Friday, 27 January 2012

The Shed-working Life

The lexicon describing the choice of places to work is ever increasing. The now familiar terms home-working and tele-working have been supplemented with hub-working, co-working, central-working and shed-working. Alex Johnson refers to shed-working as “the art of working from home in a shed-like space separate from the house” [1].

My office

Since taking redundancy and setting up my own business six months ago, I have gradually migrated from the kitchen table to the shed. I do not intend to discuss the merits of shed-working in elaborate detail here. Alex has already done that and he has done it well using beautiful images of“shed-like” spaces from all over the world that illustrate his thesis. I can only offer a personal account of why I prefer shed-working.

After browsing through Alex’s book you will agree that“shed” is probably an understatement for most of the “shed-like” structures used as home offices. My own has an insulated roof, large double-glazed windows and doors, 40 mm thick walls and a high pitched roof. It’s more of a mini log cabin than a B&Q garden shed. Nevertheless, compared to the alternative of extending the house or converting the loft it was a fraction (20%) of the cost. Also at 12 sqm and with no plumbing it didn’t require planning permission and the delivery and build was much quicker and far less messy.

When discussing the merits of shed-working we first have to separate out the general benefits of home-working. Occasional home-working provides a break from the buzz of the office, it provides space to focus and concentrate, it offers solitude, and time to finish that dam report without continuous interruption from colleagues. It also reduces the time wasted travelling to an office and the discomfort associated with it – as Alex Johnson eloquently puts it “you get to bypass the sweaty, arduous, face-in-stranger's-armpit commute”. But unless you have the luxury of hiding away in your own private study, working from home is prone to disruption from the family or other unproductive distractions.

Personally, that the shed is completely separate to the house is the biggest benefit. Firstly, I have to get dressed for work and make a short commute. So psychologically I am changing my mind-set to one associated with going to a place of work. My shed is at the bottom of the garden (behind a bush), a good 75 m from the house. Once down there I am more inclined to settle in and “get on with it”. My focus is punctuated with occasional, rather than frequent, visits to the kitchen which allows me to stretch my legs and rest my eyes.

Secondly, the distance from the house means I have fewer interruptions. The wife and children never bother me down there. I am not a fan of architectural determinism but I am a believer in Baker’s behaviour settings [3]. Barker proposed that our experiences and expectations of a space determine how we behave in that space as much as the physical attributes of it. My family respect that the shed is my primary place of work and treat it as they would treat the office of any organisation I worked for. My main visitors these days are my cats and other distractions come from the occasional squirrel running across the roof, the pitter-patter of rain and a friendly robin prospecting for worms – all welcome.

Welcome visitor (Paddy)

Thirdly, as my office is not within the house I can plan it, design it and manage it as I please. I am quite a tidy person and therefore my office is also kept tidy. However, like a teenager’s room, I could technically leave it as messy as I like but, unlike a teenager’s room, without constantly being told to tidy it up.

There has been some debate around whether occasional home-working is good for the environment. Although less commuting reduces the carbon produced there is some concern that homes will be heated for longer offsetting any environmental benefit. Shed-working means that only a small space needs to be heated; in my case this is with a thermostatically controlled 2 kW Dimplex convector heater that is rarely on. And in summer I just open the windows and cool via cross-ventilation without fear of traffic (air or noise) pollution.

I like to break up the shed-working with occasional co-working; I joined a London club which I use for formal meetings and informal networking. But today I have (man) flu so I am having a “duvet day” and working via laptop – more akin to bed-working than shed-working.
  1. Johnson A (2010) Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution. London: Francis Lincoln Ltd.
  2. Smarta. Shedworking: The cult of the office garden.
  3. Barker R G. (1969) Ecological Psychology: Concepts and Methods for Studying the Environment of Human Behavior. Stanford University Press.

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