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Home Office, Garden Office

The business benefits of moving the office home

You have a classy office suite in a listed historic building not far from the centre of Cambridge.  Why would you want to move from there and go to the expense of building an office in your garden at home?

Two reasons, says independent film producer Andy Taplin: flexibility and cost.

"I just didn't need the office space any more," says Andy.  "A big office had become completely unnecessary.  In these days of the Internet, online collaboration, wireless broadband and wireless phones, I could be working anywhere.  And it's also more convenient.  I often work on projects with tight deadlines, so working late at night or early in the morning it is much better to be here than to be stuck in an office a mile away."

Andy in his new fully-fitted office.

Andy's company, Peninsula Films, specialises in communications for science and technology companies.  It provides services such as promotional video and presentations, video training, and filming at conferences and exhibitions.  Staff are brought in according to the nature of the job - like many modern businesses it depends on a reliable network of skilled freelancers.

The nature of the work also means that Andy is not permanently in the office, but spends a lot of time with clients and on location.  Renting an office only to spend a lot of time away from it is not the most effective use of money.

Setting up the Home Office

There are many approaches to setting up a separate space for a business at home.  There are a variety of vendors of garden offices, or you can go for a do-it-yourself approach.  Offices bought "off-the-shelf" can come with varying levels of wiring and fittings, and may have various levels of customisation according to the clients needs.

After some lengthy research, Andy opted for a top-of-the range model from Homelodge. These are some of the key issues that needed to be addressed:

  • Planning permission.  The model supplied, at 12m sq and 3.5m high, is just below a size at which planning permission would be required.  But as Andy's home is in a conservation area, he took no chances and applied successfully for permission.

  • Getting the ground preparation right.  The project ran into some difficulties when the company preparing the ground for the office misinterpreted some specifications - something to watch out for as it can lead to costly delays and the need for work to be done twice.

  • Getting the essentials in place.  The office came decorated, insulated, double-glazed and with air-conditioning.  An electrician was engaged separately to do all the wiring to the office and internal cabling, although garden office companies can provide this themselves. 

  • Good security.  Burglar alarms are a must, but care must also be taken to prevent walk-in thieves taking advantage of an empty office during a tea-break.  Making sure the insurance covers the outbuilding and its contents is also important.

How is it working so far?

Andy says it is working out fine so far: 

"I like having my own space and not having to worry about other people. It's great for work-life balance, spending much less time away from home even if I've got a lot of work to do. 

"I have to watch out that I don't come in to work unnecessarily, or think I'll just do a half hours work which then turns into several hours.

"Downsides?  After 2 or 3 days I feel I need to get out and talk to people!  But usually my job does get me out and about, so I think I have a near-perfect balance."

Janet, Andy's wife, also works from home as a writer and illustrator.  But they are disciplined about letting each other get on with their work, while at the same time enjoying having more time together.

Andy can't see why more people don't do it.  People say they still like regular contact with colleagues, but questions how much of that is just habit?  Certainly travelling up to 2 hours per day just for this contact seems "socially and environmentally just nuts!"

Having clients come to the home can sometimes be an issue. For Andy it's early days yet.

"I don't think my existing clients will care.  it's possible some new ones might wonder 'is this guy the full ticket?'  But if they  don't want to work with me for that reason, I can live without their custom!  The old office had a certain cachet, but that's not a compelling business reason for staying there.  The main thing is that I have a dedicated area for work outside of my house."

How much has it all cost?  In total the project has come in at around 16k - a figure that will soon be recouped in saved rent.  And having a high quality versatile outbuilding will probably add to the value of the house if the Taplins decide to sell and move on.


A Flexibility
case study

The market for purpose built garden offices is a growing one.  In principle they offer cost reductions compared to renting an office, and still provide a dedicated space for doing serious business.  But how do they work out in practice?

To find out, Flexibility editor Andy Lake visited independent film producer Andy Taplin, who has just recently moved his company Peninsula Films to a location around 20 yards from his back door.



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