Who’s working from home these days? A whole lot of people. Almost one-third of U.S. workers in 2013, according to the Census Bureau, and the number increased more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Most employees don’t need to be sold on the idea of telecommunicating. The flexibility, the lack of dress code and the simple comforts of home are enticement enough. But if a boss needs convincing, statistics show that telecommuting is not only beneficial to the individual worker but also good for business. Harvard Business Review recently published a study showing that telecommuters were more productive per minute than on-site workers, thanks to quieter working conditions. Telecommuters also expressed less exhaustion and higher work satisfaction than their on-site counterparts.
Just as smartphones have made workers feel “on the clock” 24/7, the differentiation between living space and work space for today’s telecommuters is blurry at best. Forget the stereotype of the bathrobed worker toiling at the kitchen table; today’s telecommuters have dedicated work space, although not necessarily the kinds of home offices the IRS would allow them to deduct on their taxes.
Five Twin Cities-area telecommuters opened up their home offices for a peek into what inspires them and what helps them get the job done.
The Uptown art lover
Robyne Robinson doesn’t just admire art; she surrounds herself with it. Her eclectic home-office collection makes sense, given the former TV news anchor’s role as the arts and culture director for the MSP Airport Foundation.
Robinson moved into her 2,100-square-foot Uptown townhouse in 2001. She converted the den off the master suite into her home office during her tenure as owner and curator for flatland, an art gallery featuring Minnesota artists, which she ran from 2000 to 2003. In 2004, she founded Rox jewelry, working out of a studio in the California Building for five years before moving her office back home.
“It’s a smaller room, but it’s well-staged so it gives the appearance that it’s got a lot of space,” she said. Robinson works from home about 40 percent of the time, and occasionally meets with jewelry and art clients in the space.
A 1950s vintage steel desk is tucked in an alcove. A table from Blu Dot, a sofa and bookcases containing tomes by Robinson’s favorite authors, such as Banana Yoshimoto, fill the rest of the room.
The office walls used to be seafoam green, but Robinson painted them white, creating a museum-worthy canvas for the art she adores. Personal touches, such as family photos, also adorn the area, which she describes as “soothing.”
Though the room looks out onto the neighbor’s back porch, Robinson can catch a glimpse of Lakewood Cemetery in the distance. “It’s obstructed,” she said of the view, “but you can still daydream.”
The rural radio-show host
The most noticeable thing about Kerri Miller’s home office is the sheer number of books it contains. Miller, host of MPR’s “The Daily Circuit” and Talking Volumes events, reads five to six books a week.
She designed and built her rural Hudson, Wis., home, working with a Scandinavian architect, in 2002. The design reflects the clean-lined contemporary style that Miller fell in love with during a trip to Norway. The third-floor office, off the master bedroom, was in the blueprints from the beginning.
Miller spends the lion’s share of her mornings at MPR, but hunkers down in her home office in the afternoons. “It’s almost impossible to write at the station in the newsroom,” she said. “It’s loud, and there’s lots of interruptions.” The five hours she spends in her home office each day are golden. “That’s when I do the maximum amount of work.”
Natural light was paramount for the space, which overlooks decks in two directions. The views are woodsy. “It’s muted colors in the office, but I surround it with a lot of outdoor color,” Miller said. “It’s the first thing I think about in the spring: What am I going to plant on the deck that’s going to be interesting or colorful to look out into?”
Her large walkout deck acts as an extension of her office in summertime, when Miller strings lights outside and leaves the door to the office open. “It feels like I’ve got another room on the house.”
Inside, a custom desk and bookshelves dominate the room. Among the books Miller keeps at home are signed hardcover copies from Talking Volumes veterans, as well as language books, dictionaries, a thesaurus and theQur’an, a gift from a friend.
Trinkets, which she keeps to a minimum, include a pair of bobbleheads (President Obama and John Kerry), two green ceramic birds that she inherited from her late grandmother and glittery butterflies hanging from the ceiling.
