Thursday, November 30, 2006

Making your home your home office

Since I've gone wi-fi, I've been enjoying the guilty pleasures of working away from my garden office. An interesting post at the Furry Goat blog on this subject, where Steve Makofsky suggests that his home office is in fact "just wasted space" and says that he is going to 'uninstall' it, turning it into a more general study area (though crucially without a desk) with nicer interior design and pleasant bookshelves which doesn't have the 'office' connotations. The comments to the blog are also worth reading as examples of other people's experiences of 'uninstalling'.

Hanging garden office garden

Today there is a trio of lovely-to-look at posts. First, this green shutter by Yves Fidalgo from the Swiss design house collective Inout which would look smashing on any garden office. It’s made of thermolacquered stainless steel and you can find out a little more about it here though I can’t actually find it on sale anywhere.

Solardome

Secondly, there are home offices and there are home offices. And then there are geodesic domes. How can you not like something like the solardome (pictured) which, with its panels of glass set in aluminium, catches all the available light with maximum efficiency, and thus creates its own micro-climate? The folk at Solardome are also very excited about their product, suggesting that inside the domes, ”plants flourish just as they did in the Garden of Eden.” Selling points include being light, airy and lockable and if you’re good at DIY you can put it together yourself.

If you like this kind of thing, do have a look at a roundup of similar structures at Inhabitat.com which features the 02 Sustainability Treehouse suspended by steel cables and built with 100% sustainable materials and without nails or bolts so it does not hurt the tree. Inhabit is also a great site for browsing when you have a spare Friday afternoon.

Loftcube

Finally, there’s the spectacular Loftcube designed by Werner Aisslinger which is simply helicoptered onto your roof. It’s a combination of glass and wood blinds over a 36 square metre interior to create a skyscraping rooftop office. Aisslinger calls it a temporary minimilistic domicile for urban nomads making up a sort of cosmic rooftop community i.e. a shed on the roof.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You Are What You Grow

As previewed here last month, You Are What You Grow by Antonia Swinson is now out, stylishly published by Luath Press for £9.99. It's a marvellous read for anybody who is, or is thinking about, 'farming' an allotment, although there's far more to it than merely a list of vegetables. It's particularly strong on aspects of community and land ownership - and there's an entire chapter devoted to her beloved shed and the joys and attractions of shed ownership, not to mention a shed on the front cover. You can read more about it at her website here - it certainly deserves to top the bestseller lists this Christmas.

Choosing a US shed – Modern Cabana

'Not a shed, a living space', says the family-run Modern Cabana of its range of garden offices (though I'll always think of mine as 'the shed'). The Cabana comes as a flat pack - or as they marvellously call it 'designer pre-fab' - and the makers claim it is easy to assemble and requires only basic tools since it was designed to enable two people to install the Cabana over a weekend. The Cabana comes standard with kiln-dried hand-selected lumber, environmentally sensitive sheathing, stainless and galvanized hardware, tempered insulated glass windows set in anodized aluminum frames, polycarbonate translucent panels and tough enamel coated steel for rust prevention. Other options include: Roof Insulation Kit; Custom Polygal Windows; Polyshade Low-E Window Panels; French Doors; and Floor Insulation.

On the issue of planning permission, they add that generally a Modern Cabana does not need building permits since most communities in North America allow homeowners to incorporate a freestanding accessory structure as an addition to their property of up to 140 sq. feet without a building permit.

Homeworkers - recycle your coffee!

Coffee consumption is high in a 'normal' office but homeworkers, and those in garden offices/sheds in particular, are in a good position to actually recycle both the leftovers from their mugs and the grounds themselves. High in nitrogen (making it great for vegetables), ground coffee also helps against blight e.g. on tomatoes and possesses fatal qualities for those garden devils, slugs and snails. Indeed you can go one step further and go to your local Starbucks which has a policy of handing out its old grounds to all those who ask for them for recycling purposes.

Garden office plannng permission - a supplier's view

Lynn Fotheringham of garden office suppliers InsideOut Buildings (one of our listed suppliers in the lefthand column) was kind enough to send her thoughts on the issue of planning permission to this site following yesterday's post. They cover the main questions that her clients regularly ask before purchasing a garden building. Her comments are below:

Further to your concerns about planning permission for garden buildings you may find the FAQ's below useful. Also, any building used for human occupation such as an office,[but not a greenhouse or unheated workshop] with a floor space of between 15sq metres and 30sq metres, if positioned within a metre of the garden boundary also needs a full building regulations application to bring it up to the correct standards of insulation, double glazing, fireproofing etc. Any such building of more than 30sq metres needs building regulations whatever its position.There is a lot of mis-information availabwel on the internet about garden buildings and their regulation.

Puzzled By Planning Permission for Garden Offices? Here Are The Answers To The Top Ten FAQ.

1. “What type of garden building can I build without planning permission?” Many types of garden buildings, including garden offices, sheds and greenhouses don’t need planning permission under normal circumstances. However there are situations where an office in the garden, a summerhouse, pool house or even a shed needs planning permission.

2. “Under what circumstances will my office or other garden building need planning permission?” It will need PP if it falls into one or more of the following categories: - A. If you live in an AONB, Conservation Area, National Park, Norfolk Broads or a listed building you will need PP for any structure with a volume greater than 10 cubic metres. B. The building is for other than domestic use. For example, you may not need planning permission for a personal home office, but if you want an office in which you intend to employ other people you may need PP. c. If the building has a monopitch roof and is more than 3m high or a ridged roof and is more than 4m high. D. If your garden building is within 20 metres of a highway or footpath and closer to that highway or footpath than your house is. Typically this situation occurs if you live on a corner or have a lane or footpath running past the bottom of your garden. E. If more than 50% of your garden will be covered with outbuildings.

3. “I thought garden buildings were temporary buildings and hence didn’t need planning permission?” A temporary building is a building that would be in one place for less than 28 days.

4. “I thought small building such as sheds or garden offices never needed planning permission?” Planning permission is less about building size or type and more about location. See point 2, above.

