Running a business without an office
It often makes sense to run a small business from home, because it keeps costs down and helps you reduce the time lost to commuting. It can put hundreds of hours back into your year.
Technology has made this a practical option. Mobile devices and online business tools have helped drive the change in working practices. Could it work for you? In this guide we'll look at the pros and cons of working without an office, with tips on making the most of this potentially liberating way of doing business.
Five signs you could work without an office
For some types of business, an office is no longer essential. It could work for you too, if:
- you mostly do business by phone, email, messaging and social media
- you run a service business or online business
- you rarely see your clients in person
- you don't need large equipment to do your job
- you're happy working alone (or at least collaborating online)
Three benefits of a mobile office
People run businesses without offices for a variety of reasons. Here are three of the most common:
1. Not having an office can save you money
Office space is expensive, especially for a new business. Furniture, electricity and internet access must all be paid for too. That money could be better spent in areas that directly affect the bottom line, such as marketing or hiring more employees.
2. Without a commute you'll save time
If you don't have to commute to an office you could gain an hour or more every day. Whether you use that time for work or relaxation, it's a big benefit.
3. Less distractions increases productivity
If you manage your environment properly, remote working can increase your productivity. There will be fewer distractions and fewer meetings – making it easier to concentrate and think clearly about your work.
Where will you go?
A mobile office can be anywhere. You can share spaces with other businesses, including suppliers or customers. Plenty of business owners treat their car or van as an office, and pop into a cafe when they want to stretch out over a coffee. Most commonly, mobile business owners base operations out of their home.
So long as you have an internet connection, you have an office. Just be aware that public wifi is not always secure, so you should be cautious about what type of work you’re doing. Think about using a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your privacy and anonymity. And don’t leave your laptop or phone unattended.
What you need
You can't work properly without the right equipment. But for many office-free workers that's a relatively small investment:
- Laptop computer: Unless you need a lot of processing power, a basic one will be sufficient. As long as it has a reliable internet connection, you can work collaboratively with people all over the world. It’s a good idea to get one with a webcam, so you can participate in video calls.
- Computer and data protection: Protect yourself and your customers with internet security software on all your internet-connected devices. You don’t want malware or security breaches affecting your business.
- A back-up strategy: Save work somewhere other than just your laptop. Keeping files online gives you the added benefit of accessing them from anywhere.
- Headset: Invest in a good quality headset for online calls and meetings. It will help you communicate clearly even when there’s background noise.
- Mobile phone: Make sure your clients can reach you easily. You can also use this for internet access if you can't get free wireless internet.
- A proper workstation: If you spend long periods of time seated at a computer, invest in the right furniture. Cramming yourself into a bad kitchen chair or bean bag can take a toll.
Online software to make it all go
Just about everything you need to run an office is available online, including:
- Software for producing word documents, spreadsheets and slide decks
- Drives for storing and accessing the documents you produce
- Calendars for managing meetings and schedules
- Call and video conferencing tools
- Chat-based apps for working in groups
- Project management tools for big organisations
- Online accounting software with dashboards showing the financial state of the business
How to cope with the downsides
Working without an office has its disadvantages, but you can overcome them if you're prepared. Here are some of the issues you may face, with tips on how to cope.
- Avoiding loneliness: The first few weeks may feel liberating – you're free from office politics, commuting and unnecessary meetings. But humans are social creatures, so make sure you hang out with real people from time to time.
- Staying in the loop: Office chit-chat can lead to the exchange of important business information, new ideas and new projects. Try to make time for unstructured interactions, where conversations can drift across topics.
- Getting new work: One of the best ways to pick up new work is to be physically present. Meet when you can. And when you can’t, try to stay present in your clients’ lives by communicating on topics other than work from time to time.
- Maintaining motivation: It can be hard to stay motivated if you're not in an office full of working people. To avoid procrastination, learn to plan and schedule your work sensibly. And build up your willpower – it will help you succeed.
- Meeting clients at the office isn’t an option: When you don’t have an office, you’ll need to utilise other spaces to catch up with clients. Some cafés will have relatively quiet areas for you to meet with clients – but bear in mind that you won’t always have complete privacy
- Finding the right balance: Office workers have clearly defined working days. They start when they arrive in the office and stop when they leave. If you don't have an office then it can be hard to know when to switch off. Be disciplined about this. You'll work better and more creatively if you find a good work-life balance.
Work wisely, wherever you are
Not everyone can have a mobile office, but it's an option that's increasingly taken up by companies around the world. Employees often benefit too. Having the flexibility to work remotely can have a positive impact on work-life balance – and can improve employee satisfaction and productivity.
If you decide to run your business this way, you will need willpower, dedication and good communication skills. But the rewards will make it all worth it – more freedom, greater job satisfaction and potentially more profit.
Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the provided content.