Lancashire has one of the lowest percentage of employees working from home and it is about time the county’s businesses had a rethink argues CEO Toby Harper
It is the time of the year when getting into the office seems that little bit harder.
You lose 10 minutes in bed having to scrape the ice off the car windscreen.
Then you spend the weekend drinking honey and lemon to try to shake off the cold you’ve picked up standing on a freezing platform.
There just always seems to be something else you have to do in December rather than be at your desk. There’s the Christmas shopping to finish. Then the turkey to order.
Oh and don’t forget to make it home in time for the kids’ nativity play. No wonder, come Christmas Eve, many of us miss those deadlines and end up reaching for the sherry.
It is little surprise then that businesses up and down the country will see their productivity dip to their lowest levels during the final weeks of 2019.
Yet for many companies, who will be planning for a new business year, December will be busier than ever.
That’s why I believe companies across Lancashire need to make a transformational New Year’s Resolution: to change the way their workers work.
A recent report showed the county has less people working from home than anywhere else in England. In Lancashire’s villages, towns and cities just six per cent work flexibly. Across the border in Yorkshire things are equally as bad.
More than four times that number, around 25 per cent, work remotely in Oxfordshire, which is classed as the flexible working capital of England.
I suspect I know what you are thinking. But you may be surprised to learn that working remotely doesn’t hit profits. In fact those working from home say they notice a boost in overall productivity.
Why? Well, according to the report employees took “fewer breaks”, “started work earlier” and produced a “higher quality of work” by the time they clocked off from the upstairs office/kitchen table/coffee-shop-down-the-road. There are other advantages too.
Those working from home say they save at least eight hours a week because they are not commuting. That’s an entire day’s work. Many also save hundreds a month on fuel, travel and the cost of buying lunch or coffee.
But this isn’t just about pounds, pence and productivity. Health and happiness are also massive benefits derived by working from home. More than 90 per-cent of those who work that way believe it has a positive influence on their mental and physical health. They feel more relaxed, in control, less stressed and less anxious. And one third say they felt “calmer” while a quarter were more “focused”. In the long term 67 per-cent say they took less time off.
I believe so passionately about flexible working that I’ve put my money where my mouth is and built my entire business around the concept.
I now employ more than 35 solicitors who all work from home or locations which suit them.
Yes we have a few small offices. But I don’t need my staff to be in them. Instead I put my faith in them to do their job This doesn’t just make sense for my employees.
Flexible working keeps overheads low, allowing us to pass on the savings. Exciting companies and entrepreneurs, many of whom are based in Lancashire, can now access a level of services which might otherwise have been unavailable to them. Working that way is a home-win for us and for the clients who have now bought into the idea.
I believe this way of working can be vitally important for our region too. Years of under-investment have led to a vast amount of talent needlessly leaving our region to work in London and abroad.
During the General Election roadshows, politicians of all sides may have promised to plough billions back into the North in the decades ahead.
But only time will tell if they are good to their word. I remain unsure. In the meantime we must look after ourselves. By adopting a more radical approach to the way we work, we can smash down geographical barriers to recruitment and truly open career progression. In 21st century Britain, with all the huge steps forward we have made in technology, why should a postcode really impact the company you want to work with or the job you want to do?
More flexible working will allow companies and recruiters to grow far quicker and at a pace that may not otherwise be possible.
A move away from the traditional desk environment will also reduce the need for the office space which has seen companies in towns and cities decamp to cold industrial estates nowhere near their clients.
More flexible working will also hugely reduce the carbon footprint left by employees and employers.
A greener, more cost-effective working world to leave our future generations?
As a soon-to-be first time dad, I can’t think of a better world for us to be homing in on. So as we move into 2020 lets get working on it!
* Toby Harper is the CEO of Harper James Solicitors. For more information visit www.hjsolicitors.co.uk