Steve Purdy, UK managing director at Regus, outlines a new alternative to the traditional work locations of office or home.
Flexible working. It's a term that inspires fear in most small business owners, whose immediate reaction is that employees will take liberties or will be distracted while working from home.
Yet, the opposite is true. When we asked 1,500 owner-managers of small firms about flexible working, just over 70% reported that their workforce's productivity had increase as a result of flexible working practices. In fact, 63% even linked increased revenues directly to flexi-working!
We shouldn't sound the office's death knell just yet, however. The office will remain a place in which employees work, but it is just that: one place among many.
There is a myth among business owners that employees only have two places from which they can work: their office or their home. But this isn’t the case – ask them where they'd rather work and they may say "neither".
Writing emails and making business calls from kitchen table, with your kids running around you and the laundry on, just doesn’t work out very well for most. The majority of employees would prefer to be given the option to work in a place where they can just drop in, connect and work without being distracted.
We call these 'third spaces'. A third space is a place between the home and the office, which offers employees a shorter commute than going all the way to the office, but also offers them a professional setting to work in.
They range from libraries to coffee shops, co-working hubs to drop-in business centres. It's a progressive way of working, which gives employees the chance to work from a range of places rather than the same office day-in, day-out.
Third space providers have cottoned on to the trend, and a growing number of venues offer workers access to power outlets, wifi and even printing facilities. In time, you can be sure that third places will become as sophisticated as the modern workplace, with a range of facilities that provide effective destinations to work on the go.
Because, let's face it – working on the go is becoming the norm. Who doesn't check their emails on their way into work? How easy has it become to organise a team conference call with members spread around the country?
Three in five workers believe they already have the right equipment to work flexibly, and they're right: smartphones, laptops, VPN networks... the tools are already there.
The use of third spaces can help you cut down on your fixed costs. I am yet to meet an entrepreneur who says that his team uses their entire office space five days a week, so why pay for so much space? You could encourage your staff to work from third spaces say, once a week, and save a significant amount of cash on renting desk space. (This goes for serviced offices too – downsize if you don’t need the space.)
If you're worried what your customers will think, don't. You can still provide the public with a landline number for your business, but have it connect to your employees' mobiles instead. Or, better yet, encourage the use of Skype, which can save a business hundreds – if not thousands – of pounds a year.
For the small business community, the rise of the third space is good news that you shouldn't shy away from. Flexible working, and working from third spaces, makes staff typically feel more motivated and energised, and it can help you to run a more cost-effective business. Don’t miss out!