Work is a thing you do, not a place you go to.
Unsurprisingly, many startups all around the world have ditched the office completely. With cost being the prominent motivation, eliminating rent out of expenses definitely helps to ease on the rising costs of running a venture. According to a research conducted by London-based estate agency Knight Frank (Edsor, 2017), London ranks as the fourth most expensive country to rent an office space (you can see the entire list here), with the average cost per person to be between £650 to £1,400 monthly (Instant Offices, 2017). It is no doubt that reducing costs wherever possible is a legitimate concern on any startup's agenda. This has inevitably led to the rise of remote work.
So what is remote work?
Remote work has become a fairly popular way of working in this day and age. According to a study done in the UK, millennials are the most likely of all age groups to pick a job for its flexibility, with 70% favouring it compared to just 47% of over 55s (Musaddique, 2018). In addition, 81% of women and 69% of men say flexible work options make a job more appealing. Remote work is now a key consideration for employees when applying for a new role, especially since work-life balance is highly regarded for.
Beyond the obvious cost savings, working without an office also means saving time, money and effort from commuting. It also allows startups to reach a wider and more diverse pool of talent, including working mothers, people who live far from the city and people with disabilities. Let's not forget that remote work typically translates to a higher level of comfort for employees, as the option of wearing whatever they want is granted.
Not having an office also means that the typical problems of a workplace such as harassment, favouritism and toxic cultures are avoided. More importantly, it seems that clients these days are less likely to perceive a lack of office space as a limitation. This is especially so, when cost savings are passed onto them.
On the other hand, startups in the UK also see the value of office spaces since it creates positive first impressions for the clients and talent they desire to attract (Dunsby, 2018). Here is a list of drawbacks of remote work (Go, 2018):
Remote work does not work for physical products or hardware where collaboration is essential
Remote work is isolating - face-to-face interaction is generally lost amongst employees, leading to a loss or lack of empathy
It becomes difficult to ensure that the culture of the company remains strong and intact
Clear and concise communication is difficult to maintain
Low reliability and retention
Difficult to manage accountability (consider Hubstaff for time tracking software)
Security concerns especially if your business deals with sensitive data
With the pros and cons of remote work laid out, we now have a better understanding of what works for some startups and what doesn't. For startups that utilise remote work either by choice or circumstances, let us now discuss how they can still cultivate a thriving company culture and (or office) work environment, while reaping the cost benefits of not having a physical office space.
How Can Startups Without An Office Create An Office Culture
1.Hire The Right People
Firstly, remote work is a skill you should be searching for in resumes by checking out past experience. People who have done it before or have started their own businesses previously are great indicators of independence and initiative. Without trust, accountability and transparency amongst employees, remote work will not be as effective or efficient. Here is an infographic of interview questions if you're hiring (Go,2018).
2. Have A Virtual Meeting At Least Once Weekly
When possible, set up the weekly meetings via video conference as people often feel more connected when they can see each other when they are talking (Alexander, 2015). Even if they can’t make it to the scheduled meeting, they can listen to the recording so they can catch up on the latest updates on their own time (Tiffany, 2017). Screen-sharing to share a presentation or progress reports are always helpful in communicating information.
3. Utilise Project Management Tools
While working remotely, it is important to use project management tools as it allows you to keep track of what everyone is doing in one place. This helps to improve accountability and reliability amongst all employees while reducing the inefficiencies of finding out the person in charge.
Here is a list of the top free and open source project management tools for your small business provided by Capterra.
4. Plan a get-together at least once a year
If you plan to keep your employees for the long term, it is ideal to organise a get-together once a year as a strategic planning meeting. This could be a three-day event where everyone spends a few days working and getting to know each other. Furthermore, it is a perfect opportunity for you to refresh the vision and mission of the company and also reinforce the goals for the year. This allows your employees to feel part of a team and hopefully create a stronger sense of belonging to the company.
To Sum It Up
Remote work is not for every startup. If you have a team of co-founders that are highly reliable and accountable, it is a good way to start operations while cutting costs. If you plan to introduce remote work to your company, allow some employees to try it for a few days of the week and observe their performances before making any major decisions. Most importantly, ensure that your startup has the necessary technological infrastructure and project management to facilitate efficient flow of remote work.
Remember, work is a thing you do, not a place you go to.
Written by Wendi Lai
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Dunsby, S. (2018). Why UK startups need dedicated office space. [online] London Business News. Available at: https://londonlovesbusiness.com/why-uk-startups-need-dedicated-office-space/ [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].
Edsor, B. (2017). 16 capital cities around the world where you'll pay the most to rent an office. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/cities-with-the-most-expensive-rent-for-offices-2017-10?r=UK&IR=T [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].
Go, R. (2018). The 7 Deadly Disadvantages of Working From Home. [online] Hubstaff Time Tracking Software. Available at: https://blog.hubstaff.com/disadvantages-of-working-from-home/ [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].
Instant Offices. (2017). How Much Does It Cost To Rent Office Space In The UK?. [online] Available at: https://www.instantoffices.com/blog/featured/cost-rent-office-space-uk/ [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].
Musaddique, S. (2018). Three-quarters of UK employees favour flexible work, new study shows. [online] The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/flexible-work-life-balance-remote-employment-a8223791.html [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].
Tiffany, A. (2017). 7 Reasons We're Thankful for Virtual Meetings. [online] GotoMeeting. Available at: https://blog.gotomeeting.com/7-reasons-thankful-virtual-meetings/ [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].