5. “I think my garden building may need planning permission. Where can I get further advice?” Help and advice is available from three sources: - 1)Your local planning dept. 2)An architect. 3) A planning consultant.

6. “The company supplying me with my garden office building assures me that it will be OK if I don’t bother about planning permission. Is their word enough?” It is your responsibility as the householder to find out if PP is needed. A reputable company should be willing to make a planning application on your behalf, as part of their service.

7. “What will happen if I don’t get the correct permissions for my garden building?” Your local planning department has the power to order you to take the building down or halt the construction until PP has been obtained. A building without the appropriate permissions could cause problems if you want to sell your house.

8. “If I have to apply for planning permission will I get it?” Each case is considered on it’s own merits, but over 80% of all planning applications are approved.

9. “How long does it take to get planning permission?” All planning departments aim to determine your application within 8 weeks.

10. “ Will I have to employ a professional to fill in my application form?” Planning departments accept planning applications from householders. The Householder application form is straightforward and your planning dept. will advise you on filling it in.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Garden office outside door

I'm always intrigued by how people decorate their home offices, especially if it's a garden office/shed. Here's an interesting way of decorating the outside which you can find on Linda Martin's blog. She says it took about three weeks from start to finish and is done on a 6' by 3' of masonite using a combination of laytex exterior paints (Baer) and liquetex polymer acrylics and then covered with a polymer matte finish. The painting is suppose to be finding its home on the side of a garden shed.

Woodland sheds - planning permission

There are two useful pieces on the always thorny issue of woodlands and planning permission at the woods4sale web site. The first is Woodlands and planning legislation by Lucy Nichol, Lecturer in Planning Policy at Oxford University, a basic guide to the law on forestry buildings and woodland development. She writes in her introduction: "Planning controls over forestry are fairly simple on the face of it. Planning permission is not required for forestry work (except where there is a Tree Preservation Order) and may not be needed for buildings or uses of land necessary for forestry. However, planning permission is always required for non-forestry uses of land, buildings or any other form of development."

The second is Woodlands and the planning system by Rhys Roberts, Cynefin Consultants, Bangor, Gwynedd, an informal guide to the planning system in the UK and how it effects the forestry industry. "It cannot be stressed enough," he writes, "that if you are intending to undertake a development within a woodland that you think may require planning permission, contact your local council's planning department as early as possible to confirm what the appropriate policies and procedures are for the development that you have in mind. It's a lot cheaper to have an early "no" than to be forced to pull down an unauthorised building!"

Giving up your home office

However committed you are to being a homeworker, there may come a time when you decide you are getting too big for your garden office/shed. A piece at Entrepreneur.com looks at going back to a 'real' office, reasons why (family interruptions, loneliness, improved growth potential, increased professionalism, more space to work) and reasons why not (commuting, overheads). It also includes some suggestions for those who want to continue homeworking including:
* moving to a new home with a bigger office or building your own home so you can design your own home office from scratch
* reinventing your present office by hiring a professional organiser to help you make the best use of your space
* turning an unused room in your home into a storage facility, warehouse or a second office for employees
* outsourcing work to other free agents instead of trying to squeeze employees into your already packed space
* using business centers.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Hut Garden Designs - new designs for 2007

According to Jonathan Satchell, a partner at the impressive Hut Garden Offices and Garden Studios, they will be offering a range of 8 new standard size buildings alongside their bespoke service in the New Year. All the details will be available on their new website from early January.

Christmas design for homeworkers

While office Christmas parties may be one of the casualties of being a homeworker, there's no reason not to get into the swing of things as an article at Enterprise Nation's web site explains. Among their recommendations are a very, very low maintenance Christmas tree (which shedworkers will need to keep a particular eye on) and some 'festive refreshement' for which you might want to turn down the volume on your computer...

Feng shui your shed

Not making money? Feeling lethargic in your garden office? Don’t blame your clients, simply buy a red modem or move your desk. Feng shui boils down to a healthy mind in a healthy shed (or indeed any other home office) with consequently happy knock-on effects for all other areas of your life. It’s all about the the flow of ch’i, the life force or vital energy that links us with our surroundings and we want our ch’i to flow, not be blocked.

First the bad news for shedworkers: as ch’i enters your house through the front door, you should really have your shed in the front of the house to take advantage of the flow of energy. If you're in the back garden, it's harder for energy to get to you. Also, sadly, slanty ceilings are a big no-no since they can suppress your ambitions.

On the plus side, a rectangular-shaped room is considered a great shape and windows a major bonus (if you don’t have windows you are cutting yourself off from the world, literally out of touch with your clients and the general zeitgeist of your work). Don't put your desk right in line with the door or you will receive all the energy force coming into the room which may make you a bit nervous. Also think about interior design - yellow promotes creativity, blue is soothing, and red gives an aggressive edge. Your ceiling should be white as a dark colour will give you the impression there are dark clouds circling you.

Most importantly, your working environment is divided into quadrants reflecting your working life. That all-important wealth quadrant is on the upper left corner of your shed or desk so stick a tiptop bowl of fruit or a nice plant there to help you financially. Similarly, some experts suggest putting a red object (eg a cricket ball) in the same quadrant. Also think about a good rug. Nothing too big and something darkish is reminiscent of a pool of water which is of course very relaxing.

Finally, take a look at your furniture. If it’s secondhand then it has ‘predecessor ch’i’ which could be damaging to you if, for example, the previous owner of your chair went bankrupt.

A version of this article appears in the new issue of The Shed magazine. For a free copy please email me here.

