Friday, December 29, 2006

Thank you and Happy New Year

Nothing more until January 2 but just a quick word to say thank you to everybody who's been reading, commenting on and recommending these pages over the last three months since I started writing: October was a good launch month, hits then trebled in November, and have continued to rise in December. Particular thanks to Adrian Murdoch of Bread and Circuses for inspiration, Emma Jones and San Sharma from Enterprise Nation for their friendly homeworking knowhow, and Uncle Wilco from Readersheds for general support. Thanks too to all the garden office suppliers who have contacted me with their good wishes and to the many, many bloggers whose personal views and clever thoughts about homeworking I have mentioned/pinched.

Socialising in the (home) office

I quoted Phoneboy earlier this week on the subject of going into the office and socialising. He feels that the quote needs a bit of context so I'm happy to include his unedited thoughts below.

"As many of my regular readers know, I work from home the vast majority of the time. I work out of my home office and “telecommute” to an office nearly 700 miles away. My trips to the office are usually week-long and they occur anywhere from every 6 weeks or so to every 6 months depending on what’s going on. One particularly down year, I went 9 months between visits! That’s a long time to be working at home without an office visit!

"My boss had recently written something appropriate on one of those “development plans” that are common large-company HR exercises. He said that I am “able to form relationships which enable him to effectively garner the ‘’mind share'’ required to accomplish things he needs within the company.” How do you do that, especially when you are remote?

"Consider the water cooler, break room, or whatever you have at your office. Or in a hallway. Or in someone’s office/cubicle. Consider how much information exchange occurs in that location. All of these “unplanned” moments are where relationships are formed, strengthened, broken, etc. These moments can happen several times a day if you are a regular office-bound worker.

"Now consider that you have less than 1/4 of the opportunity for those moments to occur. That makes each one of those moments that much more critical. In fact, you may have to actively work to create some of those moments, both inside and outside of the confines of the office.

"One way you can “work” to create those moments is to get involved with things outside of your normal job description. For example, I frequently get involved with new products that are outside of our group’s competency. I participate in internal beta testing, both inside and outside my division. I meet interesting people within the company “because I can.” I sign up to do things within the company that are clearly not my job. Why? Because the relationships I build in the process of doing that stuff will be helpful in the future.

"Of course, to the unenlightened, it looks a hell of a lot like goofing off. To some extent, it even feels like it. However, it is clearly a key to getting things done. I no longer feel guilty about it because I understand the value for myself and the business. As long as you are effective and getting results, you shouldn’t either."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Homeworking and doodling

Fair enough, homeworking isn't for everyone (at least fulltime homeworking). But the reasons why it simply doesn't suit some people are interesting. I particularly liked this from the Am I A Woman Scientist? blog who was forced to become a homeworker and was looking forward to it, but... "It turns out that I do need human interaction, no matter how brief. I also cannot brainstorm well over the computer because I am a doodler. I never noticed this trait until I was desperately trying to relate some concept or graph or whatnot by email or phone to someone who just "couldn't picture it". I do have Adobe Creative Suite and it did well in a pinch, but apparently for me there is nothing that can replace being in a room with a colleague and stack of scrap paper."

New US homeworking magazine for women

As reported on PR Newswire, Peensylvania-based Cutting Edge Media is to launch a new magazine, From Home, aimed at women homeworkers. According to Bridey Orth, editor-in-chief, of the new title: "From Home is a resource for women who want to blend their work and personal lives with a home business. The magazine will provide tools and strategies for starting a business, as well as real-life stories from successful women who are already working at home." First issue out in February 2007 and will have an initial print run of 50,000 bimonthly. Susan Miller, print media consultant for Cutting Edge Media, said: "Nearly 80 percent of home businesses and direct sales positions are held by women, but up to this point, there has been no publication that caters specifically to that group. From Home will reach out to stay-at-home moms, professionals, retirees and students - entrepreneurial women from nearly every background in the country." Cutting Edge already have experience in this field as they publish Home Business Connection magazine, mailed out to 200,000 people every month.

Look out in the UK for the launch of Enterprise Nation's magazine for homeworkers in January 2007 - I'll be posting on this important launch regularly over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Homeworkers in the 'real' office

It's one of the commonplaces of homeworking that it's a good idea to turn up at the office regularly to keep up to date with what's happening. But I was interested by the comments at Phoneboy's blog about the social aspects of these treks into HQ as opposed to the strictly 'business' element. "From time to time," he says, "I visit the office in person. When I’m in the office, I joke that I don’t actually do work in the office. I socialize to a large extent. I talk to key people on every visit, even if it’s just for a few minutes. By making my presence known in real life, I strengthen my connection with those people."

Home office, home address?

As I was writing my Christmas cards this year, I realised that I don't actually have to hand the addresses of several people I know really rather well - instead, I sent their cards to their PO Box addresses that they use for business. Partly this must be due to their obvious reluctance to give out their home details which is completely understandable. However, I've never found this to be a problem. Quite the reverse in fact, since people/clients are often intrigued to discover about my homeworking environment, especially when they discover I do it all from a garden office at the end of my garden. I wondered how other homeworkers reading this deal with the problem?

Home office accessories

This is the first in an occasional series of posts featuring suppliers of interesting home office furniture and accessories. Home Office Design sells “Essential office furniture and accessory resource for architects, interior designers, corporate buyers, facility managers and homeworkers” including an appealing range of office furniture, glass desks, computer desks, seating, shelving, lighting, waste paper bins, hat and coat stands.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas


“Yo ho, my boys,” said Fezziwig. “No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer. Let’s have the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, “before a man can say Jack Robinson.”

