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Tuesday, Dec 01, 2020

The office is dead. Get yourself a backyard shed

As working from home turns into a semi-permanent situation for many, the search is on for private workspace. Some people have opted to take over a bedroom or basement to set up their new home office. But others are heading to the backyard.

Scott Roberts, vice president and head of business development at LinkedIn, decided to build a 12- by-16 foot, year-round, designer shed in his backyard to use as his office.

Employees at LinkedIn are expected to work from home through the end of the year, if not longer, and he knew he would need his own space.

"Working from home has quickly become living at work," said Roberts.

He said his home in San Francisco, where his family of five lives, has a fair amount of space. But with everyone working and distance learning, often at the same time, the family needed some more personal spaces.

"It is really critical to separate the spaces we use," he said. "I have to be focused. If you're not able to create some separation between life and work, this will become so much more difficult."

The shed was the answer. This freestanding unit by Studio Shed, a Boulder, Colorado-based firm that sells prefabricated backyard buildings, starts at $16,250.

"I think there is something psychological about the separation between work and home you get from a commute," Roberts said.

"But what if it is just walking into the backyard? With a shed I can go from a 30-minute drive, to a 30-step walk. A shorter commute, but still a separate space."

He said he knows half a dozen colleagues who have built similar backyard offices.


Sales of sheds are booming

In March as the coronavirus shut down much of the country, sales of backyard sheds started spiking, said Mike Koenig, president and co-founder of Studio Shed. The company noticed search surges around "home office."

"A lot of people were already working from home and California and Washington had already shut down," said Koenig. After that, the orders started coming in, particularly of its Signature Series model that ranges from 64 to 240 square feet, and starts at $10,500.

The company sold five times as many home office units in May, June and July as they did in each month last year and it is on track to sell 10 times more this August than last.

The studios can be custom designed online with a 3D design tool or quick shipped as a kit with standard details. The kit includes optional interior details, electrical and insulation. Typically they go from online customization to home delivery in just a few weeks.

Another backyard shed company, Sheds Unlimited, based in Morgantown, Pennsylvania, with a sales region from South Carolina to Maine, has seen such an increase in sales that the lead time to deliver a shed is now 10 to 13 weeks, according to Janelle Stoltzfus, an administrator at the company.

While the company makes storage sheds and garages, there has been an increase in the number of sheds being used as offices.
"We have had a lot of people looking for home offices," said Stoltzfus. "They've asked us to install shelves so they have a place to work."


A different way to work from (near) home

Erin Miller, a copy editor and layout designer in Centennial, Colorado, regularly worked from home, before the pandemic. But when her husband also needed to work from home - requiring them to share office space - the situation was less than ideal, she said.

"Let's just say that our styles are not 100% the same," she said.

Prior to the pandemic they had considered an addition to their home, including office space, but the expense and long timeline turned them off.

With the couple now working in the same space, they decided a backyard shed would address their needs more urgently.

Miller ordered a 10- by-16 foot shed in mid-May and it was completed by early July. The shed did not require a permit where she lives, which she said made the process even more simple and quick.

"We did need to permit the electrical," she said. "but that was quite manageable, requiring only two inspections."

While Studio Shed is available to answer tech support questions for homeowners who know their way around an impact driver and circular saw and can build the units themselves, they can also connect homeowners with certified installers to build the structure.

Miller said the installers helped her arrange for a contractor to lay the foundation, run the electrical lines and internet cable, determine heating and cooling options and add on a front porch."

She is still finishing the inside decor, but has plenty of room for a desk, an additional table, printer, file cabinet and bookcase, she says, along with 80 square feet of additional space.

"That will probably be outfitted with a sofa, chair and rug, to allow me to also use the space during non-work hours to read, relax or visit with friends."

The shed has given her the opportunity to personalize her work space since she is no longer sharing with her husband, but that has not kept her teenagers out.

"They think it's really cool and regularly offer suggestions as to how they and their friends might like to hang out in the space."
But she is cherishing it as her own personal retreat, especially since she's used to working from home.

"My commute to work is a bit longer," she said. "Out the back door and across the grass instead of just down a flight of stairs, but the space is welcoming."

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