Working From Home Versus Working From the Office as A Creative Entrepreneur; Recent Case Studies to Give Insights on Which Works For You

'Work from home' is becoming the new mantra on the lips of most employees, as for employers, they cannot wait to have their staff back in the office.  For a lot of small and medium scale businesses, office space gulps a considerable amount of their capital. It is dangerous to generalize any solution. Instead, individuals and companies should weigh their options and consider what is best for them.


History repeating itself...

The work from home campaign didn't just start during the COVID-19 pandemic or this millennium, in September of 1994,  American company AT&T embarked on a social experiment. Rather than have the worker go to work, they decided to take the work to the worker.

Thirty-two thousand (32,000) employees were asked to work from home, including top-level staff and employees in the lowest rank. Throughout the initiative, AT&T avoided running costs of over $550 million. IBM had a similar initiative, Mobility Initiative, which saved them over $100 million in expenses.

What these experiments proved was that working from home has grat potential for reducing overhead.

Fast forward to 2020, we are seeing a massive shift in the way that people work.

Today, Fiverr and Upwork are the two market leaders when it comes to skilled virtual workers. Both companies have a combined user base of over 50 million people. Their combined annual revenue is over $400 million. However, the irony is that both Fiverr and Upwork have physical offices where over 50% of their staff strength resume daily.

One would expect the champions of virtual talent to operate virtually, right? Perhaps they know something that we don’t?

Every business has unique needs and distinct organizational culture. Post-COVID-19, the popular bandwagon will be to work from home. 

So should you call the architect to carve out that cute office space you’ve always dreamed of, overlooking the backyard? Let’s see what the studies suggest.

A side by side comparison, based on different studies and research on working from home or office will be of help.


Interesting polls, studies, and research on Remote work versus Onsite: 

Commuting

Going to work takes an average time of 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your country or city. Ryan Hoover, the CEO of Product Hunt, conducted a Twitter poll that gives a deep insight. People were asked to choose which they valued most between infinite vacation time, free food, working from home, or a juicy retirement plan. 62% of the respondents will rather work from home. 

This study tells how balancing work-life relationship is becoming an increased priority for the modern-day employee. 

(Link to poll: https://twitter.com/rrhoover/status/1040643457901985793)

Insight for creative entrepreneurs 

As a small or medium scale business, there are insights to draw from the appetite to work from home. If you are not able to have all your staff strength work remotely, a day or two of virtual work for your staff might be an excellent way to start. A review of the production process for businesses in production and manufacturing might reveal ways to free up more hours for your production line worker. If you're the only one working, consider the time, money, and stress involved in commuting to work and evaluate your options against other factors.

Communication

With today's reality, face-to-face meetings have been moved to video conferencing, short conversations, and call-to-actions are now emails and Slack messages. A business communication research from Nextiva finds that face-to-face communication is the most preferred by both employees and employers. Working from home also involves a lot or even more communication, but it is just not as effective. 

(Link to study: https://www.nextiva.com/blog/business-communication-report-2020.html)

Insight for creative entrepreneurs

At times, it takes a few years in business for small and medium scale ventures to create a standard organizational procedure. Before this is done, there might be a need to micro-manage staff to ensure there is no compromise on the quality of your output. However, for others, there is a level of trust in the workers' capacity to deliver without being micro-managed. Therefore, the unique needs of every particular business inform significant decisions. 

If you think a day or two of physical office meetings will do the magic, then go for it. If you believe it's impossible to communicate effectively with your team remotely, then have them work in the office. If you work alone, ask yourself where and how you find it most convenient to communicate with your clients. 

Flexibility

Workdays are usually a rigid routine for most workers; wake up at 6:00 am, be dressed for work before 7:30 am and be on your desk at 8:00 am. For remote workers, the case is hardly the same. Most companies are just catching up with the idea of remote work, so all staff must stick to a particular time for work, rather than  KPI (Key Performance Indicator) based metrics. 

(Source: buffer.com/state-of-remote-2019)

According to a report by Buffer on the remote workers' opinion on the challenges of working remotely, 22% (majority) of the respondents say their biggest challenge is unplugging after the day's work. However, 80% of the respondents would still rather work at home regardless of the obstacles. 

