Do you really need an office?


Why don’t you make a tube train your office? Or a treehouse? Or take the office off dry land altogether and turn your yacht into your office?

Don’t have a yacht yet? Maybe it’s because you’re stuck in a conventional office…

treehouse-office-belgium-1

Sometimes the purpose of this blog is to ask ‘why?’ Sometimes – in the words of Robert Kennedy – it’s to see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’ To question the accepted business wisdom: something we’ll need to do more and more if we want to be successful.

So do you really need a conventional office? Or would you be better off in the tube train or a treehouse?

Let’s rewind to when you started in business. An office was essential. In fact it was well beyond essential: it was where you saw your boss, saw clients, worked with your colleagues and gathered round the mythical water cooler. But fast forward to 2013 and the Regus Global Economic Indicator of 26,000 business managers from 90 countries revealed that 48% of them are now working remotely for at least half their working week. And the percentage for 2015 will undoubtedly be higher.

Many start-ups are now doing very nicely without an office – as this story in the Guardian illustrates. And the more you think about it, the more getting rid of the office makes sense. I can easily come up with half a dozen reasons:

How much money would you save? Rent, business rates, office equipment, worrying about which chairs to buy…

Collaborative working is becoming easier and easier. I remember reading about 37 Signals a few years ago – before they became Basecamp. I think at the time they had 17 people spread over eight different countries. Increasingly companies want to work with the most talented people they can – and not limit the pool of talent to a 20 mile radius of a particular building.

The evidence is clear – people who work remotely are more productive. Here’s just one article from the Harvard Business Review that confirms it: the internet is awash with them.

Top people are increasingly looking for flexibility and quality of life: of course they want to build a business, or be part of a team that builds a business. But they want to be at Sports Day as well – not stuck in an office or driving round town looking for a parking space.

Get rid of the office and everyone saves time travelling. And lastly, there’s a new generation of people entering the workforce. They’ve been brought up with Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. They don’t see sitting at a desk going through 200 emails as an indicator of success.

I’m increasingly wondering if the office has simply become symbolic for many of us. ‘I’ve got a business so I must have an office.’ Or is it somewhere to retreat to? Is the office the suit and tie equivalent of the garden shed?

As I said last week, we’re all in the results business, not the hours business. We’re not in the attendance business either. So I don’t see it as a problem if your team work remotely: they still need to produce results and not producing will quickly be apparent – wherever they’re working from.

Ten years ago the idea of being successful without having an office would have been laughable: ten years from now starting a business and immediately digging a hole in the cash flow with rent, rates and desks may seem equally ridiculous. So don’t be frightened to ask, ‘why not?’ – even if the question is ‘why not get rid of the office?’

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3 comments

  1. Chris Buckley · September 18, 2015

    Oh god. Just when I though I’d got this sorted and went and rented an office…. ☺

  2. simonjhudson · September 21, 2015

    I started working remotely one day a week 15 years ago using MSN messenger at the time. 10 years ago I took my bat in one day when I spent 30 minutes trying to get parked after an hour’s drive to the office and swore that I would no longer come on a day-to-day basis.
    Seven years ago, when we set Cloud2 up, I believed that we could manage without an office; and we did for about 2 1/2 years. However there comes a time when there are advantages to certain people in certain roles spending a certain amount of time together and sometimes that means you do need a physical place. To begin with that was a co-location in Bradford set up for entrepreneurs like us. After a while the economics and culture did suggest that we wanted office space of our own and we duly rented. However even now, when we are b3 times the size that we were, our office is not big enough to accommodate us; about 30% of our staff work remotely.
    We have tools and habits to support this; is not enough simply to work apart, you have to put in place compensations for what you lose by not being together. We use Skype for Business massively, with most of the spending several hours a day in conversations meetings with colleagues regardless of where they are. We make massive use of our SharePoint environment so that all company information is available to everyone that needs it regardless of location. We pay for a co-location office, the outstanding C4DI in Hull (http://www.c4di.co.uk/) since many of our team are based in East Yorks and sometimes we do want to get together. We’ve adopted habits and protocols for how we work effectively and how we make sure that remain joined up as a team.

    I think it is possible to run an organisation without having an office of your own, but not without having somewhere you can get together as a physical team fairly often, at least not in our work. Having said that I only go to the office about once a week and that saves me over a days worth of travelling time each week which I can spend on the business or myself.
    I also note that different working environments are appropriate to different types of work I know that I things about not using Central office is I have more choices and where I choose to carry out certain activities in order to maximise efficiency. As someone who suffers from repetitive strain injury I use voice dictation software, so a quiet office is the right place to do emails, proposals and other content creation. But sometimes I need to be where other people around…

  3. edreidyork · September 22, 2015

    Those are wise words, Simon – particularly about being set up appropriately for remote working – thanks as ever for your thoughts and advice

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