As rents on commercial premises rise, more creative entrepreneurs and businesses are choosing to work from home, and setting up their workplace in their back garden. Whether it’s a micro-publisher, an architecture practice or an artisanal bakery, the commute to work can now be done by stepping out of the back door.
Shedworking is a term that has been attributed to Alex Johnson, after his blog, then his book Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution, and it has fast become a viable alternative for home-based workers who want to maintain a distinction between home and work.
But shedworking is not a new concept; one of Alex’s favourite spaces is the writing hut of George Bernard Shaw in Hertfordshire, UK, which as a National Trust property you can visit. "It rotated, so that he could always enjoy the sun, but was far enough away from the house that he could use it to hide in when he wanted to get away from unwanted visitors. It's quite simple, but also elegant."
Alex has seen a huge increase in the number of people shedworking in the past ten years: "It's largely down to technology - it's just plain easier to work from home now than it was a decade ago, and bosses are generally more willing to allow people to work either full or part-time from home. Also, I think there's been a sea change in how people regard work and how much they want it to dominate their home lives - shedworking certainly allows for a much healthier work-life balance."
Words published with love
Maria C. McCarthy is a Kent-based writer who alongside husband Bob Carling, set up micro-publisher Cultured Llama Publishing in the shed which had been converted for her to write in; "The shed became a space not only for my writing, but for reading submissions, editing books, and later for storing the books and mailing out orders."
Maria explains the evolution of the business; "In 2011, I was laid up with a bad back, and the idea came to me of publishing a book of my poems to raise funds for charity, in memory of a friend who had recently died of cancer. I roped in my husband who has worked in publishing for over 30 years. My book, strange fruits, was published, and we then decided to open to submissions as a commercial micro-publisher. We operate on a shoestring, with the profits from each book largely going to fund the next book. It’s a labour of love, or possible a sign of madness, running a small press."
Pros and cons
There are some immediate considerations for somebody thinking about starting to shedwork.
Advantages include working to your own schedule on your own terms - now there’s no commute you can work what hours you fancy, and you can dress however you want, have your breaks when you choose, and listen to music. It’s easier to focus on tasks as you won’t be constantly interrupted by colleagues asking questions. You get time to plan and consider. Your shed environment can be inspirational if your garden is attractive, and you can design the shed however you like. It can be a good neutral place to meet clients and if you are working in design, you can show it to prospective clients an example.
Disadvantages could be that although having no commute means working whatever hours you fancy, you might end up working much longer hours, so you will need to establish a routine. Your home fuel bills will increase, as you use electricity and heat the shed. Depending on the size and properties of the structure, you might need to seek planning permission or change of use. Some people find it can be lonely with no colleagues to share ideas with, or go for a quick pint after work.
However, Alex Johnson thinks that the pros usually outweigh the cons, so long as you plan beforehand; "Do your research before shelling out any money - in particular, have a good think about exactly what you want, how much you can afford to spend, and what the council regulations are in your area."
Cultured Llama Publishing have recently relocated and no longer have a shed; "Shedworking is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, we have moved away from the house, and don’t have a shed to work in. I miss it."