The joy of the home office

More people ever are choosing to work from home, and from fantasy tree houses to futuristic eco-pods, the options keep growing, finds Jon Stock.

Until recently, the public perception of those who work at home was generally far from positive. According to the London Mayor Boris Johnson, life revolves around endless trips to the fridge to shave off another slice of cheese in between checking emails. It’s a “skiver’s paradise”, he said. “A wonderful glorified sick note for the entire working population.” 

But the ranks of Britain’s home workers are set to swell over the coming weeks as the Government encourages up to 40 per cent of Whitehall civil servants to work from home during the London Olympics and Paralympics. The Royal Bank of Scotland is following suit, hoping to ease congestion on the capital’s transport network.  Johnson might not approve, but the decision has focused attention on the nation’s home workers – and, in particular, where they work.

It is reported that 2.43 million people in Britain ran businesses from home in 2011, according to a report compiled by liveworknet.com. That’s an increase of 80,000 on the previous year, and represents one in 12 of the working population. Garden offices are currently all the rage and the more unusual the better: tree houses, shepherd’s huts, gipsy wagons, eco-pods, even signal boxes, all equipped with Wi-Fi, phones, electricity and heating.

“The number of people working from home and starting up home-based businesses is rocketing,” according to Alex Johnson, author of Shed working: the Alternative Workplace Revolution and editor of the online guide shedworking.co.uk . “The beauty of garden offices is that they’re not restricted by any rules of size, shape or construction material. It’s now easy to find ones which are octagonal or spherical, built on wheels, constructed partially underground or floating on water.”

A Sussex-based owned by Simon Payne, supplies tree houses for a variety of uses, including children’s play areas and garden offices. The author JK Rowling recently commissioned the company to build a £250,000 tree house kingdom for her children at the bottom of her garden in Edinburgh. “It has a Gothic feel with its pointed doors and windows,” says Simon. “Inside, the décor is rustic but it’s decked out with the latest amenities, including a modern workstation and a mini-fridge. Although built around a tree, which you can lean against inside, it’s not a shack in the middle of nowhere. It has a stove, broadband and phone lines – everything an office needs.” 

Alex Nicholas, a business analyst, has opted for something similarly idyllic, a shepherd’s hut that sits in his half acre of garden in Cornwall. These huts date back to the 19th century, when shepherds in southern England wanted a mobile kitchen, bedroom and storeroom as they tended their flocks. Some original ones still exist and have been restored, but most on the market are replicas.

Creative people also thrive in circular work spaces, according to Chris Sneesby, the designer behind the Archipod. “Pods” are a more modern take on the garden office, ideally suited to smaller gardens and cities. Chris, is on an environmental mission to encourage people to work from home, hopes that his spherical shed will get the creative juices flowing. “The Archipod comes with an ergonomic, semicircular curved desk, and the beauty of its shape means there are no corners where you can dump stuff. It’s a light space, too, with the circular roof dome and portholes.

…edited     Read full article by Jon Stock

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