The home versus office debate has come into sharp focus in the wake of the pandemic, with many professionals seeing a huge shift in not just where they work, but how and when. This is certainly the case at the Ideal Marketing Company where in the space of a year we have gone from working in a prestigious office in the centre of the town where many of our clients are also based, to making a permanent move to remote working.
A shift in perception
When I took over as MD of the Ideal Marketing Company in 2019, the company’s spacious office in a listed building came as part of the package. I knew if I was starting a company from scratch, I would have chosen to go premises-free like several successful pre-Covid era marketing businesses I was aware of. However, I was continuing an established legacy and I was conscious that our staff had signed up to the attractive and comfortable surroundings they worked in. Not only that, I didn’t underestimate the fact that our location in the Old Town Hall on Market Harborough’s High Street sent a certain message to clients and prospective clients, in particular some of the more traditional companies we work with.
There is no doubt that the presence of tangible bricks and mortar, particularly when they are impressive, will lead to positive perceptions about your company. However, the circumstances of the pandemic has seen a major shift in attitudes about home working, making it far more mainstream and accepted than it was before. BT is cutting its 300 offices to 30, HSBC is reducing its office space by 40% and PwC, Lloyds, Centrica and Aeon are among the large UK companies looking into a move to ‘hybrid’ working. However, unsurprisingly, not everyone agrees with this trend including David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sach’s who stated working from home is “an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”.
A conscious choice
In late March 2020, working from home was forced on many business owners as a necessary and sudden reaction to a crisis, so the circumstances were far from ideal. However, as time passed and it became clear that the return to normal was not going to happen any time soon, we as a team settled into our new working circumstances and evolved to make them more fulfilling and efficient by implementing the following:
- Changing our server-based software to systems that the whole team could easily access and use from home.
- Taking office equipment ranging from chairs to computers home to make sure all staff were equipped with everything they needed to work comfortably and safely from home.
- Introducing designated virtual check-in times, both work-related and social, to ensure everyone stil felt part of the team.
- Planning for the full reopening of society with a designated meeting space and regular in-person team meet-ups.
When I was satisfied that the circumstances that had been foisted on us against our will had evolved into the productive new way of working I had previously aspired to, I knew the time had come to make a positive choice to move to remote working permanently.
The right decision?
Moving to remote working was undoubtedly the right decision for us. However, a major decision like this is about far more than the overheads saved on rent – and it will not be the right choice for everyone.
A good place to start is to ask yourself the question I repeated over and over again when going through the decision-making process; are we as a company going to be able to deliver the same quality and range of services to our clients as we did when we operated from our town centre base?
Ultimately, for us the answer was a resounding yes. However, this will not be the case for every company, and where there are signs that the answer to this question is no, an office-based or hybrid policy is clearly the answer.
A middle ground
The hybrid model can be an excellent solution for companies who cannot be fully remote. Many former office workers relish the extra free time that eliminating the commute brings, but they may also miss the camaraderie and buzz of working in the office, particularly if it’s in a city centre location. By splitting the working week between home and office working, it can be possible for employees to have the best of both worlds – and for employers to reap the rewards.
A question of trust
Whether using a hybrid model or going fully remote, allowing staff to work at home can only succeed if the boss is able to trust them to get the job done – and if the employees are motivated to do so. This does not necessarily translate to a 9am – 5pm ‘bums on seat’ policy. Indeed in my experience, you will get more from your staff if you allow them, within reason, to work intuitively at the times of the day when they will be most productive. When working from home, the lines between ‘home’ and ‘work’ life will naturally be more blurred and if staff are free to start earlier or finish later to fit in a midday run or medical appointment, that can only be a good thing.
We use time-tracking software to be accountable to our clients and this is also a useful way to make sure that employees are working their contracted hours. However, whether your employees are at home or in the office, treating and trusting them as adults is key to getting the best from them.
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