Shutters open again on December 27.

Choosing a US shed – modular dwellings

Modular Dwellings is the brainchild of designer Edgar Blazona and has one of the most exciting ranges of garden office-type constructions I’ve seen, essentially prefabs built for living in as much as working in, including 9ft floor to ceiling glass walls, pull-out beds, and sleeping ‘lofts’. The smaller models, which are simply shipped by truck, feature steel frames and there is even a DIY option. The web site is really zingy and well worth a browse.

Music while you work – Musicovery

Musicovery is a good site to try out if you've got not much to do since it's more likely to stop you working than improve your performance: it is like a family tree of many genres of music, including classical and jazz, which you can decide to follow or alter by your mood swing. First you pick a genre, then decide whether you want something energetic, calm, dark or positive, then what decade(s) and it chooses for you and then suggests where you might want to branch out to next in a very visual graphic format. It’s not as confusing as it sounds. Mostly good choices though not sure that West Side Story really belongs in the classical section. It’s free though there is a higher definition paid-for service too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

North East plan for flexible working

According to icNewcastle, there is good news for everybody aiming to end the North-East's nightmare commutes. The North East Chamber of Commerce has pledged to devise a flexible working policy for its staff in support of the regional Work Wise initiative. Work Wise North-East aims to make employment in the region more flexible, through methods such as home working, job sharing and flexi-time. Backers believe it will boost business productivity, improve workers' lifestyles, ease transport problems and benefit the environment. A series of other business organisations have also backed the Work Wise North-East initiative, along with the TUC, Government Office North East and regional development agency One NorthEast. Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK, said: "Smarter working is an answer to many of the issues facing the economy today. While smarter working improves productivity and enhances the working environment, it also reduces the need to travel and staggers the rush hour. Even a small change in working practices across the North-East will see a marked fall in congestion, and a significant impact on emission levels."

Historic restoration

I'm not sure if it's going to become a garden office, but I enjoyed this story by Chris Alder in the Somerset County Gazette about how a second world war 'pillbox' has been restored, disguised to look like a garden building. The pillbox is one of the breathtakingly low-tech network of defences built in the UK to prevent an a German invasion. Jessica Turner, conservation archaeology advisor with Exmoor National Park Authority said: "The pillbox is remarkable because it was originally disguised as a small garden building with a pitched shingle roof and painted windows." The irregular brick built five-sided pillbox could have garrisoned eight men and formed part of the North Somerset inland defence. Other examples were built to resemble bus shelters, signal boxes and seaside kiosks. The conservation building work was carried out by Steve Cornish of P.J Taylor builders.

Choosing a US shed - Conestoga

The Strawberry Ridge (pictured) is the latest model from Conestogas which is a 'portable building' specialist in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas which custom-builds all its models on site rather than shipping buildings. The Strawberry Ridge comes with 12/12 roof pitch, architectural shingles, true overhang with enclosed soffit, under-the-eve vents and ridge vent, and 3/4" heavy duty pressure treated floor, plus double french doors and octagon window. The web site also provides music while you browse...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Virtual office market thriving

An indication of how well the virtual office market is doing is reported everywhere in the financial press including Hemscott here.Managed workspace provider Regus has announced a strong trading performance with good future prospects and has decided to start paying dividends. The group, which has a year end 31 December, said that revenues for the eleven months to 30th November, at actual exchange rates, soared 47% to £616.5m from £418.8m for the equivalent period last year.

Television in your home office

I love this article from Electronic House magazine about the best way of adding television to your home office. Firstly it's honest about the fact that many people like to relax in their home/garden office as well as work there. And secondly, the photo they use (pictured here) to illustrate how a television might fit into your own home office is marvellous - this is of course the kind of atmosphere most of us work in, complete with smoking jacket, slippers and butler.

Cheaper rail tickets for homeworkers

Commenting on the latest National Rail Trends published yesterday by the Office of Rail Regulation, The Times says here that rail commuters who work at home for a day or two every week will be able to buy cheaper season tickets as the networks battle overcrowding. South West Trains, which carries 440,000 passengers a day, will start the scheme from January 2009. Stewart Palmer, managing director of South West Trains, said it would take only a small proportion of passengers working at home for a day to make a significant difference to overcrowding.

On the subject of travel, a new survey by Monstersays suggests that 46% of UK employees will work during the festive season. "Some industries and professions require staff to work through the festive period,” commented Alan Townsend, COO, Monster UK and Ireland. “However, the introduction of homeworking and better communications has reduced the need to travel into work during this period. Employers have to do a tremendous amount now to balance their needs with that of their employees to ensure they attract and retain the best people. Work life balance is increasingly becoming a more important part of the job requirement for job seekers"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Homeworking from pubs

There’s a lot of talk about homeworkers using their wi-fi connections to work away from their home/garden office/shed in coffee houses, but while this seems to work well in the US, perhaps it’s more likely that in the UK we’ll go down the pub route. Indeed, some pubs such as the Huntsman and Hounds in Maldon, Essex, are already selling themselves to businessmen in this way, providing a place to work in a relaxing (and often smoke-free) environment.

