The great work from home debate: Is it good for business?

The great work from home debate: Is it good for business?
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Thu 19th May 2022

The topic of working from home has never been so popular. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic millions were forced to stay at home to do their job, with official figures showing almost half of people in employment did some work from home in April 2020. Around 87% of those did so directly as a result of the pandemic.

There are now no coronavirus restrictions in place but the reported benefits, such as increased productivity, reduced costs due to no commuting and improved mental health, has led to many businesses reviewing their workplace policies and continuing to allow staff to stay at home for at least part of the week.

The days of five days a week in an office with other people seem to be a thing of the past for many of the UK's companies.

Not everyone agrees though.

Debate is raging over the issue and there has been plenty of high profile criticism over this modern way of working.

Responding to news that employers at PWC are being given every Friday afternoon off, The Apprentice host Lord Sugar controversially tweeted:

"All this work from home BS is a total joke. There is no way people work as hard or productive as when they had to turn up at a work location."

Prime minister Boris Johnson has also called for a return to the office. He said it makes staff "more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas" before adding:

"My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you're doing."

Small business owners' views on working from home

So what do small business owners think? We asked some Enterprise Nation members to share their views:

Elizabeth Laidler, founder of Encore Communications:

"I set my business set up in 2009 and it was fully remote working from day one. As long as we have a modem and a mobile phone, we can work from anywhere. That flexibility was key to establishing and growing a business that had to wash its face financially from the start.

"It allows us to create rewarding work for experienced, senior hires who we trust to get the job done. For some consultants, that will be during traditional office hours; for others it means trusting them to manage their workloads. We have structures in place that mean everyone knows what's expected and when. Tools like Teams have made life easier in recent years and we can be more responsive to clients in what is increasingly a 24/7 global media and marketing world.

"Would it work so well with junior hires? Maybe not, and there's definitely a discussion to be had about how we bring in the next generation in a remote/hybrid-working world. In our industry there is a real brain drain of talent when people reach their mid-30s. Home working has helped us keep talented, experienced people in the workplace, with flexibility and reduced travel requirements making it easier to juggle professional life with outside responsibilities."

Alison King, co-founder of Bespoke HR:

"We've been in business since 2005 and have always operated a hybrid working model. It is obviously dependent on the company, employees and the sector but it's insulting to suggest that all employees slack off when working from home.

"A large proportion of our staff are working parents so offering flexible working has been a big draw. I would argue that offering options like working from home has allowed us to attract high quality employees.

"We've employed HR consultants with impressive experience now seeking roles which offer more flexibility and a work/life balance. Many businesses actually miss out on this pool of talent by insisting that staff work purely from the office. It's all about getting the balance right, creating a team that wants to succeed and understand the importance of working together. There is definitely a happy balance."

Karen Riddick, founder of Second Nature Online:

"I think much of it boils down to the nature of the workplace, the type of work being undertaken and the dedication of staff who are working from home. Some people are definitely more productive when working from home whilst, for others, work becomes a lost focus and a lesser priority in the face of domestic distractions. I've been on both sides as an employee and an employer and I much prefer it when teams can work together!"

Jessica Morgan, founder of Carnsight Communications:

"I can’t believe we’re still having this debate. I’ve been working remotely on and off for over a decade. Now, as a team of four, we have an office but we also have a hybrid approach. Time in the office is invaluable and we do certain things like appraisals and team meetings face-to-face. But other days, people work remotely, and it works. We all agree that for things like writing, pitching and presentations, working outside the office is actually helpful. We get things done and, although we track time, we can prove this by results, not by our timesheets."

Pamela Lyddon, founder of Bright Star Digital:

"I have been running my PR agency for 13 years from the office in my house. Everything was against me when I first started; a recession, a snow storm and people saying I was mad to do it. Enterprise Nation was in its early days and was a great help to me! However, back then the tech was just beginning to work for WFHers and I could see that I was much happier in my own space. Cutting out the commuter time and cool water moments meant I got stuff done efficiently and effectively. I am still here 13 years later more successful than I ever been.

"Lord Sugar is old school and comes from a very different world. That's fair enough but things has moved on. We don't need to sit in an office and prove ourselves. We want to able to do our jobs flexibly and be more balanced. The key for me was being able to bring up my family and not a miss a thing. I never wanted to regret missing out. All my team work from home. They are happy and contented."

Chris Goodfellow, founder of Inkwell:

"For a small, director-owned business, part of the discussion comes down to what kind of company you want to build. Distributed teams allow a huge amount of flexibility and access to talent but for me, building a business is about being surrounded by a great team. So, we've chosen a hybrid approach. Everyone's in on a Wednesday, so we can enjoy the social and idea sharing elements of being a team. The other days are a mix and we make sure to include plenty of social events and opportunities to learn and share ideas."

Fiona Scott, founder of Scott Media:

"What's all the fuss about? For some roles working from home works perfectly well - for some it just isn't practical. Surely we all have the common sense to work that out?

"I often work from home running my own PR business however I don't actually like it all of the time. I like having an office space and I like having the choice. This was way before WFH was a phrase. I love now that some people are making that choice and, in some cases, that means a different job.

"I work with an artisan ice cream maker, you can't work from home when you need to make ice-cream in a safe, clean industrial setting.

"This is another sign that the world is changing. We now must choose to accept and embrace that change or we will be left behind and, at the moment, we'll find it difficult to recruit staff . Moan and groan all you like but the change is upon us.

"As for productivity, I think that's rubbish. It comes down to personality and also focusing on tasks rather than time. A good leader will recognise this.

