Virtual office: hotdesking, telecommuting and video conferences

“Our office has only got five desks. If my 20 employees turned up at once, it would create a bit of a squash.” Richard Walters runs his telecoms consultancy firm Commendium from a tiny office in Penrith. As Commendium has tripled in size, Walters has had no need to look for larger premises, saving him a fortune. His 20 employees work from home. 

“The desks are here if people need them. We can hotdesk. And most people come in once a week to catch up face to face. Sometimes we get a good turnout and the office has a real buzz. It’s a bit like the House of Commons during an important debate: standing room only. Happens about once a month.”

As a telecoms expert, Walters is comfortable combining the homeworking philosophy with a small office. “Today I had a meeting with six co-workers. Four were in the office. Two were sat at home. We used videoconferencing.”

Move from Penrith to London and the cost savings by avoiding an expensive office are many times greater. Sanjay Parekh founded WebExpenses, an online expenses processing service, in 2000. He took the momentous decision to close the office altogether. “Initially, we all worked in the office. As technology changed, broadband became widespread and the tools for homeworking got better, we started working from home more. One day at home turned into two days. Eventually, I was the only guy in the office. The cost of having the office was unjustifiable. So we shut it.”

The closure took a year to plan. “We put everyone onto a VoIP phone system with a London number. A company called NTA runs our system – it hosts the server and does all the technical stuff.” Without an office, there is no place to store technical kit, so Parekh outsourced the IT functions. “We went for a hosted CRM service called Sugar. It’s a rival to Salesforce.com. We also outsourced document hosting via a Microsoft Sharepoint service. All our email is backed up, and with our set up there is no worrying about maintenance. Everything is taken care of. You also avoid the capital outlay of buying software. And nothing becomes obsolete, as it is all updated by the hosting company.”

The move has been a huge success. The business is growing by 75 per cent a year. And Parakh estimates he is saving £2,000 a month – a massive amount for a six-man firm.

Not all firms will want to be so brave. At recruitment agency Warren Partners, founder Joëlle Warren insists all staff turn up each Monday. “We have people 100 miles away. But we need to have meetings face to face, so we get them out of the way in one go. It’s a really efficient way to do business. For the other four days, employees work from home.”

If allowing sensitive documents out of the office gives you the heebie-jeebies, take heart from Suresh Punjabi. His firm, Corporate Communications, not only uses homeworking but it installs the relevant kit for FTSE-500 firms. “With the right software, you’ll be secure. You’ll need a virtual private network (VPN) that can’t be hacked, strong firewalls and software that encrypts the hard drive. There’s no need to be vulnerable.”

Once you’ve relaxed, your employees will follow suit. Coventry University Enterprises, which spearheads the marketing of academic breakthroughs, reported a 56 per cent reduction in stress levels when it adopted homeworking for its 200 workers.

CommendiumWebExpensesWarren PartnersCorporate CommunicationsCoventry University Enterprises

For more on successful businesses run from home:

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 1 to 5

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 6 to 10

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 11 to 15

UK’s 30 top businesses run from home: 16 to 20

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