“The pub is a different place than it used to be - they're high end places, lots with gourmet food; they're the business place to go for lunch in London and around it,” says George Polk, the managing director for The Cloud , a UK-wide Wi-Fi hotspot network with big plans, especially for pubs.

Big chains are starting to get the idea. Shepherd Neame have been experimenting with wifi in their pubs in Kent, Surrey, London, Sussex and Essex while Wetherspoon’s customers can now take advantage of a free Wi-Fi connection service. Their partnership with ItBox means that when you order your drink or food from the bar you ask for a Wi-Fi voucher which contains an access code for your computer. You can then connect to a network free for 30 minutes. Another purchase, another 30 minutes. Wetherspoon’s head of purchasing, Paul Hine, said: “We really are in a mobile environment at the moment, with more and more people using the Internet for business and pleasure – 24/7. We felt that our pubs offer comfortable and private surroundings, to come to enjoy a drink or a meal and also connect to the Web.”

You can also get free wi-fi access at all Corney & Barrow wine bars in London and you can find a photo guide to London's wi-fi pubs at Silicon.com

Of course there are problems, the major one being the strength of the wi-fi signal in an environment not built for it – microwaves, steel pillars, lighting and large plants can all impoverish the reception. But intelligent placement can get round this – despite a few horror stories of some pubs, I’ve already heard very good things about Corney & Barrow’s spots in particular.

Music while you work – Arthurian Christmas

A slight change of tack as we approach Christmas. I rarely listen to spoken word radio while I work in my garden office/shed (except for cricket – aaarggghhhh - and Radio Exterior de EspaƱa) but if you have time on Thursday at 2.15pm, I’d recommend tuning in to BBC Radio 4 to listen to Sir Gawain And The Green Knight in a new translation by poet Simon Armitage, narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, original music by Gary Yershon. The play starts at Christmas which makes it a particularly festive listen. It should also be available via the BBC’s Listen Again service for seven days after broadcast.

Choosing a shed - Lindahl Lodge

If you’re asking Santa for a garden office this Christmas, The Lindahl Lodge Company offers plenty of food for thought. Based in Richmond Upon Thames, Surrey, all its wooden constructions are bespoke and include boats, follies and treehouses as well as more shedlike creations (pictured is my favourite example from their web site). As well as building with as much FSC (Forestry Strewardship Council) certified wood as possible they also make good use of reclaimed timber and indeed are happy to come and collect any decent wood you are thinking of simply getting rid of.

Monday, December 18, 2006

How one reader of this blog spends his time...


This blog (and The Shed magazine) has readers in all walks of life and recently one of them spent a pleasant evening away from the office with his tai chi schoolfriends in Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square which I thought other readers would enjoy watching.

Choosing a shed - Ardis

"Forget conventional timber buildings," say Ardis Garden Offices who offer a range of six garden office/'sheds' which come complete with furniture as well as heating/lighting. They desribe their range as being designed to maximise space using the highest quality Italian ergonomic modular furniture. It's a useful web site with plenty of images of the Ardis in situ and of exactly which bits of furniture go where. What makes the Ardis tempting is that the modular flat panel construction means that you can make your Ardis bigger in the future if you want to expand. If you want to start big in the first place, go for their Space+ model which is 12m x 3m (40' x 10') and has two areas, one for your workspace and the other for a meeting area (or maybe snooker table?).

Virtual office faq

If you're confused about the different types of virtual office, there's a good rundown of the three main species at Eirepreneur, an always interesting blog about 'doing microbusiness in Ireland' which was originally written as a comment by Infurious. Essentially (if I've understood it correctly) a serviced office is a real office with most services provided that you rent out on a short contract, a virtual office is the services without the bricks and mortar bit, and a 'Bedouin workspace' is the bricks and mortar and the services but you just turn up and use what you need when you need it.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Home office fire extinguishers

A friend asked me last week what kind of fire extinguisher I had in my garden office/shed. When I said I didn't have one, he pointed out that since it was built of wood, was full of books, paper and often rather hot electrical equipment, and was next to a wooden fence leading directly to my house, perhaps I should invest in one before bonfire night next year.

There's a real dearth of information about fires and home offices so I've culled the following from various sources, but it goes without saying that you should contact your local fire station for expert advice before buying anything.

Extinguishers are rated as A, B, and C and if you put out a fire on your desk with the wrong one, you could destroy your computer. So what most of us are looking for is a Type C: this one contains halon (or sometimes some other kind of dry chemical) which is non-corrosive so won't destroy your laptop, although the bad news is that it's not great for the ozone layer and can be toxic so be carefuly if you use it in a confined space. Also, big is not necessarily best. Extinguishers are heavy brutes and a smaller one might be easier for you to use in an emergency.

Pictured is an example, a Kidde Home/Office Fire Extinguisher FA460 which should do the job nicely, though it is quite big. For more information you could also try AGF Fire Protection Ltd.

Homeworking humour - Adam@Home

Apologies to readers in the US who will already know about Adam@Home, but I suspect he'll be completely new to those of us in the UK (well, certainly me for a start). Adam Newman (which of course he is) is the main character in this comic strip by Brian Basset and has been syndicated since the early 1980s. He is a stay at home dad, juggling his family and work, and the strips contain plenty of jokes about the joys and otherwise of working from home, working in coffee shops and using a baby as a paperweight. You can see some examples at Go Comics' site here and an interview with Brian, who sounds like a really decent chap, at Microsoft's site here.