"My husband Steve, who is employed, has worked from home for almost 21 years and it's worked wonderfully for him. He works in telecoms and he is more productive at home, often at his computer at 8am until 6pm with a short break to walk our dog. The alternative is a four hour commute each day and his employer has always believed that's not a good use of his time or their money."

Paula Tomlinson, founder of On The Spot Accountants:

"If confident in their role and what is expected from them, employees know that working from home is more productive. Legal agreements, year end accounts, tax returns, management reports, client quotes, business plans etc get done. Everyone knows this.

"No-one is an island, however, and input with peers, colleagues, line managers are required – just not every day. How is a manager now supposed to manage?

"A manager needs to engage in a different way. Are targets being met? Is training required? When should the team meet up to re-group?

"This requires a more nuanced approach different for every organisation and harder than feeling good about seeing a ‘bum on a seat’ looking busy.

"Do all employers know what a week’s work should produce? Perhaps that would be a better approach."

Fin Wycherley, founder of Supersize Media:

"We operated a work from home policy long before COVID because I always dreamed of having a business that supported women with families. That way, they could continue their careers aggressively while enjoying all the benefits of family life and the precious early years.

"Each member of the team knows what is required and manages their time accordingly. If they need to work over the weekend or at night in order to enjoy family time, that's their choice. So long as the clients are delighted and they turn up for a few regular scrum and town hall meetings, it's a win-win for everyone.

"The traditional work from the office has always worked against women's interests because they often have to travel over four hours per day between work, school, the nursery, dentist and doctor appointments, then have hours of housework, homework help, food prep, family time and bed time stories to manage to compensate for their absence.

"Women with families and careers where they have to work from the office are exhausted. Although men have stepped up in the housework and childcare roles, women still work 60% more than men in the UK without pay. Working from home helps take some of that pressure off them so they can perform more effectively at work.

"The win-win is that they are super loyal to companies who provide that level of flexibility. Boris Johnson and Lord Sugar already have wives and staff who cover all those childcare, housework and house management roles for them (when was the last time they spent three hours trying to change their phone supplier?). In other words, they only speak about men's reality of work from home. Not women with families."

Lucy Jeffrey, founder of Bare Kind:

"I allow my employees to work where they want and when they want. I believe that working from home is something that businesses should be offering as standard if their operations allow it.

"After a couple of years of being forced to work from home due to the pandemic, I think it seems outrageous to enforce only office working. I trust my employees, and I empower them to work on priority objectives to help grow the business.

"I am sure there are days that are less productive than others, but we are only human and I would much rather someone make the most of their working from home situation and go for a walk, go to the gym or just take some time to themselves for a bit before completing what they need to do later on. Being in the office all the time instils a culture of ‘busy work’ where people are making themselves look busy, and this doesn’t correlate with being productive."

Caroline Marshall, founder of Upsource:

"I started my business from home whilst pregnant and running around after a toddler. Since then we have scaled to a team of 20 and supporting busy entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs during uncertain times

"As a mother of two little ones, my work needs to be very much worked in sync with my home life and for now that means remote The success of my business during very uncertain times with a completely female workforce who also believe the office full time is not right for them, is proof working in an office five days a week is not the only way to achieve business success

"I believe the current comments are trying to keep businesses the way they have been and just highlights leaders who aren’t committed to more businesses having a truly inclusive workforce."

EJ Trivett, founder of Thrively:

"It's as much about trust, values and learning/working styles as it is about 'home' or the actual location itself. It's good for morale to have touch points, if possible, but if a business has recruited well, and has a values-aligned team then working from home (or wherever!) is irrelevant.

"Let's also talk about access and inclusion at its widest estuary. For some, out of office is physically or emotionally the only way to be able to work at all and the way to get the best from the individual. Flexi, hybrid working in my opinion is the future of productivity and wellbeing."

Tim Rundle-Wood, founder of Twoodle Co:

"The health benefits of working from home has made many employers, including myself, adopt a hybrid working model. In our Twoodle Co retail store, we continuously audit what we do and ask ourselves “can this be done at home”? This means our team have more autonomy to do non-customer facing work away from our store, such as social media work. I believe that the benefits to this approach will not only improve the lives of our team but that it will also ease some of the burden on the NHS in the long-term, as exposure to pollution and the stress of commuting is reduced."

Amber Leach, founder of Established by Her:

"We work part time in the office and part time from home. We all have children and I pride myself in offering a flexible working environment, and I 100% trust my team that they do the work when they are at home.

"We are a creative agency so there are times when we have to be in the office as you cannot get the same level of creativity, ideas or input from a zoom call. We encourage a hybrid working model and always will do. This keeps our staff happy and helps if children are off school due to illness etc.

"I think having this level of trust increases staff loyalty and retention. I have one team member who has been with me for six years due to the flexibility of her role.

"We offered working from home before the pandemic and it works! But I also believe in having an office and a team that get together regularly. It gets lonely working from home all the time. I know because I did this for three years when I started my business and it affected my mental health, not seeing people all day long. Happy to comment further if needed."

Cecilia Patterson, managing partner at MTC Consultancy:

"With inflation at 9%, hybrid work arrangements or 100% remote working are more beneficial for SMEs, depending on the industry and the size of the business. This new style of work allows employers to keep employees, thus combating unemployment. If work is mostly accomplished on a computer, location does not matter. Travelling to and from the office increases stress and anxiety. Remote work increases the wellbeing of employees, as they have more time for themselves or work, including more money. Employers can easily review employee output as that is what employees are paid for."

Relevant working from home resources

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance content creator and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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