Telework against office: four business leaders have the floor | Work at home
The global pandemic and lockdown restrictions have forced many UK businesses to move their employees to remote work, virtually overnight.
Four business leaders talk about the pros and cons of working from home versus the traditional office model, as they reflect on the future of their business and staff.
“We can now recruit in different regions of the country”
Dan Newns, the co-founder of Jump24, a Birmingham-based company specializing in web applications, initially struggled with the idea of ââoperating entirely remotely when the coronavirus forced its premises to close.
âWe have always had an office and just six months before the start of the pandemic, we had signed a three-year lease. Then it all went away. Collaboration in the office was a big part of the business, but everyone has been working from home since last March and I expect that to continue.
âOur team is relatively young, so not everyone has been vaccinated yet. I would not ask anyone to put themselves in danger using public transport or suffer from anxiety while working in a shared space at this time. “
However, remote working has come with its challenges. âIt’s not always practical from a team building standpoint, and some things take longer than before. A staff survey we did a few weeks ago surprised me a bit. Some people said they were less productive working from home, and some would like the opportunity to return. “
The 38-year-old plans to use the office and then, after a break clause, use a smaller space for meetings when starting new projects.
But going from a distance has brought a huge benefit, Newns says. âWe’ve always struggled with Birmingham from a recruiting standpoint. We can now recruit from parts of the country where it would have been impossible to travel. We just hired someone from Leeds and we’re looking further afield which is amazing.
“An office business feels very overwhelmed now”
Rhian Sherrington, 51, is the founder of the Women in Sustainability Network which offers coaching and workshops to professional women interested in sustainability.
âWe abandoned our Bristol office in December 2019 and were planning to open a new one in Swansea. But just as we had preselected some spaces, the pandemic landed and I was working at the dining room table.
âWhile I missed not seeing my team in person, Zoom made the meetings very effective. “
However, the switch to telework has created some complications. Sherrington saw their revenue drop by 50% and prices had to be cut as a lot of things online were free.
âBut operating entirely online clearly worked as we opened a new hub in Hertfordshire and one in New York. It does not seem justified to force anyone to come to a central location. As long as we have a team Christmas party, I’m happy to continue like this.
âAn office based business seems very old fashioned now. ”
“The closure of the office has allowed us to grow”
Nick Ellison, 33, of Malvern, is the managing director of a digital technology consultancy, Purr.
âWhen the first foreclosure seemed likely, we were in a privileged position with our central London office as the lease had never been formally signed. I took a van and an aid, emptied the whole place and returned the keys.
‘We’ve had a flexible approach to the office for a few years – but I think it surprised staff how much they missed it and during the pandemic a number continued to leave London. We decided early enough not to return to an office definitively, but to opt for a local coworking space for the staff and book occasional meeting rooms in London instead.
Since becoming completely remote, the business has grown significantly. âWe went from eight to 16 people and invested the savings in salaries and upgrading a laptop for everyone. But we want people to be based a few hours from London so that we can meet whenever we want. When we do, we pay for all expenses and travel time.
But there are also downsides, Ellison concedes. âIn our industry, having that connection in London is crucial, it’s important for our customers. We tested various London meeting spaces on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than a monthly subscription.
There is also the issue of maintaining supervision of staff who work from home. âPeople tend to do more remote work, but they also feel more exhausted. Employees tend to work during their lunch because they want to show that they work hard and feel exhausted at the end of the day. No one should feel on their own, you need to keep checking in. “
“Working remotely has become untenable for us”
Lindsey Webster, director of a small south-west London architecture studio that she runs with her husband, has decided to counter the trend of remote working.
âWe started in 2019 and were working from our living room with two other designers when Covid hit. It quickly became untenable and claustrophobic, with a seven and nine year old needing to be homeschooled.
âDesign needs collaboration, preferably in person. Despite the business hanging by a thread, we borrowed more money and did the opposite [to the home working trend]: We took a corner store on Main Street in East Sheen and turned it into a studio.
âWe have found that opening an office has improved the way we work. We have an apprentice and a boy on an internship. How are they supposed to learn from a distance?
âBy revitalizing an abandoned store, we have also taken care of our marketing needs as thousands of cars pass us daily. We are living from month to month, but recently we have seen an increase in sales. What was especially nice was that we became part of the community by being on the main street.