Blues, Greens Hot Choices for Office

The color of an office could affect productivity and even mood, a growing body of color psychology research says. Workplaces are becoming more mindful of the influence wall colors have on their employees, Lasse Karvinen, head of product at Framery, a Finnish company that designs silent work “pods” for offices, told

Beige and light grays continue to be popular colors in designing modern workplaces, but more offices are also incorporating blues and greens – and for a strategic reason too. Greens, in particular, have become a popular color in workplaces, Karvinen says. “Green is said to create a level of alertness and is often incorporated into health care spaces for this reason,” he notes. “So it’s interesting to see that being tied into today’s workplace. I also feel many are turning to green as it continues to gain strength from its association with a shift toward eco-consciousness.”

More workplaces also are adding in blues. Blue is usually associated as a more relaxing hue, but researchers say it won’t make your employees sleepy. “While blue might be perceived as a more relaxing color, blue light – specifically around the 17,000k color temperature – is actually better at making people feel more energized, or at least less sleepy,” Ben Hamley, future of work lead at JLL Asia Pacific, told “This is because it suppresses the body’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, the pattern that determines when we naturally sleep and wake. You may have noticed newer phone updates will give you the option to ‘shift’ the color of the LEDs in the screen to be more reddish at night so you won’t be kept awake at night by your TikTok feed.”

Make Valentine’s Day Extra Special

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Skip the ordinary,
Do something YOU!

Your Valentine means more to you than a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. It’s time to step up your game this Valentine’s Day. Being thoughtful is the key. Here are some easy ways you can make Valentine’s Day amazing this year.

Set up a romantic picnic.
Restaurants are packed on Valentine’s Day, so it can be near impossible to hear your date. If you live somewhere warm and are looking for a more private meal, pack a picnic and find a spot in the park or at the beach where nobody else is around. “This unassuming and down-to-earth activity will show that you actually put some thought into making the day special,” suggests Caleb Backe, wellness and relationship expert for Maple Holistics. If it’s too cold outside, you can always set up a picnic in your living room. Remember, it’s the thought that counts!

Play chef.
This idea really does work like a charm. Light some candles, put on some music you both love and make a meal. You can either cook for your partner or make it a team effort. This is an especially wonderful way to make your significant other feel loved if money is tight or if kids are preventing you from getting out of the house for the evening.

Write a love letter.
Before texting and direct messaging, there were handwritten love letters. While this practice might seem old-fashioned, it can actually be quite romantic. “A love letter is a straightforward and beautiful way to show the love of your life that you truly care,” says Claudia Palma, director of romance at Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a luxury resort in Los Cabos, Mexico. “To give it a more special touch, present your letter along with homemade breakfast in bed, or put the message in a nice bottle for your loved one to discover.”

Try something totally new together.
According to a 2000 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, new experiences have a bonding effect on couples. So, check out your city’s Airbnb Experiences or Groupon options and do something neither of you has ever tried before! Whether it’s indoor skydiving, a cooking class or an art workshop, the novelty of trying something new together will add a new twist to your romance.

Take a day trip.
Add a spark to your relationship by changing up the scenery and reminding yourself of all the things you enjoy about your partner’s personality in a fresh setting. Make it extra special by planning a day that encompasses both partner’s interests and passions.

Visit the place where you went on your first date.
Going back to the place where sparks first flew will definitely dazzle your partner. If you have been together for a while, this will bring back fond memories and really set the mood. If you’re married, you can even surprise your Valentine by visiting your wedding venue and rereading your vows!

Take a trip down memory lane.
There’s nothing quite like looking back on your relationship and remembering all the good times.
This Valentine’s Day, go through old photo albums, look through your Instagram and Facebook feeds, or just share your favorite memories of each other aloud. Then, toast with a great bottle of vino to what lies ahead!

Track down something from their childhood.
Did your partner have a favorite toy, movie or collector’s item as a kid that they lost over the years? Take some time to find one as a gift this Valentine’s Day. It may prove challenging, but tracking down and buying something important to your significant other will definitely make their Valentine’s Day special.

