Business Lifestyles: Could office working become a thing of the past?

Jane Cattermole of Bay Tree VA in her shepherd hut workplace

Jane Cattermole of Bay Tree VA in her shepherd hut workplace - Credit: Archant

A skiver’s paradise or a more productive way of working? ANNABELLE DICKSON and SARAH CHAMBERS ask 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.

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 15% 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 14% 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 was clear from its research that traditional nine to five office working could soon become consigned 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,” he said.

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“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 says it has plans to open a number of new “creative and collaborative” spaces in Suffolk and north Essex to help home-workers, starts-ups and visiting business people.

It is working with leading design agencies and borrowing ideas piloted at key locations worldwide to carry out a programme at its properties, starting in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.

These will include spaces designed to boost creativity and include essential business requirements such as superfast broadband, supported by its business advisers and trainers.

Nwes chief executive Kevin Horne said: “Whilst there is plenty of office space in the area 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 centres will have recreational facilities such as 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 aims to provide that throughout the area,” said Mr Horne.

Among the East Anglian businesses to have embraced home working is Bay Tree VA, which employs nine staff, providing a virtual assistant service to businesses, and has chosen to base itself in a rural shepherd hut on a farm at Felsham, near Bury St Edmunds.

“Essentially, where you have an IT signal you have a workplace, and that means that the traditional office environment needs to adapt,” said managing director Jane Cattermole.

“Working with numerous clients I enjoy the quiet of my office which is in stark contrast to the buzzing of thoughts and tasks that I’ve got to do in my head.

“I can make the most of the weather by having windows and stable door open or stoking up my little wood burning stove in the winter. When you work from home regularly, you should aim to become efficient in your own environment, setting it up to suit the way you like to work.

“However, home working isn’t for everyone. It requires a particular mix of self-discipline, focus and flexibility. You can’t think of work as being something you only do in a particular place and time, and yet you need to set boundaries so you can switch off.

“The downside of working in isolation is that you lose the collective strength that an office brings. That’s why being part of a team is so important.

“It means you can benefit from the breadth of experience and strengths of colleagues. Bay Tree VA does not have a central base as we all work from our home offices. But as a company we have developed efficient ways of working with new technology, have values and experience that draw us together and enable us to offer a shared high standard of service.

“I’ve been amazed at the rich skills set of people who are keen to work as a VA because they want the work/life balance this style of working can offer. Our clients benefit from our breadth of skills – many of us having worked for large corporations, in cities and abroad – so forward thinking, rural businesses are getting the benefit of very capable people.”

Homeworkers can use the services of village shops, pubs and coffee shops for meetings, she added.

Another enthusiast is media services company owner Andrew Hagger, who 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.”