Has this been tried before?
Providing housing for employees is not a new idea. In the 19th century the Industrial Revolution encouraged owners of large factories in the UK to provide housing – sometimes entire towns – for their workers. In Germany's Weimar Republic, a similar idea, albeit on a much smaller scale, grew from the Bauhaus movement.
Nowadays, many academic institutions provide accommodation to both visiting lecturers and, particularly at Oxford and Cambridge and at wealthy Ivy League universities, to stipendiary staff alike. Relocation packages at many multinational companies also tend to include temporary employee accommodation as an incentive for employees to move overseas.
Why the renaissance in employee housing?
In the mid-2000s, fast-growing technology companies led the way in offering weird and wonderful benefits to their staff, from in-office ping-pong tables and unlimited soft drinks. But the current surge of interest in housing for employees reflects more serious issues for companies in sought-after locations and, above all, for their employees.
Silicon Valley, like much of the rest of California, has seen house prices soar due to the presence of these top tech companies. London, Munich and Hamburg face problems of a similar nature, with land at a premium. Employee housing offers a solution to these problems.
What could the benefits be?
Facebook and Google conceive of their own employee housing project as a future community. Offering easy, near-work access to amenities and services, it is designed to meet many practical and social needs, not merely the need for housing.
Some critics do suggest that employee housing risks blurring the lines between work and home life, encouraging longer hours because employees know they are just a few paces from their office. However, advocates claim that it should in fact improve work–life balance by allowing employees to work close to home in locations they otherwise might not be able to, reducing the stress of long commutes and giving them more flexibility to pop home for lunch, for example. It also alleviates the difficulty of joining the housing ladder in competitive locations like Stockholm, London and Seattle.
With this likely to be an area of growth in the near future, housing for employees also offers opportunities for savvy investors. To increase the chances of finding an appropriate property – whether one that's already set up for this, or one to convert – it can be a wise idea to work with a realtor with commercial experience, like Engel & Völkers Commercial GmbH.
As this market trend takes off, expect to see more businesses investing in property for their employees in an attempt to keep up with the market leaders.