Could office working be a thing of the past?

Liftshare.com's new offices in Duke Street, Norwich. Behind the drab exterior of the building lies a funky and stimulating workspace, the centre piece being a playful slide between floors. Photo: Steve Adams Liftshare.com's new offices in Duke Street, Norwich. Behind the drab exterior of the building lies a funky and stimulating workspace, the centre piece being a playful slide between floors. Photo: Steve Adams

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
4:24 PM

A skiver’s paradise or a more productive way of working? Annabelle Dickson asks why more of us are working from home or in collaborative work spaces, as a new report signals the decline of a traditional nine to five office.

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What the business community had to say on Linked In

Saul D Humphrey

Regional Director at R G Carter Construction Limited

“Personally, I suspect a well designed office where staff can collaborate is better for engagement, morale and ultimately sustainable business success than the isolation of home working.”

Rachel Blackburn MBA

Owner, US2U Consulting

“I love working from my office based in a barn in the countryside. It’s creative, peaceful and parking for colleagues, suppliers and customers is easy. We have three hot desks to provide a flexible working space which helps with delivering client-focused projects.”

Ron Pollin

Chairman and Owner at OpenContact

“It’s interesting that one of the most technologically advanced companies in the world is also one of the most enlightened when it comes to staff relations - Google. It holds firm to the idea that the workplace is a community where facilities are provided to encourage staff to want to come to work. Home working is actively discouraged. Maybe they’re onto something.

Personally, having experienced periods both of a home working and office environment, give me the office any day, unless of course I feel like a bit of a lie-in.”

John Cowan

Team Principal Spirit Motorsport

“Spirit Motorsport have two office one physical one one which has a desk paperwork etc. The other office is a virtual one which fits in my pocket.

“Email, Skype, Dropbox and calls all from a single device a lot better when wi-fi is about but 4G can be used at a push.”

Ian Dinmore

Sustainable Travel Plan Officer at Norfolk County Council

“For businesses to be able to work in a distance digital environment, the County needs an effective and efficient Broadband and mobile network - I live eight miles from Norwich and only two mobile operators can provide a very weak signal and as for Wi Fi and 4G...hopeless.”

Ian Hacon

Founder of Yellow Brick Road

“In our own suite we will be showcasing low cost ways of bringing wellbeing into the office. This includes my 1950’s Teasmaid which I set for exactly 90 minutes after I start work, which has been deemed as the optimum amount of time to focus on one task before fatigue cuts in. I am also installing a stand up desk, treadmill desk and cycle desk. Simply standing up rather than sitting, burns around 100 calories more an hour and also engages your core muscles. Walking on a treadmill will go even further, but please don’t try and run! Official treadmill desks costs £000’s but mine will be a desk battened to the wall at the right height with my old treadmill I got off ebay under it. The cycle desk will be the same with my turbo trainer under it.”

Glynn Burrows

Owner, Norfolk Tours, England.

“Tomorrow is the future and none of us have the foggiest idea what will happen then or what will be possible in a year, let alone thirty years from now. When I was at school, yes, a long while ago, computers were never mentioned. When I got to college, there was one, it filled a room! If I had told the lecturer then, that computers would be doing what they are and that most people will be carrying a telephone, camera, computer and satellite navigation system with them and it will be the size of a pack of cards, he would have laughed at me. When my Dad started working on the farm in the early 1950’s, with horses, if someone had told him that combine harvesters would have thirty-feet wide cutting heads and they would be air conditioned and able to drive themselves around the field by computer, he would not have believed them.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson famously dubbed home working a “skiver’s paradise” claiming most people sit and gorge on cheese from the fridge.

But with more than 15pc of people in the East of England now working from their home - the third highest region in the UK - and the number showing a big rise, will this be the way of the future?

According to a new report by PwC, only 14pc of UK workers want to work in a traditional office environment in the future.

Of the people it questioned one in five said they want to work in a “virtual” place where they can log on from any location or use “collaborative work spaces”.

Jon Andrews, UK HR Consulting leader at PwC, said: “It’s clear from our research that traditional nine to five office working could soon become resigned to history for many workers. People feel strongly that they no longer want to work within the constraints of the typical office environment and advances in technology mean that workers no longer have to be shackled to their desks.

“We predict that many organisations will embrace these changes in employee working preferences and use them to their own advantage. We could easily see the rise of organisations that have a core team that embodies the philosophy and values of the company, but the rest of the workforce is not fixed and come in and out on a project-by-project basis. These companies will make extensive use of technology to run their businesses, coordinate a largely external workforce and support their relationships with third parties.”

Enterprise agency Nwes has plans to open one of these new collaborative spaces in Norwich to help home-workers, starts-ups and visiting business people.

It’s plans at the Rouen House development will have superfast free wifi, refreshments on hand and will be targeted at emerging digital and technical businesses.

Kevin Horne, chief executive of Nwes, said: “Whilst there is plenty of office space in Norwich it is usually designed for traditional companies such as lawyers, accountants etc who require desks, filing and private offices. Our intention is to capture the creativity that exists and harness this rather than stifle it.

