Working Today’s home office is an evolving concept.
You can access email from your phone anytime, anywhere. You can schedule appointments on your watch. You can make a conference call from your car.
It’s no wonder that fewer homes are being built with dedicated home offices.
At the same time, the number of Americans working from home has skyrocketed in the past couple of decades. That same technology that seems to have signaled the end of the traditional office space has also spurred a rise in homeowners who actually might need that space.
So architects, designers, and home builders have had to rethink that concept.
“Today’s offices are much more flexible rooms with multiple work areas,” says Rhonda Saxton-Williams of Showplace Kitchens. “They have lots of organized storage in functional, high-tech rooms.”
Barb Hyde of Beisser Lumber agrees. “With more streamlined equipment, spaces can be smaller. But the offices we’re doing are often a bit larger as more and more people have the opportunity to work from home.”
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who is self-employed or telecommuting, here are some questions to ask before you start planning your work space for your home.
How do you work?
Even the most beautifully designed work space is useless if it doesn’t fit your needs and you can't use it.
Do you spend your day on a laptop, allowing you to work from anywhere? Do you do close work that requires good lighting and a dedicated work surface? Do you need private space for phone calls or video conferencing?
“One of my favorite features about home offices is how the customer personalizes the space and how they utilize the storage for their specific needs,” says Sarah Mars Haugen of Sunderland Brothers.
“There are a lot of great options to customize your office space,” says Corey Gersdorf of AIM Kitchen & Bath. “Those include built-in computer stations; charging stations with USB ports; storage for desk tops, printers, wireless routers; file storage; desk drawers with built-in keyboard storage.”
With all these options, it’s possible to design a space specifically for your work life that also fits your home.
That leads to the next question you should consider.
Where can you work?
Depending on the type of work you do, you may not even need a dedicated work space. A laptop, cell phone, and access to Wi-Fi make it possible for some employees to work anywhere—from the local coffee shop to the deck of their vacation rental.
Those who can perform their work anywhere, and who can focus despite outside distraction, may find the concept of a dedicated office a waste of space.
In those circumstances, Gersdorf says, “You can look to adding a functional work space in the family room or kitchen. Depending on your lifestyle and needs, you don’t have to have a large space to get a functional office.”
“You can design the area for function with good storage but not a sit-at location. With laptops and large islands, you can use existing spaces for those occasions when you need to sit and work,” Saxton-Williams says. “Instead, the office area can be part of the walk-in pantry, a small room off the kitchen, in a large laundry room, or off an exercise room.”
Hyde also says the smaller computer workstations allow designers to incorporate work spaces anywhere from your family room to a child’s bedroom.
Woodharbor’s Emily Kaldenberg says, “We just completed a work area for a client who simply needed a place to store her laptop and work items when she wasn’t working. We created custom storage for her in the kitchen island.”
Even the most mobile worker needs a place to store work-related materials, like Kaldenberg’s client, whether it’s equipment, files, tax receipts, office supplies, or product samples.
“Homeowners are more concerned about design than they have been in the past, so we are seeing more focus on function as well as design, not one or the other,” says Haugen.
What do you use?
“There are a lot more options today for office spaces than there were in the past,” Gersdorf says. “You have more cabinet options to get a custom built-in look, better organizing options, and advancement in electric accessories as well.”
Cabinetry options have long included roll-out drawers and file systems, but these days they go beyond that. “Cabinet factories are building more options into cabinets, such as custom file slots and message boards,” Hyde says.
Kaldenberg explains, “With the use of laptops and smaller computers, we don’t have to design offices for large equipment anymore. More homeowners prefer storage that hides equipment and looks cleaner, so we’ve used roll-outs with customized height dividers, writing desks that fold up into the wall, and recessed LED lighting above the work space.”
For Saxton-Williams, creating a home office that’s ideally suited to the homeowner is the best part of the design. “I like to use a combination of open shelving and closed areas for storage, like pull-outs for printers,” she says. “Baskets are popular now, and wire baskets add extra interest.”
This is where the design gets personal. Changing lifestyles and changing work lives demand a new approach to home office design.
The home office isn’t extinct—it’s just evolving.