Remote vs Office Centric Work In The Trades

Post date :

Sep 19, 2023

Remote work has risen and with it a ton of tools to help enable and facilitate remote teams. During the pandemic many companies in and out of the trades found it necessary to send their teams home. This calls into question - do I actually need an office? Do I want one? What are the benefits/downsides on each side?

From conversations with companies in the trades, here are some of our takeaways and things to consider before you ‘go remote’ or ‘back to the office’. 

Cost savings/overhead - This is a big one. What will I save or spend in either option? If you forgo an office or physical company space, what will you save in overhead? This seems straight forward but people can often neglect to consider the costs that will be added back in for a remote organization (rental storage space, remote communication tools, PO boxes, mail forwarding, call routing systems, parking spaces, etc….) - Consider the full cost of the physical space as well (coffee, insurance, electricity, repairs, office supplies, etc…). You may find that the cost savings vary greatly depending on where you are putting your facilities. Perhaps trading down to a smaller space would meet you in the middle on this? 

Type of service/customer - Not all trades are the same. For instance, pool companies often need a show room while pest control companies do not. How does your specific service impact the need for a physical space? Consider the expectation of your customer and if they would 

Storage/equipment/security - This one might not be entirely up to you. If you are managing toxic chemicals or regulated materials you may be required to store them in a secure manner. But even if it’s not a legal requirement, you may elect to centralize storage of trucks, materials, chemicals, etc… If you want or need to keep these materials under lock in key while not in use, you should consider what that facility needs to look like? Can you lease space for trucks or do you need a full office location to manage and/or maintain equipment? 

Route density - How are you managing route density? For volume driven services businesses, managing the density of your techs’ routes is a direct impact on your gross margin. That's b/c you pay for the time it takes your techs to drive from sight to sight. If you do end up with a central office location, you should consider its location in relation to the time it will take your techs to get to their jobs. You may save some money with an office or storage yard on a far flung end of town, but are you actually saving money if you end up paying for your techs to commute out to this remote location? 

Operating area - Where is your operation based and where do your employees live? You may not want or need people to come into an office for low value items if their commute is very long. Also, if you are operating a business remotely across multiple markets, you may or may not need a home base but may favor small regional hubs. Look at a map and look where you are doing the bulk of your business. You may find that an office WOULD make sense but that the location is a difficult one for you or your team. 

Work from home for support staff - As you grow and scale your business you will need more and more people in support (Managers, administrators, trainers, directors, GMs, Business Development, Recruiters, the list goes on and on). These role often don’t interact with customers directly, or at least not in person - most collections and accounting tasks can be done via telephone, even when a customer is involved. So as this team grows, how are you keeping them connected to one another - also, are they all able/willing/interested in remote work? You might ask them if they are set up for this option before making the decision. Imagine if you have worked in an office for 15 years and suddenly someone sent you home and you were working at a kitchen table by yourself…. That might not be the best employee retention approach.

Connections and culture - This one is all about the people. How is your team built and what are their expectations? Do they prefer to work from home or be in one central location? Some people find it harder to turn work ‘off’ when it is from home. Others value the low commute time to their desk at home. You really won’t know  unless you ask and even then opinions may vary. Decide what the culture is that you want for your business and explain it clearly to your team. You might not make everyone happy, but that's likely b/c it’s often impossible to make everyone happy on such a large topic. If you are transparent and honest with your employees - and you bring them into the process, you should be able to stand behind the decision that supports the culture you are striving for. 

Is Hybrid an option -
Many companies that have gone through work from home transitions over the last few years have circled to a ‘hybrid’ model. This is where people may only come in a couple days a week, or where the specific hours in/out are more flexible. If you would like to set this approach, it is a best practice to set specific expectations of when in/out means, what days people are expected to be in the office and how communication should happen between people when they are not in person. While a hybrid approach may feel like the best of both worlds, if done without clear boundaries it can turn into the wild west of everyone ‘making up their own rules’. 

This is a hot topic in business and is likely to remain one for some time. Every business is unique, so there are no absolute rules on this. The most important thing is to sit down and make a plan. Even a mediocre plan usually beats no plan at all.