The future of homeworking

Garden office designed by Inside Out Oxford

Garden office designed by Inside Out Oxford - Credit: Inside Out Oxford/Penny Bird

Throughout much of 2020, many of us have adapted to the concept of home working. But what are the real pros and cons of the new 9 to 5, asks Candia McKormack

'The Morris', by Mitre Oak

'The Morris', by Mitre Oak - Credit: Mitre Oak

It’s 7am. The alarm’s been hammering your brain like an overzealous woodpecker for the last 30 seconds. You know you could easily hit ‘snooze’ another three times and still get to work on time, but your hungry co-worker’s paws kneading your chest are possibly more irritating than the alarm.

Working from home (or WFH as it’s become known colloquially) comes with its highs and, yes, occasional lows. Many are missing the office environment – catching up with gossip and exchanging notes about the weekend’s essential viewing on Netflix – but many more are finding joy in being in their own space, having the dog at their knee, and not dealing with the tiring, time-consuming and expensive (both in monetary and ecological terms) commute.

“There is a lot of evidence to support the benefits of working from home, including reduced stress, better mental health and enhanced productivity,” says Andrew Christopher, owner and MD of Worcestershire-based Mitre Oak Ltd. “Building a garden office could be the ideal solution as it puts more than just a door between domestic and work life, and provides a dedicated space, just a short commute from your house.”

Many have found a closer connection with nature while working from home, too, with time that would otherwise be spent travelling in planes, trains and automobiles being used to explore wildlife and walks on the doorstep. And even time spent at the desk can be used to engage with the natural life in your garden, window box or tree outside the house.

'The Snell', by Mitre Oak

'The Snell', by Mitre Oak - Credit: Mitre Oak

“It’s easy to suggest positioning your work desk next to a window and having indoor plants around the room to facilitate an oxygenated area,” says a spokesperson from CJ Wildlife, “but the key to enjoying working from home is to make new office friends; those in your garden that you may not have noticed before. Hanging a bird or wildlife ID chart near your office window will get you into the habit of looking outside at regular intervals to see what you can spot.”

Taking five-minute breaks at regular intervals is not only good for the eyesight and stress levels, but it can also invigorate the senses as you find out who is visiting the world immediately outside your window, whether it’s a regular blackbird looking for worms or bees, or small mammals and birds visiting berry-yielding shrubs, such as ivy, for food and safe shelter.

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And for Stella Mannering, who runs her own interior design company in Oxfordshire, having the countryside on the doorstep is a definite aid to the creative process.

“For me, as creative director of my company,” she says, “my best and most creative moments have been on walks in the countryside around Woodstock with the wind (and rain) in my hair, and not when I am tied to my desk and my computer screen. My advice is to get out – it helps the little grey cells, as well as those calf muscles, and if you are tied to that desk call people... or Zoom if you are dressed for the occasion. Begin to connect and interact again and don’t hide behind emails.”

Stella Mannering & Company home office design

Stella Mannering & Company home office design - Credit: Stella Mannering

Your home-working space can, of course, take various forms. It may be a small table set up in the corner of a bedroom or under the stairs, a dedicated spare room that you can close the door on at the end of the working day, or you may even have the luxury of a separate space, detached from the rest of the house. If your house is particularly active during the day (read ‘noisy’ or downright ‘rowdy’), a standalone garden office may be just the solution. You may be lucky to already have such an area, but if not - and you have the space - it’s certainly worth considering building one.

“Don’t be put off by the term ‘self-build’,” continues Mitre Oak’s Andrew Christopher. “This doesn’t mean you have to do all the work yourself, but it does give the scope to do as much or as little as you like. This flexibility can provide an opportunity to ‘shop around’ on materials and labour that has the dual benefit of cost savings and allows you to personalise your office build.”

Many architects are well versed in the complexities of designing a well-functioning home office space, and Shipton-on-Stour-based Hayward Smart firmly believe that well-considered design not only enhances life quality for their clients, but also positively impacts on the built environment.

“We work on a wide range of projects, differing in scale, budget and complexity,” says Simon Hayward, “and take pride in building close-working relationships with our clients to realise a project that surpasses expectations. We aim to promote good design and workmanship throughout the building process, adding value to your property.”

For Jim Gabriel, who co-owns Inside Out Oxford with partner Walter Cundy, nothing comes as a surprise when being commissioned to constructing a garden office. From building around a 100-year-old pear tree to make it look and feel like a treehouse, to building a modern garden room with recycled timber and sash window to give the appearance of a Victorian shack in the woods, they’re willing to give (almost) anything a try. There are, naturally, challenges that come with every commission, and some of the most common are:

• Getting neighbours on side;

• Reaching a win-win on pricing at the end of a design exercise. As customers realise it’s all bespoke, they often ask for a very long list of things, all of which cost money;

• Achieving good head height under permitted development regulations;

• Plumbing. Always a lot more complex than folk realise;

• Intricate steel work in the roof to achieve the requisite strength while catering for maximum height under permitted development regulations;

• Making water run uphill.

It’s worth considering the pitfalls before commencing, and then doing your homework as to which professional is best suited to creating your ideal space, and within budget. Given the many hours you’ll be spending there, and considering that ultimately it’s an extension of your home, it’s worth investing in the project, and not cutting corners.

“When considering how much to spend on your office,” continues Andrew, “it might be wise to consider that, according to research, the percentage of workers around the world permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021*, so it’s likely that a good quality, attractive, fully functional home office will be moving up the home buyers’ list of requirements. A well thought through garden office could be a wise investment and can even be repurposed for broader appeal – becoming a gym, den or garden room.”

EXPERT HELP

Mitre Oak, tel: 01905 828139, mitreoak.co.uk

Inside Out Oxford, tel: 07500 048764, insideoutoxford.uk

Stella Mannering, tel: 01993 870599, stellamannering.com

Hayway Smart, tel: 01608 661000, hsarchitects.co.uk

*Report by US-based Enterprise Technology Research, October 2020.

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