Surprise them with their favorite “thing.”
A thoughtful gesture is all it takes to make your significant other feel appreciated. You could have your partner’s favorite lunch order delivered to work or slip their favorite snack in their bag before they leave for the day on Feb. 14.

Work out together.
There is a plethora of scientific research out there showing that couples who sweat together stay together.It might not sound all that romantic to spend Valentine’s Day at the gym, but you’d be surprised how much fun you can have sweating it out with your partner, whether you schedule a workout class for the two of you to try together, book a joint personal training session, or plan a hike.

Book a spa day.
Your partner would likely never think to do this for themselves, which is what makes it such a special gesture. “People feel stressed from work and life and need a mini break, so booking a spa day for you and your partner to relax and take a load off will make them feel like you’ve been paying attention and listening to their needs,” says Rebecca Cooper Traynor, founder and CEO of Match Me Canada. Chances are, they won’t even realize how much they needed it until they’re there!

Treat them to breakfast in bed.
Even if you cook frequently, it’s unlikely that you regularly bring your partner their favorite breakfast the moment they wake up. And if you’re not into cooking, you can order in from your partner’s favorite breakfast joint and present their meal with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Plan a tech-free evening together.
We all spend too much time on our phones and computers, so an evening sans screens feels extra special. “Commit to turning off and staying off your electronics all evening – phones, computers and television,” suggests Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, founder of online relationship community Relationup. “Instead, just be present without any distractions. It is novel for anyone to receive the full attention of their partner for an entire evening.”

Volunteer together.
If your significant other is passionate about a specific cause – whether it’s caring for stray animals, feeding the hungry or visiting patients in hospitals – plan a day where you can volunteer for your partner’s favorite non-profit together. Not only will this show them you care about their chosen cause, but you’ll also get in some quality bonding time while making a difference together.

Plan a movie night.
This Valentine’s Day, you can carve out time to watch a film you’ve both been meaning to see for months, or pick a classic movie you watched together early on in your relationship. Want to take this idea to the next level? Book a hotel room and order room service, so you can both enjoy the movie without having to lift a finger.

Go on a group date.
If you’ve already celebrated many a romantic Valentine’s Day as a couple, consider organizing a fun group date or hosting a dinner party at home instead this year. It’s a great way to shake up your routine, and research shows that spending time with other couples can actually help reignite passion in your relationship.

History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day occurs every February 14. Across the United States, Canada and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.

The holiday evolved from the ancient Roman ritual of Lupercalia that welcomed spring to the card-giving customs of Victorian England.

The history of Valentine’s Day – and the story of its patron saint – is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Still others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He, too, was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl – possibly his jailor’s daughter – who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and – most importantly – romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial – which probably occurred around 270 A.D. Others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but was outlawed – as it was deemed “un-Christian” – at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules,” writing, ““For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

In addition to the United States and Canada, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”

Bananas at Risk

One of the most important crops on Earth, bananas, are at risk. They are a top source of food and money for millions of people. But all around the world, banana plants are dying. They’re being attacked by a form of Panama disease called Tropical Race 4 (TR4).

For years, farmers and experts have been afraid that TR4 would hit Latin America and the Caribbean, where about 85% of bananas exported worldwide are grown. On August 8, 2019, those fears came true. Cases of TR4 were confirmed at six banana farms in Colombia. The country declared a national emergency. “In Colombia, [TR4] is incredibly difficult to control,” scientist James Dale said. “Everybody is absolutely petrified about what’s going to happen.”

TR4 is a fungus that lives in soil. It infects banana plants through the roots. It moves into the stems. There, it stops water and nutrients from entering the plant’s leaves. The plant turns yellow. Then it dries up and dies. TR4 spreads easily, from plant to plant and farm to farm. “No country is immune to the disease,” says Fazil Dusunceli of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Part of the problem is that 99% of exported bananas are of the same type: Cavendish. This lack of variety is not good for nature. Why? All Cavendish bananas are very similar. So when a disease like TR4 strikes, they are all equally at risk. “Eating Cavendish (bananas) is making the situation worse,” says Altus Viljoen, a professor who studies plant diseases.

