Shedworking: the cult of the garden office

Haven't you heard darling? Slick Soho office space is so last year. The chicest, most bang-on-trend of office space this season is... wait for it... the humble garden shed.

Shedworking, as it's affectionately known by fans, actually refers more broadly to working from any edifice in one's garden: most commonly custom-built garden studios and offices, though renovated sheds are not unknown. Check out this lovely little number, by way of example, from Booths Garden Studios:

booths 2 - pretty

The cult of the shed is becoming quite the social phenomenon. Those rickety wooden slats tucked away in among the brambles and the compost bins have drawn the attention of none other than London's mecca of museums, the V&A, which ran an exhibition dedicated to National Shed Week earlier this year. There's been a whole coffee-table book devoted to shedworking, aptly titled Shedworking. Even BBC Radio 2 has caught on - last month it featured Alex Johnson, Shedworking's author and founder of Shedworking.co.uk.

We decided to track down Johnson and find out what all the fuss is about - and look at whether shedworking is something all you homeworkers and prospective homeworkers should be considering, as an alternative to shoehorning your business into an overcrowded study.

Shedworking - why it works

Johnson says in the last few years he's seen the number of specialists selling garden offices go up from five or six to more like 20 to 25. "It's partly because of the recession and the general trend of more people working from home, and partly being able to work there now thanks to broadband."

But it's not just these two factors driving people to the more remote corners of their landholding. Shedworking, with all the peaceful isolation it brings, frees you from two of the worst culprits of unproductive in-house working: noise and distraction, in all their deviant forms. It's also much less hassle on a day-to-day basis if you're currently space-sharing - i.e. having to hurriedly shove your work-things to one side of the kitchen every time a meal is served.

There's a more subtle element at play for shedworking devotees too: "You're psychologically starting the day [when you go there] - it's like going to the office," Johnson explains. Except you get to bypass the sweaty, arduous, face-in-stranger's-armpit commute - and all the time that normally takes. "You just get a better work-life balance. It feels healthier," Johnson smiles.

And you can tailor and personalise your working environment precisely to your tastes. Which can be quite a blessing, as anyone who's ever had a domestic over wall colours knows.

The nitty-gritty

Having your workspace in the garden isn't necessarily a cheap option, but it's more cost-effective than getting an extension or conservatory built: fully fitted-out garden studios start at around £3,000. Not every business has that kind of cash handy, of course, so the investment hinges on how long-term you think you'll need it for - and whether you really do need it.

On the plus side, a good garden studio can add up to 5% to the value of your property, and works well as a selling point in competitive markets. And a few thousand pounds is still considerably cheaper than renting office or workshop space in many cases.

You need to follow some planning regulations too. Your studio has to be at least 5m away from your house, and if it's taller than 2.5m you need planning permission (which normally takes about eight weeks to come through). It's not allowed to take up more than 50% of your garden either. It's worth talking to your planning authority just to be on the safe side - if you're in a conservation area or your house is a listed property you definitely need to.

Shedworking - how to get it right

It is possible to convert an existing shed into a home office, but by the time you've factored in heating, security, insulation and cleared the whole thing out and refitted it again, you might as well have invested in a new one. (Although you could get away with it if you only need to work there in the summer and aren't keeping any expensive equipment in there.)

You can buy a studio from a DIY centre and build and fit it out yourself for as little as a few hundred pounds if you're clever about it, going up to a couple of thousand the flashier you get. Ask staff in Homebase or B&Q for advice. Be warned that things like electrics and heating can get complex - and if you haven't had experience wiring things up before you'll be safer leaving it to the pros.

If you do go with a professional garden studio company, expect to pay £4,000 - £10,000 for a basic model, such as the one below (again from Booths Garden Studios, coming in at £8,397):

booths 4

That will include a door with a sturdy lock, double glazing, heating, electrical sockets, and proper flooring - so it really is a mini office. Prices go up to more like £35,000 - £40,000 if you want a shower, kitchen or mezzanine level.

Upping your budget can also afford you more contemporary designs, such as Roost's Oval, which starts at £20,400:

roost oval

Though you can find more affordable cutting edge studios - the Archipod comes in at £12,000:

archipod

You may need a concrete foundation laid for your studio, which is normally £2,000 - £3,000, although with some companies the studios have been designed specifically to side-step that requirement. The type of soil you're on shouldn't make any difference or cause problems.
Iain Wetherell from Booths Garden Studios says most of his customers buy the biggest studio they can afford. "We sold a lot of smaller 12 x 10 foot studios last year, but this year they've been bigger - up to 26 x 12.

"12 x 10 is a good size. They can have showers and toilets. But the problem is the drainage gets really expensive. You have to empty it down the toilet in your house." All the other essentials you'd expect from an office - fuse-box, lighting, electrical sockets, toughened glass and multi-bolted doors - come as standard from Booths and many other retailers, but definitely check all these things with whoever you buy from. If nothing else, their answers will provide a gauge of their reputability. Decide whether you need air conditioning too. Once that's all sorted, Wetherell says your studio should be 'basically as safe as your house', so leaving expensive equipment in there needn't be a worry.

The electrics running between your studio and house need to be done by an electrician, and don't usually come as standard with the studio build. Ask for what's called the 'armoured cable' (it's a legal requirement to have that type) to go above ground rather than underground to cut costs.

Phone lines and broadband will depend on your service providers and wiring set-up, as will costs for connecting your home with your studio. You need to work out whether you want a separate phone line - and figure out all of this well in advance of purchasing a studio. Consider devices such as a Wi-Fi booster for internet connection.

Decoration is in the eye of the beholder, but keep an eye out for space-saving and fold-up urniture if you're tight on square metres. Any built-in insulation should combat external noise, but soft furnishing will help too if you expect it to be a problem.

Combating loneliness

The only downside to this haven of peace and isolation is the odd spot of loneliness. So, in case you do get into shedworking and are ever struck by feelings of isolation, check out Johnson's shedworking site, and @shedworking on Twitter. Both have busy communities. Make sure you get to plenty of offline networking events too. Social media should complement real life, not replace it. And you always have the Smarta community. In fact, you could even start your own shedworking group there right now.

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