As modern offices become increasingly reliant on technology for communication, automation process, and transferring documents/data, there is less of a need for staff to be situated in an office. For those starting a business, the potential for financial savings and workplace efficiencies may well be found in doing away with the office entirely.
Renting an office space brings with it significant expense and commitment that many founders may find daunting for a still unproven company. Not only must one pay for rent and sign a lease for it, but there is also the costs associated with office furniture and computer equipment, along with costs like stationary, electricity, phones, and internet. And then there’s smaller recurring incidental costs like paying for tea room coffee and milk.
Considering how much of our work conducted online, the connectivity provided to us by technology and collaborative information sharing offered by cloud services may eliminate the need to take on the financial burden of renting office space. Many of us commute in heavy traffic to and from our workplaces only to engage in a work flow that doesn’t require much, if any, face-to-face engagement with our colleagues. Instead each day at work we are using services like email, instant message, FTP, and cloud services to communicate and to process data. It makes working in a co-located office environment somewhat archaic.
A 2014 report found that US$1,900 was saved per employee over a nine month period. The study was examining the staff at a call centre, where work volume was highly quantifiable. It was discovered that 13.5% more work was completed by staff working from their home than those in the office. The additional volume of work completed was attributed to less distractions surrounding them, working longer as they no longer had to commute, and fewer sick days being taken.
Beyond the associated costs, many benefits can be found in embracing a distributed workforce and not having a central office. One obvious benefit is that staff working from home are able to achieve a better work/life balance as they can balance work around their own personal requirements. As an employer, you also now have access to a global talent pool of candidates. While this may not suit every role, it does mean that you have the potential to hire staff from across the globe to meet your staffing needs.
While technology does make it possible to do away with the traditional office, what is being lost? After all, there are benefits to maintaining an office space:
- A fixed location for your office presents an image of stability to clients and business partners.
- It establishes a division between your work life and home life.
- It gets you and your staff out of the house and engaging with other people – working from home can be isolating.
- Team building is strengthened by colleagues able to relate to each other in person.
Are there better alternatives to these office benefits?
For those without the real-world space an office provides, perhaps the biggest obstacle to be overcome is what to do when you actually do need somewhere to hold a meeting in. This may be with either with clients or, on occasion, your own staff. One great solution might be to consider using a virtual office.
For a monthly fee, CBD office services can be accessed through one of the many Virtual Office companies operating in most cities. Depending on the package chosen, business holders can access meeting rooms, short-term offices, hot desks, and office services like mail rooms and a reception desk. Typically, prices range from $20-400 per month depending on the level of service and facilities required.
The cohesiveness of your team and their ability to communicate with one another is a significant hurdle to overcome. There is obviously no replacement for relationship building that happens in the real-world, but you can take measures to bridge that gap where possible. Here, videoconferencing can play a crucial role.
While chatting over video doesn’t offer the same collaborative benefits that working side by side with a person offers, being able to see the person you’re communicating with does bridge the geographical gap between co-workers in a way that a phone call or IM simply cannot.
An expensive Polycom system isn’t needed for videoconferencing. Free tools like Skype or Google Hangouts are enough for simple video communications, with both platforms available across all major operating systems on desktop and mobile. For more sophisticated capabilities, software like GoToMeeting is relatively inexpensive and offers not just screen sharing functionality, but also greater security with 128-bit AES encryption.
Working without a real-world office isn’t going to suit every business, but for the small business whose staff work independently already with little resource sharing, there is very little reason to need to spend money on office space.