The 5 Minute Commute
PUBLISHED: 15:28 23 March 2016 | UPDATED: 19:41 05 April 2016
Working from home - is it really the easy option?
It’s the start of the working week: Monday arrives with relentless frequency. However old you may be, that sinking “Sunday night feeling” is exacerbated by the thought and then reality of the morning commute. You’ve had a blissful weekend at home, but the relaxed feeling you’d built up disappears in an instant as you get behind the wheel to traipse in to work. Whether you battle along roads (main and lane), fight your way through city traffic, stand all the way into work on a train (for which privilege you pay a small fortune), brave traffic on a bicycle, make the most of the country bus services, or virtuously veer off to the gym before the office, that time spent combatting your fellow commuters to and from work rarely makes you arrive in the office on a ‘high note’. Once you get to work, you sink into the office environment either with alacrity or mediocrity – probably partly dependant on the ease of the afore-mentioned commute.
So, imagine this scenario instead: your day begins with a stroll round your garden, pyjama-clad, cup of coffee in hand – inhaling a few deep breaths of crystal-clean country air. You go inside, change, pick up your office keys – and meander back across the yard to your office. It takes all of 2 or 3 minutes. The only thing likely to hold you up is dithering over whether you take a second cup of coffee with you…
The CLA (representing farmers, landowners and rural businesses) recently released a new league table which showed Cheshire as being the best county in England for running a rural business. The main criteria (to both support and challenge their findings) included: broadband and mobile coverage and connectivity; the adoption of local plans by planning authorities; opportunities available for the development of rural skills; and entrepreneurial dynamism.
One of the first questions our Sales team are asked when showing people around new properties is “What is the broadband speed?” More and more people seem to spend at least part of their week working from home. Whether their home office is in the shed at the bottom of their garden, in an exquisitely converted barn, or in the lean-to garage, they need internet connectivity above snail-pace, and signal on their mobile without standing on tip-toes in the guest bathroom or in only one place in the garden. No business these days can properly operate without decent access to the internet and mobile world. There is no getting away from it – not every area is perfectly served with decent cabling: it is still a postcode lottery if you do not live in a town or city. From a purely personal perspective, apart from my early “career” days in London, I have always lived in rural locations and from my last house, I ran a baking business. I was reliant on email for orders, invoices, ordering supplies; I needed mobile communication for delivery runs and navigating. Let me tell you – getting up at 2.30am was a picnic compared to the daily frustration of internet speed, and extraordinarily patchy mobile coverage.
Because my business was based in the kitchen, I didn’t have to get involved in planning matters. We moved house before I had to make the decision as to whether we’d outgrown the “home business” model. The next step for a growing business more often than not means an expansion of space or updating existing buildings and the incumbent facilities to cope. But are you just converting your shed for you and a desk, or are you digging up the entire garden and constructing an all-singing-all-dancing work space? Are you converting a barn with a long-term plan in mind (first you, then building a team?) or a complete array of outbuildings with machinery, health & safety issues – and parking spaces? Is your development concept a “live/work scheme” or something that will have impact on both highways and environmental issues? You will need to look at your insurance, and you’ll need to look at your energy tariffs. Depending on what type of business you’re running, you need to be sure that any increased traffic won’t impact those near you – particularly if you have a shared driveway. Working from home is a very different prospect to running a business at home: whatever your scheme, there may be a point where a “change of use” is triggered. If you are lucky, you will encounter a Planning Authority who will work with you as they can see the benefit to economy and community. They may have a good Local Plan in place, and have a record of permitting applications to convert and change buildings because they can see the benefits in the diversity conversion can bring.
If you are a Landlord with tenants who would like to run a business from home, you will need advice on changing the Tenancy (if appropriate) to cover business use, and be aware of the extra wear and tear provisions, and make sure that your tenants are aware that their repairing obligations might well change. You will also need to know what the appropriate market rent is for a Business Tenancy – whether purely business, or more along the “live/work” lines of occupation. Can a successful business add “kudos” to an Estate brand – and vice versa: does it add value for you both?
Rural businesses add a much-needed diversity to the landscape – both metaphorical and physical. As a business owner, you have to be creative, resourceful and innovative – and have a never-ending supply of energy! Your investment in local skills as well as in any monetary sense will, of course, play an important part in your longevity. Fostering local pride and loyalty is worth its weight in gold.
From personal experience, I wouldn’t kid myself that running a rural business was the easy option. It can be lonely at the start, you are reliant on yourself 90% of the time, you take the failures harder, and change your goalposts on a daily basis when you succeed. And there is a downside of your office being 50 yards away: you have to discipline yourself to literally “shut the door” on it as it becomes all too easy to never get away. But would I do it again? You bet! The thrill when you get it right, the joy of really getting to know your suppliers and your clients, the chance to organise work-life-family in the way you want it, the fun of becoming embroiled into your neighbourhood, and the slow commute to the office across the garden with the dog…
Strutt & Parker, 37 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RS 01244 354888