Home truths on the need for an office

Many businesses can operate very successfully without requiring their entire workforce to travel into a central office every day

Do you remember Reginald Perrin from the 1970s TV comedy? He was the stressed executive whose excuses for being late every morning from his suburban home ranged from the mundane to the ridiculous ("22 minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden").

These days, many businesses can operate very successfully without requiring their entire workforce to travel into a central office every day. Homeworking is increasing all the time. In 2012, the Trades Union Congress estimated there were over four million people working full-time from home, with many more doing so occasionally.

That same year, in preparation for an expected disruption to working patterns during the London Olympics, the telecommunications company 02 carried out an experiment when all but 125 "mission critical" staff from a workforce of 3,000 worked from home instead of travelling to an office. 02 estimated those staff members saved a collective £9,000 in commuting costs and an additional 1,000 hours was spent working rather than travelling.

02 achieved this by upgrading its virtual private network so the workforce could securely access files and internal websites from their home computers.

Many UK advisers are used to working away from a central office but I am surprised at how many firms still operate a model that has a central office at its heart, with a hub of people commuting in every day.

Perhaps the time has come for more advisers to ask themselves if their business actually needs an office at all.

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On a practical level, running an office - regardless of how big or small it is - involves a whole range of considerations: office rent and rates, insurance, repairs, cleaning, maintenance, heating/ cooling, lighting, health and safety measures, refreshments, etc. All of these elements cost money and, importantly, time to organise and manage.

Imagine sweeping all that away and having time to focus on the main reason you are working: building your business.

The rapid rise of specialist intelligent software together with fast internet connections and the availability of mobile smartphones and tablets are not only of benefit to advisers who want freedom to operate from multiple geographical locations, they are significantly changing the way clients expect to do business too.

According to the Office for National Statistics, last year, 38 million British adults accessed the internet daily, 21 million more than 2006. Accessing the internet via a mobile device more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, from 24 percent to 58 percent, and fixed broadband internet connections were used by nine out 10 British households.

The days when clients expected to do their financial planning face-to-face with advisers are rapidly disappearing, with all age groups embracing the benefits of digital interaction and the real-time, instant access information in provides.

Specialist software that allows advisers to run their business more efficiently and cost-effectively is increasingly sophisticated, yet does not requires a different mindset.

The hub of a business is no longer the office building; it is the technology eco system at its heart that is driving success.

With cost pressures likely to increase for today's advisers, there has never been a better time to take a long hard look at how businesses are structured. Life any not always bee a beach but working from one is not out of the question for advisers who fully switch on to the benefits technology offers.

Nick Eatock is executive chairman at Intelliflo.

CASE STUDY: ALEXANDER HOUSE - MAKING A VIRTUE OUT OF VIRTUAL

Authorised in July 2013, Alexander House is a firm of 25 fully qualified advisers that use technology, not a physical office space, to unite and drive the business. Chief executive officer Jane Hodges says: "When we looked at how we should be structured, we realised a physical hub was not necessary because all the tools we needed were available through technology:. All advisers at Alexander House work from their own home location, which offers the firma wide geographical spread. Increasingly, technology is enabling them to reduce the number of physical meetings the advisers have with clients, using video conferencing via laptops, tablets and smartphones for review meetings and follow-up appointments. Hodges says: "Using digital systems we are able to record all conversations and use phonetic analysis to review what was said, providing our clients with the comfort of knowing exactly what was discussed and agreed verbally. 'We estimate we save arourd £160,000 a year in office and commuting costs alone, let alone the amount of time we are saving by having straight-through processes across a number of functions. Of course, it is always nice to meet up and spend time with colleagues but this can be done at strategic times during the year and at a place and time that suits all of us:'