Live/work business is booming
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Tim Dwelly, puts the trend in context and asks: what facilities do these free agent businesses need to thrive?
It will come as no surprise to Freelancing Matters readers to hear that the UK workforce has been shifting fast towards ‘free agent’ working over the last ten years. Interestingly there has also been a big shift to working from home.
We have used Labour Force Survey figures to show that, between the two census years of 2001 and 2011, the number of self-employed homeworkers in the UK rose by 24% to over 2.3 million.
This group, what we might term live/work businesses, is the fastest growing part of the workforce. In stark contrast the number of commuting employees rose by only 1.9% in the same period. In many regions and counties where live/work business is prevalent, the contrast is even bigger.
In Cornwall, for example, self-employed homeworking rose 88% between 2001 to 2011 while commuting employment fell 6%.
Despite all the hard evidence, many of those in economic development (often commuting employees of large organisations) continue to think that the UK economy depends upon large ‘high growth’ companies with staff who travel to a workplace.
I beg to differ. The combined power of micro entrepreneurs in the UK who sensibly choose to work from home is not to be sniffed at. And it’s incredibly good news for carbon reduction too (let’s leave that for another blog).
Those who work mainly at/from home are overwhelmingly likely to be self-employed or running a company – at least two thirds of the total, the data shows. Why? Simply because it’s more affordable, more convenient and (in an age of rapidly advancing technology) the equipment needed is easy and cheap to get.
These ‘workers’, to use an old Marxist analysis, now control their own means of production. They own their own computers, iphones, scanners, printers etc. They can communicate with a global market via broadband. And they can subcontract to associates rather than take on staff. Why wouldn’t you run a business from home?
Not only do we (I am one of them) represent over 40% of all businesses and most start-ups in the UK. We are also the pioneers of flexible working. If councils, government departments and big companies want to know how flexible working works best, surely they should ask the people who do it? Or even – here’s radical – consider whether to employ contractors not staff more in the future?
But it’s not all rosy. What about the downsides of working this way? Isolation, invisibility, family life intruding (and vice versa), problems using a home that was never designed as a workspace. These are the challenges. How can they be tackled?
One answer is to join a workhub.
These are workspaces offering membership, not just permanent workspace. They offer facilities such as meeting rooms, video conferencing and other high end equipment. Workhubs are fast emerging all over the UK to support live/work businesses, as numbers rise.
On workhubs.com, google maps show where workhubs are available and what they offer. An ‘office when needed’, workhubs are the equivalent of a business gym: members sharing great equipment rather than each buying their own. They are surely the future of workspace, especially for those running live/work businesses.
At their best workhubs are also beehives of collaboration and networking. Unlike the local Costa or Café Nero, there is no background music and you will often know who those people are on the sofa nearby doing business with their laptops.
Workhubs offer the kind of business buzz you just won’t get in your home. And you can access it when and how you want to.