Ecofriendly home office accessories

The beauty about working from home is that when it comes to office accessories such as a mouse, pen, etc, you feel more like hunting around for something you really like rather than in a traditional office where you're very likely to simply use whatever everybody else is using because it was already there when you joined. One of the nicest places I've come across for personalising your garden office/shed space is the home office section of Nigel's Eco Store. I particularly like the bamboo mouse (pictured) but also the bamboo keyboard and monitor, the water-powered desk clock and the recycled pens.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

DIY garden office

Welsh timber frame construction experts The Benfield ATT Group also runs SimplySelf-Build, a specialist self-build package division which makes eco-friendly timber houses but also offers brave DIY-ers the chance to build their own Beamlock Home Office. They claim it is easy to build and only needs two people to put the modular bits together using precision pre-engineered timber connected together using the structural pins provided.

Siesta technology

Those of you who enjoyed the post earlier this week on siestas should have a look at pzizz. It’s hard to describe in a nutshell so here is their own description: “Pzizz is a remarkable invention that combines several different proven techniques to help keep you feeling energized throughout the day. It combines Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques along with especially composed music, sound effects and a binaural beat to induce a wonderfully relaxed state, similar to that of the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. Whilst in this deeply relaxed state, pzizz is able to deliver billions of different combinations of suggestions through the structured language patterns and the sounds. These encourage the subconscious not only to relax but also to focus and energize both the body and the mind. Every time you press “play” or choose to “export” some naps, the software will mix a new soundtrack for you so that you never hear exactly the same thing twice.” Whatever you think about pzizz, there’s lots of information on the site about the positive effects of napping that will stop you feeling guilty about taking a lunchtime trip to Bedfordshire.

Bedroom to home office in seconds

Clei specialises in 'space saving furniture and compact living solutions' and homeworkers, especially those with restricted space, should take a look at their Cabrio In folding bed, pictured. Not only does it have storage room for your jumpers, it also incorporates an office desk and turns from bed to desk in one, easy movement - and you don't have to take things off your desk when you bed down for the night.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Homeworking dress code

What everybody else wears to home work is a subject of endless discussion and some welcome confessions in this article at the American site of Bellaonline by Deborah Crawford. She is very much not a full suit in the garden office kind of person. Essentially she just buys a lot fewer shoes, trousers and jackets than she did for a 'normal' office and only dresses up on days when she meets clients. On homeworking days she goes for shorts and t-shirts in the spring/summer and layers up with lots of socks in winter: "Colors, fabrics, and design—all up to the individual business owner. How cool is that? You decide if paisley goes with stripes, or if blue goes with violet." I like the abandon of this but was particularly taken with her goal of paying no more than $8 for any item of homeworking uniform.

Coffee shops are the new home offices

I’ve posted here before about the idea of ‘third place’ working, the American concept of working somewhere that’s not at home but not in an office, i.e. usually a coffee shop. On the basis that something similar is bound to happen over here in the UK, it’s worth having a long look at Jackson West’s comments at Web Worker Daily where he discusses this trend for coffee shops to actually become like ‘real’ offices – particularly as regards San Francisco - and links to various other blogs which have commented on the idea of ‘going bedouin’ as they put it. Among the most interesting is this one at Coffee To The People which discusses this kind of work from the point of view of a coffee shop owner (he’s obviously not keen on people working all day and buying one coffee) and this one at Gregor J. Rothfuss which goes one step further and suggests that coffee houses should actually consider renting out ‘office’ space.

Live/work – really such a good idea?

The live/work concept which I posted about earlier this week gets a bit of a beating in an Enterprise Nation article here, mainly on the basis of problems trying to resell your property, though it does also point out financial and life-work balance advantages. Worth reading if you’re thinking of going down this route but for the opposite side of the story, also look at the new Live Work Homes site here.

It’s amazing what you can do in a shed

In this story in the Daily Telegraph , Ricky Tomlinson talks about his Christmas pop song Christmas My Arse (which rather reminds me of Love Actually’s effort by Bill Nighy). In the article he claims that he wanted to put together a song so simply “rang up Royle Family creator Caroline Aherne's brother Patrick and together they ‘knocked it out one afternoon’ in his shed. "I just wanted to prove it wasn't hard.”

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Choosing a shed – Ceroko

The stylish Ceroko comes from Garden Commuters of Harrogate and has a particular attractive picture window front wall to give a roomy, light feel. It is built on a steel frame set on concrete piles with the modular framework on top. Outside, it’s got a Western Redwood cedar exterior cladding and inside the doors and windows are made from Iroko hardwood. Flooring options include engineered oak, solid wood or carpet. The roof is a single ply polymeric membrane (though there is a green sedum option) with a gutter which can be run into a water butt. There’s a 10 year warranty on the Ceroko, 20 years on the roof and one year on the parts fitted. There are four main styles as well as a bespoke service.

Music While You Work - Christmas

I like listening to carols but find that I end up singing them and doing no work. So as a better combination I have two largely instrumental recommendations for the coming weeks. The first is from Chandos, Vaughan Williams: Christmas Music which includes premiere recordings of his Fantasia on Christmas Carols (based on the traditional English carols ‘The Truth sent from above’, ‘Come all you worthy gentlemen’, ‘On Christmas Night’ and ‘There is a fountain filled with blood’) and On Christmas Night which also features some very familiar carols, as well as the first CD version of his nativity play The First Nowell. Marvellous singing from Kathleen Ferrier Award winner soprano Sarah Fox and big name baritone Roderick Williams as well as the Joyful Company of Singers all under the baton of VW specialist Richard Hickox.