“As such we will encourage collaboration, have few walls and utilise design to enable business people to use their imagination and grow as opposed to just process information.”

The business will have a table football area along with an arcade area to allow people to work and play together.

“The business world is changing and whilst a start up can be born in a bedroom to thrive and flourish it requires the nourishment provided by a creative space populated with fellow creative people. Nwes aim to provide that in the heart of Norwich at Rouen House.”

Mr Andrews said that the research suggested that workers would be more likely to see themselves as a member of a particular skill or professional network, rather than as an employee of a particular company.

“People will be categorised and rewarded for having specialist 
expertise. Project-related bonuses could become more common as people have a personal stake in the organisation’s or project’s success. We expect many contractors and partners will adopt ‘e-bay’ style ratings of past performance to help land the next contract.”

CASE STUDY: Huw Sayer and Wendy Sayer run their own communications consultancy – Business Writers Ltd – from their home near Norwich.

“It’s simply more productive and efficient. We work with clients in different time zones, so working from home gives us the flexibility to schedule Skype interviews to fit their work patterns,” said Mr Sayer.

“It also helps keep costs down, so we stay competitive with the big London agencies. As a service company, we don’t need a big office – all we need is space for our desk and PC and a good broadband connection. Working from home makes good business sense.

“We still sometimes need to meet clients and colleagues in person – and home is not the best place for that – so we appreciate living near a vibrant city with plenty of good cafés and an international airport. It would be a great help if Norwich had more free wi-fi zones – and faster trains to London.

“Home working is not suitable for everyone. If you like a bustling office and lots of water cooler chats, it’s probably not for you. Likewise, if you are not a self-starter and disciplined in your work ethic, you are likely to struggle to meet deadlines. Some people still think of Norfolk as being a bit remote – improving the road and rail links would help change that perception. However, we are lucky to have great clients who are happy for us to work remotely (some we have never met despite working with them for many years) – and the lifestyle suits

us.”

CASE STUDY: Media services company owner Andrew Hagger is based at Lowestoft, where he has lived for more than 30 years.

His company Money Comms provides a range of media services for the personal finance sector. In the past he has worked for Barclays bank, Virgin Money, Moneyfacts and Moneynet.

“Having spent all my working life in office based roles; it’s so much nicer to be your own boss and to have the flexibility to be able to work from home. We’ve converted one of our bedrooms into an office, so it’s nice that I can shut the door on it in the evenings and weekends.”

The pros of working from home include no daily commute.

“When I worked in Norwich the trek to work would often take an hour plus each way – that was 10 hours a week of wasted time sat in traffic.

“I can be at my desk and working at 8am without having to get up at the crack of dawn – for many people the commute to work can be quite stressful – particularly when you know you’ve got a heap of work waiting for you when you get there.

“Also my annual mileage has more than halved, and more importantly so have my petrol costs.

“The flexibility of home working is great – in the summer I can nip out and cut the lawn for half an hour at lunchtime – a good way of clearing your mind and also one less job to do at the weekend.

“Also you’re at home to receive parcels and deliveries which is another bonus.

“I do sometimes miss the office banter and being able to bounce

ideas off colleagues however on the flip

side I certainly don’t miss being dragged into endless meetings where the boss goes off on a tangent and wastes hours of your valuable

time.

“I think more people will work from home in years to come, particularly as technology becomes even more advanced and our roads get even more clogged up with traffic.

“Even if workers are allowed to work from home for one or two days a week I’m sure employers would benefit from having a less stressed and more productive workforce.”

CASE STUDY: Liftshare, an EDP Future 50 business, moved from its previous base in Attleborough to new larger offices at the old Eastern Electricity building in Duke Street in Norwich last year.

Key to the new accommodation was the stainless steel slide which enables staff to take a quicker route from the first to ground floor.

The slide was all part of a £250,000 renovation of the building which also includes break-out areas, and a funky first floor featuring a mix of photographic wallpapers, floor finishes, fabrics and finishes as well as benching with oversized lamps.

Liftshare is a social enterprise which runs the UK’s largest car-sharing network, liftshare.com, with 540,000 people using its services as well as major firms and organisations across the country including Norfolk County Council, Aviva, the BBC, and Tesco.

Mr Clabburn admitted he had been inspired by firms such as Google when thinking about the design of the new offices, which brings back to life a building which has been derelict for the last 15 years.

He said at the time: “I’ve been to Silicon Valley and seen these amazing offices and how open they all were. Various people, myself included, had reservations about an open plan office, but looking at Google they have lots of break-out spaces.

“We are communicating much more and it’s changed the way that we work –‑ it’s so positive, it’s amazing.”

And he said the slide was proving popular with staff and visitors alike.

“It’s probably used every five minutes. Every visitor who comes here goes down it, and they leave with a big smile on their faces. It’s just great.”

1 comment

  • Running a business from home is ideal (for me). It fits in really well with family life, meaning I get to spend more time with our children. And, as Andrew Hagger says, working from home stops that dreaded commute!

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    ukholidayshop

    Thursday, August 21, 2014

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