In the time of COVID-19, the oyster is your world

The home has become the office for many. The real estate industry, grappling with the loss of office space demand, will do well to focus its attention on the home segment
Express Illustration.
Express Illustration.

Think. In the days of yore, the world was your oyster. Today, in the time of Covid, the oyster is your world! The world we live in and the world we work in has been turned outside in. The outdoor world that represented every opportunity of work and play has today turned turtle. As we get confined to our houses during lockdown phases, and as the future remains a point of pandemic doubt, all of us as people are looking at the new way of life. The indoor life.

As the first few days of the lockdown started, we were in a tizzy of our own making. The key issues floating around were larger-than- life hashtags of uncertainty, fear, anxiety and a whole lot of emotions that had us engulfed in them. Quite a natural thing to happen, I guess.

As the days wore on, and as we got used to not handing over the car keys to the car cleaner in the morning, things seemed to settle down. Have you noticed how much more comfortable we are with the lockdown today than yesterday? And that is the innate ability of man to adjust to whatever is thrown at him, her or them.

We are today a more adjusted set of human beings. A more self-reliant one even. We wash our clothes, sweep the house, swab it as well if we are in a particularly energetic mode, and do the dishes diligently and with speed. The back doesn’t hurt as much as it did in the early days of the lockdown. We adjust. And how!

The oyster is my world now. In many ways this oyster is my home. In the case of the millions who live in the shanties and slums of our modern cities (64 million people at last count) that one-room tenement is their oyster to do everything in and out of. In the case of the luckier ones who live in villas, their villa is the world. A reasonably better-equipped oyster.

To the large middle class of India, the home is the world now. As the early romance of “family time”, “us time” and notions of togetherness and bonding fade away, slowly but surely, it’s time for us to make the most of the oyster life. Time to think how the home is more than a home today and maybe even tomorrow in fits and bouts.

The home is more than a home for sure now. It is an office as well. Many of us in middle class India will now think of bigger homes. The real estate industry, as it grapples with the loss of precious and very expensive office-space demand in the new world,will do well to focus its attention hard and deep into the home segment. Homes that are more than homes even.

Middle class India will now want bigger homes. Bigger spaces to work in and live out of. Bigger spaces that give you the feeling of being “very together” when you want to, and “very apart” when you decide to. This class of India, which was frugal and very much on the back foot when it came to investments on living space, will be that much more open-hearted in its spends.

The home therefore becomes the office. Possibly a very well-connected office. Fibre to the home is a movement that will be de rigueur. The home needs to be larger than now, and very seamlessly connected for sure. The internet and its bandwidth will be an item of top priority. And the power to run the home and its added requirement of electricity will be a keen quest.

I ran a moderate size piece of e-research recently trying to answer a single question. What do you miss in your office, now that you are in a lockdown? Just one thing. The 6,123 answers were overwhelming in many ways. And crazily off-track from the fundamentals of what I thought they would be. Answers varied from a simple “nothing” to the name of a dearly missed colleague.

Among the respondents, 41% said they missed the office camaraderie, the ability to see and vibe with one another, the ability to share the vibe and energy, and the ability to be action oriented and
on the ball. That was the one common answer shared by the largest numbers. That apart, 31% missed the air conditioning in the office; 27.5% missed the “office coffee” from the coffee machine; 21% missed the variety at lunch; 20% missed the conversations over lunch; 17.4% missed their colleagues and the colour they brought into the office with their presence, couture, language and more.

What do these numbers, if truly representative, really mean? Nearly 6 out of 10 employees don’t really miss anything at all. That the office is a superficiality? That the office is an artificial creation of modern man in a hurry to divide time, energy, attention and cohorts into distinct physical domains of competence and concentration? A forced division that is not delivering really? A forced division that has come to attention and debate in these tough times of a virus on the loose?

If this is true, and that 90% of IT end-to-end services firms in India have been able to seamlessly move their operations onto a work-from-home mode is an undeniable fact, the new office is surely the home for many.

The home therefore becomes more and more important. The home is an office, the home is a restaurant, the home is a theatre, and the home is a spot to do literally everything in. A spot to get a haircut, a facial, a pedicure, and even indulge in gourmet dining of the outsourced and delivered variety on call.
As the home becomes important, it is time to make the home that much more important in the scheme of things. In the old days, we spent time, energy, money and creativity making our offices feel and look like homes. Now it’s time to make our homes look like offices. And more. Touche!

Harish Bijoor is the Brand Guru and Founder of Harish Bijoor Consults

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