HAPPI Working from Home? Designing ‘work ready’ housing

Jeremy Porteus blog 2020
Jeremy Porteus
Chief Executive, Housing Learning Improvement Network

This blog updates some of my thinking and provides an outline of how ten years since the original HAPPI report, the 10 ‘care ready’ HAPPI design principles can be recalibrated to incorporate ‘work ready’ adjustments to accommodate a growing number of people of all ages, but especially in later life, who want or will be working from home or may require live in care and support, such as personal assistant, now or in future, to meet their changing work patterns and lifestyles.

Back in March of this year, as Covid-19 was taking a hold, I was invited by work home expert and emeritus reader in architecture, Dr Frances Holliss, to join her and award-winning architect, Sarah Wigglesworth MBE, in an online Cass Research Seminar hosted by London Metropolitan University. Little did we know that Coronavirus was going to have such a significant impact on our lives over the next 6 months and may continue to do so for years to come.

Entitled ‘Delight in Home Based Work’, I was asked to reflect on homeworking from an age-friendly perspective pre-Covid. This gave me an opportunity to consider how the HAPPI (Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation) design principles - championed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People - can be adapted to accommodate a growing number of people of all ages working from home. However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, while home-working practicalities are useful, the way we manage and use our home space will feel all the more essential when cooped up at home in ‘lockdown’ and not able to leave at will.

Since March 2020, and the advent of Covid-19, we have seen considerable forced changes to our daily lives, including to our work routines. The office building is no longer our automatic place of work. For nearly 50% of the population, home has also been workplace for much of the past six months. Indeed, figures from the ONS show that this has risen by over 85% as a result of the pandemic.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, while home-working practicalities are useful, the way we manage and use our home space will feel all the more essential when cooped up at home in ‘lockdown’ and not able to leave at will.How people have fared with this abrupt change has depended on a number of factors, but the quantity and quality of space available to them has been key. Surveys have repeatedly found that those with sufficient space enjoy it and want to continue, for at least 2 or 3 days a week. Not only are they happier and healthier, less stressed and not missing the commute at all, but 70% are equally or more productive than they were before lockdown. And with government guidance requiring people to work from home it is now time to think hard about how we can design our housing to accommodate work as well as domesticity.

While working from home was not of concern in the very first HAPPI report over ten years ago, ‘Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation' (HAPPI 1), its panel of distinguished architects, building and housing experts identified ten key design elements that can characterise attractive and successful housing for an ageing population (see the table below).

Subsequent research by the Centre for Ageing Better reveals that one in three workers are over 50. And ONS figures show that by 2030, almost two-thirds of employment growth will be by workers over 65 (746,000 out of nearly 1.2 million). Not only do we need age-friendly housing, we need age-friendly workplaces, including at home. 55% of people of people over 50 expressed an interest in flexible working patterns, including working from home.

However, this is not just about an ageing workforce. 230,000 disabled people are working from home and many women (one in five) are carers. A recent BBC Wales news report shared the views of disability campaigners in the new opportunities for disabled people to work from home must not be lost when the coronavirus pandemic is over. They point to the Equalities Act 2010 requiring employers to make reasonable adjustment to ensure disabled employees are not disadvantaged in the workplace.

And a recent YouGov poll commissioned by Habinteg Housing Association found that inaccessible housing made lockdown significantly harder for many disabled UK adults. It also revealed that of those disabled people surveyed, their wellbeing during lockdown was three times more likely to have been damaged by lack of access in the home (21% v 6%) when compared to non-disabled people.

With current government consultations on planning and accessible housing standards out, it is now therefore, more than ever, vitally important for architects, interior designers and those working to promote and build new or improve or adapt existing homes, to demand the highest level of accessibility requirements and consider how the HAPPI design principles can be added to, adjusted or adapted to meet a growth in home working for all ages (see the original 10 'care ready' principles and the new 'work ready ones listed below).

