View from the Desk

I often update Next Starfish sat in my home office, which is a converted shed in my garden.

Building a home office was one of the first few DIY projects we did after moving in, as the house itself isn’t that big and it quickly became clear we’d need some kind of quiet bolthole if we wanted to escape the noise of family life from time to time to get some work done.

Luckily the shed was already there and with a little bit of brickwork, some stud-partitioning and plasterboard and an extension to the electrics it was easy to divide off an area for use as a home office. Inside the shed panels I fixed a breather membrane, and then insulated using sheep wool based insulation -it isn’t quite as efficient as many synthetic products, but it has several other advantages that I think made it a good choice for an occasionally-used home office. The insulation is fixed in place with a polythene damp-proof membrane, and plasterboard fitted over it. I’ve also used thermal curtains over the door and windows, and draft proofing to improve insulation, while retaining sufficient ventilation.

Overall I’m pleased I’ve been able to convert an existing structure rather than build something new.

As well as providing a pleasant place to work, the key advantage of having a home office is that I can work from home. I work four days a week for my employer (downshifting from full time a couple of years ago), and generally try to work one of these from home. This is a great benefit for myself: as I save two hours a day commuting to work and back and the cost of the petrol, for my family: as I can take the children to school in the morning, and for the environment: as I now use 25% less petrol in commuting. I’m also lucky that my employer thinks it’s an advantage for them: in promoting work life balance for their staff.

Obviously not all jobs have the possibility of home working, but if your’s does, or you manage staff who might benefit from home working, I’d certainly recommend exploring all the options. Most technical issues are straightforward to resolve, and the key concern both for staff and their employers is often accountability and ensuring productivity, but there’s no shortage of good advice on how to achieve this to be found around the internet.

There are also thousands of interesting and sometimes inspirational photos of other people’s home office set-ups, as well as the odd photo of a well known individual’s work space . . . neither Al Gore or Steve Jobs’s desks were as organised as you might think !

Pretty much all the furniture and fittings I sued were second hand, the side desk and drawers were from a local charity shop, and cost £10, while the chair was a gift from my parents, who picked it up at their local recycling center for the same amount. The quality of what can generally be found in second hand furniture stores usually far exceeds similarly priced new items, though they might sometimes need a little bit of varnish, paint or minor attention. In many cases items can be restored and improved to a condition better than they were originally; so called upcycling.

Obviously in making use of second hand goods you not only avoid the energy and resources of creating something new, but also reduce the volume of waste that needs to be disposed of. I also believe having older, pre-used items around, also helps counteract the prevailing sense of disposability and consumerism in modern life.

The only real issue is that you can’t be sure in advance what might be available from second hand sources, so it’s probably worth calling in to various stores over a period of time to see what they have, rather than deciding ‘today is the day to buy a new table’, when your choice might be quite limited. Places like Freecycle and Ebay are other possibilities.

I’m particularly pleased with my desk, which I brought recently from Emmaus in Gloucester, as my old worktop style desk had ‘sagged’ a bit. Emmaus are a federation of stores and organisations that are run by communities of former homeless people, developing their skills and self-respect, and supporting their communities in the process.

If there is an Emmaus project in your area it’s well worth a visit, and, I believe, they’re a very worthy organisation to offer your support to.


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