Choosing a shed – Eco Space Studios

Sometimes it's hard to choose which garden office/shed would suit you best, but if you are looking for something environmentally sound as well as attractive, you should take a look at Eco Space Studios. The studios come with green roofs (see earlier posts for sedum roof details - Eco's roof garden includes mosses, succulents, herbaceous plants and grasses) and are made from sustainable Red Western Cedar timber. Eco Space also provide a 'Dalsouple' rubber floor, available in 70 different colours, which is not only hardwearing but has an excellent level of environmental protection, is free from pvc and can be recycled. There are also various enticing options including shower, kitchen and mezzanine level rest/chillout pad - this is very much part of the growing trend towards live/work areas. You can also download a useful pdf brochure from the site which contains lots of beguiling pictures of the studios, including a nice snowy one.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Homeworking in bed

An excellent article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Katie Hafner called The Bed Bug Bytes explores the pertinent subject of taking your laptop, blackberry, etc, to bed with you and what effect that might have on the relationship with your bed partner. "The marital bed has survived his-and-her book lights and the sushi-laden bed tray," points out Hafner. "Can it also survive computers that tether their owners to the office or make the bed the workplace itself?" The article has obviously struck a chord as you can see on the newspaper's blog site here where plenty of readers have their say.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The day of the dacha has arrived

Thanks to Derek Workman for alerting me to the ongoing competition, now sadly over, in the Saturday edition of the Telegraph newspaper to find interesting sheds around the country. Lila Das Gupta, writer of the initial article, argued that her shed is better than a cottage in the country and that "the day of the dacha has arrived". Sadly she skimped on her shed with all too obvious results. "I ordered the cheapest I could find from the internet," she wrote. "Big mistake. As I constantly remind my children, if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. I have made up for this setback by painting my dacha a rich, velvety plum colour called Brinjal. I think Farrow & Ball paint colours always blend well with the outdoors." Hmmm...

Anyway, more importantly you can see a truly mindboggling array of sheds - not all of them I suspect are used for homeworking or as garden offices - from around the country on the site which were sent in by their happy owners here though there is another page of them which you can find by typing in 'Garden Huts' into their search engine but which has no direct link. My favourite is the extremely green shed pictured here.

Travel agents enjoy homeworking

According to Travel Daily News, travel agents are moving increasingly towards working from home rather than traditional offices. Research from Future Travel shows that 39% of those switiching cited childcare responsibilities as an important factor, 22% saw an opportunity to earn more money, and 14% simply wanted to change from working in a branch.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Shed - issue 7 now out

The first birthday issue of The Shed magazine - the indispensable (and free) pdf lifestyle magazine for all shedworkers and those who work in shedlike atmospheres is now out. Features include: how to feng shui your shed/garden office; campaigning to keep local communities alive; homeworking from a solardome; poetry from the Shedman; a new cartoon from the talented Felix Bennett; our regular Shedfood and No Shed Is Complete Without columns; and a competition to win a hamper full of tasty goodies in time for Christmas. If you'd like to receive a copy please email me here.

GoPod mobile office (now known as Macropod)

Nothing to do with playing MP3s, the Go-Pod is (according to the manufacturers) "a 21st Century solution to the increasingly fluid working practices of modern life". Essentially it's a mobile shed or garden office. You can close it up nice and small, but with its walls outstretched it is a one-stop homeworking-shop with ergonomic chair, filing facilities, height-adjustable computer area, lights, storage and even something to shred your documents. Take at look at the Go-Pod web site for more info.

Homeworking headphones

Today's issue of The Guardian has a piece about headphones to use with your computer in their Business Sense pullout. Their suggestion for the home worker is the Jabra BT620s. "These are elegant headphones," says writer Guy Clapperton, "for anyone who wants to listen to music yet still be alerted whenever their IP phone or mobile goes off. The sound quality is excellent for the size of phones and they're comfortable to use - although they're not adjustable. The concealed microphone is a nice touch as long as your needs are relatively simple. Making calls is fine, but for podcasting you'd need to spend more money...For the mobile user who wants the option of automatic call alerts while listening to music, this is an excellent option."

As I type, it's not up on their website but if you click the above link the whole article should be in the next day or two with all the other recommendations for executives, travellers, etc. More about the Jabra's range at their website here.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

List of Garden Office/shed suppliers in USA

In the lefthand column, I've just put up a list of the garden office/'shed' suppliers in the USA which I've come across during my initial research. Please do let me know of any more you know about. As with the UK suppliers, I'll feature them one by one each week. Next project will be Australia...

Shed/garden office planning permission

Whether you need planning permission for your garden office is always a murky area (see previous posts). A recent example as reported on icberkshire.co.uk under the headline Shock as shed is deemed 'harmful' to area's character tells the story of industrial engineer Mike Howard who "was shocked when he was told he needed planning permission for his garden shed" which he uses as an office, store and playroom and now faces the possibility of being forced to pull down the structure worth around £2,500

He said: "I had no idea we needed planning permission. There are other sheds and structures just as large here and they haven't had planning permission. But it seems it is all right until someone complains, and in my case someone did."

Mike's appeal against West Berkshire Council's refusal to give him permission for the shed was turned down - the ruling said the shed/office was built part way up the sloping garden which "gives it a dominant and dis-proportionate appearance" which harmed the character and appearance of the area.

Mike's resonse? "I am not letting it rest here. Apparently development rights on this estate were withdrawn and this is buried in a document dating back to 1990. I will be taking the matter up with my solicitors and the council to see what can be done to avoid having to take the shed down. Surely it is everyone's right to have a garden shed?"

Wi-fi homeworking - health hazard?

I've just gone wireless in my shed/garden office and have been childishly excited about the prospect of teleworking from my sofa (and a friend of mine tells me her husband has taken to working wirelessly from the toilet instead of taking the newspaper in with him). So far it's worked marvellously well (I'm on a BT Home Hub network) but another friend raised the question this morning of possible wi-fi health hazards. The issue was covered briefly earlier this week in The Times and there's a nice round-up piece with links to other articles at Wi-Fi Networking News.

What to wear when you're homeworking

Homeworkers are starting to be targeted by the fashion industry although it cannot agree on a single term to describe our dress code, using variously ‘loungewear’, 'afterwear', ‘housewear’, and ‘chilloutwear’ (what they’re grasping for, of course, is ‘shedwear’ although I also like the term 'open collar worker'). So what does that mean first thing in the morning? Earlier this year The Shed magazine - next issue will be hitting inboxes tomorrow - conducted a highly scientific readers’ survey and came up with some surprising results…

While almost nobody admitted to pyjamas, a hefty proportion said they wore pyjama-type clothing, an interesting distinction. According to a Mori poll, 15% of homeworkers wear a suit. While none of the readers polled went quite that far a significant percentage said they wore ‘proper’ shirts, trousers and shoes and often even over-dressed. Several made the point that ‘dressing the part’ can improve levels of concentration and that the act of putting on ‘work clothes’ gave an initial lift in the morning.

