Redefining home offices

Not too long ago, I kept a spare bedroom as a home office. I had an elaborate desk system from Container Store with several tiers of shelving used to house reference binders, work materials, office supplies, books and various tchotchkes. At the time, it was not only necessary, but essential for work – to research, contact clients and do administrative work at any time possible, day or night.

Ironically, half of my real estate work was done away from the computer: visiting properties, meeting with clients and developers, checking out sites in person, among other things.

The elaborate home office was more of a convenience for when I needed to do things at the computer, either early in the morning, or later at night. This behavior created two different scenarios; I generally worked more throughout the week. 80+ hour weeks were common; as I spent much of my free time at home doing real estate related matters, instead of enjoying downtime. Secondly, my interactions with others were lowered. Working remotely allowed me less opportunity to talk with others in the office or industry to find out about current news, developments and opportunities, which was reiterated in “work” as I kept up with news, industry research, and related media.

My previous situation wasn’t completely unique, as many others who work remotely go through similar behaviors and scenarios. But that slowly changed…

Sixty percent of employers let their employees telecommute. A threefold increase from 1996, according to 2016’s annual survey by the Society for Human Resource Management

It is not just a trend for individuals like myself, but for many. Descriptions of “home offices” in home listings have slowly disappeared. Zillow has experienced a drop of the mention of “home office” by 20% from the year before. It’s not that these rooms no longer exist, but diverging trends and needs have changed these spaces to meet new demands from home buyers.

The home office has been redefined by home buyer needs

Employers and employees alike look to accommodate telecommuting for this organizations.

Empowered by smart phones, hot spots, readily available Wi-Fi at most destinations, many people have taken the idea of working remotely to be truly remote. With the rise of technology most tasks can be accomplished from almost any location, so long as you have battery (or a nearby outlet) and a solid internet connection.

This hasn’t made the home office obsolete, only the dynamics of how it’s used.

With the rise of shared work spaces that offer traditional offer amenities such as conference room, desk, meeting rooms or even a printer, many people are no longer tied to a physical office or home office to accomplish office work. With more choices and freedom, the home office has adapted into a flex type space. Without the need to house a meeting space, or various printers and office equipment, the home office dynamic has changed.

With the rise of shared work spaces, business clubs and other venues to work in, homeowners and residents can reallocate space once designated for the home office towards other used. This “flex” space now needs to be able to convert to a home office, when needed, and then perhaps to an art or yoga studio the next.

This, in turn, has changed how developers and home sellers approach the market when selling a home, commercial space, or true flex space.

With devices encompassing many people lives, the need for outlets is essential. Not just one or two on a wall, but several to power the computer, TV, laptop, chargers for the phone and tablet, and a multitude of other electronics.

Additionally spaces are no longer enclosed, and separate from the rest of the home. They are now opened up and serve as an extension of the living spaces in order to fulfill different needs of homeowners, and potentially create interest from potential home buyers. It is typically easier to enclose a space off versus opening up the space when considerations of electrical, environmental, and structural concerns have to be considered.

In some newer built homes, developers are offering a flexible “nook” adjacent to the living or family room to serve as an extension for entertainment as needed, or for working from home, as needed.

More home buyers are looking for flexible spaces that accommodate work without taking away from other home spaces.

When preparing to sell a home, many home sellers are deconstructing a traditional home office into a flexible type space to appeal to a wider range of potential home buyers before placing their home for sale on the market.

This is reiterated through many younger home buyers that I work with who strongly prefer to not have a formal home office. Considering that the a home buyer can pay at least a few hundred dollar per square feet in the Chicago Loop for a condo, many prefer to spend their money in areas that serves more than one function.

The change in home offices and rise of shared work spaces has also changed for how sellers, landlords and developers of commercial spaces approach the market. Tenants and buyers of commercial office spaces are similarly lined with their residential counterparts. They are seeking unique spaces that serve multiple functions. Companies who purchase or lease a commercial space understand the change in office dynamics and reallocate traditional “desk space” to other company functions, or even look for smaller footprints to save on overall costs.

Though office space still needs to serve vital office functions such as having a conference room, desk areas, storage/filing, etc, man organizations are incorporating non-standard office features into their space. Similar to the adaptation of the home office, office spaces have added on entertainment areas, for use for employees and visitors alike. Lounge areas are also planned for, to help with team building. Even open spaces are sometimes opted for in lieu of private offices or cubicles.

Threadless offices in Chicago in the West Loop

Threadless’ previous office space in the West Loop, Chicago  featured an indoor basketball court, game room, skateboard half pipe among other amenities. They moved a few blocks north just a couple of months ago.

How long this trend will continue largely depends on the changing environment of the work place and how future individuals prefer to work.

Given the recent announcement of France’s after hours email policy, this could further advocate future home buyers into not having a home office at all (CNN “France gives workers ‘right to disconnect’ from office email“).



Sherwin L. Sucaldito, REALTOR®, GREEN, ABR, CRPM
The Institute of Luxury Home Marketing
Green REsource Council, GREEN
Accredited Buyer’s Representative , ABR
Certified Residential Property Manager, CRPM
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