The home has become a place of work, a ward for illness, a vacation destination, a centre of education, the local fitness centre and more.
Pre-pandemic, wiping noses on tissues rather than sleeves and washing hands when working in the kitchen were fairly prosaic measures for health. Most people followed them most of the time. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the concept of what constitutes clean (and safe) underwent rapid, radical change.
The home has now gone beyond simply being a place to relax, eat and spend time with family. It has become a place of work, a ward for illness, a vacation destination, a centre of education, the local fitness centre and more. As scientific knowledge of COVID-19 grows, consumers are responding by adopting new behaviours and adapting old approaches. Every item that enters the home is viewed now through a lens of extreme hygiene. Where has it been? Who touched it? How much risk is everyone comfortable with?
At the same time, digital connections within the home have increased, although much of the uptick in time spent online was due to changes in working practices. Businesses large and small found ways to accommodate and support the unexpected and long-term need for many employees to work remotely. With the home, rather than the city centre, now the hub of daily activity, everyday routines changed drastically.
Here are five trends to track that will continue shaping our life at home in 2021.
Health at home used to mean general safety features for those with limited mobility. Now the concept encompasses a host of additional aspects. Telemedicine programmes reach more vulnerable, isolated individuals than ever before, with the global telemedicine market size projected to grow by 23.5 per cent by 2026. With mental health care gaining parity with physical care, everything from the impact of the built environment to how we work is being improved.
Designers and architects are following the mass exodus from city centres to homes with innovations that go far beyond single-use structures or devices. Research into sensory inputs combined with developments in material science contributes to multi-layered designs centred on end-users’ comfort. Naturally grown ingredients and sustainable practices are widely viewed as necessities, particularly as access to nature was so reduced in 2020.
In replicating functions that used to take place elsewhere in the community, house and garden improvements must meet a considerable list of criteria. Ease of use and ability to integrate with other household appliances are of particular consideration. Incorporating wellbeing into home hubs of activity requires well-designed solutions that provide surprising and unexpected amounts of functionality via minimal climate and spatial footprints.
A Sense Of Purpose
With additional time to consider how and why things are done the way they are, people around the world spent a significant amount of time in lockdown contemplating their environmental impact. The home has become a canvas for sustainable experimentation.
Against a backdrop of decline in many other industries, renewable energy grew in 2020. By 2025, renewables are predicted to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide, thus finally knocking coal off the top spot in the energy market.
As part of a global move towards climate-neutral behaviours, individual choices are heightening the focus on materials, functionality and carbon emissions. From choosing biodegradable packaging to advocating for waste-to-energy programmes, starting to garden, eating root to stem, composting and reducing waste, consumption done in and for the home is increasingly tailored for wellbeing. And not just individual wellness.
The concept of doing no harm to the surrounding environment has moved out from the hiking trails and wild campsites to everyday purchasing, activities and commitments. Individuals in vast numbers are now considering the effects of their actions on communities, societies and the Earth itself. And despite broad and deep levels of isolation across almost every nation, the sense of being connected to a greater good helps sustain many people, whether or not they are living alone, as part of a family or in shared spaces.
Antimicrobial and Clean Air
As people try to keep their distance from each other while indoors, living spaces, too, are being reconsidered for maximum efficiency and safety. Even with the possibility of a vaccine bringing relief from the need for extreme shielding and isolation, high levels of hygiene are likely to remain a constant, especially for people desiring a return to in-person work and leisure activities. Already, designs, materials and processes previously associated with and used predominantly in commercial and public places have become relevant to and required in peoples’ living spaces.
Experts predict that the wet tissue and wipe market will increase by more than €5.3 billion by 2024, with the nascent global antimicrobial coating market expanding to €4.1 billion by 2025. This growth is driven in large part by significant increases in the need for sterilisation and disinfectant. Innovators are already looking beyond household cleaning products and incorporating antimicrobial characteristics into everything from clothing and edible films on fresh produce to personal devices and wall paint.
As well as what we touch, what we breathe has come under increased scrutiny. Dealing with urban smog was a good training ground for technologies and systems now required within almost every building, residential and commercial.
Air purification is fast becoming a household imperative, and even more so for families with vulnerable members of all ages. Systems and devices that work on everyday moulds, dust and asbestos must now work on microscopic, infectious virus particles. And they must seamlessly integrate with the rest of the home, its gadgets and occupants’ way of life.
Essential Daily Experiences
Lunches, doctor’s appointments, shopping, school and more went virtual almost overnight. Brands able to respond with agility found new ways of reaching regular, and new, customers — often by providing more contactless and remote items and services while incorporating aspects of emergency community care.
Small coffee shops started delivering locally and added essential toiletries to their menu. Health professionals provided care via video link. Banks set up regular calls with customers. By 2025, it is estimated that at-home consumption could be a €2.5 trillion market, with consumer products, leisure/recreation and education the top three areas of expenditure.
For some companies, the unexpected downtime meant teams had an incredible opportunity to introduce solutions to challenges that had never been experienced before. Mixed reality shopping, modular home working spaces, virtual offices, and myriad telemedicine options brought the world into the home. Such an acceleration of digital living reduces time-related restrictions on when activities can take place or be completed. This is useful, yet also dangerous, when the divisions between work, administration of the home, health and recreation are so blurred, if not gone.
Connection, Not Isolation
So far, what technology can not yet do is replicate the human touch. Millions of people around the globe were separated from loved ones for months and many will remain apart well into 2021.
Before COVID-19, loneliness was a growing epidemic in some of the world’s wealthiest countries. When the virus forced vast and immediate restrictions on social interactions, experts predicted an overwhelming rise in mental health conditions. A mix of stressors appears to be compounding the detrimental effects the global pandemic is having on peoples’ wellbeing.
The American Psychological Association found that 78 per cent of adults say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. Public Health England reports an increase in the proportion of people reporting depressive symptoms and with symptoms worse than previously reported.
In response to and alongside those changes, outpourings of community support focused on reducing isolation and strengthening networks for the most vulnerable. What came as a surprise was the wider spread effects that aided in uplifting numerous others, including those organising the care.
Entrepreneurs in the arts and hospitality, two industries devastated economically by the coronavirus, approached the changes wrought by global shutdowns with imagination and heart. Across distances, worries and almost constant change, innovations such as drive-in opera, online stand up comedy sets, DIY-kits and remote, robot-facilitated tours helped establish and maintain a sense of connection — different methods from what used to be the norm, and highly reliant on virtual aspects, but inspiring pivots nonetheless.
Written by: Keely Khoury
27th January 2021