The most popular combination was T-shirt or polo shirt and comfortable trousers, the kind of thing you could happily wear while talking to the milkman. The question of shoes split the vote, again some saying they focused better wearing something more substantial than slippers, others preferring warm socks (there were two votes for cashmere).

Comments from readers included:

“Anything that's comfortable, usually tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt. But I feel the cold awfully bad so can often be seen wearing a padded waistcoat, even in summer.”

“I find that attire has a determining impact on my attitude towards work. In the mornings I often go for the lazy option of pulling tracksuit bottoms on but when I want to properly get down to it I find it helps to get dressed properly - although I obviously don’t bother with smart clothes. Favourite clothes are currently cords and jumper. Pyjamas at computer is not a good option - makes me feel like a slob without a real job. On the rare occasions I go to meetings I find it rather exciting to wear real work clothes!”

“I’ve always preferred clothes that are nicely made and fit properly to shapeless rubbish which makes me feel naked. Even when I’m not working I don’t usually ‘dress down’.”

“Generally I don't worry about shaving unless I know a client is dropping by. Suits and ties tend to to be saved for pitches, weddings, christenings and funerals.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

American garden offices/sheds - Modern Shed

Last week I wrote about the minor firestorm when US-based trendwatchers Springwise picked up on the growing trend of garden offices. I'm now searching around for US garden office/shed suppliers and my first pick is the enjoyable site at Modern Shed, the brainchild of designers Ahna Holder and Ryan Smith who run Seattle-based Grey Design Studio. Their Studio Shed includes a 36" glass door and a 30"x30" operable window, with insulated floor, walls and roof. The walls have a pre drilled wire chase and are covered with finished maple plywood. There is a choice of floor colours to pick from and there are optional decks that can be added to the shed to extend the room to the outside. All exterior parts come pre-painted.

I was particularly interested in the faq section which includes 'Can the sheds withstand hurricanes?', 'What is the shed's snow load?' (apparently the sheds are designed to hold 25lbs per square foot of snow which is ok for about 85% of the United States) and 'Do you ship to Puerto Rico?'

It's a nice-looking beast and the site - which as you'd expect from designers looks very attractive - has plenty of pictures of how people are using their sheds. It's included on the suppliers' list on the left, but perhaps a new non-UK list is in the offing?

Choosing a shed - Aarco (updated)

Chester-based Aarco has a wide range of garden offices/sheds to choose from, has been around since 1994 and is a family company (the garden office pictured was built as a music studio with extra soundproofing). Aarco report a busy 2009 and have been updating their web site to include what they describe as a 'supershed designer': simply click the icon on their front page and select what components you want for your office while calculating the cost along the way. You'll need Excel to work it properly. The site also features owner Richard Grace's in depth assessment of the new planning issues surrounding putting up a garden office, plus lots of case studies and a link to their YouTube site where you can watch the team in action.

Music While You Work - starting/stopping

As well as having favourite pieces of music or programmes I listen to while I work (and with the Ashes just about to start Test Match Special will be on fairly constantly again), I also tend to use the same pieces when I'm starting or finishing something. While I'm mulling things over I like something without any words and often play Ralph Vaughan Williams' 'Pastoral' Symphony Number 3 (it has some marvellous horns). You can hear excerpts of it at the Amazon web site. But when I'm finishing something, especially a biggish project, I tend to stick on Barry White, a celebrational formula which I picked up from fellow journalist Mary de Sousa while working with her in Spain. You can't beat You're The First, The Last, My Everything.

Case studies - Natural History Museum

Earlier this year, the Natural History Museum announced it was to move to an IP communications infrastructure to help its staff work more flexibly. According to an article in silicon.com Museum staff will be able to use their IP-based work phones at home, instead of using mobiles when working out of the office. South Kensington Museums group telecoms manager Bob Estcourt told silicon.com: "Basically this came about from the need to have people working offsite. We are migrating to IP across the museum anyway. We are moving forward with technology when we can if there is a cost benefit for us or for a work-life balance. We are a business and like any other we've got to be able to keep up with technology." He hopes to have at least 50 staff teleworking in the first year.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Business Benefits of Flexible Working - seminar

If you're a member of the Telework Association you can get a special price of £50 + VAT at the next Future Work Forum seminar at Henley Management College on November 29. The topic is ‘The Business Benefits of Flexible Working’ which will look at the case for introducing new ways of working as a contributor to the bottom line of a business not just as a benefit for the work-life balance of individuals. The bumph says: "Organisations are now beginning to realise that as well as helping to attract and retain good employees, flexible working is key to improved productivity and cost savings. As the pressures increase in all sectors to improve efficiency and compete with low cost labour markets around the world, employers in the UK are looking at new work practices as a key business tool and not just an employee benefit. In this seminar we will be looking at research into this topic and covering case studies of organisations that are now seeing the benefits." If you would like to take advantage of this offer and attend the seminar then please email James Syrett and quote your Telework Association membership number.

National Group on Homeworking UK

If you haven't already come across the National Group on Homeworking, it's worth having a look around their website at National Group on Homeworking UK. They offer advice and support for homeworkers, and those employing homeworkers in the United Kingdom. NGH is the only National Government Organisation working solely on homeworking issues, working at a national, regional and local level with organisations and individuals who wish to address the concerns of homeworkers. It claims to be the national voice on homeworking. NGH is a membership organisation with members including homeworkers, local homeworking initiatives, advice agencies, trade unions, small business advisors, church organisations, local authorities and policy makers.

