Working from home during the Covid-19 / Coronavirus outbreak

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Covid-19 and its impact on business

Recent incidents of the Covid-19 outbreak have dramatically changed the way in which we work both in the UK and worldwide.

The enforcement of non-essential travel restrictions to prevent further contamination and spread of the infection means many companies and employees are having to adapt to a new way of life, working remotely away from their usual business premises and away from their colleagues.

For many businesses, the impact of the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus has been swift and sudden. Production in factories worldwide has reduced significantly and many businesses, most notably in the travel, leisure and hospitality industries, have been forced to cease trading indefinitely with uncertainty as to when they can continue.

Furthermore, economic growth forecasts for most countries have been downgraded significantly and could continue to fall, meaning potentially more serious economic and financial repercussions in the long-term.

It is therefore no surprise that many business owners and entrepreneurs may be feeling anxious and worried about their future livelihoods and businesses.

What exactly are Coronaviruses?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Coronaviruses are a large family group of zoonotic viruses which once transmitted between animals and humans can cause a wide range of illnesses from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

The recent outbreak of Coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, is a new type of virus previously unknown prior to first cases which emerged in November 2019.

The virus can be transmitted following close contact with those already infected, therefore keeping social distance and minimising social interaction in work is the best and most effective method for prevention.

Challenges for Businesses

Whilst restricted travel and working from home can indeed help in the fight against the Covid-19 virus, navigating this unfamiliar territory provides a number of real challenges for businesses.

For example, many businesses today are now facing large disruption to their day to day office management. Indeed, though working from home may certainly help you save time on your daily commute to the office, it also means that business owners and staff are no longer able to receive any important company or business-related mail usually sent to the office, meaning invoices, orders as well as other important communications are being processed much more slowly or even not at all.

Though companies can certainly opt to have their inbound post redirected via the post office, this can turn out not only to be an expensive option, but one that means that companies and staff still have to handle post at a time when contact with potentially contaminated surfaces such as letters and envelopes should be avoided.

In addition, working from home means that companies will have to completely rethink how they hold group meetings, communicate and collaborate with colleagues as well as keep in touch with clients, suppliers and other important stakeholders.

Such disruptions are likely to have considerable impact not only on the productivity and efficiency of business operations, but also to long-term profitability and survival.

What are the Solutions?

Though it may be weeks or even months before business can return to normal, keeping the ship afloat during this crisis does not have to feel like an almost impossible task.

Indeed, there are in fact a number of solutions and actions which businesses can take to continue operating throughout these difficult times both for the short-term as well as for the long-term.

Mail Forwarding and Document Scan Services

In order to minimise disruption to daily administrative tasks, a quick and easy solution which companies can adopt to keep business ticking along is to get a virtual office with mail forwarding and document scan services.

Thanks to virtual offices, instead of redirecting post to a staff member’s residential address, inbound mail can be sent to a virtual office address where it will be scanned and sent on to a designated email address on the same day of receipt or posted to an address of your choice.

Not only does this provide an electronic copy of any inbound document for reference purposes, it can also act as an extra level of safety for colleagues and staff members who would usually be physically handling inbound mail.

What’s more, several virtual office providers now include email forwarding and document scan services within their basic packages, meaning it could also provide a cheap solution to businesses seeking a quick and efficient alternative.

For example, starting at just £2.99 per week, Icon Offices’ scan and email virtual office package is an excellent option to get started.

If you don’t require a scan and email service and are comfortable collecting mail in person this cost is reduced significantly to only £0.99 per week.

Business VoIP

To keep in touch with clients and other stakeholders, most companies now working from home are having to resort to landlines or mobile.

For many companies, however, frequent and reliable communication is key to the success of their daily business operations and without access to the usual business and office phone facilities, chasing down those sales leads or checking in on suppliers can soon become an extremely expensive endeavour.

By switching to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, companies are not only able to manage all of their business calls from a designated business number, they can also do so whilst making a significant cost saving.

In fact, many service providers are able to offer both single business VoIP lines for small businesses as well as multiple business VoIP lines for companies with multiple staff members.

Moreover, as VoIP lines use an existing internet connection to place calls, choosing to switch to a business VoIP service also means there is no need to install or set up any additional hardware or phone systems at your own home.

When choosing a provider, companies can also benefit from further cost savings when combining with some of the other services on offer. For example, Icon Offices offer a business VoIP line for free with many of their virtual packages with free bundles of minutes.

Essential Meetings

Following the latest government advice, many public and communal areas as well as places for social gatherings are now closed for the foreseeable future.

