Author: Tanya Sweeney. Source: The Irish Times
*Welcome to the office: David Rochford outside the log cabin he uses as home office in his garden in Ongar, Dublin 15. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw*
The traditional Irish office isn’t without its merits: there’s always water-cooler chat, cupcakes on someone’s birthday, and the joy of switching off the computer at day’s end. Yet with the economic landscape shifting beneath our feet, the Irish workplace has moved beyond the office. The sittingroom, attic, garden shed . . . these are the places where people are now spending their working days.
A 2014 survey, carried out on behalf of O2 Ireland, found that about 44 per cent of employees work from home at least one day a month; a third of respondents had set up a dedicated workspace at home; and a third of those who already enjoy flexible working arrangements said they expected the trend to gather pace in the future.
The benefits of working remotely are bountiful: a better work-life balance, increased flexibility, and the opportunity to kick the dreaded commute into touch.
And, as Booterstown-based voiceover artist/radio presenter Mark Manning notes: “You can feasibly sit in your underpants, reading books for audible.com and few are any the wiser.”
Formerly a corporate salesman, Manning now uses his attic as a recording studio for his voiceover work, which runs the gamut from apps and novels to corporate literature and cartoons. The office set-up is simple: a €2,500 Neumann U87 microphone, desk and laptop.
“In this job, because of the acoustics, it’s a case of the less space, the better,” he explains. “I know voiceover artists who have a set-up under the stairs. Years ago, voiceover artists would have to travel to studios in big cities like London to record. Now clients email me a script, and I email them back a file.
“I’m a bit of a (night) owl, and because many of my clients are international, I’m on call 24/7,” he adds. “But the beauty is that you set your own hours.”
Save for the occasional Skype call to a client or author, working solo in the attic is a lonely enough outpost, says Manning. Still, regular radio shows on Christmas FM and Spirit FM have become something of a social outlet.
“I do miss people, but in my estimation you get more done working from home,” he surmises. “There’s more distraction in a workplace, between politics and emotions. Here, it’s a more pure relationship between you and the client. I’ve done the five-star hotels and the Mercedes, and now I’m very much my own motor.”
The home office is not the just the preserve of the artisanal entrepreneur. A growing number of international companies have warmed to the idea of employing digital nomads and telecommuters. Among them is David Rochford, who previously worked as a project manager for Twitter from his home in Ongar, Dublin. Now working for Microsoft, Rochford purchased a cabin from LogHouse.ie, installed it at the end of his garden, and built the wood furniture and panelling himself. The overall effect is clean, woody and minimalist.
“It’s snug as a bug,” he enthuses. “It’s insulated, has Dyson heaters, a desk that holds big monitors and a big-screen TV for conference calls.”
Also in the room are guitars, amps and a cosy couch. “Oh, it’s an out-and-out man-cave,” he laughs. “But from Monday to Friday, it’s very much a workspace.
“The whole reason I went with a home office as opposed to just working at the kitchen table is that I can switch properly into work mode,” he adds. “I could never sit in the livingroom, because inevitably you’ll put on the TV.”
Still, working for US companies can often mean that the hours are longer than a typical 9 to 5 setup: “I’ve only ever worked for West Coast companies, and by the time they’re in work, it’s 5pm your time. I get to take a break in the afternoon to go for a swim or walk the dog, then get revved up again to do a solid four hours.”
Given the gossamer-fine line between work and home, it’s often not unusual for family or friends to visit Rochford at home in ways they might not in a typical workplace scenario, yet he has a canny solution for even that.
“I have CCTV installed, and if people call to the house I just don’t answer the door,” he smiles. “It’s a work day, sorry. That’s how I operate and fortunately, most of my friends know that.”