“I don’t like clutter,” Miller said. “I like the minimal feel to it.”
The Lowry Hill lawyer
Attorneys are notorious for taking work home with them, and Brian Melendez is no exception. The managing partner of the Dykema firm’s Minneapolis office converted his attic bedroom into a study soon after purchasing a 1906 brick center-hall Colonial in the Lowry Hill neighborhood.
“When I first moved in, all I had was a desk, a chair, a computer and a printer,” he said. “It’s been decorated slowly over the last dozen years.”
While Melendez initially anchored the space with an office-supply-store desk, he didn’t get too attached; he knew it would eventually be replaced. “After I’d been there a couple of years, I found a rug that was perfect for the room. I unrolled the rug halfway until it hit the desk, then I kept the rug there for four or five years until I got the desk I wanted because I didn’t want the old desk’s footprint on the rug.”
His new desk is solid mahogany and accented by an overhead picture of the U.S. Capitol. Bookshelves accommodate his personal notebooks, while a credenza has become the piling place for his overflow of books. Dormer windows look out on the streets of Minneapolis, while a wall-mounted fireplace adds cozy ambience.
“It’s a fully functional office,” he said. “I work there every evening, usually for a couple hours.”
What makes the space especially cozy is the seating area, which features a cocktail table with four chairs and a chess set. “I use that area when I’m having an event in the house and I want to have a private conversation,” he said.
One thing he doesn’t have in his home office? Plants. “I don’t have plants anywhere in the house,” he said. “I’m awful with plants.”
The north loop designer
“I wanted to create a space that didn’t fight with the openness,” said Liz Gardner of her home office in the Gurley Lofts. Formerly a candy factory, the building has been restored but retains its industrial charm thanks to cinder-block walls, concrete floors and pillars. Those touches sold the design director of Mpls.St.Paul magazine on the North Loop rental over a year ago.
Gardner’s home office is distinct in that it doesn’t have a door, and shares space with the sitting area and kitchen. A trestle with a raw-wood tabletop is pushed up against the many windows, giving Gardner a view of the “hustle and bustle” of the city. She stacks the window ledges with books, magazines and what she calls “tactile inspiration.”
The focal point on the wall is an oversized black-and-white calendar, and a large palm tree adds green to the space. Gardner keeps a sage bundle close at hand, her go-to remedy when she feels creatively blocked. Candles add warmth, while journals and gold desk accessories are scattered throughout.
Gardner works at home about once a week, though weekends are also often spent at home with personal design projects. The large table comes in handy when she teams up with other creative types, including photographer Eliesa Johnson, with whom she often collaborates. Gardner’s Siberian husky puppy is also a constant companion; she demands her share of attention by standing on the chairs.
“It’s a smart and happy place to work,” Gardner said.
The suburban consultant
“I thought we’d live here two years and then move back to the city,” said Michelle Cabbage, a consultant in the legal industry, of her 1989 split-level home in Eagan. “Here we are, 13 years later.”
Cabbage and her musician husband, Aaron, have made updates throughout the house, but didn’t initially have a dedicated home office. “We’ve always had some sort of desk space, but had a tendency to end up at the kitchen table, so we’d have enough room to spread out and work.”
Cabbage “got serious” about having a home office a few years ago, when she began working from home full time. She upsized the desk and moved it into an unused corner of the lower level. She also painted the walls a vibrant green “to jazz it up a little bit,” and hung a piece of artwork that reads, “It’ll cost nothing to dream and everything not to.”
Aaron’s guitars also adorn the walls, while cube-like storage accommodates files, notebooks and office supplies. A combination scanner-printer-fax keeps Cabbage connected.
The office shares the lower level with a pair of couches, a TV and a fireplace. While Cabbage would love to have French doors to separate the spaces, like the “McMansions” that populate her neighborhood, she’s proud of what she and her hsuband have created. “We made something as cool as we could with what we had,” she said. “If I win the lottery, I’ll probably nuke it and start over.”