Many people find that having their own dedicated office in their backyard is a really positive thing: one which boosts their productivity whilst eliminating their crappy commute! And there certainly are many advantages to it, as we explore in this article. However before you spend thousands of dollars on a fancy backyard office shed, it is worth being aware of some of the flaws of working in one too.
Advantages Of Working In A Backyard Office
- No commute: one of the most obvious advantages is that there is no commute: well, unless you count the 30 second walk from your backdoor to your backyard office! The average American commute is 26 minutes each way, amounting to almost 4.5 hours each week. Being able to eliminate this completely is a big benefit in terms of your time, but also your health and bills because you will not be sat in traffic burning gasoline and breathing in other vehicle’s exhaust fumes! This will also lower your stress levels because lengthy commutes and being stuck in traffic is a big cause of stress.
- Just what you want/need: you can design and build your backyard office in the way that delivers exactly what you want from it (within standard zoning codes, though, of course!). Ever fancied a dedicated sensory room? Bam, you can have it! Or a soundproofed room for conferences (or simply listening to music when taking a break)? You can naturally build what you want, unlike in a big shared office where you are constrained by whatever has been built already. Similarly, you can buy and install the exact technology and IT equipment that you need without needing to fill in a bunch of forms asking for permission to add a server to the office’s network. Being able to build your office how you like it, and install the technology you require, will ultimately help your business to grow and expand faster.
- Complete focus/higher productivity: we have all worked in noisy, crowded offices where no matter how hard you try to concentrate, someone’s voice seems to rise above all the other noise and interrupt you (even with headphones on!). This is a big annoyance (and yet another cause of work-related stress), and so having your own dedicated office will seem like a utopia in comparison. Being able to completely focus on your work will lead to higher productivity and increase the quality of your work as well.
- Much cheaper: as we explore in our ‘how much will a custom backyard office cost?’ article, you can get a good quality backyard office for $3,000 or less (sometimes a lot less). Shared (colocated) office space is often $200-300, meaning that the pay-off time for a backyard office can be a matter of months instead of years. This compares very favourably to many big business investments (CAPEX) which often has a pay-off time into the years – or sometimes decades! So building a backyard office can often be good business sense, in addition to all the other benefits that it brings.
- Multi-purpose: an office shed is a great place to be 100% dedicated to your work, due to it being quiet, warm/cool (whichever you prefer) and having all the equipment you need – which probably includes a computer and a big TV. Well, when you take a step back, you have just described the ideal games room as well! A place where your children (…let’s be honest, and you!) can go to chill out and play video games or watch TV in the evenings and on weekends. Aside from a games room, a backyard office is a well-built building, so there is no reason why you cannot have a fold out couch bed which can turn your office into a guest room when required: especially if you install a toilet in your office shed.
- More flexibility during the day: a big benefit of working from home (be it inside your home, or in your office) is that you can have more flexibility throughout the day. Need to go to the strip mall to collect some items? No problem. Need to organize an all-day delivery, or a contractor to come and do some work on your house? No problem. This is a very useful feature of working form your own property, since it is much better than having to take vacation or personal days to accommodate small errands which sometimes can only be arranged for weekdays. Another benefit is that if you are having an unproductive hour (or an unproductive day!), you can always go for a walk and switch off. This will actually help your subconscious mind to work through any work problems or writers-block issues you are having, and you will often be able to go back to work refreshed and more efficient than if you did not get away from your desk.
- Climate can be whatever you prefer: some people always seem too cold, some are always too warm. This is a big problem in a shared office: whatever temperature they set it to, at least some people will complain! With your own dedicated office shed, you are fully in control of the internal climate and temperature. Firstly you can build it with the level of insulation you would prefer, but then you can choose when to put on any heating or air conditioning as required. Plus if you want to open a window… you can! Whilst that might sound like a really minor thing, some people in shared offices seem to hate windows being open and complain when people do this. In short, you can be entirely comfortable in your own office shed by having full control of the climate.
