If you read our recent article on strata community health amidst the coronavirus pandemic, you’ll know that COVID-19 stands to influence the day to day operation of a strata community in many ways.
The health, safety and education of community members are the obvious areas that strata communities must focus on, but what of the overnight ‘work from home’ boom?
The self-isolation and social distancing that health authorities have been recommending has in recent weeks triggered decisions by countless companies to send workers home.
For many industries, being on-site is essential, but for others, modern technology has seen companies go mobile, with workers sent home with a laptop, an email account and an internet connection.
So what does it mean for strata communities? Could it be a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ phase or will these next few months of living amidst the COVID-19 pandemic pave the way for a new ‘strata workforce’ that could change communities forever?
According to research by Indeed, over two-thirds (68%) of Australian employers say their company now allows employees to work from home.
Even before the pandemic struck, remote work was growing in Australia. Almost a third (3.5 million) of all employed persons regularly worked from home in their main job or business, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
"42 per cent of those who regularly work from home cited catching up on work as the main reason," said Jennifer Humphrys, Director of Labour Market Analytics at the ABS.
"A further 20 per cent regularly worked from home because they didn't want to pay rent or overheads."
Two of the triggers behind this move are obvious: with property prices pushing business owners away from bricks and mortar offices, and technology, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, that moves collaboration and productivity online.
So how does this trend stand to impact strata communities? We’ve put together a list of considerations for you and your strata community.
Legality - can strata community members legally work from home?
Whilst conducting business from a residential strata lot is not strictly illegal, it will pay to be over-cautious and reiterate community by-laws to all owners and tenants as more businesses send employees home. Typically, strata community by-laws will prohibit any business being conducted on the premises, unless permission has been explicitly granted by the strata community.
The by-laws should have been written to create and maintain a harmonious environment and prevent inconvenience to others in the building. However, if it can be established that an owner or tenant’s business operations do not cause disruption to other community members, it should be possible to work from home.
As is the case for much of strata law, there is a distinction between what is permitted in the by-laws and what will be excused on the basis that it is just and equitable to allow the conduct to continue.
We recommend liaising with all community members who may be forced to work from home during the COVID-19 health crisis to ensure their day-to-day business activities don’t interfere with other community members.
It is also suggested that you notify your strata community’s insurer to determine if the current insurance is adequate, with particular emphasis placed on the level of public liability cover.
If workplace shutdowns and self-isolation means one thing for strata communities, it’s that more bodies will be in the community, for more of the day.
Having a larger number of owners and tenants home during the day in the current health climate could spell trouble without the right policies in place.
Maintaining good health inside strata lots will start with hygiene and hand sanitation policies for all owners and tenants. Strong health of residents will lay a good foundation for wider community health.
Likewise, the health outside the strata lot is of utmost importance. Communities with common areas including pools, courtyards, lounges, media rooms and gyms will need to make sure these spaces are carefully used.
Read our article for a full set of tips on managing a higher day-to-day use of these common areas.
Strata community residents also stand to be impacted on a cost level.
The cost of working in an office can add up to almost $5,000 a year per employee, according to research by Nationwide Building Society. So whilst some owners and tenants may find they make savings by not travelling to work, costs at the home are a different story.
Owners and tenants able to work from home predictably will need to use electricity and internet to maintain their work. For the majority of communities out there, these costs will be the responsibility of individual owners but don’t be surprised if a spike in usage may see flow on effects at the community level.
Long term working from home arrangements could see greater network charges from community electricity providers or wireless internet plans in need of an upgrade.
The other cost impacts we foresee for communities are more obvious. Expanded cleaning schedules and the purchase of sanitary products to assist with community health will see community funds depleted in the short term.
We recommend that sinking and emergency funds be reviewed urgently to understand what funds are available to ensure community health isn’t compromised during this health crisis.
As mentioned above in the legality section, disruption is potentially a significant impact that strata communities will face due to working from home arrangements.
We are primarily talking about noise and general nuisance. Many owners and tenants forced to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis will need to use video and teleconferencing to communicate with colleagues.
Offices can be a hive of activity and noise and we think it’s best you avoid the extreme end of this spectrum in your communities.
To be proactive, we recommend communities take the step of communicating with all owners and tenants, reminding them of the expectations regarding noise and community expectations.
If you are seeking general information on the potential impact of COVID-19 on your community, please refer to your state health authority’s website for up to date information.