I have previously written articles in this journal on the virtues of a paperless office with a cloud-based IT system. The coronavirus shutdown has only underscored these.
As a quick refresher, we have a server in the office which replicates once a day with an identical machine off-site. So, we host our own cloud. This means that if we can access the internet we can work on our cloud. We also work a paperless system, which means we can access all our files and stored data.
So when we were forced to close our office it meant that we could simply go home, switch on our computers and continue as before, using Facebook, WhatsApp or Zoom where necessary or if visual contact with our clients was desirable.
We redirected our landlines to our mobiles using the provider’s app. So it really was a case of carrying on as before. The whole system acted as a disaster recovery plan which was implemented in the time it took us to get home.
All good stuff, but homeworking has made me think about the future.
As business people we all have to remember that we are in business to make money, not to employ people and not to own large buildings but to provide a service as efficiently as possible for which we can charge fees.
So, let’s look at home working and its benefits.
Get more done
In the interests of client confidentiality and security of data, the firm where I served my traineeship operated a ban on any documentation, firm or client, leaving the office. Now that problem does not exist because, as we work on the cloud, there are no data on anyone’s laptop and there is no paper to leave the office. As soon as I switch my laptop off, the connection is lost and will not be restored until I log in again.
I have found from the experience of enforced homeworking that it is possible to process vastly more work in a day than would be possible in the office. Working from home means working alone, so there are fewer interruptions and it is much easier to prioritise and plan work.
Communication with clients and other solicitors is as simple as it is from the office, using my mobile phone. I could use the provider’s app but I have not learned that trick yet.
Supervision of staff could be a problem, but I can check up on any file at any time, which is a part solution. In any event as there is a constant flow of emails between us I do not see that as an insurmountable difficulty. If you are concerned that staff would not be working, just think of the amount of time which is wasted in the office in the form of gossip, communal tea making or staring out of windows.
You know who in your office is working and who is not. It will be the same with homeworking, and so is the answer: deal with it.
Like other people I have spoken to, I find it important to dress as I would for the office and to have that dedicated space, preferably a room, which can be treated as an office. I know it sounds silly but it gets your head in the right space, and many people working at home feel it is important.
So it works, and when lockdown is lifted it is my intention to allocate each appropriate member of staff a time when they can elect to work from home. If you are not convinced of the potential benefits of homeworking, this could become a disciplined way to slip into partial homeworking, perhaps linked with desk sharing and flexible working.
It doesn’t stop there
But what about the bigger picture? We all know, or are part of, firms which occupy totally unsuitable premises. We were one of those until we reduced our space requirements and streamlined our systems, which enabled us to move to much smaller accommodation. The financial benefits were immediate and dramatic. They will move from the profit and loss accounts to the balance sheet more quickly than you could imagine. Among other measures, homeworking could reduce your accommodation requirements.
If we look at the even bigger picture, think of the reduction of time and miles spent commuting and the benefits that would bring to the environment, as well as increasing the quality of life for the homeworker. This is not pie in the sky: already there are calls from environmentalists like David Attenborough for homeworking to become much more widespread after lockdown is lifted.
Perhaps it is time for firms to be investigating the potential benefits and moving towards having a proportion of staff working from home.
Archie Millar is principal of MacRae, Stephen & Co, Fraserburgh
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