(TNS) — Before the pandemic hit, working at home was the exception, not the rule. But what was a novelty is likely to become a more permanent reality, and that is driving a hunt for alternatives to plopping down a laptop on the kitchen table.
About one in five employers expect to have 40 percent or more of their staff at a remote location come next spring, according to a survey last month from The Conference Board. Before COVID-19 hit, only 3 percent were that open to out-of-the-office work arrangements.
“People are like, ‘This is driving me crazy — this is not good for our family dynamic. One or both of us need to get out of the house,’ ” said Mike Koenig, president of Studio Shed in Louisville, recounting what his company is hearing from customers.
The maker of pre-fabricated sheds has seen its orders rise five-fold since the pandemic hit. And almost all of the buyers, 95 percent, plan to use its modern-style sheds with interior finishes as home offices or work studios, not storage. “It has gone meteoric for us,” he said. Demand is so strong the company added a night shift to handle shipments. The manufacturer has gone from around two dozen employees to closer to three dozen to meet orders for the sheds, which start at around $20,000.
Nearly half of workers report that their mental health has deteriorated since they began working at home, according to a survey conducted by KPMG. Part of that reflects the added workload employees face as colleagues are furloughed or let go.
Koenig suspects the lack of separation between work space and personal space could also be contributing to mental stress. Home is meant to be a sanctuary from work, a place to enjoy your family and detach. Now more people are finding no escape.
Erin Miller, who lives in Centennial, was already working from a small home office before the pandemic hit, doing copy editing and document layout. She and her husband, who shared the space occasionally, had weighed whether to build an addition to accommodate a larger office. But the high cost and a 16-month construction schedule gave them pause. Then the pandemic hit.
“With the stay-at-home order, my husband had to move part-time into the office with me this spring, which was not ideal for either of us,” Miller said. The two had considered a Studio Shed years earlier and revisited the option.
The Millers purchased a 10×16 foot shed with lap metal siding on May 15 and completed it in early July. The footprint was small enough to not require a permit with the city, although they did need a permit for the electrical work. They hired a certified installer to speed up the construction time and to deal with drainage issues in their yard.
“My commute to work is a bit longer — out the back door and across the grass instead of just down a flight of stairs — but the space is welcoming,” Miller said. She also uses the shed to relax after work or visit with friends, but there has been one complication.
“My biggest problem is keeping my two teenagers from trying to take over the space — they think it’s really cool and regularly offer suggestions as to how they and their friends might like to hang out in the space,” Miller said.
Build It With An Office
Six months into the pandemic, some builders are convinced enough that remote work is here to stay that they have reconfigured their designs to include dedicated offices.
“The number of folks we see who have a home office has gone way up,” said Randy Carpenter, president of KB Home’s Colorado Division. “They tell us stories about working from their kitchen table or their couches or their garages. That make-shift workplace is not working for them.”
Prior to the pandemic, about 5 percent to 10 percent of those visiting a sales office might be working at home, Carpenter said. Now that figure is running closer to 40 percent and will likely remain elevated in the years ahead.
KB Home has redesigned some of its existing plans to provide home offices that look more like work offices rather than bedrooms repurposed as a den with a desk dropped in. Models showing the new configurations should be available for viewing next month at Baseline Villas in Broomfield, Cooperleaf in Aurora and Flatiron Meadows Villas in Erie.
The offices come with built-in cabinets, shelves and countertops that serve as desk space. There are USB jacks, data connection points and electrical outlets that mimic what people would find at work. And the rooms have extra soundproofing so the kids or pets don’t interrupt that important video call.
KB Home includes the offices without expanding the footprint of the house. The extra finishes add about $2,000 to $4,000 to the cost of a more traditional design, Carpenter said.
Denver-based M.D.C. Holdings Inc. also has revamped the plans at its subsidiary Richmond American Homes to help homebuyers adapt to the pandemic.
Like KB Home, it is offering more options when it comes to home offices or integrating technology into other rooms so people can use them as workspaces. But the company has also expanded its Sunstone Plan to convert the fourth bedroom into multiple uses — teen center, an extended workspace or a home gym.
“Many homeowners are living in a home that no longer makes sense for them, and we want to offer solutions,” Heidi Sheldon, the company’s national vice president of marketing, said in a release.
Long after the pandemic has passed, the physical changes made to living spaces will be visible.
A Mountain Getaway
Another way to cope with the cabin fever that working at home can generate is to rent another home, preferably one within driving distance that offers a change of scenery.
High Rocky Homes co-founders Nadim Tannous and Alex Haler, like many owners of vacation properties, didn’t know what to expect regarding the future of short-term rentals after travel ground to a halt.
But the two, who either own or manage more than 50 properties in Colorado, California and Florida, have gone from worrying about survival in April and May to coping with a flood of requests.
“In June and July there was a surge in activity of people going up to the mountains wanting to getaway. We have had historic occupancy rates the last couple of months,” said Tannous.
Haler adds that initial predictions of a wave of panic selling depressing second home prices never materialized. Instead, the opposite has happened. More people are buying in resort areas to escape big cities, and the available inventory has tightened.
Not only did occupancy roar back, but guests were staying for long periods of time. For Tannous, that meant they were either taking extended vacations or, more likely, that they were working remotely.
Guests started asking for something that was a rare request before — desks in their rooms. The requests became so frequent that Tannous and Haler are complying, even converting one room in their 10-bedroom lodge in Leadville into an office area.
“If they can work remotely what does it matter if they are working from their apartment or house or further away,” Tannous said. He also notes that many guests don’t always tell their employers where they are actually located.
Guesty, a property management service that High Rocky Homes uses, has seen a 117 percent increase in reservations of 90 days or more. It is also seeing more spur-of-the-moment rentals. In July, for example, a majority of bookings came within seven days of arrival.
Bookings for holidays periods, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, are running lower than they did this time last year, the company said. That might change given the trend to booking closer in. But if it doesn’t, it could also reflect workers not needing a remote office over the holidays.
Even Las Vegas is getting in on the act. MGM Resorts earlier this month unveiled its “Viva Las Office” packages that offered discounted room rates, food credits and flexible check-in times at Bellagio and ARIA resorts. Weekdays only though.
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