Secondly, at budget price, from Naxos is Victor Hely-Hutchinson: A Carol Symphony which contains the famous work used for the television and radio productions of The Box of Delights as well as Bryan George Kelly’s Improvisations on Christmas Carols, Peter Warlock’s Bethlehem Down, Philip Lane’s Wassail Dances and Patric Standford’s A Christmas Carol Symphony.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Live/work

One of the hot new concepts in the world of property is ‘work/life’ or sometimes, depending I suppose on your approach, ‘life/work’. A good starting point for finding out about this particular form of homeworking is Live/Work Homes which claims to be for people who “want a property that saves time, saves money and does its bit to save the planet” i.e. promoting properties specially designed to combine workspace and home. It is not an estate agency though properties are listed.

A good example of this in practice appeared in yesterday’s editon of The Observer. It focuses on architect Jerry Harratt, who built his own house and office buildings in Long Sutton, Lincolnshire (now up for sale, pictured). It is an interesting build, not least because the property has no foundations but does have a ‘green’ roof. So on the site there is a four bedroom house on one floor, and then pretty close by is a 500 square foot office where his eight staff work which he calls the Long Sutton Work-Life Project. His plan is to build a hamlet using the same eco-friendly ideals. You can get full sales particulars of it at Fine and Country here.

Siestas and homeworking

There’s no doubt that an afternoon siesta is good news for everyone involved and the good news for homeworkers is that they’re ideally suited for anybody working flexibly. Napping is natural and although the urge to nap isn’t (usually) overpowering, our internal clock is set for two sleeps a day, the main one at night and another in the afternoon between 1pm and 4pm when our body temperature drops slightly. Moreover, studies show mid-afternoon dozes can restore body energy and make us more productive for the rest of the day, as well as enhancing morale.

What the Nobel-prizewinning Spanish novelist Camilo Jose Cela once described as ‘Iberian yoga’ is by no means defunct. Indeed, so keen are various American companies on encouraging employees to take a swift snooze that they have installed special powernapping rooms.

What makes a good siesta? The Spanish Holy Roman Emperor Charles V recommended curling up on a good throne holding a heavy iron key. When it clattered to the ground after about 20 minutes, the point when the siesta was threatening to turn into full slumber, it was time to get back to running the known world.

For those of us in less palatial surroundings, sleep experts emphasise the importance of keeping our siestas short so as not to interfere with night sleeps. Even if your eyes just won’t close, simply resting is also effective (although Winston Churchill said the only way to make a siesta worthwhile was to take all your clothes off, put on your pyjamas and get right into bed). Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler, prefers a day bed opposite his desk.

But the siesta is not to everyone’s taste. Cees Nootebaum in his book Roads to Santiago wrote: “There’s a false night embedded in siestas, the deception of awakening not to a fresh start but to a repeat performance. The day has already been soiled by life and food, by the words of the news and of the world, sunset is nearer than sunrise and everything has to happen a second time, there is a certain lassitude, a hint of death, shadows in late afternoon, the slow approach of darkness.” Seems a bit strong.

Garden offices actually make you richer

At Enterprise Nation’s web site there’s an interesting comment from Sanctuary Garden Offices who claim that buying a garden office is a better bargain than commuting with a rail ticket from Twickenham to Waterloo. For those who need more convincing, look at this article on the same web site which suggests that having a home office or garden office can increase the value of your property by at least £25,000.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Employess and homeworking faq

If you're an employee looking for information about the ins, outs and mustdos of homeworking, there's plenty of good (if often sometimes very basic) information at the Business Link web site including sections on:
> What to check before starting a work at home business
> UK building regulations and planning permission
> Tax considerations of working from home
> Home working health and safety risk assessment
> Segregation of work area when working from home
> Work equipment and workstation setup
> Hazardous substances and working from home
> Emergencies
> Advantages and disadvantages of working from home
> Here's how I ensured that my home was safe for use as a workplace

Employers and homeworking faq

If you're an employer looking for information about the ins, outs and mustdos of homeworking, there's plenty of good (if often sometimes very basic) information at the Business Link web site including sections on:
> Advantages and disadvantages of employees working at home
> Types of work and skills suited to home working
> Employment contracts and working from or at home
> Kitting out people who work at home
> Manage employees who work from home
> Your health and safety obligations towards home workers
> How technology can facilitate working from home
> Responsibilities of home workers
> Here's how I manage the performance of my home workers and keep them motivated

There's also a DTI guidance leaflet on teleworking available as a pdf here and something similar from ACAS here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Choosing a shed - Smart

Charles Dalton was one of the leaders in building garden offices in the UK and while his Ipswich-based company Smart Garden Offices has only been operating since the start of this year, he's been in the business a lot longer. There are many stockists of Smarts around the country, all listed on their web site which also has sections on Garden Offices for Start-up Businesses and Garden Offices for Stay-at-Home Mums. Each Smart has 85mm walls with 18mm waterproofed and bonded plywood cladding for long life, 15mm melamine lining (with MDF substrate) for hardwearing interiors, 45mm Celotex insulation with foil facings, and a plastic coated and fully battened steel roof. Other features include a hardwearing office carpet supplied as standard and built-in electrics, fuse box with attractive down lighting. There's also a five year warranty.