People in the banana industry are coming together. They want to save the tropical fruit. James Dale, for example, is working with a team of scientists in Australia to introduce a new type of banana. It is resistant to TR4. But some people are against scientists creating new types of plants in a lab. They say people shouldn’t mess with nature.

Not everyone is worried about the fruit. “I think there’s a great future for bananas,” Andrew Biles says. He’s an adviser to Chiquita, one of the world’s biggest banana companies.

This isn’t the first time bananas have been in trouble.. Even if we find a solution to today’s banana crisis, will history repeat itself, yet again, in decades to come? “Oh, I’m certain it will,” Dale says.

Before the 1950s, nearly all the bananas sold in the U.S. were one type. Then Panama disease hit. The banana industry needed a replacement. It chose the Cavendish. This was similar to the banana popular at the time. But it was resistant to Panama disease.

In the 1990s, a new kind of Panama disease, called TR4, hit crops. This put the fruit at risk again.

Colleges Inspire Business Design

Suburban office campuses are borrowing design concepts from universities for indoor and outdoor communal spaces in hopes of appealing to more young professionals entering the workforce.

For example, in Warren, N.J., an office campus is building an indoor-outdoor, 20,000-square-foot amenities hub that mimics some universities’ student recreation centers. It features patio dining, exercise equipment and a basketball court. It serves as a place for professionals to connect and collaborate.

In Holmdel, N.J., Bell Works redesigned its office campus and took some inspiration from university libraries to cater to its younger employees who are transitioning from college life. The company created Holmdel Library with 18,000 square feet of space, offering a plethora of books for those who might miss the library setting.

Offices are also offering dining venues like you’d find at colleges. Vision Real Estate Partners in Parsippany, N.J., is opening one called Latitude to offer a variety of food options, from Chicago-style deep dish pizza to New York-based cuisine.

“The term ‘amenities’ does not do justice to what we are creating in the office campus setting,” Ross Chomik, managing partner at Vision Real Estate Partners, told

“We’re not simply putting a cafeteria or a gym in one of our buildings and expecting that to change the course of the workday for our tenants. What companies really want is a customized, hospitality-based experience – an environment that is thoughtful about how much time people actually spend at work, and what they really need from the workplace to perform at their best. That means creating spaces that cater to different work styles and infusing wellness-, food- and recreation-based services integrating with people’s daily lives.”

10 Best Places To Retire Abroad

Have you long dreamed of someday retiring to a quiet, sandy beach, or a lively city with friendly locals and deep historical roots? You can make that dream a reality – there’s a literal world of possibilities. Live your best expat life in a beautiful, affordable destination.

Retiring abroad can be a cost-effective option for your golden years, as many foreign countries have lower costs of living. It’s not as risky or unconventional as you might think. The U. S. Social Security Administration sent checks to nearly 700,000 retirees living abroad as of December 2019.

Each year International Living compiles its Annual Global Retirement Index and spotlights the best places to retire abroad based on factors such as housing, benefits and discounts, cost of living, health care, development, climate and more.

Here are the 10 best places to retire abroad in 2020, according to the latest index.

