Many tech-savvy baby boomers now work 'remotely'

As more workers telecommute, homebuilders take note

An increasing number of Americans are choosing to work from their homes, at least part time, and many of those people are over 50.

Between 2005 and 2015, the number of U.S. workers who did at least 50 percent of their work either at home or at some location other than their office grew by 115 percent, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report.

In addition, Fundera, an online loan broker that is designed to assist small businesses, recently reported that 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time and that doesn't even include those who are self-employed.

In fact, it found the number of regular telecommuting employees has grown by 115 percent since 2005 and the number of employers offering a work-from-home option has grown by 40 percent in the past five years. It saves companies lots of money and businesses have found that, in general, telecommuters are more productive than those working inside the corporate office.

Among the many statistics Fundera offered in its 2018 report was the fact that 16 percent of telecommuters in a recent study are managers while the rest are generally involved in sales, finance, computer operations and office and administrative support. And while many millennials actively seek a work-at-home option, those options are currently more likely to be given to longer-term employees (many of whom happen to be over 50).

Rob Myers works for the Federal Aviation Administration handling purchasing, budgets and inventory-related issues and he routinely works from home one or two days a week.

"I need quiet for the financial work I do and I am able to get that at home. So I am actually more valuable to the FAA when I am able to work from home one or two days each week," Myers said.

Thanks to modern computer connections, Myers is able to easily access the electronic files he needs to do his work, even when he is working remotely, and if he needs something that he is unable to access, he can easily instant message a fellow employee and ask him or her to send him the needed figures.

"It really does work. In the last 10 years I can only remember one time when I had to unexpectedly run into the office on a work-from-home day," Myers said.

"And, actually, I find that I work more when I am working from home," he continued. "It is just part of my personality that when I start something, I want to finish it. When I don't have to worry about fighting traffic to get home, I tend to work longer so that I can finish a specific task.

"I have found that I like working from home one or two days a week. I save $400 to $500 per month on dry-cleaning and commuting costs and it is a good mix. I get social interaction with fellow employees on the days I am in the office and I can totally concentrate on specific tasks when I am working from home. And I must mention that the federal government's telework policy is not hard and fast. Even though I am committed to working from home on certain days, that can be adjusted if there is an important meeting I must attend or something like that."

So when Myers and his wife, who also regularly works from home but generally on different days, were looking for a new home, they actively sought one with a pleasant and functional home office. They succeeded with the Warrington townhouse model at Lexington Pointe in downtown Des Plaines, moving in last October.

The Warrington features a first-floor study with French doors for privacy and it has a big window so that whoever is working can see outside and not feel like they are working in a box, Myers said.

"The Warrington is an extremely popular plan with our buyers, as it's unusual to find a townhome with an office on the main living level," said Jeff Benach, principal of Chicago-based Lexington Homes. "Buyers like that they can work close to the hub of the home where they can keep an eye on (grand)children and easily grab snacks or coffee from the kitchen. Then, when done working, they can close off the space with the beautiful French doors and not have their laptop and paperwork cluttering the main living area."

The Warrington floor plan is available at Lexington Heritage in Arlington Heights, Lexington Pointe in Des Plaines, and Lexington Walk in Morton Grove. Its office, located off the open-concept kitchen, dining and great room, comes with solid-core doors but can be upgraded with French doors and a transom window.

If a formal office isn't necessary, Lexington Homes' buyers can also choose a built-in computer niche, with a work top and storage, near the second-floor landing in one plan at Lexington Heritage. And in all of the builder's townhouses buyers can use the finished lower level as a home office.

"The lower-level flex room is completely finished and has lots of natural light with its street-facing windows. It provides a secluded, quiet place to work and make phone calls. We also offer options for tech upgrades like extra internet, phone and other wiring for buyers to customize their workspace according to their needs," Benach added.

Red Seal Homes is also hearing more requests from buyers seeking office space at Provenance, the builder's master-planned community of single-family homes, duplexes and townhouses near Northbrook. Consequently, the community offers a diverse selection of plans with home office options.

For example, each plan in Provenance's neighborhood of single-family homes, known as The Estates, includes an office or study on the main floor - from the 2,948-square-foot ranch plan to a 4,362-square-foot stately home. And the community's Terrace townhouses include unfinished basements that buyers can finish to suit their specific lifestyle, including a dedicated home office.

"Many of our residents at Provenance work from home every day, if not several times a week, so a dedicated office space tops many buyers' wish lists and our available single-family floor plans reflect this," said Brian Hoffman, an executive with Red Seal Homes. "Likewise, buyers of our townhouses can easily convert their loft or third-bedroom space as an office, if they don't want to finish their basement."

M/I Homes has also taken heed of the need for home offices as more people choose to telecommute when possible.

"We like to place offices in flex spaces, tech spaces off the kitchen, loft areas, and bonus rooms and even sometimes in a sitting room space in the owners suite," said Cheryl Bonk, vice president of sales and marketing.

"We find that every buyer's lifestyle needs are different. At M/I Homes, demonstrating the flexibility of living spaces is important to us. Our buyers look for a flex space that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, a flex space can be used as a dining room for one buyer but can be modeled with a home office in another community for a different buyer. It can also be merchandised to show that it can be both, a room that transitions very easily with the right furnishings. A loft on the second floor or a nook off a kitchen can work very nicely as a home office, as well. All of our plans offer a space to set up a home office," Bonk said.

WI-FI access is key in home offices and most buyers want the office to be centrally located with windows, Bonk added.

K. Hovnanian Homes is also finding that home offices are important to buyers. Consequently, most of its communities offer models that feature offices, such as the 1,780-square-foot Eastwood ranch at the Aspire at Churchill Farms community in Plano.

The main floor office space can also be used as a dining room or bedroom, said Greg Heinrich, K. Hovnanian's vice president of construction, and a space can be created in the basement for an office equipped with network jacks and Wi-Fi.

"We are seeing more and more buyers who want telecommuting flexibility and, interestingly, among the baby boomers, many want to be able to help with day care for grandchildren, so they want to be able to work from home," Heinrich said. "And at the end of the day, they want to be able to close the door on a dedicated office space and not have laptops and printers sitting around."

In plans where there is no delineated office, Heinrich said buyers are generally converting lofts, fourth bedrooms or bonus rooms to create office space and are making sure there are no closets in the room so that no additional taxes are charged.

The four-bedroom, 2,873-square-foot Perry floor plan at Aspire at Ashley Pointe in Yorkville also offers a dedicated office space, Heinrich added.

And it's no wonder.

An office is on the must-have list for many homebuyers, and according to recent data in Builder magazine, when buyers are asked about bonus rooms, a dedicated home office was cited as the most popular choice because of the rise of telecommuting.

This changing dynamic is influencing not only how builders design floor plans to meet the needs of homebuyers, but also how real estate agents market homes with dedicated office space.

One of the new models at Lexington Heritage is the Summit, shown here with a niche workspace at the top of the second-floor landing. Courtesy of Lexington Homes
A home office in the Warrington floor plan offered by Lexington Homes. Courtesy of Lexington Homes
An office nook off the kitchen the LaSalle model in M/I Homes' newest townhouse community, Gramercy Square in Aurora. Courtesy of M/I Homes
Rob Myers works for the Federal Aviation Administration handling purchasing, budgets and inventory-related issues and he routinely works from home one or two days per week. Courtesy of Rob Myers
Rob Myers works for the Federal Aviation Administration handling purchasing, budgets and inventory-related issues and he routinely works from home one or two days per week. Courtesy of Rob Myers
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