Office or home working – how to make the right choice for your small business
The modern business world has been revolutionised and in many ways defined by new technology. The advances we’ve seen, even in just the last decade or so, are transforming traditional ideas about how businesses can be run. Where it was once almost impossible (or extremely inconvenient at best) to work remotely, it is now relatively straightforward. Cloud technology means we can collaborate on shared documents easily and work together on joint projects seamlessly. Video streaming and group chats can create a real sense of shared purpose – even in teams scattered across the globe. Mobile phones make it simple to communicate and to run a successful business from almost anywhere on the planet.
So, the implications of all of these changes are interesting for those of us running small businesses. At what point – if ever – does it make sense to spend valuable money on renting an office space with people who you could actually just talk to on Skype or work with on a shared online drive? What are the pros and cons of working from home, as opposed to bringing your team together in an office? Here are just a few thoughts.
Focus on needs
There are a number of factors to take into account – not least the kind of business you are running and the customers or clients you serve. Because while technology can certainly make it much simpler for remote teams to work together, the one over-riding factor has to be the quality of the service you give to end users. What arrangement best serves your customers and clients? Does it make any difference at all to them if the person who they are dealing with at your company is in an office with other people, or sat alone in their own home?
This, for us, has to be the defining factor when it comes to deciding on the ideal working arrangements for you and your team. Essentially, who will be impacted – who will benefit from any new arrangement, and will there be any negative impact on the service you provide? If your teams really want to work from home, but your customers expect everyone to be physically in the same place, then as a business leader you then have the difficult balance to strike between making sure that both your team and your customers are happy.
The other factor, of course, is around the kind of people you have working for you and the type of work they need to do. The key here is to recognise that not everyone is the same – some people are at their most productive when they are alone, while others thrive on contact with other people. And in fact some roles depend on face-to-face contact – the secret is identify where this is necessary and create an organisational structure that is flexible enough to meet everyone’s needs.
How to work well remotely
If you or other members of your business do choose to work from home, here are a few tips for making sure that the arrangement works for you and that you stay at your most productive. Unless you’re very self-disciplined, motivation and focus can be very hard to maintain when you’re working remotely, so it’s important to learn to see when you are flagging.
Our first tip is to make sure you get a regular change of scene. One of the advantages of running your own business, either as a sole operator or the leader of a team of remote workers is that you can do this. Depending on your business, it is often the case that as long as you have a wifi connection, phone reception and a flat surface to put your laptop on you can work wherever you want. So, change is an important part of staying fresh – work from home, but also make sure you get out and work in other places too.
Secondly, make sure there is a clear differentiation between your work life and your family life. How you mark this difference is up to you of course – you might move into a different room to work from, or you might always make sure you wear certain clothes during working hours, regardless of whether you are going to get out and meet people that day.
Or it might be around the hours that you work – and establishing that outside of working hours you won’t be checking your business emails or taking calls. This kind of differentiation is much harder when your home is also your office, so identify the rules that work for you and be disciplined with yourself.
Whatever you choose to do, flexibility and discipline are crucial – and the needs of your clients and customers must always come first.