Case studies - Hampshire County Council/SEEDA

It's always nice to highlight good examples of homeworking so this will be the first in an occasional series of posts on the subject. Hampshire County Council and SEEDA (South East England Development Agency) have recently released a report of their six-month pilot project showing significant productivity gains through teleworking. You can read a longer write-up of it at eGovmonitor but the key findings were:
* Significantly reduced commuting mileage
* Reduced congestion
* Reduced stress
* Reduced commuting costs
* Improved productivity
* Enhanced well-being

In short, a major success.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Design in your home office

A nice piece in today's Guardian about making your office both more stylish and healthier. The main specialist quoted is Jeremy Myerson, Professor of Design Studies at the Royal College of Art who is a specialist in office design. He has a book out, Space to Work (Laurence King, £35) in which he looks at ideal offices around the world. He says: "It's all about local control - windows, lights, air - unlike the 1990s when it was all done by central computers, which was like hell. Can you organise it with IT so you can get your emails and files from home? Or negotiate with your boss to work from home a couple of days a week?" The article suggests the MacBook Pro is a good example of clever design in the office, a statement with which I entirely agree - both this blog and The Shed are produced on one.

Broadband homeworking

In case you missed the report from Yougov for uswitch.com last week, there is a good rundown of the main points in the money section of the Sunday Times. Essentially, 1) Broadband customers are not happy folk and 2) cheap doesn't always mean best. You might also be interested in a fairly controversial article on theregister.com about uswitch and its relationship with operators.

Homeworking and children

In my experience, homeworking and parenting mix about as well as coffee and olive oil. However sometimes there is no alternative and you've just got to go ahead and bite the bullet. Some, fairly obvious but nevertheless welcome, tips on how to childproof your home office here (including the fine advice to get down on your hands and knees and crawl around to get an idea of what's in most need of protection). There also seems to be a web site Parents Home Office but it's not opening at the moment.

There's a fuller, and I think much better, piece at Blue Suit Mom. Her 7 main tips can be summarised as
1. Set office hours and stick to them.
2. Close the door and walk away, or put up a decorative folding screen to block the view of works in progress.
3. Establish boundaries: create a "do not touch" pile or "do not enter" zone in your work area.
4. Create phone rules
5. Assemble a quiet Activity Box during special times such as phone calls, writing time, or during times when you need to really focus on your work.
6. Use Kid Multiplication when all else fails: give them 10 and get back 20.
7. Work WITH not AGAINST your kids' schedule by utilizing naptimes or when they are in school.

Friday, November 17, 2006

FAQ - health and safety for homeworkers

The Health and Safety Executive have a pdf document here outlining general guidance for employers and employees about homeworking issues. It's not too long and well worth having a flick through. There's a much longer and rather more serious report with case studies, again in pdf format, here. There is also this comprehensive guide from Business Link.

Shedman - garden office poetry

Plenty of famous writers have put pen to paper in sheds, but far fewer have made a career out of writing about them. Blazing the trail is Shedman, otherwise known as Brighton-based writer and poet John Davies whose marvellous work is featured on a regular basis in The Shed magazine.

“I am fascinated by the tension and connections between two apparently separate categories the natural and the artificial,” says John, who has read his work at readings around the country and recently featured on BBC2’s Gardeners’ World as well as the book Shedmen. “Sheds are so like us, transient and fragile. They can represent a private space we all desire for work or play. They can be places of quiet contemplation. They can be the threshold to risk and adventure. Sheds offer a great way of networking across a community and of introducing people to poetry and literature indirectly in an enjoyable and intriguing way.”

John is now working on a book about the cultural history of sheds. “Although sheds are very much about an individual in a private space, they have an amazing ability to bring people together.”

For a free copy of The Shed - the bimonthly pdf magazine focusing on the lifestyles of shedworkers and homeworkers - containing examples of John's poems please email me here.

Home Office From Hell contest

I mentioned Jeff Landers of offices2share earlier this week when he appeared on Donald Trump's web site arguing against home offices. And now he's organising the Home Office From Hell contest. The idea is that home-based entrepreneurs in the US write in with their 'hilarious ' stories about the pitfalls of working from home. First prize is a trip to New York City to have lunch with Donald Trump's right-hand man & former co-star of The Apprentice, George Ross. I'll let you know who wins when the winner collects his fabulous prize next April.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Garden office marketing

Whether you're a pop star, a novelist or a quality television interviewer like Eamonn Holmes, breaking into the US market is a big deal. So full marks to iscape, one of our listed suppliers, who featured this week on Springwise, a web site which promises to "scan the globe for smart new business ideas, delivering instant inspiration to entrepreneurial minds from San Francisco to Singapore" and is sparking off conversations on various blogs across the pond. You can read the article here.

How to beat hot homeworking laps in style

A hot lap is a common problem for laptop workers (including myself - for more on the issue, see this strange warning).

So if you're tired of simply plonking a cushion on your thighs, why not test drive the CushTop which claims to provide "increased padded comfort when using your laptop on your couch, bed or floor. A convenient storage pocket keeps your power adapter and mouse tucked away. By flipping its platform over, the CushTop can accommodate small or large laptops." It comes in silver, orange or green and will set you back about £30.

Green homeworking/shedworking

Shedworkers are greener workers. A study of homeworking civil servants in Sheffield revealed that they used half the energy of their unfortunate office-based colleagues in working hours.

But you can go one step further and turn your shed roof into a mini patch of garden. Green roofs are cheap, look really nice when the flowers are blooming and also:
* provide good insulation
* absorb air pollution
* reduce noise levels

The most popular type are sedum roofs, often described as a ‘living carpet’. Sedums are small plants with chubby leaves and stems and they don’t mind
the lousy growing conditions of a roof. You can plant a sedum roof almost anywhere but your roof does need to be quite strong since after a downpour it can weigh about 85kg per square metre. It also can’t be too slanty, only up to a roof pitch of around 30 degrees.