For those meetings and appointments that are absolutely crucial to the business and have to be maintained, companies, can opt to book a private meeting room.

With locations in their Essex and London virtual offices in Hainault, Chadwell Heath and East Ham, Icon Offices offer safe, private and comfortable meeting room settings with extensive facilities to enable collaborative and effective meeting sessions both locally and long-distance.

In addition, at just £3 per hour, these meeting room locations can provide a flexible solution and alternative to other traditional meeting settings and a cheap virtual office location during this period of restrictions on social interactions.

Alternatives to working from home without commuting to work

Private self-contained office spaces

While the above solutions provide excellent alternatives for those working from home during the crisis, for many individuals, working from home is simply neither feasible nor possible.

Many individuals simply lack the space or home office facilities to do their job, whilst others may be unable to work due to the disturbance and interruptions of children or even noisy surroundings where they live.

For those who are unable to work from home or commute to their office because of safety concerns, renting a short-term workspace close to home could provide an easy way to travel to and from work and offer an effective contingency plan for UK businesses.

In fact, there are many short-term solutions available for individuals, small businesses and start-ups and many Serviced Office providers now also offer self-contained office spaces for short-term renting within their service packages.

Icon Offices, for example, offer flexible short-term rental contracts for those looking for a private office space and require only 30 days’ notice to terminate.

Alongside these flexible terms, relatively low costs mean that companies and individuals are not tied to long-term commitments and so could provide an ideal temporary solution for those uncertain about the future scale of their business over the coming months.

Furthermore, for individuals who are considered an essential part of the business, it may well just be a cost that employers are willing to bear to allow you to continue to do your job effectively and efficiently throughout any crisis period.

As an example, starting at only £450, Icon Offices’ serviced office locations in Hainault, East Ham and Chadwell Heath provide an accessible cheap office space with full office amenities and facilities for those in and around Essex and London.

Renting shared office spaces

While the above option may certainly better suit medium and larger businesses, those smaller businesses unable to budget for a private self-contained private office could also consider renting a small shared-office space in the local vicinity as a short-term contingency plan.

With prices starting at only £60 per person per month, this could be a much more manageable solution for many businesses who may be uncertain about and unwilling to invest for the long-term.

With a range of options from simple hot desking to more comprehensive service packages, renting a shared office space could provide a more flexible and cost-effective alternative to travelling long distances and potentially putting your health at risk.

Furthermore, overseas businesses can also benefit from such services as cost effective way to set up a UK satellite office.

Long-term contingency plans

However, despite the low costs, the idea of renting a self-contained or shared office space may not appeal to all businesses and many may prefer to weather the storm and struggle through at home.

However, following recent government announcements that the Covid-19 outbreak and travel restrictions could last for potentially 6 months or more, considering a serviced office space as a stable longer-term solution may provide UK businesses with a viable contingency plan.

This could definitely be worth considering as some reports indicate that restrictions on travel and social interactions could in fact intensify, meaning that future access to your place of work may not be guaranteed.

For those companies planning for the long-term, a satellite office could therefore offer the most cost-effective contingency plan. Many serviced office providers offer a high degree of flexibility within their service packages with options to upgrade plans when required.

For example, businesses may choose to sign up for a simple virtual office with mail scan and forwarding service to help them survive from home for these initial weeks.

However, if the crisis does worsen and businesses in some areas are in fact advised to consider future relocation plans, subscribing to a monthly shared office or self-contained office plan can give you the peace of mind that you will have immediate access to somewhere to work should your usual place of work not be accessible.

In addition, many virtual office providers allow the use of their company address for company registration purposes should you need to formally relocate permanently.

A change for the better?

Though businesses certainly could never have anticipated and have planned for such disruption to their day to day activities, it may not all be doom and gloom for their long-term prospects.

Whether opting for a low-cost flexible rental plan or making use of a virtual office, business VoIP and document scan and forwarding services, the Covid-19 outbreak is forcing many businesses to experiment with new ways of working which could prove beneficial in the long-term.

Indeed, as many companies have experienced in recent weeks, the availability of modern information and communication technologies now mean that a large number of key businesses functions and tasks can indeed be carried out at home, potentially offering businesses opportunities for future long-term cost-saving initiatives and efficiencies.

It is therefore no surprise that the concept of working from home and operating via virtual offices has grown in popularity in recent years and is one which is being adopted more and more frequently by big and small companies alike.

So while we continue to struggle through the crisis working from home, it is always worth remembering that future opportunities could be on the horizon.

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