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Flexible working kills business relationships

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As you read this column, where are you? Are you sitting at your desk, swiping your iPad on your daily public transport commute, or still in your pyjamas working from your “home office”?

According to recent reports, more and more people are falling into the latter category.

A new survey by the Institute of Leadership & Management says that around 50 per cent of people work from home at times. More startling was the statistic that almost 95 per cent of organisations are offering flexible working.

It has to be said that I do accept there are some businesses where home working is acceptable and can work – particularly in the public sector, where the government has saved money by having less people working out of fewer buildings.

And, to be a little selfish, home workers means less traffic on the streets, which helps my engineers get through London more easily, as well as enabling more jobs to be scheduled during the working day.

However, when it comes to doing business, in a world where we are becoming increasingly social, it appears we are actually becoming more and more isolated from each other. 

It is suggested that home workers are more productive than those operating in the office environment. While this may be true, due to the fact that they won’t be stuck in rush hour traffic or because they are not distracted by idle gossip around the coffee machine, it will only serve to make them into drones completing a series of tasks.

Obviously, plumbers won’t get many boilers fixed if they stay in their own homes. However, in a fast-moving, entrepreneurial society, we cannot afford to live without the face-to-face interaction that drives business.

This may sound a little strange coming from someone who hates meetings, but there is a real difference between a one-to-one sit down with an employee or supplier and grabbing a few key people to chat through an idea, which can quickly become a new business opportunity, product or service.

Businesses are built on relationships and, to my mind, no level of Skype Calls or FaceTime conversations will ever replace the reality of looking a colleague, customer or supplier in the eye and shaking their hand.

If you are to believe media reports of a leaked internal memo, I’m with Yahoo!, who say that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

I like the vigour and drive created by the business premises environment. It generates an energy that colleagues can feed off and be more productive, which is a culture many entrepreneurs believe should be at the heart of how we do business.

Charlie Mullins is founder and CEO of Pimlico Plumbers.

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