Work-life balance dodgy for public sector workers

Employers in the public sector say they're all in favour of work-life balance but the truth is that not only are they not really committed to it but sometimes actually stop people from working flexibly, according to a new report from The Work Foundation commissioned by the strangely always upper case public service union UNISON. The report says that 75% of employers have these kinds of policies in place but only half of 1,000 public sector trade union members surveyed felt they had the chance to make real choices about their working arrangements. Laura Williams, senior researcher at The Work Foundation and co-author of the report, said: ‘Work-life balance is one of those areas where public sector organisations claim to be most progressive. But what this study does is to take a peek beneath those superficial commitments to what happens in real life. And what we see is a classic rhetoric-reality gap. In the worst cases, managers appear to want to stamp out any modest deviation from the norm and become standard-bearers for inflexibility."

Case studies - Best Buy Co

There's a detailed account of how major electronics giant Minneapolis-based Best Buy has completely altered its working structures in Business Week. They call their strategy ROWE, for "results-only work environment" with performance based on success instead of hours. As Business Week putsw it: "Workers pulling into the company's amenity-packed headquarters at 2 p.m. aren't considered late. Nor are those pulling out at 2 p.m. seen as leaving early. There are no schedules. No mandatory meetings. No impression-management hustles. Work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. It's O.K. to take conference calls while you hunt, collaborate from your lakeside cabin, or log on after dinner so you can spend the afternoon with your kid." The article also says that:
* at IBM, 40% of the workforce has no official office
* Sun Microsystems Inc has saved $400 million over six years in real estate costs by allowing nearly half of all employees to work anywhere they want
* Best Buy productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE

Peace and quiet

One of the joys of homeworking is that there are no other fools around to get in your way. Two nice examples of what this can mean are at Andrew Cencini's blog who talks about the pleasure of looking out of his window at a nice tree and listening to birdsong and at Steve Richards' always interesting Adventures in Home Working blog where he talks about concentration, music and meditation. Steve frequently writes about homeworking issues, especially technical/design ones, so it's worth taking a look at his site regularly (it's in the links bar on the left hand column). Here he is on the power of music: "Just by chance last week I was listening to music set to random and some meditation music started playing, I rapidly noticed that my concentration improved, particularly the time I could concentrate for increased any my typing speed nearly doubled. I was pretty shocked that music could have such a significant effect so I tried again a couple of days later and it worked. I am now planning to build it into my normal working practice."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Virtual meetings

Virtual business meetings are the new black. As this article in Computer World by Linda Rosencrance points out, decent e-meeting software includes integrated audio- and video-conferencing, application sharing with markup capabilities, real-time feedback, whiteboards, instant surveys and text chat, not to mention recording it all too. The piece looks at three case studies and includes a list of pros (cheaper, less disruptive, more focused, better objectivity) and cons (hard with big groups, socially not so jolly) of e-meetings.

Unwrap a garden office this Christmas

There's a lot written about the perfect kind of chair for homeworking - it should be ergonomically delightful, robust, not secondhand (in case it ruins your feng shui balance), etc, etc. But I think this overlooks a basic necessity which is home-like comfort. Since I've had a garden office/shed, I've always squeezed an armchair in there too and I'd recommend this to anyone. If you're looking for one this Christmas, why not ask Santa for the marvellous Bibliochaise pictured? It comes from Milan-based design studio Nobody&Co who quite rightly call it "an armchairlibrary" since it offers 5 metres of bookshelf space. It measures 102x85 h.73,5 cm and comes in six colours (frame and cushions) which you can fiddle about with yourself on their website. They also have a marvellous standalone bookcase called the Piola.

Alternatively you could follow Enterprise Nation's advice who pose the question, what do you buy for the homeworker who has everything? They very sensibly suggest a garden office. By the way, if you post a comment on their site this week you could win a case of Da Luca wine.

Home Office of the Month - competition winner

As mentioned last month, Enterprise Nation is running a Home Office of the Month competition (prize, Brother DCP-750CW do everything gadget). The first winner is Adam Constantine, a shedworking designer featured in the recent issue of The Shed magazine who has converted a 10' x 6' security shed into an eco-friendly design studio. His office is one of Shropshire’s first carbon neutral companies and he aims to offset over 7,500Kg of CO2 over the next year. For more details go to his site here. The competition is being run again - to enter simply email them a pic of your home office.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Second life homeworking

This subject came up earlier this week so I was interested to see that internet consultancy depo consulting have taken on their first (and possibly the world's first) virtual employee on Second Life. Marissa Meltzer will be running the depo office from 3 to 5pm every day as a virtual contact helping businesses in this new environment (and according to the press release even helping them with free clothes which is jolly nice of her). She will be paid in the local currency of Linden Dollars and all her work for depo will be in the virtual world. Peter Dunkley of depo, which in the real world has offices in Northants and the Cotswolds, says: “Although large businesses are moving onto Second Life in increasing numbers, we feel that they are missing a real opportunity by not actually manning their offices and shops. Second Life is not the Internet, it’s a social environment and to make the most of the opportunities you have to be there." Ms Meltzer adds: "As a mother, working in a virtual office has real benefits – and I’m really looking forward to meeting the visitors to the depo office and working with them to develop this new world.”

Sharing a virtual office

Lifehacker has good advice about how homeworkers working in a team from a 'placeless office' can keep in touch at Essential tools for the placeless office. As they say: "If your team is distributed across vast distances like we are, you need to set up shop not with Aeron chairs and cubicle walls but with the right collaboration tools."

