The global pandemic and lockdown restrictions forced many UK companies to relocate their employees to telecommute, virtually overnight.
Four company bosses discuss the advantages and disadvantages of working from home compared to the traditional office-based model when considering what the future would look like for their companies and their staff.
‘Now we can recruit from different parts of the country’
Dan Newns, co-founder of Jump24, a Birmingham-based company that specializes in web applications, initially struggled with the idea of operating completely remotely when the coronavirus forced its facility to close.
“We have always had an office, and just six months before the pandemic started, we had signed a three-year lease. Then everything became remote. Collaboration in the office was a big part of the company, but everyone has been working from home since last March and I hope that continues.
“Our team is relatively young, so not everyone has been vaccinated yet. I would not ask anyone to put themselves at risk using public transportation or to suffer from anxiety about working in a shared space at this time. “
However, working remotely has its challenges. “It’s not always practical from a team building perspective, and some things are taking longer than they used to. A staff survey we did a few weeks ago surprised me a bit. Some people said they are less productive working from home and others would like to have the option to return. “
The 38-year-old plans to use the office and then, after a break clause, use a smaller meeting space at the start of new projects.
But going the distance has brought a huge advantage, says Newns. “We have always had problems with Birmingham from a hiring perspective. We are now able to recruit from parts of the country from which it would have been impossible to travel. We just hired someone from Leeds and we’re looking further afield, which is amazing. “
‘An office-based business feels very dated now’
Rhian Sherrington, 51, is the founder of the Women in Sustainability Network which provides training and workshops for professional women interested in sustainability.
“We resigned from our Bristol office in December 2019 and plan to open a new one in Swansea. But just when we had shortlisted some spaces, the pandemic landed and I was working at the dining room table.
“While I have missed not seeing my team in person, Zoom has made the meetings very efficient.”
However, the move to remote work created some complications. Sherrington had a 50% drop in revenue and prices had to come down, because a lot online was free.
“But going completely online has clearly worked, as we have opened a new center in Hertfordshire and one in New York. It doesn’t seem to have any merit in forcing anyone into a central location. As long as we have a Christmas party for the team, I’m happy to keep it up.
“An office-based business feels very dated now.”
‘Closing the office has allowed us to grow’
Nick Ellison, 33, of Malvern, is the managing director of a digital technology consultancy, Purr.
“When the first closing seemed likely, we were in a fortunate position with our London headquarters as the lease had never been formally signed. I took a van and a helper, emptied the whole place and returned the keys.
“We’ve had a flexible approach to the office for a couple of years, but I think the staff were surprised at how little they missed it, and during the pandemic, several moved from London. We decided early on that we would not be permanently returning to an office, instead opting for a local coworking space for staff and booking occasional meeting rooms in London. “
Since it became completely remote, the company has grown significantly. “We went from eight people to 16 and invested the savings in salaries and a laptop upgrade for everyone. But we want people to base themselves in a couple of hours from London so we can meet whenever we want. When we do, we pay all expenses and travel time. “
But there are also downsides, Ellison admits. “In our industry it is crucial to have that connection with London, it is important for our clients. We have been testing various London meeting spaces, with a pay-as-you-go system instead of a monthly membership.
There is also the issue of maintaining supervision of staff working from home. “People tend to do more work remotely, but they also feel more drained. There is a tendency for staff to work through lunch as they want to show that they are working hard and feel exhausted at the end of the day. No one should feel left to their own devices, you have to keep signing up. “
‘Working remotely became unsustainable for us’
Lindsey Webster, the director of a small architecture practice in southwest London that she runs with her husband, has decided to buck the remote work trend.
“We started in 2019 and were working from our living room with two other designers when Covid attacked. This quickly became unsustainable and claustrophobic, and a seven and nine year old had to be homeschooled.
“Design needs collaboration, preferably in person. Even though the business was 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.
“We have found that opening an office has improved the way we work. We have an apprentice and a boy doing internships. How are they supposed to learn remotely?
“By revitalizing a disused store, we have also addressed our marketing needs, as thousands of cars pass us every day. We have been living month to month, but recently we have seen an increase in sales. What has been particularly beautiful is that we have become part of the community by being on the main street. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism