Working from home might save on more than tea bags

It's time to look at whether rent is a necessary expense, says Helen Simmons of the Diocese of London

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons

In these frugal times, many charities are looking at the rent they are paying and questioning its value for money. Rent can be one of the largest contractual commitments an organisation has and, apart from market testing the amount being paid, it often feels like there is no way to reduce that budget line in any significant way.

Having said that, I have heard of a number of charities moving in the past six months towards operating in a 'virtual office', leapfrogging the hot desk concept and moving straight to comprehensive home working. By leaving only the very core processing functions in a small rented space, or by outsourcing them altogether, they are looking at the possibility of everyone else working permanently from home in the future - and thereby slashing one of their high fixed costs.

It's quite radical and not for everyone, and I would like to think it's a strategic choice by those best suited to it, rather than - as I suspect it to be in at least one case - a last-ditch attempt to balance the budget.

When the alternative seems to be to cut a charitable activity altogether, it's a tempting option to consider: but how many will actually implement it?

I believe there are many organisations for whom this would be a sensible decision - not cutting meetings altogether, but recognising that most of our work and communication is no longer face to face, and therefore paying for people to sit in the same room emailing each other across the five-metre space between them could be seen as an unnecessary luxury.

Skype is pretty mainstream now, as phone conferencing has been for years. 'Working from home' is no longer code for 'looking after the kids and eating toast in your PJs while watching Grimefighters'. Most of us can easily be set up to use our PCs at home, with full access to applications and email as if we were at our desks at work - there is no delayed response time and no clunky unreliable modem dial-ups to grapple with. And you could also save on loo paper and tea bags at the same time.

One size won't fit all, and the risks would need to be balanced with the opportunities it would open up, but it certainly deserves to be on the long list of ways to get a balanced budget. So if you are now budgeting for 1/4/2012, why not add it to the list?

Helen Simmons is finance director at the Diocese of London

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