Tiny offices provide peace and quiet for stay-at-home workers, remote learners
It took a few months, but a Lake Forest family recently came to a hard realization about pandemic living.
"Our house seemed big when we used to leave it and go places," Catherine Stewart said. "With four kids and the prospect of working from home for a more extended period of time, while now also having online learners and a toddler in the house, we needed more space.
It gets absolutely crazy in the house, and you need a place to go and focus and concentrate."
Stewart, an attorney, needed a completed workspace, and she and her husband, Ted, a gym teacher and athletic director at Lake Forest Country Day School who is also working from home, readily admit they're not especially handy. They needed a finished space, and they needed it quickly.
"My husband's online classes would make it sound like I was in the middle of an exercise studio," Stewart said. "I'm sitting on calls all day where it sounds like I'm in a spin class. It was not ideal."
Their big house needed big help. They found it in a tiny office.
The tiny office is a kind of combination of the tiny house and backyard "she-shed" trends, said Bob Clarizio Jr., founder and CEO of the Elgin-based Bantam Built-The Tiny House Co.
Clarizio founded Bantam Built in 2015 when the tiny house movement was climbing toward its cultural peak.
"When we started, there were only about 10 companies (nationwide). By 2018, there were probably about 70 legitimate companies," he said. "The market was saturated, and there were too many dogs at the bowl."
Bantam Built pivoted and started working more with the hospitality and accommodations industry, making unique, tiny hotels. From March 2019 to March of this year, they built 70 to 80 units for the hospitality industry.
But when the pandemic hit and orders slowed, Clarizio came up with the small office idea, which he markets under the product name INshed. He originally built the 8-foot by 12-foot office model, featured outside his company's building on Coombs Road in Elgin, as an office for him to use.
He said his company has received a lot of attention lately from a national television appearance on "Fox & Friends."
"People have been contacting us (from) all over the country. We've had to designate someone in our office to just handle inquiries. It's really a solution for so many different people with all sorts of unique needs, wants and budgets," Clarizio said. "Either they need a quiet place to work from home or they need a space for their child to study and learn -- especially with the Zoom classes, this becomes a great classroom."
The company has sold about 20 to 30 tiny offices since the pandemic began and work-from-home became a reality for many.
A new survey by 451 Research, a unit of S & P Global Market Intelligence, reveals that two-thirds of 575 small, medium and large companies intend to keep their work-from-home policies in place long term or permanently. Twitter and Square, for instance, recently told their employees they can work from home permanently.
Each of Clarizio's tiny offices can be built in three to four days. Most are built in multiples on an assembly line at the company's 15,000-square-foot warehouse in far west Elgin over seven or eight working days.
The average price for the 8-foot by 12-foot model is about $12,500. The company also offers 8-foot by 10-foot and 8-foot by 8-foot sizes.
"It's a four-season, fully insulated structure with premium shiplap interior, commercial flooring, heat and air conditioning, LED lighting, sliding patio door and large windows," Clarizio said. Add-ons could include a built-in sound system and Alexa voice control.
"We wanted to make something that was appealing and that was built to last," Clarizio said. "We're building a product that is of the same quality of a home and in theory should last 30 years. We just call it a shed because it's the easiest way to get it in to someone's backyard without causing a ruckus."
The Stewarts added radiant floor heat to their tiny office, at the suggestion of their 15-year-old son. The "office" is under construction and will be delivered in the next week or two, the family said.
Catherine Stewart said she will use the space as an office and intends to stay there even after the pandemic subsides.
"It's nice to not to have to commute, and the reason I would go in to the office sometimes is for the peace and quiet and to have kids not constantly interrupting," she said.
"And if I'm able to do that without having to commute from the suburbs to the city, then it would be the best of both worlds."