With workplace dynamics set for a massive upheaval following 12 months of COVID-19 lockdowns forcing many to work from their couch or dining room tables, one Ballarat business is creating self-contained workspaces to fit in people's backyards.
After spending two years working on a system to build prefabricated homes and buildings, TinyOffice co-founders Matthew Andrews and Jess Kelly had to quickly pivot to keep their business afloat.
Being self-employed for close to a decade, the couple knew how important it is to have a dedicated workspace at home.
Mr Andrews said they realised many people would still want to work from home in a post-COVID world.
"We thought that little buildings like this are perfectly suited to our system and so we decided to create the TinyOffice brand in order to change the direction of the business a little bit just to ensure the fact that we weren't going to go under," he said.
"We sat down and discussed what's the most important aspect of it and eventually, we came to the realisation that separation is a really important thing."
Ms Kelly said dedicated workspaces were especially important for those with children.
"Working from home with kids is something that we've had to deal with for years," she said.
"All of the sudden, everybody was in the same boat and that's a problem, you can't work from home, you can't work in your kitchen nook and have conferences, it's just impossible.
"So many people have just complained about not being able to switch off... You need to physically leave so that's that's why we wanted to create the external space."
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TinyOffices are made from prefabricated panels designed and built by machines through software specifically created in-house before being delivered to the client.
The panels are made from oriented strand board, a type of particle board, and have polyurethane insulation in the core.
Mr Andrews said the panels were totally customisable, meaning every TinyOffice was unique to the needs of the user.
"What we do is we take a design from the client, which could come in any way, it could be drawn on the back of the napkin or it could be a full on set of drawings from an architect," he said.
"We turn that into a 3D model and we use that 3D model with our own custom software that then figures out all the bits, we make the bits and then we give the bits to the client.
"It's a really simple way to get stuff built and because we have our own software and it's all kind of digital, when we get a design, we can basically just say this is how much it costs almost straight away."
Depending on the size of the building, the TinyOffices can be delivered built or as panels that simply need to be connected.
Mr Andrews said the process was designed so anyone could do it, not just tradespeople.
"The panels are simply just lifted off, put into place and screwed together with really big, awesome, heavy duty screws and that's it," he said.
"It's a really simple process and it's designed so that like anyone can do it, so owner-builders could do it, actual builders would have no trouble with it at all and then it's all ready to go.
"All that's left after that is just to put the cladding and the lining on. It's generally a much quicker process to do it that way than traditional building, and cheaper."
There's something special about them because we want people to feel special in them.TinyOffice co-founder Jess Kelly
While the business only started in December, there are already two TinyOffices in existence, including a prototype in Mr Andrews and Ms Kelly's backyard, and orders are coming in from across Australia.
Ms Kelly said customers have been inspired to build bigger structures through the system, with the couple also planning to build their new home with it.
"Surprisingly, these inspire bigger jobs. No one wants a two-and-a-half-metre by two-and-a-half-metre office, people want a six-by-three-metre studio in their backyard, they want a four-by-five-metre gym," she said.
"Because so many people are knocking up garden sheds at the moment, we don't want to compete with that.
"We're competing with people who might be thinking about doing an extension and saying we don't have to spend $150,000 but you could get one of these and it's quality still.
"We want people to feel like it is an extension of their home, not just something that you pop in the back."
Ms Kelly said the goal was for TinyOffices to feel like a sanctuary.
"We don't want it to just be like a work thing but you go in there now and you close the door and it's so quiet and the light's so lovely and it's just got this beautiful feeling in it and it's yours," she said.
"It's not the same as just chucking a shipping container in backyard and throwing some pink batts up, it's different. There's something special about them because we want people to feel special in them."
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