For more information go to www.livingroofs.org or www.roofgardens.com where you can take a 3D tour of the marvellous Derry and Toms roof garden on Kensington High Street.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Home Office Lawyer blog

I've just come across this excellent site, Home Office Lawyer by Kansas-based lawyer Grant Griffiths. There's plenty about the world of law but also a lot of interesting comments about working from home. His profile is particularly interesting:

"My law office is a little different than you might expect. I do not have an ivory tower office. In fact, I have my office in a wonderful work space in my basement. Which is why I require an appointment to see me. The only time you will see me in a suit and tie is in court. I just don't like to wear suits and I won't wear a suit in my office. There may be times early in the morning when you might call my office, and I will be at my desk enjoying a cup of coffee and wearing my favorite sweat suit. Or you may find me sitting on my patio in my back yard using my wireless network working on cases or posting to my blog. My staff includes a paralegal who has over 20 years of experience. She also does not go to an office to work. My paralegal and I communicate by phone, email and internet. I email her dictation files to draft and she will email them back to me. The savings in overhead cost can be reflected in the amount I charge for my services. I also have a business manager that works for me part time."

I very much like his writing style and I'd certainly recommend having a look around his blog. Here's his ten ways to tell if you've outgrown your home office:

1. Can you walk to your desk without tripping over something?
2. Are you hemmed in by filing cabinets and shelving units?
3. Have you taken over your children’s closets?
4. Does the living room look like an extension of your office?
5. Do you have to move a pile of papers off of your printer to use it?
6. When was the last time you saw the surface of your desk?
7. Do you have to move boxes off of chairs when company comes over?
8. Does your entire house look like an office building
9. Does family members roll their eyes when they see you bringing in more equipment?
10. Do you dread going into the “pit” that has become your office?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Choosing a shed – The Qube

The world of garden offices is largely divided between ones which look very much like sheds and ones which try very hard not to look like sheds. The Qube falls very much into the second category as you can see. With a Western Red Cedar external cladding, it's built with structural insulated panels then plasterboarded and skimmed, ready to be painted. The doors are bi-fold aluminium that can be fully opened. The Qube is positioned on height adjustable legs which are fitted onto concrete pads. The adjustable legs go from 50 - 600mm so the Qube can be fitted onto uneven surfaces.

Interesting options include having it over more than one storey (two will require planning permission - see earlier blog about Paul McCartney) or, and I really like this idea, a roof deck with a staircase up from the office. They also offer an optional kitchenette, a 550mm base unit with work surface and Zip tap (whatever that is), which gives instant hot water for tea, coffee and filtered chilled water, both from the same tap.

Homeworking mugs

Forget the computer, the printer or the chap from UPS, the one must-have in any home office is a really nice mug. At the moment I'm enjoying the delights of the Repeat Repeat range (pictured) but my full library of mugs also includes a more cultural mug of coffee, from Art Meets Matter which features designs using classic Penguin paperbacks (Jane Eyre, My Man Jeeves, Civilisation, etc), covers of Arthur Ransome’s novels including Swallows and Amazons, and some wacky Pop Art posters. I drink out of The Pursuit of Love every day. For those of you with a more celebrity bent, there is also a series of mugshots of famous folk who have fallen foul of the law (Hugh Grant, Keanu Reeves, Jane Fonda).

Or perhaps you'd prefer Noggin the Nog. Bagpuss. Ivor the Engine. The Clangers. You can now have one of your childhood favourites on your mug courtesy of Josie and Katy Firmin who run Cosmo Place Studios in London and Canterbury. Read more about them at their web site here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Paul McCartney - perils of planning permission

Just to underline the importance of planning permission if you are thinking of building your own home office, Paul McCartney has offered to pull down his £1 million log cabin/garden office following a year-long dispute with local planning authorities.

The wooden lodge/pavilion was built without planning permission on the edge of a conservation lake that was created at his estate near Peasmarsh, East Sussex. A formal bid by McCartney to get retrospective planning permission for the two-bedroom building was submitted in December last year and rejected by the planners, because they had been built without consent in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The buildings, they ruled, "harm the intrinsic landscape quality and character" of the High Weald.

He appealed, arguing that the 205 square metre cabin was essential for the "privacy, seclusion and security" of his family. But, again, the planning committee did not accept his claim and ordered him to knock down both buildings.

Then the story gets really complicated with various offers and counter offers (which are detailed in theDaily Telegraph). But the motto is clear.

Donald Trump blog - Why You Need to Get Out of Your Home Office Now

You probably keep well up to date with the blog on Donald Trump's web site, but just in case you missed this, a spectacular rant against homeworking (which rather misses the point) by Jeff Landers who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur who has worked in commercial real estate for the last 32 years.

Landers suggests entrepreneurs should avoid working out of a home office suggesting it can stifle your growth and actually cost you lots of money in lost opportunities for the following main reasons:
Reason One: A home office is not conducive to hiring employees who will help you substantially increase your income
Reason Two: A home office creates an unprofessional atmosphere

And, completely incidentally, Landers' company, Offices2share.com, helps small businesses in the USA make the leap from home office to "real" office...

You can read the rest of the article here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Homeworking/shedworking faq


If you're thinking of homeworking and/or buying a garden office there are hundreds of sites offering you information. Obviously you'll want to hunt around but here are some good first tries. Overall I'd recommend Enterprise Nation as your first point of call. For more details about individual garden offices, you'll need to click on the suppliers' links on the left hand side. Please let me know if you'd like to recommend other sites/pages.


Why work at home?
Why work at home?2
What is a garden office?
Planning permission
Government booklet on planning
A greener way of working
A greener way of working 2
Increase the value of your home
Financial aspects of homeworking
Homeworking insurance
Drawing up a company homeworking policy
IT issues
Live/work lifestyle
Inspirational photos

Homeworking musicians

If you're a professional musician, having a space to homework is vital. This article at Sound on Sound magazine takes a look at the various possibilities including a garden office/shed, the cellar or attic, garage, box room, and even lowering the floor within a typical small home, and also looks at the kind of work that each space might require to make it usable.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Working in woodland sheds - part 4

[see previous posts for details of Smallwoods Association]

'Assuming it's not in a National Park, AONB, SSSI, etc, Martin Glynn from North Yorkshire also agrees that generally speaking sheds in woodlands come under Permitted Development but only if incidental to the management of the wood. Martin recommends reading Planning for Small Rural Businesses which can be accessed from the Royal Town Planning Institute. A further resource is Chapter 7 run by Simon Fairlie. Their DIY planning handbook for smallholders, low impact developers, etc, costs £15 from The Land Is Ours whose Chapter 7 department also offer free advice and publish a quarterly newsletter.'