- Less pollution: something not often discussed is that a lot of offices are positioned in busy areas (to be near public transport stops, and in areas where there are lots of car parks). But the downside of this is that there can be lots of noise pollution from these busy areas, along with tailpipe emissions causing pollution from the thousands of vehicles driving past each hour. Research by the MIT in 2013 has said that 200,000 early deaths are caused by air pollution each year. In short, escaping a shared office in a busy location into the sanctuary of your backyard office will lead to you experiencing less noise nuisance and potentially harmful pollution.
- Be inspired by nature: as we touched on earlier, going for a walk during the day (be it before, after or during ‘work time’) can be a brilliant thing because it allows you to become inspired by nature. Simply stepping away from your desk and experiencing nature can actually benefit your work, too, because any work challenges will still be ticking over in the back of your mind. Having a nice walk and being mindful of the nature around you can also improve your health (both due to the physical benefits, but also your mental health). In short, being stuck behind a desk for 8-10 hours is worse than working 6-8 hours and going for a few walks and experiencing nature! If there are not many nice walking routes near where you live, consider putting up some nature videos on your television.
- Easier to ‘switch off’ than with home working: some people find that when they are home working (in a room inside their actual house), they can find it hard to switch off from work because they will see that room/area (full of their work) all night and weekend. There is a psychological factor with this, and just seeing work documents can increase people’s stress levels. Having a physical separation between your work and home ‘life’ can really help people to switch off from their work, and start relaxing in their home without seeing work documents everywhere.
- Increase your home’s value: everyone likes a shed, and a fancy shed which can be used as an office is the same. They have been known to increase a house’s value by as much as 5-7% assuming they are in a good state of repair, which means that you could probably make a profit on your backyard office shed assuming that you do not spend five-figures on building it! Even if the backyard office only increases the value of your property by just 2%, this should cover the build cost of your office (assuming a $200,000 property which would increase in value by $4,000).
- Prevents house getting cramped: unless you have a large, purpose built house, a home office is usually based in the smallest bedroom or a small downstairs room. The downside of such rooms is that it is very easy for it to become a random storage room, with all those lovely household items which are not used frequently ending up in there! Plus if guests come to stay, you might find your ‘home office’ being converted into a temporary sleeping area. Either way, a dedicated backyard office is harder to turn into an impromptu storage or sleeping area.
- Wear what you want: this is a general benefit of working from home, although you can naturally wear what you want when working in your backyard office. If you feel cold and fancy wearing a Pokémon onesie, you can (although you might get some weird looks if you have to answer the door of your house)! Or to use a more realistic example, if you tend to be warm, then wearing shorts and sandals will cause no issues – whereas it can sometimes raise some eyebrows in an office environment.
- Can be self-sufficient: you have complete control over how your backyard office is built, which means that you could always make it eco-friendly. You can use sustainable building materials where possibly, along with putting solar panels on the roof which can store up energy in a battery which your electrical equipment can then run-off (at least partially). You could also add guttering and capture the rain water, and use this for watering your garden. A purpose built office block is very unlikely to be eco-friendly or self-sufficient, so by having a backyard office you are helping to do your bit for the environment.
Disadvantages Of Working In A Backyard Office
- Not as professional: if you have the occasional client or employee coming to the office, a fancy shed in your backyard might not present as much of a professional image as taking them to a purpose built office with meeting rooms. Therefore it is worth thinking through the work you are planning on doing, and potentially know of options for nearby meeting room space if you do need to have any meetups.
- Might not be allowed visitors/employees: depending on your local planning/zoning codes, you might not be able to have clients or employees coming to your backyard office because this is a ‘business activity’, and some residential areas do not allow this. This is the same thing as not allowing people to convert their front room into a shop or hairdressers! Such restrictions could harm the expansion of your business, however, so do think through whether your backyard office might ‘go to waste’ after a year or two (if you do plan on growing quickly).
- Less inspiration: some people find that working in a company office (or shared office space) alongside like-minded people helps to give them inspiration for their own work. Working solo from your own dedicated office will naturally not give the opportunity for this source of inspiration. Of course, this point is very person-specific: many people find shared offices to be noisy and distracting, and anything but a source of inspiration! But some people just prefer working in a large office, as we look at below.
