Sydney Jones is part of a growing labor force that works entirely from home.

It started during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the marketing agency she worked at went totally remote. Even after things began to open up, the company remained committed to the virtual office experience.

Jones turned a spare room in her Midvale home into a home office, then relocated her workspace to a “closet office” to accommodate her first child, who was born about a year into the pandemic.

The space worked for a while, but when she and her husband began considering expanding their family again it became clear she needed to find a better space to work. But due to high home prices and rising mortgage rates, upgrading to a bigger house “seemed insane,” she said.

That’s when she found Backyard Office Utah. The company, founded by Jonathan Hitzhusen in Herriman, specializes in building custom stand-alone offices in clients’ backyards.

No larger than 200 square feet, the offices qualify as sheds under most zoning ordinances but are insulated and can be wired with electricity, heating and air conditioning, and even internet.

“This, I think, will help in having more boundaries,” Jones told KSL.com, only a few hours into her first work day in the newly completed office. “Before, if I got a Slack message on my phone, I just grabbed my computer out of my room. Now I’ll have to make the very conscious choice to go out to the office and get my computer. I think it will be nice that it’s not quite as accessible ... but it’s still very accessible.”

Jonathan Hitzhusen, owner of Backyard Office Utah, talks about his small business while standing in the new office space in the yard of client Sydney Jones on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. Jones’ project was recently completed. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A DIY project turned small business

Hitzhusen’s path to founding the company isn’t too dissimilar to Jones’ path to becoming a client. The idea didn’t initially come as a business plan, but as a way for him to expand his working space after his job at a tech company moved remote in 2020.

So, armed only with his limited experience in do-it-yourself home improvement and YouTube construction tutorials, Hitzhusen took three weeks off in April 2021 to build himself an office.

“I built it all from scratch — 10 to 12 hours a day — and by the end of it, I couldn’t feel my hands I had carpal tunnel so bad,” he said.

But when he was finished, he knew right away it had business potential. As more and more employees experienced being able to work from home, he felt demand for such working spaces would only continue to grow.

A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau backs up the assumption, finding that 21% of jobs were fully home-based in 2021, up from only 11% in 2019.

Hitzhusen launched the business later that fall, and — for the sake of his hands — brought in a small team of contractors to ease the burden.

He acknowledges that he’s not the first, or even the biggest, player in the remote-working shed game, but said his company fills a niche by offering customizable products that can be built from the ground up at competitive price compared to pre-fabricated sheds that ship ready to be assembled.

The sheds aren’t exactly cheap — they run from around $35,000 to $45,000 with a variety of bells and whistles that cost extra — but Hitzhusen said the company is geared toward those who want something more robust, which is why Backyard Office Utah builds the sheds the same way they would build a house.

The company also does all of the contracting in-house, saving clients money and the effort of having to organize that themselves

That’s what drew Jones to the company, after passing on other options.

“I did not want to DIY it. We would have had to get someone come out to do drywall, electricity. That was a big one for me,” she said. “And I didn’t want to go from having a cute little home office in my house to having a shed. Well, technically it is a shed, but it doesn’t feel like a shed, that’s for sure.”

Artist Hannie Clark works in her backyard shed at her home in Pleasant Grove on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. A Utah company builds them using residential construction methods and materials and are under 200 square feet qualifying them as “sheds,” helping avoid licenses. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

‘I can still be part of my kids’ lives’

Hannie and Michael Clark started a small business of their own out of their Pleasant Grove home in 2020. Hannie, a published author and illustrator, is the main creative force behind The Flower Letters, a serial epistolary fiction subscription, where clients receive the latest story installment every two weeks in the form of intricately crafted letters.

With an entrepreneurial background, Michael Clark manages the business side of The Flower Letters, in addition to contributing to the storylines depicted in the letters.

Hannie Clark has always worked from home as an artist, but her space became too crowded with the whole family working remotely and homeschooling during the pandemic. Her studio became a place for her children to work on creative projects, making it hard to keep the creativity flowing.

At times, she paid for vacation rentals to be able to work free from distraction while finishing a project, sometimes being away from home for a week at a time once or twice a month.

The couple considered buying an RV for Hannie Clark to work out of but realized that wouldn’t fit their needs. Then they found Backyard Office Utah.

“When we started The Flower Letters, I was working at the kitchen table,” Hannie Clark said. “Traveling was just too hard on our family; it was too hard on our kids for me to be away as often as I needed to be away. So, this became a necessity for making it more feasible for our family to have this kind of working environment.

“And for me, I’m able to be close to home but still have a separate space to go and isolate and get the writing done that I need to do without interruption. But I’m close enough that I can still be a part of my kids’ lives during that time.”

She called the backyard studio office a “sacred space” that allowed her some separation between her work and home life so she no longer feels she has to “be on all the time.”

Michael Clark said they picked Backyard Office Utah over other companies because it offered the best pricing, and because of the variety of customizations Hitzhusen offered.

Since completion, the studio has also provided The Flower Letters with a marketing opportunity. The Clarks have used their social media platform to share photos of their new boutique studio, to the delight of their customers.

“People were pretty engaged with that,” Michael Clark said. “Our customers like to see behind-the-scenes stuff of us,” because they connect to the couple as the creators.

Homeowner Sydney Jones walks into her newly completed office space in her back yard. Jonathan Hitzhusen, owner of Backyard Office Utah, talked about the small business and how it got started on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Midvale. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Is remote work here to stay?

Before the pandemic, Jones went into the office every day and never thought she would one day work entirely from home. Just a few years later, it’s her reality.

Jones switched jobs late in 2021, taking a role as project manager of baseball data and software development for the Cincinnati Reds, a Major League Baseball team. Aside from a number of key positions in ticketing and the front office that can’t be relocated, she said much of the club’s staff is spread out throughout the world.

Baseball teams have long maintained networks of talent scouts and minor league teams across the country, so the team was well equipped to move remote, Jones said.

Working remotely means Jones has more time to play with her daughter in the mornings — having traded a 20-30 minute commute for a 20-foot walk across the backyard.

“It’s nice to come out and feel the sunshine,” she said with a laugh. “I wasn’t doing that before when working from home. I’ve even gone back and forth from the house a couple of times and it’s like, ‘Oh, I got outside.’ There would be times where I hadn’t left my house in like three days, which is a problem.”

And with floor-to-ceiling windows facing back toward her house, Jones can still keep an eye on her daughter while she plays with her nanny.

“That’s my favorite part of having a remote office is watching the kids play in the back,” Hitzhusen said. “You’re on a Zoom call, but can watch your kid throw a frisbee or whatever. I love that.”

A backyard shed in Pleasant Grove on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. A Utah company builds them using residential construction methods and materials and are under 200 square feet qualifying them as “sheds,” helping avoid licenses. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News