Your homeworking space – Hot-Cool-Phat?

I’m not usually a self-help book person, but I came across this quote from Tom Peters in his handbag-sized book Professional Service Firm 50 from his Reinventing Work series which I think all homeworkers will enjoy. The grammar and syntax are all his..

‘I love the term ‘studio’ for it all conjures up: a place … most likely a highly idiosyncratic place … dedicated to a specific creative endeavor. A studio is a setting where “seriously coll” work gets done. A studio isn’t just a room; it is a “charged” place that aids and abets the work, that stimulates and inspires the creator(s), that provides a safe haven where the muses can flourish. (And wounds can be licked.) My own take: Space matters! A lot! (A lot more than most of us think).

‘If we want to produce Rockin’ Stuff, we need a Rockin’ Space. Fact: Most bosses pay far too little attention to space. If a “place” vibrates, then the odds go up – dramatically! – that you and I who inhabit it will “vibrate” as well.

‘So: I beg you to “think about” space. If “it” is dull and dreary, so, too, will be the projects produced therein. If “it” is Hot-Cool-Phat … well … the odds do go (way) up that the projects produced therein will be … Hot-Cool-Phat.’

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Unusual home offices - Optimum boat: UPDATE

Update: March 23 2007 - It looks like Waterspace plc are no longer trading which is a shame.
-----------------------------------

The Optimum 60 is not your run of the mill home office – it costs at least £285,000, it has three floors with a roof terrace, and it’s a boat.

In fact, it’s a very pleasant boat, just over 19m by just under 5m with a glass-reinforced plastic hull and around 1,050 square feet of floor space which can be divided into individual office rooms. It’s got all the usual basics (plumbing, mains power, glass atrium) with some more unusual extras such as underfloor heating and hot tub.

Boat yes, but it’s not really meant for zooming around on the river. This shed-boat-shed has been designed very much as a floating office and to be permanently moored. One slight problem is that you need something a little larger than an unused corner of your back garden to set it up but Waterspace, the company behind the Optimum 60, is talking to marina managers nationwide to negotiate convenient moorings.

It’s probably not a dealbreaker, but delivery costs are not included.

For more details go to Waterspace's web site here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Unusual home offices - Tiny houses/big sheds?

The boundary between garden office and house is usually a pretty hefty one, but that’s because most people haven’t come across Jay Shafer and his Tiny House company. Shafer is an architect and lecturer in the USA where he has taken minimalist living to a spectacular level, designing and building houses which are fully functional but, frankly, titchy.

They’re built to last and with environmentally-friendly materials to boot. However, to be honest, my first thought was that while my shed has plenty of room for my laptop, I’d have trouble squeezing a kitchen next to my modem. But Jay is undaunted. “A sense of space has much more to do with the quality of a place than with the quantity,” he says. “A well designed little house can feel roomy, and a poorly designed mansion can feel crowded. By opening up the centre of these houses, including a lot of windows, and maintaining unobstructed throughways for traffic, I have managed to make even the tiniest of houses feel spacious.” So, for example, the lovely XS House pictured, complete with tiny wheels, measures just 11’ x 7’ x 11’ (the porch and awning fold up neatly).

Inside my garden office I’ve crammed a chair, a ‘desk , two bookcases, a filing cabinet, several half-used pots of paint, a bit of old futon, a small selection of corn plants, and a Moroccan drum for those moments when I need to really take it out on something. Inside the XS Jay Shafer has installed a retractile table, a real desk, 100 cubic feet of storage, a cathedral ceiling, a six gallon water heater, a shower, a lavatory, a stainless steel counter, a refrigerator, a sink, a heat stove, a double burner. And a vented sleeping loft for two.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Homeworking/shedworking in 2016

The folk at the Orange Future Enterprise coalition have come up with four possible scenarios of how we'll be working in 2016, though they point out that some kind of combination of the four is more likely. The three of interest to homeworkers (the fourth is basically a status quo of commuting to centralised offices) are:

Electronic cottages
Many employees working at home or making tiny commutes to a hub office with working life better integrated into life in general with flexible working schedules and increased connection to local communities.

Replicants
Nothing to do with being more like Harrison Ford, much more like being a freelance consultant with a portfolio career. Working life would be more unpredictable and insecure but with more freedom of choice about working patterns.

Mutual Worlds
More co-ops, fewer vast companies with almost no commuting and more local initiatives

live:work blog

You might enjoy Max Comfort's Live/Work blog which is here and will also be a permanent link on the left. A little more off the wall than posts here but very jolly nevertheless.

Unusual home offices - Yurts


Every day this week I’ll focus on a type of home office that is a little out of the ordinary. The first is the noble Mongolian yurt, the felt-lined tent of the nomadic Mongolian people. Importers Amanda and Peter Copp of The Authentic Mongolian Yurt Company are selling them to customers not just as homes and meditation spaces but also home offices.

“Because the crown is so much larger than UK-made yurts the Mongolian yurt is very light,” says Amanda, “and with a thick cosy layer of felt as well as a heavy canvas cover, they are perfect for year round use.” Mongolian yurts are designed to be warm in winter and cool in summer and one of the unexpected benefits of the thick felt is the noise insulation. They have wonderful decoratively-painted woodwork, a bit like the painting on gypsy caravans.

For more details got to their website here.

IT security for homeworkers

One of the thorniest ‘challenges’ of homeworking is the question of IT security, one of the reasons some companies are, understandably, a little jumpy at the thought of staff working from sheds in their own back garden. Two interesting articles on this topic recently, both well worth reading, the first from Processor which contains tips on protecting data and securing networks.

