When it comes to small businesses, the choice to work remotely or from an office is perhaps slightly easier than for their larger compatriots. But the choice isn’t always cut and dried, with some businesses requiring ‘official’ offices in order to carry out their work.
We spoke to two local businesses to find out their motivations behind choosing to work in an office and remotely, particularly during the pandemic. John Peace runs Big Purple Box while Nick and Gill Brereton are the faces behind Dockwray Accounting.
Here’s what they had to say.
Hi John, tell us about your business
Big Purple Box provides website design, search engine optimisation, managed hosting and graphic and print design to new and established businesses across the North East. I’ve been based in the centre of Whitley Bay since 2007 but established the company in March 2000, when I was based in North Shields.
I started the company to work for myself having previously travelled the world designing exhibition stands and managing international events and conferences for British Gas. I’ve also worked for the NHS in health education but I found an interest in web design back in 1997.
At that time, building and designing websites was almost exclusively the domain of technical coders. When Dreamweaver came on the scene, I was able to bring my years of experience in graphic design and communication to the world of website design.
How did the pandemic impact on your business?
The nature of the work I do means projects are often discussed and finally committed to over a period of time, so initially it had very little effect. It was around June 2020 that I first felt an impact. Projects were taking longer, due to the uncertainty around the implications of the pandemic and of course the first lockdown. Clients were either putting off starting up new businesses or stalling planned updates to their online presence.
The work and enquiries ebbed and flowed throughout the various lockdowns and we’re now getting back to a steady stream of new projects as people’s confidence picks up again.
I really struggled to enjoy virtual video meetings. I find the lack of natural interaction poses a hurdle when trying to identify just what the client is looking for. There’s no substitute for sitting down, face to face with someone, to get a feel for their needs, style, likes and dislikes.
Why do you prefer remote working instead of office based?
I’ve always worked from a home office and always met new and existing clients either here or at their location so for me it wasn’t a new experience when the pandemic hit. I work with a network of other professionals from across the North East – photographers, copywriters, technical support specialists – and we all have our own businesses, our own premises and our own ways of working.
If I need to meet with clients or colleagues I do so at their own venues so an office of my own is just not necessary.
Nick and Gill Brereton run Dockwray Accounting and work from a small office in North Shields.
Hi Nick, tell us about your business
We are a small accounting firm based in North Shields. During lockdown we had a serviced office in the Howard House Commercial Centre but have since moved to a shop front in Saville Street.
My partner Gill started Dockwray Accounting back in 2012 when she was recovering from surgery. The business was incorporated in 2014 and we’ve grown organically ever since. I started working for the business full time in 2018, at which time we were working from home.
There are now four of us working for the business.
How did the pandemic impact on your business?
We signed the lease for the Howard House office the weekend before the first lockdown because we’d outgrown our home office. I worked in that office during lockdown.
We’ve been very lucky that our clients have needed a continual service during lockdown, but it did mean we needed to adjust our working processes slightly. We had to learn new rules and legislation really quickly as the government brought in rafts of new support schemes like furlough and the self-employment income support.
We didn’t charge anyone for the extra work at that time because we saw it as part of our role supporting them and the country through the pandemic. Many businesses were closed or working reduced hours during the lockdowns, but we only saw a couple that haven’t made it through to the other side, which is great.
Why do you prefer office working instead of remote?
We love meeting people and finding out about their businesses, where they work and what makes them tick. Being in the same four walls every day was a drag, as it was for most people. But keeping the office on meant we had a bit of space to expand into. We could also make sure we left work ‘at the office’ rather than having it invade our home space.
Working from home often saw us eating our evening meals at our desks, which makes it very difficult to switch off from work.
Human interaction is crucial for us, even if we could easily do all the work remotely. We love meeting people face to face and enjoy a change of scenery too.
If you have a story about remote vs office working, we’d love to hear it. Contact us at the Business Forum for your chance to talk about your business.