Their suggestions include:
* Campfire (for group chat meetings) rather than instant messaging
* MediaWiki (for internal knowledgebase e.g. style guides, research, brainstorming)
* Gmail (for email)
* Google calendar (for scheduling)
but there are many more so it's worth reading the whole piece as this is surely the way that groups of home office workers will start to work together increasingly frequently.

What's a 'den'?

I've been asked by somebody building their own home office what exactly they should call it? He's after the British equivalent of what the Americans call a 'den'. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Home office scoops prize...

The fine folk at popgadget.net launched a marvellous competition last month to win various Belkin home office goodies (including the Cushtop reviewed here). All entrants had to do was send in a photo of their home office which underlined why they needed all the help they could get - and the winner was Kelli Cree from Sunnyvale, California, who shares her office with a 1-year old and a 3-year old. Her home office is pictured...

Popgadget is worth exploring. It styles itself as: "a lifestyle magazine that embraces technology as a regular and essential part of women's lives. We cover topics traditionally seen in women's magazines, such as health and fitness, beauty and fashion, home, family, and entertainment, but with a unique focus on the products and people that bring exciting innovations to those aspects of our lives. But if you're looking for a bikini-clad model straddling a Power Mac G5, you won't see it here."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Homeworking in your loft

If the idea of a garden office isn't tempting for whatever reason, the possibility of using/converting your loft space will probably be among your first thoughts if you're considering homeworking. An excellent rundown of points to consider by Mark Brinkley at the Homebuilding Show site here which looks at:
* Loft conversion suitability assessment
* Loft conversions and planning issues
* Building regulations
* Loft conversion build routes
* Loft conversion costs
* Using the roof space in your self build home
* Useful loft conversion contacts
It's worth having a look around the rest of the site too which is really informative and clearly written. There are Homebuilding and Renovating Shows around the country throughout the year - the next one is at the NEC Birmingham 22-25 March 2007.

Garden offices - Ireland

Almost all the UK garden office suppliers in the lefthand column are from England so I've been pleased to discover several operations in Ireland which I'll be reviewing in the regular Choosing a Shed column in future weeks. But until then, take a look at:

Ravensdale Outdoor Rooms
Garden Rooms.ie (pictured)
Shomera

Prefab Friday

I've referred to inhabitat.com before but they're such an interesting set-up that they deserve more than a passing mention, and for one reason in particular which I'll come to later. Essentially, it's a blog focusing in a very broad sense on the latest in design and architecture, especially home design and with an emphasis on green and sustainable construction. Or as they put it: "With an interest in design innovations that enhance sustainability, efficiency, and interactivity in the home, Inhabitat’s attention is focused on objects and spaces that are eco-friendly, multi-purpose, modular, and/or interactive. We believe that good design balances substance with style."

It's a marvellously tempting site, truly international, with tremendous pictures and you can get absolutely lost in it simply browsing around. The writing is good too, passionate but not absurdly over the top as is sometimes the case with design journalism. But I'd recommend dropping in at the end of every week for what they enticingly call Prefab Friday. Each Friday they look at something prefabricated, mainly homes, but quite often buildings which either are or could double up as garden offices.

Virtual home office

You could always set something up in Second Life (are there homeworkers there too?) but the concept of a virtual home office is becoming increasingly popular, both in the UK and the USA. Essentially, companies such as The Virtual Office Group (which has bricks and mortar offices in London, Bristol, Edinburgh and even Canada) and Davinci mean that you can be working away in your garden office or sofa, but at the same time giving the impression of a 'normal' office situation with features such as a professional receptionist services, appointment scheduling, order processing and - I particularly like this - postal addresses in a neighbourhood or city of your choice. "First impressions can be everything," says Davinci President/CEO Bill Grodnik. "We run a client's office, while they run their business." Most of these companies also provide meeting room spaces if you don't have room in your shed to entertain clients (though it's never stopped me).

Case studies - Woolley & Co

10 years ago, the idea of a homeworking lawyer would have been largely unthinkable (especially among the 'Magic Circle' of firms in the City), but Andrew Woolley, founder of Woolley & Co, has shown that it is very possible indeed, as this article at the Enterprise Nation web site shows. Since 1996, Woolley has been running a successful 'virtual' law firm with no offices. “When I started this business I wanted to strip out a layer of administration costs and costs associated with offices," he says. "To see the money that law firms get in each month and then what goes out on their premises and office costs is astounding. Do you really need an office on the high street to attract the right type of client?” The firm now has 10 lawyers located from Derby to Bath, all working from home offices and specialising in either business or divorce law. Woolley claims the homeworking ethos has helped with client acquisition as well as retention with e-commerce companies in particular choosing the firm.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Smoking, homeworking, brainstorming

By definition, homeworking tends to be a fairly individual experience. A post at the blog of design studio Spoiltchild talks about the lack of face-to-face brainstorming sessions being a major downside of not being in a 'traditional' office. "I never smoked, but I always accompanied the lads on a cigarette break outside. I could say it was because of health and safety and I was getting the minimum recommended time away from staring at a screen, I could also say I was just out there dodging work but to be honest it was where all the good stuff happened. It was where everyone relaxed their brains a bit, chatted about what ever problem they were having with code or tech. They could mention some seemingly little problem that was too trivial to organise a meeting about yet it was taking many man hours trying to solve. Almost guaranteed the problem would be solved in that 5 minute break with the collective brainstorming of the group."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

ABD - incentives for homeworking

The Association of British Drivers is, unsurprisingly, against what looks like the increasingly likely introduction of road user charging in the UK. Instead it's calling for a number of alternatives including "incentives for homeworking and for moving closer to places of work" as well as "large scale studies into people`s transport needs and habits, done with the intention of facilitating people`s lives rather than justifying anti-car anti-transport policies." You can read more on this at their web site here.