The second, under one of those great cut-out-and-keep headlines Remote workers, a ticking timebomb at searchnetworking.com comments on a new study by Cisco which talked to 1,000 remote workers in 10 countries and found that they are hijacking neighbours’ wireless networks, sharing computers with non-employees and opening email from unknown sources.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Working in woodland sheds - part 3

[taken from Smallwoods Association magazinefor more details, see previous posts].

"Last autumn, Cedric Hoptroff decided to move house, which meant moving further away from his wood. He therefore decided to build a shed in the wood so that he could keep essential tools on site. He emailed the local planning authority to say that he owns Brookfield Wood in Great Brickhill Parish and would like to have some secure storage for tools for use in the wood. He wrote that he wanted to build a small brick or block shed with a door, but no windows, and a tiled roof. It would be about 2.5 by 2m and about 2m hight to the ridge. He expected it to stand on a 200mm-thick concrete base or alternatively have 500mm deep foundations.

"He wanted to know whether he needed to a) apply for planning permission, and/or b) seek building regulations approval. 'After an inordinately long time I received the following reply - 'I can confirm that planning permission would not be required to build a shed of the specified dimensions, provided that the height is under 3m. You will appreciate that this is only an informed view of officers and that it does not constitute a formal determination under the Town and Country Planning Act. In addition, it relates only to the Planning Act and not Building Regulations'.'

"He therefore emailed the Building Regs people, saying that he would like to have some secure storage for tools for use in the wood, outlining the details he'd sent AVDC. He mentioned that the AVDC Planning Department had informed him that he did not need to apply for planning permission for the shed. It appears, he wrote, that it is also exempt from building regulations control as a building in Class VI (1) of Schedule 2 of the Building Regulations 2000 (at least). He wanted to know if they could confirm this.

"'Within 36 hours I had a reply saying simply that the proposed work was exempt from building control without specifying on which provision(s) of the Building Regulations the opinion was based. In the event, the shed was built to rather different design but it is on the same footprint and less than 3m hight so I should be alright.

'My wood is in an Area of Attractive Landscape which is a local designation in the Aylesbury Vale Local Plan; it is not a nationally recognised designation. It is not in Green Belt, though in my opinion, that should not make any difference. A shed such as I have built should be allowed under the exemption for buildings for forestry purposes.'>

Friday, November 03, 2006

Teleconferencing - behind the scenes...

Look and Learn

It's not strictly anything to do with homeworking or sheds, but perhaps it is something that you can enjoy during a coffee break. If you remember reading Look and Learn magazine as a child (or indeed as a grownup), you'll be pleased to know that it is about to be reprinted and you can now subscribe at Look and Learn.

Or as the publishers put it: "Those with subscriptions will receive a welcome pack in early December followed by 24 issues of the new series in 2007, and 24 in 2008. The welcome pack will consist of a facsimile of the first ever issue of Look and Learn from 1962 complete with its beautiful 'Where and When' presentation booklet. The new 24-page fortnightly magazine, which is being printed to have the same look and feel as the original, has been conceived as a miscellany of astonishing range and a showcase for the brilliant illustrators who worked on the magazine during its 20-year history - but, above all, it simply aims
to be the best of the world's best ever children's magazine."

Revamped blog

I'm in the process of revamping the blog - it will look slightly different from today onwards (nicer and easier to read I hope) and will also group posts together which cover similar subjects e.g. Choosing a Shed.

Homeworking jokes


How many homeworkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

There seeems to be a real dearth of homeworker and shedworker jokes in the world. In fact to be honest, I've never heard a single one. So if you have any - reasonably clean - ones, please do let me know and I'll put them up on the site and also include them in a future issue of The Shed.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How to personalise the outside of your home office/shed

There’s no better way of personalising your shed - and indeed of working out which direction the wind is coming from - than with a weathervane. Of course you can always buy one off the shelf but consider commissioning a special one from a vane expert such as the industrious folk at the very aptly-titled www.weathervanes.co.uk who have produced everything from witches to the Taj Mahal.

Though touching, there’s something a little impermanent about personalising your shed - or shedlike atmosphere - solely with photos, screensavers and mouse mats of loved ones and family members. Instead, why not invest in something more durable, a stained glass window. For a range of possibilities try Stained Glasswork, a company run from the New Forest National Park by Shelagh Davies, an experienced artist who produces windows and panels using traditional techniques. You can install them as part of double glazed windows, sealing the stained glass window inside the whole unit. And the beauty is that it doesn’t have to be an enormous beast: the window pictured is just 350mm x 500mm.

Music While You Work - online radio

If you haven't already discovered the delights of online radio stations, it's worth investigating what's out there. One of the biggest names in radio, the BBC, has a very successful online radio presence which also includes a facility which allows you to listen to programmes up to seven days after they have been broadcast so you can choose when to listen at a convenient time on demand. So, for example, I listen to the Early Music Show (broadcast on Saturdays and Sundays on Radio 3 when I’m often not close to a radio) on Mondays and Tuesdays.

An easy way to make your own ‘radio station’ is to click onto the excellent free service at Pandora, a spinoff from the Music Genome Project which has analysed thousands of examples of popular and easy listening music. Just type in a favourite artist or song and pandora creates a ‘radio playlist’ for you, then plays it over your computer.

And there's a truly enormous range of stations on www.live365.com. For example, Brass Band Radio plays what it says on the tin but you only have to type in the kind of music you like and it will find somebody, somewhere playing it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Proper coffee for shed and homeworkers


Unless you have an unusually capacious desk, making coffee means a trip to the kitchen. What you need is a desktop coffee maker and I'd recommend Russell Hobbs’ One Cup Satin Coffee Maker which makes, um, one cup of filter coffee at a time. It’s speedy and quite tasty. Although the titchy double skinned stainless steel mug does take a little getting used to, it keeps the coffee nicely warmed.

The kit comes with a permanent filter, has a 160ml water capacity (i.e. one small cup) and a helpful neon indicator to tell you when the machine is on, just in case you hadn’t guessed. It all comes apart easily too so it’s not too fiddly to clean if you absolutely insist on it. Expect to pay around £10 (it’s on sale at Amazon.

Coffee extra.