This home office was converted from a dark and unused loft. Walls were replaced with glass and it was given access to its own private deck. It’s only 90 square feet but has professional lighting and acoustic privacy. Courtesy Rodwin Architecture

Be it fancy or humble, there’s no place like home office

It used to be a storage room, an attic, the spare bedroom in the basement, or even a backyard shed. In more upscale homes, it used to be a parlor or a drawing room.

Now it’s an office.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, more professionals are finding that home is where the work is. And because so many realize that telecommuting will be the new normal, they want that workspace to be a lot more functional than a laptop on the kitchen table.

Home renovation had tailed off dramatically during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, said Scott Rodwin of Boulder-based Rodwin Architecture, but his business spiked in May.

“Because they’re spending more time at home and there’s more intensity in the home — more people doing more things — people are noticing the parts of the home that are not functioning really well for them. Home offices are the number-one thing people are noticing.

“COVID has changed the nature of what a home office is,” he said. “For many people, for a long time, a home office was nice to have. Now it has become a must have.”

Many workers had to make do with whatever spaces were available when work shifted from the office to home. Dallas Heltzell/for BizWest

Businesses like the idea. Since they’ve found that their workers can be just as productive from home, many won’t feel the need to lease large, expensive office spaces. And workers like it too. Long before the pandemic, a “State of the American Workplace” report issued by Gallup in 2016 found that 43% of Americans worked remotely at least part of the time, up from 39% in 2012.

Much of that remote work was done in makeshift space. Rodwin said professionals today want something more functional and permanent.

“We realize that we don’t need a large home office, but we generally do need a dedicated space,” he said. “We still have papers. We still need privacy, because on our Zoom calls we can’t have our kids playing Call of Duty in the background.

“So that means having a small room with a door and decent artificial lighting — a small, dedicated area so we’re not overrunning the public areas and trying to turn them into something they’re not, which is a private office.”

In new construction, Rodwin said, “we typically try to put the home office near the front door. The purpose of that is if you’re seeing people from the outside coming in, which is not all that common but it’s still useful to have a study near the front of the house, in what we would consider the public area.

“It’s not just about having a pretty space, decorative or ornamental any more. It’s truly for function. Because of that, the front office, or the front position of the office positioned near the front door, which was the old-fashioned formality of the drawing room, has given way to people putting the office where they need it to be.”

It doesn’t have to be up front, however, Rodwin said.

“How much privacy do you want? Some people say, ‘I want it in the middle of the house, right off the kitchen, so that if the kids are running around I can still be present. So they don’t fully detach from the activity of the house.

“Then there are other people — and this is the more common one – that want an ‘away’ space – maybe over the garage or a fully separated little shed in the backyard or something like that.”

This nook office is a space-efficient bump off of a family room. It features a custom walnut floating desk by Boulder Furniture Arts. As it’s in a fairly public space, the printer and other office supplies are tucked into a closet. Courtesy alivestudios.com

Mike Koenig’s 12-year-old, Louisville-based Studio Shed has latched onto that latter idea and has seen a surge in business from people who want not just artists’ retreats and “she sheds” but full-fledged, free-standing home offices out back.

“The reason they’re asking for an away space is that they’re used to having the privacy of the regular office where they can go and focus and be separated from the kids running around or just general domestic life,” Rodwin said. “The majority of our clients are finding that if their office is not private, if it’s centered in the middle of the house and if it doesn’t have a closable door, they’re not getting their work done properly. There isn’t the necessary social demarcation for their family to know, ‘Oh, mommy’s working now.’ It’s really helpful if their intention is to use it as an alternative to a commercial office.”

High-tech considerations are at the forefront, and none may be as important as cybersecurity, said Trent Hein, co-chief executive at Boulder-based Rule4.

“We try to educate users on using a secure file-sharing platform and on what data is sensitive and how it can be appropriately protected,” Hein said during a June 4 BizWest webinar. “And if they print a document that might have personal information on it, or might have sensitive business information on it, what do you do with that printout? Do you leave it on the printer for your 13-year-old to grab it and say, “Hey, Mom or Dad, what’s this?” Or do we grab that quickly, do we use it, and then do we have some type of shredder or other destruction device we can use at home to get rid of that paper when we no longer need it?”

Rodwin’s firm has been equipping home offices with Cat5 or Cat6 cabling that can handle high-bandwidth connections, stuffing the walls with acoustic insulation and installing lighting with a television studio in mind.

“If you’ve been on a Zoom call recently where somebody had bad lighting, it’s extremely unprofessional,” Rodwin said. “We’re noticing it more than we ever have because we’re essentially making a movie of ourselves. And bad lighting” — a face tinted blue-green from the computer screen’s light on in silhouette from a bright window behind it, for instance — “really compromises the effectiveness. People are installing better, more even, balanced lighting.”

His customers also are asking for lots of natural light, Rodwin said, “which usually means lighting from two sides of the room whenever possible. Not always possible; you only have one wall to work with. That also typically gives us good natural ventilation where you can get a cross breeze. One of the advantages of working from home is that many commercial offices don’t have operable windows. The majority of offices are sealed. When people are working from home, almost all windows in the house are operable. So it’s creating a different dynamic where you have access to the outside.”

Many customers also are buying their own sit-stand desks,” he said. “It doesn’t take up any more space than a normal desk; they’re simply replacing an old-fashioned standard sitting desk with a sit-stand desk – largely because more people are used to it in their office.”

And because many homes include more than one worker who needs privacy, he said, “in many homes, having two dedicated work spaces will become the norm.”

It used to be a storage room, an attic, the spare bedroom in the basement, or even a backyard shed. In more upscale homes, it used to be a parlor or a drawing room.

Now it’s an office.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, more professionals are finding that home is where the work is. And because so many realize that telecommuting will be the new normal, they want that workspace to be a lot more functional than a laptop on the kitchen table.

Home renovation had tailed off dramatically during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, said Scott Rodwin of Boulder-based Rodwin Architecture, but his business spiked in May.

“Because they’re spending more time at home and there’s more intensity in the home — more people doing more things — people are noticing the parts of the home that are not functioning really well for them. Home offices are the number-one thing people are noticing.

“COVID has changed the nature of what a home office is,” he said. “For many people, for a long time, a home office was nice to have. Now it has become a must have.”

Many workers had to make do with whatever spaces were available when work shifted from the office to home. Dallas Heltzell/for BizWest

Businesses like the idea. Since they’ve found that their workers can…