The Harvard Business Review published a survey focused on the experiences of workers in flexible and constrained office settings. The flexible group were employees who had control over when, where, and how they got their jobs done. The inflexible group didn’t have flexibility in their office and work settings. Both groups were asked about their job satisfaction and performance, and the level of innovation at their companies.
You read the title of this piece, so you’ve already figured out where this goes. HBR concluded that flexibility gave employees a feeling of autonomy – they call the shots, they own the results. The workers who had more flexibly in their roles and settings reported better results across the board.
Couple that increase in efficiency and satisfaction with the growing popularity of remote workers and you end up in a place where you simply don’t need an office.
You’re right, we do need offices – but not as many companies need offices as actually have them and even fewer will need them in the future. I’m a big believer in face-to-face interactions, and offices are the place where these can happen most easily.
Offices also allow you to share physical goods in a way that many businesses need to do. If your architectural firm is printing 33-inch plans or your advertising business uses hugely powerful computers for video processing, you should probably centralize some of your work. Not everyone needs their own 72-inch HDTV.
What we’re talking about here are small businesses that focus on “knowledge work.” Okay, aside done, let’s move on to the content.
The growth of telecommuting
In a normal month, 9% of workers telecommute for more than half of their workdays, while close to 30% telecommute for at least one day each month. On average, workers telecommute about 2.3 days per month. What companies are discovering is that people who don’t work in an office can work just as well, if not better.
A study last year, for instance, found that telecommuters are more productive, with 77% of those surveyed saying they got more done at home. They also spend more time working, according to a separate study run by US News & World Report.
The point of this focus on telecommuting growth is to highlight how the working world is changing. Even if you think that people get a little less done when they work at home, you can’t deny that we’re moving into a world where almost anyone could work at home.
Close to 70% of Americans have broadband at home and – surprise – the more money you make, the more likely you are to have access. For most knowledge workers – I am not in love with that term, by the way – home broadband is a given. It’s not a question of if you can work at home, it’s a question of if you can work well at home. We’ll get to that in a second.
Why you don’t want that office
So if you’ve got people who can work remotely, a business that doesn’t need an office full of people, and the technological infrastructure to make it happen, why would you have an office?
Y Combinator startups with at least ten employees reported spending $6,100 per month on rent. If you’re the kind of business that’s considering throwing in free food and gyms, you’re going to be looking at a whole lot more walking out the door, just so you have a door to walk into. That’s in and around San Francisco, so maybe you’re thinking, “It’ll be cheap where I live.”
Luckily, TheSquareFoot has generated a lovely little infographic detailing what $5,000 per month will get you across America. Offices range from over 2,800 square feet in Atlanta to just over 800 square feet in New York. That means you’re going to start running out of space as soon as you hire that tenth person.
Instead of spending that cash on a room in which to work, you could be hiring new people, going to industry conferences, or buying ads that generate actual revenue. Getting your team organized at home makes it all possible. Heck, for a single month’s rent you could fly you six Texas colleagues to New York for a face to face meeting and still have plenty left over.
In today’s startup world, you need to run as lean as possible to make things work. Capterra took six years of plodding away before we got a real office. We paid off debt, hired more people, and waited until we were actually making money – crazy, I know – before we made the leap.
Increasing the success of home workers
Once the infrastructure is in place, you need to give your employees the highest chance of success possible. While the technology is in place to make working remotely simple, that doesn’t mean people’s homes are actually setup correctly.
You’ll have to educate your employees on how to get the most out of working at home. That means not working where you watch TV, not watching your kid while you work, and not trying to cram a whole workday into a few hours.
You also need to make sure that your employees feel like they’re part of the organization, even when the organization doesn’t have a physical space. Hello, virtual spaces.
Google Hangouts, Slack, or any of the million other communication tools that make not being in the same location a non-issue can all help you out. Shared documents give you the ability to work closely with your team without being close. The occasional happy hour for your local team won’t hurt either.
There is a difference between needing and wanting. Your business might want an office because it brings people together, you think it adds prestige to your brand, or you just really want a pool table to rally around – all valid reasons.
The important thing to understand is that you don’t need an office.
No one can tell you your business will fail without an office. You’ll be able to hire incredible employees without an office. You can run a successful and profitable business without an office. You simply don’t need one.
How has your business managed? Did you buy into office space and love it or hate it? Are you in the midst of searching and having great success or is it a nightmare? Let me know in the comments below, and good luck out there.