The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work, forcing companies to rapidly relocate staff to home offices and switch to remote working solutions. The shift proved a shock for many businesses reliant on the traditional office, but for others it has allowed them not only to survive the crisis but to thrive.
In the UK, Huddersfield-based cloud accountancy firm My Management Accountant began working from home 10 days before England went into full lockdown in March. It was due to move to a brand-new office after the summer but, because remote working proved such a huge success, it decided to make remote working permanent.
Founder and managing director Martin Bown explains that his 10-strong team has benefitted hugely from the increased work-life balance. But the impact of lockdown on the firm’s bottom line has been one of the biggest surprises. At a time when other businesses were placing employees on furlough, Bown’s company has experienced a surge in demand, with revenue increasing by 25%. Huge savings have also been made on travel to client meetings and office rent, allowing Bown to think of other areas where they can invest and grow the business further.
“While we have all had to embrace the transition to remote working, already being digital has enabled us to be even more efficient,” says Bown. “With clients based all over the UK, we were used to delivering regular remote meetings. We can update them quickly and efficiently in real time. For instance, we can meet our London, Oxford and Yorkshire-based clients all on the same day via video call, without the added complication of arranging travel.”
For sales insight platform Meet Hugo, lockdown opened its eyes to the opportunities that remote working could offer. The company predicted it would lose 30% of clients due to the pandemic, but it found that business flourished. Customers who would previously have spent money on conferences and networking have instead turned to the digital sales intelligence tool to expand their businesses.
This means that the team has swelled from 10 staff in March to 45 now. Although the firm has a permanent office on the outskirts of Peterborough, seeing that remote working does work and isn’t to the detriment of productivity has given it the courage to grow its distributed workforce further.
CEO Ben Harper says it’s helped open a wider talent pool. “We recently hired a team member from Manchester, and before lockdown we probably wouldn’t have taken him on because he’s so far away. And it works. He works from home and comes down to the office once a month,” he says.
“Our team that covers the US where we have 50% of our clients are also all remote full-time. Being able to do that without having the fixed costs of renting an office has helped us expand into the US, which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. That’s been a big contributor to our growth.”
Global tech firm Scoro, which has five offices around the world, including London, New York and Tallinn, surveyed employees and 60% claim they are now more productive working remotely as a result of the pandemic. Founder and CEO Fred Krieger says the reduction in interruptions that usually occur in a large office environment has helped teams better focus and believes that many people find remote working a better way to do concentrated tasks.
But despite some commentators heralding the end of the office, Krieger believes workspaces are simply transforming, not vanishing. Part of that evolution is the use of more coworking spaces, which offer staff greater flexibility in when and how they use an office.
“I am sure the office will remain for at least the next 10 to 20 years, but do we need that much of it? Do we need everybody to show up at 9am? Absolutely not. And that shift is already happening,” he says.
“A mega trend, for example, that we see starting to see happen is the move to the four-day work week. I’m personally a big fan of it and we are already thinking about it, preparing our organisation for it and we are planning to help our customers prepare for it, too.
“Covid has forced us to think more about efficiency and the end result as opposed to a 9-5 work week. It has been a massive catalyst for change.”
Research by JLL predicts that 30% of all office space will be consumed flexibly by 2030 - that need is now likely to increase because of the pandemic. Thankfully co-working providers are stepping up to provide more flexible workspaces and products to meet this demand. Firms such as IWG are providing innovative services such as virtual offices - which includes call answering and mail handling with a professional business address - and workplace recovery in the event of catastrophe. It’s clear that flexible workspaces are very much a part of our agile working lives now and long after the pandemic has passed.
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