere in the world, architects are predicting that in the aftermath of the pandemic, homeowners could bid goodbye to one of the main trends of recent years: open-plan spaces, with the entrance, living room, dining space and kitchen united.
Mr Karani disagrees, saying that separating these areas will not make much difference and in fact could be detrimental to the mental health of the occupants.
“When you are doing design, there are usually three zones: social, work, and private zones. The reason why we call the first one social is because it encourages people to socialise, so if you try to split those areas you will be killing that aspect of humanity. And that is the part that keeps us alive,” he says.
Yet, it is no longer a far-fetched idea that people will get the desire to prepare their homes for natural or man-made hazards.
Courtesy: Daily Nation