And a word for Occupational Therapists, they too play a crucial role in ensuring that someone’s home is as safe and accessible as possible. Working closely with householders, their work often involves identifying specialist equipment, and/or making recommendations for the design of bespoke home adaptations to aid independent living. For example, this is eligible under the government’s Access to Work scheme and/or a Disabled Facilities Grant.

10 HAPPI ‘care ready’ design principles

  1. Generous internal space standards   
  2. Plenty of natural light in the home and circulation spaces
  3. Balconies and outdoor space, avoiding internal corridors and single-aspect flats
  4. Adaptability and ‘care aware’ design which is ready for emerging telecare and tele-healthcare technologies
  5. Circulation spaces that encourage interaction and avoid an ‘institutional feel’ 
  6. Shared facilities and community ‘hubs’ where these are lacking in the neighbourhood
  7. Plants, trees, and the natural environment
  8. High levels of energy efficiency, with good ventilation and avoid overheating by capturing and storing as energy
  9. Extra storage for belongings and bicycles
  10. Shared external areas such as ‘home zones’ that give priority to pedestrians

12 HAPPI ‘work ready’ design features

  1. Generous internal space standards to allow for homeworking or live in carer/personal assistant, ideally including dedicated workspace to facilitate spatial separation between functions and to allow the door to be closed on work at the end of the day - as well as a requirement for space to exercise and drying laundry.  
  2. Flexible design solutions to support different home-based occupations and facilitate different approaches to their spatial organisation.
  3. High levels of natural light with varied vistas to energise and foster wellness, especially when spending the whole day behind a screen; eyes are under massive strain during Covid-19. Also add task lighting where needed e.g. for desks spaces.
  4. High levels of acoustic insulation i.e. ability to close space off or between flats, and consider acoustic levels i.e. circadian principles.
  5. Accessible private balconies, access to outdoor space at ground floor and, where possible, access to a separate shed/ outbuilding e.g. for office, meeting space or storage. Dual aspect design aids cross-ventilation to combat stale air and ‘cabin-fever’. 
  6. Adaptable and technology enabled ‘care aware’ design with decent and reliable domestic WiFi is essential to facilitate remote working. Also, accessible height of sockets/desk plugs, adjustable furniture & fittings ie chairs, handles, etc.
  7. A front door threshold designed for receiving deliveries for infection control and to quarantine delivered items. And circulation free of trip hazards so that you can get around comfortably navigate for those with disability equipment, mobility aids, wheelchairs or frames, or a carer/personal assistant. Circulation that is designed to both separate and join spaces so that it can accommodate more than one home worker or other members of the household.
  8. Purpose-built retirement or extra care housing should provide access to multi-use communal facilities or community ‘hubs' for co-working space, meeting areas, shops, gyms etc, that have reliable WiFi.
  9. A connection with nature in the home and out i.e. air quality in the home, aromas, easy access to manage, access to green space, gardening/allotment natural landscape with resting and sitting places.
  10. Creation of a comfortable working environment with good acoustic separation, affordable warmth, ease of control and energy efficient for use of equipment.
  11. Additional storage space for work-related items i.e. accessible office equipment, aids, etc.
  12. Proximity to accessible parking or public and other forms of transport.

Lastly, I am delighted to be a founding member of the Workhome Project, a not-for-profit that advocates design and policy norms that make this change in the way we are all working work for communities, cities and the environment. For those of you who follow the Housing LIN or took part in our survey with the Workhome Project, I look forward to reporting on the results in the coming weeks.


I am grateful to Dr Matthew Barac, co-author of the first HAPPI report and Research Leader at Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture & Design, London Metropolitan University, for his helpful recommendations and additions (he also suggested a good coffee machine!) and to Dr Frances Holliss, the driving force behind the Workhome Project, for her helpful suggestions in this latest update.

Further reading/useful websites

If you would like to contribute a guest blog on your experiences of adapting your home and/or share information on further design considerations on working from home, email us at: info@housinglin.org.uk

With thanks to the following contributors for their follow up guest blogs for the Housing LIN on this evolving theme of ‘work ready’ HAPPI design/living:


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