By Guy Robarts
BBC News business reporter
Dreaming of escaping the shackles of your office and working from home? Think again.
Working from home isn't always such a bright idea
Most people who turn this fantasy into reality find themselves having to endure conditions as cramped and uncomfortable as in a Victorian sweatshop.
Running away from the office and hiding behind a home computer is all the rage as more and more companies adopt flexible working practices.
Around eight million people in the UK are working from home, avoiding the dubious delights of delayed trains, contra flows and office politics, to spend more time with their spouse, dog, or screaming child.
There's no need to get dressed in the morning, shaved and/or made-up and the pin-striped suit can be fed to the moths.
Keen home workers wax lyrical about the benefits of taking a break whenever they feel like it, nipping outside to water the plants, and having lunch with their children.
However, unless you are wealthy enough to build an office extension or you have a garden shed to decamp to, working from home can be a fast track to job dissatisfaction.
Less than 50% of people who work from home are satisfied with their home office space, with a quarter of them forced to work in the kitchen, 37% in the spare room and 10% "hotdesking" it to anywhere they can find, according to a survey by Lexmark.
The distant memory of your air-conditioned office, gossiping with workmates around the water cooler, may seem all the sweeter when you're sitting alone in a rickety chair in some far corner of your living room.
Working from home is a bit of an oxymoron. Homes are for families, relaxation and socialising. Setting up an office in your living room can spoil the ambience. Filing cabinets look incongruous next to a sofa.
An office lands in the back yard
Over three-quarters of home workers have found themselves working in a cramped and cluttered space, and over 50% of those surveyed said they did not have enough room to work effectively.
Over a third lived in the dark ages; having to work in a room with no natural light, such as a cellar.
The high-tech age that has freed up employees to work from home also means their floors may be scattered with 10 or more cables linking to PCs, printers, scanners, fax machines, copiers, PDAs and their mountain of chargers.
"I set up a mini office in the corner of our sitting room. Now there's a nest of wires sitting in the corner. Not very attractive, but serves the purpose," says Garance Wimmer, a London-based translator who works from home.
"I think the key to working from home is to make sure your makeshift office doesn't take away from the rest of the house. If you've got the space use a spare room or even a garden shed."
Despite the sobering reality of home working, most people still perceive it as a healthier, more productive option to the traditional office and believe that the upsides outweigh the downsides.
Freedom and flexibility to chose the hours you work, with no one watching over you as you do so are enough to persuade people to put up with the more inconvenient aspects.
Better out than in
The ideal solution to eliminate some of the disadvantages is to soup up your garden shed, if you have one.
Home workers can send a fax and watch squirrels all at the same time
Failing that there are companies sprouting up which can build one for you.
One of these, Henley Garden Offices, says the market for personal offices in the garden is blossoming.
"Our sales doubled this year, and grew by 700% last year," said Charles Dalton, managing director of Garden Office.
And now more and more firms are basing their workforces at home to save money on renting office space.
"Our customer base is changing towards the people who are being kicked out from their corporate base," Mr Dalton said.
Building an office in the garden can also boost the price of your home, according to estate agents. Spending £5,000 on an outdoor office can add up to £15,000 to the value of a home.
Curiously, contrary to expectations of an easier life, one of the challenges facing professional home workers has been a tendency to overdo it and work too hard, according to a survey by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Many have found themselves unable to "escape" work, extending their hours into the evenings and the weekends.
But whatever the potential downsides, tripping up on a daisy on the way from the back door to your garden office could be the closest you ever come to experiencing a stressful journey to work.
Are you depressed by your desk? Wild about your workstation? Or just happy with your headquarters?
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