 "The results of the study are pretty clear: Remote working is working out great!" (crm.org)

Insight for creative entrepreneurs

Flexibility is priceless for a lot of people, regardless of the challenges presented by remote working. Workers can also work on freelance gigs and have enough time to learn new skills when they work from home.

Perhaps some entrepreneurs take pride in having people called staff around in a space called an office, but it is not the best for everyone. Besides the financial implication and energy required to maintain the team, you are not even likely to get the best out of them.

Graphic artists, web designers, writers, database administrators have next to no business being on your payroll permanently except they are the core of your business. 

If you are producing or manufacturing, you might want to give your staff flexible shifts by balancing the best interest of your business and that of your workers. 

If you work alone, rather than sit idle when there are no orders, you can decide to freelance, rest, learn a new craft or spend more time with friends and family.

Financial Implications

In its North American distribution chain, IBM has avoided expenses of over $100 million in overhead costs incurred from having all its staff strength on the ground through the Mobility initiative. Workers in the program also say they have been able to save 35% more on their monthly expenses as a result of working from home. 

Also, there has been no direct dissatisfaction from customers as a result of this model, rather IBM continues to increase its market share. Suitable for the business, good for the workers, and fantastic for the customers. In this case, it simply works.

(Link to source: https://hbr.org/1998/05/the-alternative-workplace-changing-where-and-how-people-work)

In West Africa, the story is not the same. The high cost of reliable internet, expensive and unstable electricity, among other factors, has been a challenge for remote workers. 

No detailed studies have accurately sampled the West African labor force's opinions concerning the cost of working from home against the office. However, the popular belief is that the reliable internet, free launch, free ride to work, more stable electricity and conducive working environment makes it less expensive for the laborer and more productive for business owners to have their staff onsite. 

Insight for creative entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, reducing the cost of business without compromising your product quality is always a big win. Depending on your business model, what has worked for AT&T, IBM, Twitter, and numerous other multinationals might not work for you, but there are insights to draw. Little tweaks to opening time, days of the week to produce, number of staff, electricity consumed, store location among other metrics can make the difference.

Human Resource Management

Without a doubt, most managers are struggling to manage their teams remotely. Mainly because many organizations are trying remote work for the first time. In a study by Buffer on the challenges of remote work for employees, 17% admit to struggling to collaborate and communicate effectively remotely. (Link to study: buffer.com/state-of-remote-2019)

An office makes it easier for managers to see what members of their teams are working on in real-time. Although virtual management tools like Airtable, Asana, Bitrix24, and a host of others help, the system is just adapting to new norms. 

Insight for creative entrepreneurs

The best options for small and medium scale entrepreneurs with remote staff or freelancers is to ensure KPIs are set and trust the assigned personnel to deliver until there is a reason to believe otherwise. Micromanaging your team will drain a lot of productive energy that you can expend in your creative process. 

 

Productivity

A study by UC Irvine (Link to study: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324339204578173252223022388.html) serves as an interesting reference to the irony of productivity. The study finds that in an office setting, the average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes. What is more interesting about the findings is that it takes 25 minutes for the interrupted person to return on task. 

Insight for creative entrepreneurs

So, if you think having everyone under the same roof is synonymous with productivity, think again. Working from home also does not automatically guarantee productivity, but it increases the odds, especially when there are measurable ways to define productivity.

As a consultant and coach for creative entrepreneurs, I find that a lot of talented people don't understand their productive strength. Solitary confinement works best for some, while others struggle to focus while in isolation, and for some, their creative strength is at its peak after a good sleep. 

It is essential to define what productivity means for your business in order to understand what process is required to stay productive. For you, it could be producing more units; for others, it might be onboarding new clients, while for me, it's keeping my clients happy, innovative, and productive to the best of their ability.

Ultimately, avoid making decisions based on trends and ‘the bandwagon’. Examine the unique stakes in your business and make decisions that best suit your needs. If your business is not online yet, consider doing so; that's really the future. 

Whether you're working onsite or remotely, getting your business online is a win. If your business is online already, but without traction, you will find some great resources on this blog to help you. If you decide that you want to dive deeper and actually get support to improve your productivity, strategize your operations or creative direction for your brand, reach out.

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