Connectivity comes in many forms and while technology makes modern business more efficient and effective, there’s still a place for human contact.
That’s the lesson that Vodafone learned when it dispensed with its full time office space in the west of Ireland, encouraging its staff to smartwork instead, taking laptops on the road and working from hot desks in regional business hubs when they needed office space. The results have been improved networking, reduced costs and led to a happier staff.
The company had been renting an office in Briarhill, Galway but realised in 2017 that it was too large for its needs.
“It had become a little run down and there was no serious connectivity in the building so our sales guys were hesitant to use it. The rental cost was €25,000 per year plus utilities at €5,000, meaning we were paying out €30,000 per year for it,” said Debbie Ward, regional sales manager for Vodafone.
“When our contract expired we had to decide what to do, so we moved to providing office space via local hubs in Sligo and Galway to accommodate the regional account managers in the west.”
The company took space at the Portershed in Galway City (https://www.portershed.com/page-about-the-portershed.html) and at the Building Block in Sligo (http://www.thebuildingblock.ie/#). Both came at an annual cost of just €2,600 each.
“I cover a large geographical area and have accounts nationwide, from Galway to Dublin, so I spend a lot of time on the road. Before we started using the hubs, hypothetically I could be anywhere and a typical day would start with one or two appointments, and then I’d find a hotel and fire up the laptop in a bar or coffee shop to do admin,” said Tom Cunningham, business development manager, B&E-Enterprise Sales-Corp-Services for Vodafone.
“I could do it but it’s not ideal. At the Portershed in Galway we have reserved desks and I use it two to three days a week to try to put some shape on the amount of travelling I do. There’s great wifi, nice coffee – all the mod cons of an office. It’s a functional location and there’s a community feel to it.”
The message is that even a digital world, it sometimes helps to run into someone in the corridor and get chatting – businesses are often built that way. Ireland is still quite parochial, and generally in the smaller parts of the country everyone knows each other and getting your name out and known is definitely helpful.
That’s according to Michael Phelan, business account manager for B&E-Enterprise Sales-Corp-Services in Vodafone. Based in Sligo, the nearest Vodafone offices to him are in Galway and Dublin.
“I was going to customer meetings every day and then I’d park up in a hotel or coffee shop and work from there. So you buy a cup of coffee and settle in, but once that coffee is drunk you start to feel a little awkward taking up space,” he said.
“You get up and move on somewhere else. Or you find yourself working at home, and that has its own challenges. Your family see you there and don’t always understand that you need to be left alone. Getting a good work life balance is hard.”
Phelan now has a base in the Building Block in Sligo and much prefers being able to split his time between his work on the road and a fixed desk that has very little responsibility attached to it.
“We have a permanent space in the facility and there are meeting rooms there if I need to bring customers in. You don’t leave paperwork around, as it is a semi-public space, but it gives you a base. It’s much cheaper than a full office and fits our needs perfectly,” he said.
The problem with a total road-warrior existence, according to Phelan, is that when you’re on the road all the time, you don’t really meet people.
“It can be lonely if you’re only speaking to customers or colleagues. Since we took space, it’s totally different. There are social lunches every two or three weeks and the occasional after work drinks, so you get talking to people. A lot of the companies that are in there are start-ups, but Sligo is small so everyone knows everyone else, and personal referrals have real value.”
Could this be a model your company could follow? The advantages are clear – significantly reduced overheads, better facilities for staff when they need them, top quality connectivity and no long term rental contracts.
Most importantly, people like working around other people and networking is a crucial component of any sales function.