  1. Portugal – Portugal took the top spot as the best place to retire abroad thanks to its year-round pleasant weather, low cost of living and rich culture. Locals are also extremely welcoming to visitors and expats. And the gorgeous landscapes don’t hurt, either.
  2. Panama – The weather is warm and tropical in Panama, but it’s outside of the hurricane belt. The U.S. dollar is the local currency and many citizens speak English, so acclimating to your new surroundings is easier. The country’s Pensionado Program is known as one of the best retiree programs in the world, offering generous discounts to pension-holding retirees on expenses ranging from medical expenses to entertainment.
  3. Costa Rica – Costa Rica is also known as the “Switzerland of Central America” thanks to its neutrality, safety and stable banking system. The locals are warm and welcoming, living according to the Pura Vida lifestyle. There’s a rich outdoor culture with plenty of hiking, diving, fishing, yoga and other healthy activities. Plus, the country boasts a progressive government and is LGBTQ+ friendly.
  4. Mexico – Mexico stands out as a top retirement destination because of its low cost of living, national health care plan, vibrant culture and diverse landscapes. Whether you want to live along the coastline or in the midst of a bustling city, Mexico has something for virtually everyone.
  5. Colombia – As the second-most biodiverse country in the world, there’s an environment to suit just about anyone’s preference, from warm beaches to temperate mountain communities. Even big cities have a small town feel because of the friendly, welcoming locals. Cost of living varies depending on what part of the country you live in, but it’s generally quite affordable.
  6. Ecuador – Ecuador is home to all-around amazing weather, with varying climates depending on its region. The cost of living is highly affordable; local mercados sell high-quality produce at low prices, services like haircuts and pedicures cost only a few dollars and you can even hire household help for just $10 to $20 a day.
  7. Malaysia – Malaysia is home to hundreds of white, sandy beaches, as well as warm weather and plenty of outdoor actives. Living is very affordable, including health care costs. And because Malaysian law is based on the British system, you’ll find plenty of English speakers and signs.
  8. Spain – Thanks to Spain’s warm Mediterranean climate, the nation’s beach life and food options are above par. Transportation is also a breeze, with a vast rail and bus system, plus inexpensive ride-sharing options. There are plenty of expat beach communities where you can rely on English to get settled, though venturing out of these areas will require you to pick up a bit of Spanish.
  9. France – If vineyards and meadows are more your speed, consider retiring in France. Despite what you might think, the country is an affordable place to live. Home to amazing wine, cheese, freshly baked baguettes and other culinary delights, foodies will feel right at home. And with an excellent health care system, a thriving fashion scene and abundant culture, you shouldn’t ever feel isolated or bored.
  10. Vietnam – The nation ravaged by war several decades ago boasts an exceptionally low cost of living and one of the strongest economies in Asia. It’s home to both rapidly developing urban areas and ancient temples and tombs. Plus, the people are exceptionally friendly and English is widely spoken.

Five Tips to Motivate Employees

Here are five tips from Inc. Magazine to help motivate your employees and create a sense of community.

It can be difficult to feel passionate about the job you’re doing, especially if you’ve been at it for a while. A lack of motivation among employees is a dangerous issue that every leader must tackle head on, otherwise it could lead to burnout, poor performance, dragging sales and resignation letters.

It would be great if you could create an environment where your employees feel welcomed, inspired and useful at work, so that they actually look forward to Monday morning.

The person in charge has the power to transform a company’s culture and make a business feel more like home to the employees.

A great manager makes time to get to know employees on a personal level. While an employee’s personal life and values should never impact the way they are perceived at work, there are many benefits to getting to know team members outside of what they do. By taking the time to understand the staff’s backgrounds, a manager can gain considerable insight. Maybe a staff member is fluent in multiple languages, or has technical skills in what you company is currently lacking. You won’t know until you ask.

Paying attention to what your team members have learned through their unique experiences can help you find more ways to improve their quality of life and address their needs at work. Plus, you might just end up learning something that helps you better serve your customer base too.

Motivate your team by engaging them through new tasks that speak to their unique skills When filling a role in your company, you probably were mostly focused on the applicant’s skills that applied directly to their job description. However, chances are that they have more skills and passions than just the ones they’re using for their specific job. If you make the effort to find additional tasks that speak to their other talents, your employee will feel like you’re really paying attention to who they are as a full person, not just how they contribute to your bottom line.

To combat boredom, you also should offer continuing education and professional development so that employees can improve on skills that they are passionate about. This way, even if they transition to a new type of work, they will be much more likely to want to do so in conjunction with your company, because you have supported them throughout and offered opportunities for them to grow alongside you.

Emphasize good mental health by providing regular opportunities for employees to express their needs. Employees might be struggling to find balance in their lives. Maybe a single parent is having trouble getting their kids to school while working a nine-to-five job? Another employee could be dealing with an illness that makes it difficult for them to participate in office events. The point is, you just won’t know what’s going on with your team members unless you provide an environment where they feel comfortable speaking openly with you.

There are many things that you can do to facilitate a workplace that is conducive to honest and frank discussions that bridge the gap between leader and team. Whether it means sitting down with employees individually to talk about their career path and how you can help them get where they want to go, or bringing in a certified counselor, providing your team with regular check-ins will vastly improve their overall morale.

