The first do-it-yourself backyard office

If you telecommute or run a home-based business, you know that sometimes real life can interfere with work. The interruptions, the crying, the runny noses, the diapers that need changing – it’s just like being at the office.

Sometimes, a dedicated corner of the den or even a room of its own doesn’t provide the isolation and focus you need in a home office. Enter Langley, B.C.-based Cedarshed and what it bills as the first do-it-yourself backyard office kit.

Cedarshed has been making gazebo, pavilion and garden shed kits of – naturally – red cedar since 1980. It’s newest product, the Ultimate Backyard Office, is a freestanding outbuilding suitable for office use that can be assembled in a day, if you happen to be good at that kind of thing.

As it’s a new product – and, at about $15,000, a big-ticket item – no one from the company could get me inside the finished article for a peek around. From the pictures I’ve seen, though, it looks airy and spacious (10-by-12 feet, with an attached 9-by-9 deck), but then any office looks spacious when it’s sparsely decorated and isn’t piled floor-to-ceiling with crap.

The design, says Cedarshed president Bruce Chen, is based on the company’s popular line of all-season hot tub enclosures. Add a foot to the height, double doors and bigger windows – “It’s a small, confined space,” says Chen, so bigger windows give it some air – and you have the office. It’s panelled, so aside from the footprint, it’s customizable to accommodate heating, air conditioning and other options, and the walls have two-by-four studs to allow for insulation. Chen says they’ve had more than 50 requests from all over the U.S. and Canada. Most of the traffic has been generated by press and careful search engine optimization. Most have been from home workers looking to “recapture their home space,” Chen says.

David McCullum is eyeing one at the moment. His company, Digitally Hip, does outsourced tech support for companies that are big enough to need a nerd, but don’t want one full-time, “so we rent them a nerd,” says McCullum.

McCullum lives on Bowen Island, a municipality of about 3,300 located a 20-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. (The Web site for the Bowen Island Chamber of Chambers, by the way, opens with this visitors’ warning: “Due to a variety of events, Bowen Island has NO gas station at this time.”) About 40 per cent of the population commutes to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland to work. It’s a four-hour round trip, and McCullum wants to make it as infrequently as possible.

“We used to have room for years, but we’ve just converted our (home) office into a suite for my father-in-law,” McCullum says, so the Ultimate Backyard Office has an appeal. There’s an obvious location for the shed on his two-and-a-half-acre plot. “Coincidentally, it’s almost as far away from the house as you can get,” he says, affording “better separation between work and real life.”

There are obvious benefits. But it’s a change from the norm, so there are many things to take into consideration, for example:

Obviously, you’re going to need high-speed and phone connections to your backyard office. Think Wi-Fi might be what you need, or possibly WiMax? Pshaw. Have the phone company run a T3 right to your desk. Let’s not mess around. (For the record, McCullum has three high-speed providers to choose from who’ll run a line to the shed; he’ll communicate back to the house with Wi-Fi.)

Keep only what you need for the workday in the shed, for the sake of space and safety. Use a laptop and take it inside at night; a desktop might get lifted in a break-in. Keep your important data files on a server in the house. You’ve got a T3 now, remember? Paper files you don’t immediately need can be stored inside, conveniently close to the fireplace.

Security is imperative for an outbuilding of this nature. An alarm system is a minimum requirement. Electrifying windows and doors has legal, moral and safety implications; don’t do this unless you’re really, really mean and well-grounded. Dogs make good company during the day – flatulence notwithstanding – and are a great deterrent at night. Choose from the breed of dog referred to by knowledgeable breeders as “large.” If you can’t manage a dog – because, for example, you’re allergic or read Steven King novels – consider building a very large doghouse next to the office. On the front, in big letters, paint an intimidating name, say, Rex, Satan or Mike Tyson.

For the love of all that’s holy, please don’t take my advice seriously.

Dave Webb has been taken out behind the woodshed more than once.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
A journalist of 20 years experience in newspapers and magazines. He has followed technology exclusively since 1998 and was the winner of the Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in the eEconomy category in 2000. (The category was eliminated in 2001, leaving Webb as the only winner ever.) He has held senior editorial positions with publications including Computing Canada, eBusiness Journal, InfoSystems Executive, Canadian Smart Living and Network World. He is currently the editor of ComputerWorld Canada and the IT World Canada newswire.

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