Working from home is on the rise and it’s reflected in the properties people are looking for, says Lucy Denyer
Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Yahoo, caused something of a storm recently when she issued an email to all her employees banning anyone from working from home, on the pain of sacking. This side of the Atlantic, British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has also admitted that she refuses all requests to work from home, because she believes in ‘the creative collectivity of the office’.
Despite these pronouncements however, home working, at least part of the time, is very much on the rise in Britain: some 94 per cent of organisations now offer flexible working, and 50 per cent of us work from home sometimes, according to the Institute of Leadership & Management. Every year in Britain, around 100,000 more people become homeworkers.
And when it comes to buying houses, our new working practices are increasingly something to take into account. Almost everyone, it seems, looks at a floor-plan to work out where to squeeze a desk, a filing cabinet and a printer, be it in that small space under the stairs or the tiny ‘third bedroom’ that can barely fit a bed.
‘The demand for home office space has never been so acute,’ says Guy Shaw, manager of John D Wood & Co’s Oxford office. David Henderson, head of Strutt & Parker’s Shrewsbury office, agrees. ‘We are undoubtedly seeing an increase in demand for properties with home offices,’ he says. And, he adds, the demand is being matched by vendors, with many sellers converting bedrooms, dining rooms and outbuildings to home offices. ‘People don’t want the lounge with a computer in the corner any more,’ points out Liam Howley, a partner in Putterills estate agents in Hertfordshire. ‘They want a dedicated room. They want their house to be dual purpose – somewhere to live and practical too.’
But what do you really need to make a home office work? Number one is broadband speed. ‘Broadband speed is as important as the quality of the house,’ says Frank Speir, a director at the search agency Prime Purchase. ‘Where it is slow, a buyer will factor in the cost of installing digital fibreoptic cabling into the offer made on a property.’ Broadband speed can be a deal breaker, agrees Jonathan Harrington, director of Harringtons property advisory company, who says some clients have refused to buy the otherwise perfect house because of it.
On a similarly technological note, good mobile connectivity is also a must – there’s no use having the perfect home office if your mobile only gets one bar – and who hasn’t been frustrated when they have to press themselves against a window to take an important phone call?
Separate space is also a preferred option. The more flexible the space can be, the better – if a home office can double up as guest accommodation, or be converted at some stage into an annexe for a dependant relative or children, then all the more desirable. A super-shed at the bottom of the garden can also play out well for the home worker – Steve Warr, managing director of Greed Studios, has seen an increasing demand for his garden rooms to be used as home offices rather than just as an extra space to relax.
Even in the city, there are certain requirements – Karelia Scott-Daniels, managing director of Manse & Garret Property Search, says that many of her clients also prefer to be a minimum of five minutes from a coffee shop (you’ve got to have an alternative workspace with readily available caffeine to stop you going crazy).
And of course, sad though it is for those home workers who would like to pretend the office doesn’t exist, a vague proximity to your employer does help. Particularly, it seems, if you’re planning on getting a job at Yahoo or Vogue…