Foster connections between employees with team bonding experiences. When you make an effort to support a closer camaraderie between employees, work becomes more enjoyable and thus more productive. Office sports teams, special outings and birthday parties are just some of the ways you can facilitate bonding in your company. As well as creating friendships between team members, by participating in these activities yourself, you can help remove the perceived barriers between you as the boss and the people who work for your company.

Recognize employee accomplishments. There’s nothing like the feeling of being congratulated for a job well done to encourage a renewed interest in producing results at work. Take the time to genuinely appreciate your employees for the work they do, so that they never feel that their hard work is going unnoticed. Whether it’s a simple mention in your weekly team meeting or a personalized compliment in their holiday card, just letting them know that you see what they’re doing and value it can be a huge confidence boost for even the most seasoned employee. The added benefit when you acknowledge triumphs in public is that your others will see that hard work will result in recognition, resulting in renewed efforts throughout your team. A simple rule here is to make praise public while always keeping criticism private.

Kind Hearts Brighten Season

Builder Shares Millions
A builder who became a multi-millionaire after bagging a £105m Euromillions jackpot ($139 million USD) has told his customers he will finish their jobs for free – as an early Christmas present. Steve Thomson, from Selsey, West Sussex, England promised to go back to work in a bid to ‘stay normal’ after becoming the ninth-biggest UK winner in the history of the European Lottery last month.

Coin Crusader Strikes Again
For the sixth year in a row, the anonymous “Coin Crusader” has generously dropped two rare gold coins into a Salvation Army red kettle in Broward County, Fla. The coins, worth approximately $3,000, were wrapped in one dollar bills and anonymously dropped into the Salvation’s Army’s red kettle at a Walmart Neighborhood Market. All proceeds support the Salvation Army’s feeding, shelter, and social service programs.

Lucky Waitress Garners Huge Tip
A group of friends got together Sunday in Paterson, NJ, to eat, enjoy one another’s company and fill the pocket of one lucky waitress. Local activist Zellie Thomas and nearly a dozen friends finished eating at an IHOP restaurant in the city and were about to leave, but not before giving a $1,200 tip. “She was still looking at it as we were paying the bill. We gave her the money and she was starting to count, like, ‘Wait, wait: You guys gave me too much money,’ ” Thomas said. “ ‘You were supposed to give me this amount.’ And we were like, ‘No, that’s all for you. That’s your tip.’ ”

The Bank with a Heart
Dundee Bank in Omaha has an annual Christmastime tradition of handing out cash to total strangers. Employees of the two-branch bank have hit the streets with envelopes containing two crisp $20 bills and some instructions. Perfect strangers are asked to keep $20 and give away $20 to the person or cause of their choice. Scrooges might think this a marketing ploy, though Tiny Tims might remind them that people who get cash off the street might have bigger needs than a new place to bank, if banking at all is in the cards. Rather, it’s a way to spread joy. Joy to the bank staffers who get the privilege of handing out the envelopes and experiencing the shock and wonder that comes from the recipient. More joy when the recipient gets to treat someone else. “People have cried, have screamed. Have chased after them and hugged them,” said Mandy Mellott, a spokeswoman for the bank. “It’s a really cool way for our employees to interact in the community.”

Big One for the Kettle
Among the crumpled bills and pocket change, a Salvation Army bell ringer in Indiana recently found a shiny gold coin in his red kettle. But not just any gold coin. This coin, a 1915 100 Corona Austrian gold coin, was valued at $1,500. And the name of the man who collected it outside of a Noblesville Walgreens is just as smile-worthy: James Bond.

Secret Santa Spreads Joy
For passengers getting on the bus in Milwaukee recently, it felt like boarding a bus to crazy town. “I said what? This is a dream or something,” one passenger said.But it wasn’t a dream. The drivers were real elves working for the real Secret Santa. Secret Santa is an anonymous, wealthy businessman who every year travels the country giving out $100, $200, sometimes $300 to random strangers. He usually finds his targets in thrift stores.
But this year, Secret Santa recruited some elves from the Milwaukee County Transit System to do at least some of his giving. He chose the Milwaukee drivers because they’re always doing kind deeds, whether it’s stopping the bus to fetch a pair of lost children’s shoes, helping a turtle cross the street or rescuing a child out wandering alone. There is a real culture of kindness, which Secret Santa said makes them the perfect accomplice.

