Back to Work
One of the key things in reducing the spread of coronavirus was to encourage people to work from home. This was understandable, as before the development of vaccines, the only way to reduce infections was face coverings and social distancing. So it made sense that businesses and public services that could function with employees working from home did so.
This was met with mixed feelings with some enjoying not having to spend time and money commuting and enjoying the comfort and flexibility of working from home. Others though, weren’t as keen as they missed the structure of an office environment or their homes weren’t best suited to a working environment. Customers too, expressed mixed feelings over some services being slower and less efficient. Other casualties from home working have been sandwich shops, cafes and other business support services no longer being used.
There’s been a lot of media coverage on the subject of home working and the future of businesses post covid. The pandemic has, without doubt, put the spotlight on the very different ways businesses can operate and the different options available.
According to the FSB, there are 5.94 million small businesses in Britain. That’s about 99% of the total. Indeed, it’s often said that small businesses are the backbone of the country’s economy. So it’s probably fair to say that the pandemic has had a greater impact upon these smaller enterprises than bigger ones with more resources.
Clearly, post pandemic, many businesses will be finding it more difficult than ever to manage, market and deliver their various commercial enterprises. However, there are a number of relatively inexpensive things small businesses can do to help make them become more efficient and effective. Particularly when it comes to commercial premises and places of work.
To find out more, I spoke with Kate Speed, who owns Sinclair Court, a business providing real and virtual office premises based in Brunswick village, Newcastle and has many years’ experience helping small businesses be more effective, efficient and adaptive.
The first thing Kate explained was that many small, one man band type, businesses, such as consultants and those offering professional services, don’t really need a physical commercial premises or office and can work perfectly well homebased. However, there are a number of things that they can do to make them more attractive and efficient.
The first thing she recommended was to get and register a virtual business address. All businesses are in competition with each other to attract and secure clients and custom. So, in pure psychological and marketing terms, having a professional business address on all official communication and promotional material such as letters, emails, quotes, invoices, business cards, leaflets and websites will present a much more professional appearance than, say, a PO Box or residential address. In addition to a registered business address there are a number of other virtual services to help make small, home based companies more efficient. They can make use of virtual secretaries and receptionists who can manage calls and provide administrative services. There are also mail and telephone forwarding services. Meeting room hire is available for any staff or client meetings required. Virtual offices and services can be secured for as little as £20 a month.
Kate also provides small businesses with actual office space. While virtual addresses and services are ideal for some small businesses, for many a physical office space is needed to function effectively, particularly if there is a close team working together. Indeed, one of the side-effects of the pandemic’s working from home directive has been the loss of training and development of new and junior staff. This was something Kate was quite keen to stress, pointing out that many newer members of staff in the businesses she houses, often learn and develop from watching and being mentored by senior colleagues and managers.
There’s lots of commercial property on offer across the region and it can, no doubt, appear daunting for a new or expanding business to get it right. However, there are few good tips that Kate shared. For a new or growing business, despite the best forecasting it can often appear difficult to ascertain how quickly the company will expand or shrink depending upon the economic climate. So it is important that there is as much flexibility in the rental arrangements of the office space. At Sinclair Court, for example, the arrangements are very much bespoke to each of the various business needs rather than a standard set of tariffs and contracts. This allows the businesses a degree of flexibility to match their trading position. Other things to check are what furniture and facilities are available and whether there are extra charges for them. Then there is the location. Many people often think a city centre location is more prestigious. However, more often than not, city centres are congested with expensive and limited parking facilities. I’ve been to the Sinclair Court building in Brunswick, it’s easy to get to with plenty of free parking, and it’s also close to bus routes and the airport for any overseas visitors. Plenty of good catering facilities nearby for any entertaining or lunch meetings. Finally, for the environmentally conscious, Kate Speed was awarded a prestigious Green Apple award at the Houses of Parliament in 2019 for operating very environmentally friendly business premises. As businesses look to emerge from the pandemic and weigh up the pros and cons of where to work from, getting advice from the likes of Kate Speed may prove worthwhile.
This column was published in the Newcastle Journal on the 6th August 2021.