- Not everyone likes solo-working: not everyone is ‘wired up’ the same way, and some people simply dislike working by themselves. Some people miss the social aspect of working with others in an office, whilst others actually find it hard to concentrate when it is just them and their computer (without the common din of backyard office noise). Equally, some people enjoy working from home once or twice a week, but not five days a week. If you have never worked from home before, consider a ‘trial period’ of a few days a week (if you are able to) before going through the effort and cost of building a backyard office.
- Cost and effort of the build: the cost for a typical backyard office can vary from $3,000 to $6,000, and building your backyard office can also be a big effort. Even if you pay someone else to build it for you, you still need to coordinate various contractors (with different specialities) and put up with the disruption to your backyard. Either way, it is not a trivial building project so do factor in the cost and effort before launching into your office shed project. It is not all bad, though: as per advantage #4 above, the cost pay-off time for your office build will be low (usually a matter of months and not years).
- Strict local planning/zoning laws: different areas have different planning/zoning laws, and some might be strict about building a bigger-than-average shed with electrical power running to it for your backyard office project. Therefore make sure that you double check your plans with your local planning officer because you do not want your business to be interrupted with a zoning violation in the future.
- Actual offices may have better heating and cooling: actual office blocks might have better heating and cooling than your own DIY build, especially if you are on a budget which limits how much insulation you are able to put in. They will also probably have air ventilation/filtration systems and air conditioning, so a big office can offer some good climate features. Having said that, as we explore in advantage #7, there is never a ‘perfect’ temperature which suits everyone. A poll of office workers found that 42% of workers think that their office is too warm, compared to 56% who think that it is too cold: meaning just 2% of workers who think the office is the right temperature!
- Harder to ‘switch off’ at end of day: whilst a backyard office makes switching off from work easier than having an office room inside your house (as per advantage #10), it is a little harder switching off compared to leaving an actual office block and commuting home. The act of physically driving miles away from your office does help our brains to switch off from work – something which does not happen to the same extent when walking 30 seconds from your backyard office to your house!
- Might be out of the way : one of the benefits of enduring a painful commute is that a company office is usually in a fairly convenient location: in the middle of a city, nearby shops and restaurants. In this situation, it can be very handy to quickly pop to the shops during your lunch break or after work, or meet up with friends at a restaurant. This is naturally not possible if your house is more remote, possibly in the suburbs or countryside where shops and restaurants are not within walking distance.
- Pay your own bills: when you work for a company in their office, or within shared office space, they will usually take care of energy bills along with tea/coffee supplies. You will probably need to cover these in your backyard office (unless you are an employee working remotely, in which case the company might offer reimbursement for some of your expenses). This would need to be accounted for if you are considering whether a backyard office is a financially viable plan for you/your business. Of course, if your electrical equipment is cheap to run and you do not plan on using much heating, you might find that your backyard office has cheaper bills than if you contributed to a shared ‘electric and heating bill’ fund in an actual office block.
- Still tied to ‘fun’ company rules (if an employee): if you are an employee (i.e. you do not run your own company), you will still naturally have to abide by the rules of your company. And whilst there are some great companies out there, there are also some bad companies (or bad bosses) which might force you to stick to some weird, arbitrary rules. If you are finding that a bad company and/or their weird rules are the main source of your frustration, simply working in a backyard office will be unlikely to reduce your stress levels.
- Repairs and security: you will have to handle general building maintenance and repairs with your backyard office, or pay someone to do it for you. This naturally leads to financial cost and effort which you would not have to do if you worked in shared offices. Security is also something you will need to consider. Whilst your house insurance should cover outbuildings, be sure to check whether they cover a backyard office (or a ‘shed with electrical power and some electrical equipment’!). Plus even if you are insured, you will still want to protect your office against break-ins and theft: having your valuable work equipment stolen will set your business back weeks (or more if you do not take backups). Whilst it is written for tiny houses, many of our security tips apply to backyard offices as well.