Homeworkers and local communities

The role which homeworkers/shedworkers play in keeping local communities thriving is an increasingly important one. Anna Minton, a well-respected commentator on issues concerning society and planning/building issues including What Kind of World Are We Building? The Privatisation of Public Space, published by and available at RICS has this to say in the most recent issue of The Shed magazine.

"Like many older people, carers and parents stuck at home, the shedworker has few people to talk to face-to-face during the working day so the thriving life of the local high street is particularly important. But all around the country, there is growing concern at the increasing sameness and sterility of the high street, with the same chain shops and bars squeezing out small shops, be they local cafes or bookshops.

"Now, this accelerating trend is expected to get a major boost courtesy of Chancellor Gordon Brown who has commissioned a major review of the planning system by top Bank of England economist Kate Barker. Instead of talking to people in local communities, the review commissioned management consultants McKinsey who argued that there is too much employment “in relatively inefficient corner shops and specialist shops”, adding that big stores of more than 3,000 square metres are far more efficient.

"Consequently the implication is that the planning system should be relaxed to allow these big retailers, such as ASDA and B&Q, to have an even bigger presence on the high street, at the expense of smaller shops which give places their character and identity. The review, which is due out sometime before Christmas, is expected to back the McKinsey recommendations, which will have a huge impact on the high street.

"Because these issues receive little coverage in the media (see here) few people are aware of how important such changes to the planning system are to the survival of our local communities. But if voters, particularly those who both live and work in their local communities, become aware of what is going on, perhaps the Chancellor will be forced to listen.

"If you feel strongly about the issue, what can you do to make your voice heard? You can read about one campaign which is already underway at Local Works and sign up online. The organisers are encouraging people to use their local shops, including homeworkers who are great contributors to the local economy through spending time and money in their neighbourhood. Also, Local Works is promoting a private member's bill, the Sustainable Communities Bill, which would require councils and communities to promote local shops. This has cross-party support."

For a free copy of The Shed email me here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Eddington Report & Stern Report

If you haven't come across Work Wise UK yet, expect to hear much more about them in the future. It claims broad backing from business and the unions, BT, the RAC Foundation and many other bighitters for its five-year campaign to encourage smarter working practices. Their response to the recent Eddington Report is that it has not taken into consideration arguably the most obvious solution to the transport/congestion problem, more homeworking (and by implication more garden offices/sheds).

According to Phil Flaxton, chief executive of Work Wise UK: “Changing work practices and encouraging smarter working, such as flexible working, mobile working, remote working and homeworking, will significantly reduce the need to travel. Working 9 to 5, five days a week, at a central location, coupled with the desire to travel many, many miles in order to attend meetings, are working practices which are actually largely unnecessary considering the technology available today. This rigid work structure, which is largely dictated by culture and nothing else, is wasteful in terms of time and resources, damaging in terms of the environmental impact, harmful in that it impacts upon stress levels and health. Smarter working is a win-win situation. Any costs will be outweighed by an increase in productivity, and the social benefits of an improved work-life balance for employees will be far-reaching."

Commenting on the Stern Report in his Future of Work blog, Peter Thomson, Director of the Future Work Forum at Henley Management College, makes a similar plea and his well-measured thoughts are worth reading in full at his site here.

Shed sales going through the roof

A new survey from Saga Insurance shows that interest in sheds and garden offices is growing rapidly. The study claims that:
* more than half of all Brits own a shed
* 28 per cent have bought or built a new shed since they moved into their current property
* 42 per cent of 18-29 year olds have bought a shed within the last five years
The study was done in conjunction with Feng Shui expert Paul Darby who added that if you use your shed as a home office, never block the centre of your garden with it since this is where the Feng Shui chi energies circulate so it needs to be kept clear.

More details on the survey here at The Money Pages and more on feng shui and your garden office here.

Choosing a shed - InsideOut Garden Office

InsideOut pride themselves on supplying architect-designed, sustainable garden offices finished with environmentally friendly larch cladding, grown in carefully managed woodland in Scotland and Northumbria and wherever possible using materials manufactured in the UK using lower levels of industrial energy, chemicals and transport to help reduce green house gas emissions (pictured is one of their latest buildings - an en-suite office/guest room built on an old raised garage base overlooking the Bristol Channel). Optional add-ons include a shower room. Velux roof light, and specialist sound proofing. Indeed, it's very much a bespoke process since they have their own company architect so you get exactly what you want. They also run a blog by joint owner Lynn Fotheringham at InsideOut

Celebrity sheds


Various famous people are strongly associated with sheds/garden offices, mainly writers. Among them are:
* Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials trilogy
* Dylan Thomas, author of Under Milk Wood (his shed is pictured)
* William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, creator of the famous motorcycle
* Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
* George Bernard Shaw, author of Pygmalion
* Agatha Christie, author of And Then There Were None
* Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter
* Arthur Miller, author of Death of a Salesman (he built the shed specifically to write it in)
Virginia Woolf, author of A Room of one’s Own