We were pretty early at expecting the virus to herald worrying times ahead (ordered staff masks and sterilisers in January 2020 , tried to petition the government in February, to no avail, and even ordered an oxygen generator in March…..luckily unused at the time of writing!). Its probably no great surprise then that we decided to work from home over a year ago, just to be on the safe side. So, how’s it worked out? Let’s have a look at TEN key lessons so far.
Lesson 1 – Commuting
On average our team travel around 30 miles per day commuting. So the shift to home working has saved from between 20-90 minutes per day per person on commuting and that’s been generally well regarded, albeit you lose the chance to unwind on the way. A side benefit of this saving is around £120 in petrol each saved per month – so kind on the wallet or purse and good for the planet. Plus probably another 50% saved on general car wear and tear.
Lesson 2 – Energy
A constant source of Management comment within the company was that no one was ever fully satisfied with the temperature at work. Some people were too hot, others too cold or too draughty. And it was allegedly our single largest expense after wages and premises rental. Aside from paying each staff member a small contribution towards their home energy costs, this has been another cost-saving move, but this time mostly benefitting the business. On an individual level we all now can work at whatever temperature we like.
Personal energy is of course also important and we all have good and bad hours in the day. Some people are morning people, others are night owls – by adopting a flexible approach to working hours we have been able to work around this so staff work when its best for them. Our clients benefit as it means we will always have somebody on call to answer any urgent query or emergency, many times we have spotted that a clients website is off-air and neither the client nor their web agency was aware of it due to our improved hours of service.
Lesson 3 – Office Equipment
Everything needed to run a modern office was simply split up between staff members with those using a specific item the most claiming hostage. Anything not needed was simply sold off or donated to good causes. In case you’re wondering, I got the big staple and mural!
Lesson 4 – Technology
Like everyone else, we have become ever more dependent upon online technology, computers and mobile phones. Fortunately, the transition to home working was relatively straightforward as for some years most of our tools have been cloud-based. But we’ve widened the range to WhatsApp and Facetime and of course Zoom, for regular video meetings and screen sharing. We also use Microsoft Teams for simple chat, Monday for project planning, Path HR for holiday and rota management, OneDrive and Dropbox for file saving and staff collaboration. After a few initial glitches with things like long file extensions, everyone and everything works perfectly, saves time and costs and better still we are all in-step with clients marketing campaigns around the clock.
Lesson 5 – Stress
Every employee is regularly alerted to take rest and eye breaks and in Zoom meetings, we take time out to check if anyone is feeling depressed or anxious, especially during the regular bad news about the virus. Where we can we get together fortnightly for a socially distanced coffee and planning meeting so combined with regular video chats we’ve managed to maintain a semblance of sociability so aren’t missing the office as much as originally feared.
Lesson 6 – Premises
With both staff and clients alike seeming unable to identify major downsides to home-based working, after four months we decided to take the plunge and quit our lease and let the office premises go, i.e., a forever change we never anticipated making. This unleashed the landlord’s rath and a new experience – dilapidation surveyors. We had to pay for a surveyor to identify faults that existed before we moved in and were now expected to put right after paying £200,000 in rent just because we wanted to leave. The total cost estimate to leave was around £30,000 but by doing much of the work ourselves out of hours and discovering we were, in effect, out-of-contract (having not signed one since 2015) we cut the cost by around 80%. It means that after about 6 months we will cost neutral and the move out will be paying for itself. We won’t be going back to Sywell Aerodrome.
Lesson 7 – Cost Savings
Obviously, all staff members have home internet and water on tap (literally!) and clean their own houses and windows, etc so we no longer have to pay extra for these things. We had an expensive phone system in the office but this never did everything expected so sadly hasn’t helped us as expected with the move to home working (enabling call transfers etc) – so we’ve simply stripped out the hardware and put it into storage and keep paying the lease until we can return the system in six months’ time, that will also become a future profit as clients don’t seem to mind ringing mobiles direct to each staff member. We have also been able to save money on business insurance – we no longer need premises insurance and indemnity insurance as a stand-alone policy is pretty cheap.
Lesson 8 – Meetings
To keep in touch with one of our favourite partners we have killed two birds with one stone and hire their meeting room once a fortnight for our get-togethers and we can use this too for client meetings, so it doesn’t feel as if we are entirely homeless.
Lesson 9 – Work Life Balance
All employees have been asked for their opinions on the switch and so far nobody would opt to go back to the days of being office-based. Clients are receiving the same services but with access to us over longer hours, employees can fit work around family and personal circumstances. In fact, we are able to invest more time into client campaigns as everyone seems to work longer, aided by not having a commute.
Lesson 10 – Profitability
At this early stage (with some costs still winding down and no doubt some new ones to be added) it’s a little hard to be precise on this but we estimate adopting home working will enable us to shed 15% of costs from our business. This is pretty much equal to our normal profit margin, before tax, so in effect, the move will double the company profits and enable us to weather viruses and depressions that bit longer!
Combined with the cost and environmental savings I, therefore, don’t think we’ll be returning to large offices (at one point we had five) and at most, we’ll operate small hubs, probably on a part-time or desk share basis if the business grows dramatically.