Is working from home the new normal? Could be. Companies, from Aetna to Twitter, are rethinking working arrangements. They’ve found employee productivity higher during the lockdown period, and needing less office space and upkeep is obviously good for the bottom line. So it looks like many of us will continue working from home, a welcome prospect for people who dislike commuting, cramped office cubicles and other aspects of corporate life. This means that, once more, the spotlight is on home offices. For a while it seemed that space-saving technology made dedicated office space less of a priority, but during COVID-19 people learned that working those tablets and laptops on the dining table or the sofa got old pretty quickly.
Enter backyard offices, stand-alone structures that shield from the distractions of the family home. Taking inspiration from the “man cave” and the “she shed,” homeowners refer to them as “office sheds,” and they are becoming an important trend, according to Rick Devine, marketing manager at Lapp Structures, New Holland.
“It seems that a separate work space is now as valuable as space in the main living area,” he says. “We’re selling sheds from New York to Virginia. Yes, we call them sheds, but if you think of them as crude eyesores, you couldn’t be more wrong. People want really handsome, high-quality backyard structures that’ll improve property values. This is why we’re making ours endlessly customizable and offer a plethora of design options.”
The ultimate office shed
Interior designer David Lyall agrees that the office shed is here to stay.
“The changes of the last seven months have brought new emphasis on home offices,” he says. “And putting a freestanding structure in your backyard is easier than building an addition to your home. Also consider that if you ever return to a company office, the shed could easily double as a guest house or in-law suite. I doubt that the extra space would go to waste.”
In fact, one of Lyall’s recent design projects proves just how versatile a freestanding backyard structure can be. His firm, David Lyall Home & Design, of Lancaster, renovated a free-standing structure behind a home in Manheim Township.
“It was a good-looking contemporary structure already used as a home office, but it needed a makeover to meet its full potential,’” he says. “This included putting in patio doors to add natural light and new flooring, lighting, furnishings and paint. The color scheme of black, white and grey is sophisticated, yet neutral and calming.”
“It works beautifully,” says Ryan Gibson, a software engineer, who bought the Blossom Hill property five years ago. “I used it as a home office all along, but for years I wanted to make it better. So I finally went ahead, only keeping my desk, which operates electronically, so I can use it sitting down or standing up. I couldn’t be happier with this new version of my home office.”
The makeover offers valuable design lessons, which Lyall is happy to share:
Nix the noise: Lyall calls soundproofing an important ingredient. “The neighbor’s lawn mower has the potential to interrupt a meeting,” he says, “so if you’re contemplating an office shed, add sound-deadening insulation.
Lots of light: Do everything possible to add natural light. “I find that the best work spaces blur the lines between inside and out,” Lyall says. “I add as many windows and glass doors as possible. Natural light is a mood booster and helps regulate our internal body clock.”
Choose built-ins: Lyall recommends built-ins for storage. “Remember, organization is the key to function,” he notes. “Custom built-ins with lateral file space, shelves for books and a dedicated area for a few personal mementos are always a plus in a home office.
Consider down time: “Bring in a comfortable seating group, including a sofa, so you can step away from the desk and take a break without actually leaving the room and breaking your rhythm,” he says. “Soft upholstered furnishings also help absorb sound. That can be super important with virtual meetings and phone calls.”
Be camera-ready: Don’t forget evocative backdrops for those Zoom meetings, Lyall says. “They should reflect your interests and express who you are. Many clients tell me that the backdrop of their screen presence is often a great ice-breaker,” he says. “This is an effective way to create that all-important personal element of connection during meetings.”
Ryan Gibson happens to be a fan of our national parks, and he says his collection of vintage park posters has proved a great background for his virtual meetings.
“Those posters have sparked many conversations,” he says. “It’s just one of the many thoughtful features of this space. The fact that it is so beautiful and comfortable is also appreciated by my wife. She visits often. In fact, the office shed has become a favorite place to escape and relax.”