How About a $10 Million Bonus
The very generous chairman of a Maryland real estate company has given his 198 employees the ultimate holiday gift: A $10 million bonus to share. When the employees at St. John Properties attended their annual holiday party, many expected food, drinks and good company. Each also received an envelope. You’re all participating in a bonus based on the number of years (of service) of $10 million,” company founder and chairman Edward St. John announced. The workers were stunned to find out that on average, they each would be going home $50,000 richer. The highest bonus awarded was $270,000.

Growth of the Backyard Bungalow

Accessory dwelling units are popping up in more backyards, CNBC reports. These stand-alone housing units are either serving as rentals to generate extra income for homeowners or extra space for aging parents or adult children who move back home.

The growing interest in ADUs has sparked changes to local and state zoning rules to allow for more construction. Some communities are even pointing to ADUs as a solution for a lack of affordable housing. For example, the city of Portland, Ore., waived impact fees in 2010, making it significantly less expensive to build ADUs in the city. It also prompted construction to soar: The number of ADU permits rose from 86 in 2010 to 660 in 2018, reports.

“ADU is still, for the most part, an affluent homeowner product, meaning you have to have cash on hand to take this on,” Steve Vallejos, CEO of Prefab ADU, told CNBC. His company’s most popular ADU model is a 288-square-foot home that costs about $105,000 to build. ADUs are “addressing financing, it’s addressing standardizing products within cities, and then also it’s creating partner relationships with contractors, architects, and even other builders,” Vallejos says. “There are many different scenarios that people look into based on income, lot size, different zoning rules – so we build ADUs that start at about 150 square feet going up to 1,200 square feet.”

Some homeowners view ADUs as a rental income generator. Some are even turning their ADUs into a retirement plan. Homeowner Lisa Puchalla of Washington, D.C., told CNBC that she and her husband can envision themselves retiring one day in their ADU. The District of Columbia is another city that recently relaxed its building codes to allow for more ADUs. The Puchallas have an ADU in the side yard of their home and rent the ADU out on a monthly basis. “I can definitely see us hanging out there, retiring and traveling, and then renting the main house,” she says.

Could an Empty Garage Solve Housing Crisis?

That empty garage being used for storage may be the answer to a housing shortage that is ailing markets across the country, housing analysts say. Several communities nationwide are considering lifting zoning requirements to allow more accessory dwelling units or ADUs, which would permit adding extra housing onto an existing home.

California, facing an epic housing shortage, is one state actively pursuing the idea. A recent report from the California Housing Partnership says that the state needs 1.4 million more affordable rental homes to meet current population needs. California lawmakers have been relaxing their laws to allow more ADUs – whether that’s a garage conversion, backyard cottage, an in-law apartment or granny flat that could be added onto an existing home. Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a law to urge greater construction of ADUs.

Companies are now stepping in to help. One project under way, called United Dwelling, enters into a partnership with a homeowner and pays for the garage conversion. Once it is converted into a living area, they’ll then manage the rental of the apartment to a tenant and split the rent with the homeowner. The company received a million-dollar grant last year from Los Angeles County to help grow its garage conversions in the area.

ADUs have been regarded not only as a way for homeowners to generate extra income but also as a place for young adults who move back home or aging parents who want to move in. ADUs could also help provide greater affordable housing to low-income populations in need, housing analysts say.

However, one common complaint regarding affordable housing has been the impact to neighboring properties, including having more people living on one property and street parking issues.

“While nonprofit housing developers prioritize multifamily developments, we support ADUs as one of many tools that can help address our housing crisis, given the staggering deficit of units across California for people of all incomes,” Alan Greenlee, executive director of the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing, told The New York Times. “Notably, ADUs can help achieve greater density of units in neighborhoods that are primarily zoned for single-family homes.”