Earlier this year, Stafford Sumner managing director of email marketing consultancy Jarrang handed the keys of the company's Falmouth office back to the landlord. It wasn't that the firm could no longer afford the rent, far from it; it was just with the six-strong team spending most of their time working either from home or customer sites Sumner realised the rent, and all the other costs associated with running an office, were an overhead the business could very much do without.
"There has been a perception that without a central London postal address you aren't worth considering," he says. "But that is changing. We tend to do a lot of work at customer sites anyway so not having an office really doesn't matter."
Sumner is also sold on the company's environmental gains. "The main environmental advantage is that we aren’t traveling into work everyday," he says. "We'll now be doing some marketing based on our green credentials – our whole business model is pretty green as email marketing helps eradicate all that junk mail."
Jarrang is just one of a number of Cornish-based companies that are increasingly embracing flexible and home working and finding that they are enjoying major business and environmental benefits as a result. In fact the Cornish inward investment agency, Cornwall Pure Business, claims that with its rural-based population, world renowned natural beauty and recently established 99 percent plus broadband coverage, the county is the "natural home of flexi-working".
Dr Ranulph Scarbrough, a programme leader for BT's Network Research Centre is another Cornish convert to the flexible working model. Speaking from his home office in Falmouth, he argues that along with the environmental savings gained by eradicating the commute encouraging flexible working can help boost staff productivity, improve firms' equal opportunities record by making the workplace more accessible, and generate massive cost savings. BT, he says, now has 12,000 people regularly working from home and the company has saved £5m as a result.
However, Scarbrough does warn that there are some pitfalls firms need to avoid if they are to get the most out of flexible working. "You need to transform your management approach," he advises. "A lot of managers like to see you in and working and you need to ensure that people are confident that productivity gains are being realised."
Isolation can also be a problem and Scarbrough advises that firms try to avoid having staff working from home constantly. "You need to maintain the informal communication paths," he says. "Keep up with the gossip if you like."
Yet for many firms the benefits far outweigh the pitfalls and some Cornish businesses are now using flexible working as a starting point from which to address their entire environmental impact.
St Austell-based design firm Leap Media is one such company and has positioned itself as an environmentally-sustainable, carbon neutral operation. Founded by Matt Hocking, who previously worked as head of graphics for the world-famous Eden Project, the company claims it is the UK's first green design agency – using renewable energy, ethical banking, flexible working practices and insisting all its design work is done on recycled paper.
The model is reaping dividends for the company, which now boasts major firms such as Microsoft, Wrigleys and Eden, as its clients. "When we first start working with customers they can be a bit nervous about using recycled paper or about us being down here in Cornwall," admits Hocking. "But what we do is go in, begin working from their offices and prove to them that the model works."
Hocking is convinced other firms, particularly in the creative industries, can benefit from adopting more sustainable business models and relocating to rural areas such as Cornwall.
"The creative industries can be really low impact - all you need is a laptop a printer and a phone," he says. "Cornwall is particularly rewarding for these types of firms. You could argue the area is like a muse."
It is a view shared by Cornwall Pure Business, which is currently trying to exploit the region's reputation for sustainable living and natural beauty by establishing it as a "green cluster".
A support package is available from the agency for relocating firms, providing them with help finding premises, staff, and in some cases low interest loans. It is attracting considerable interest amongst IT and creative firms, according to Cornwall Pure Business' Nick Blandford. "More people are thinking about green business and we've always been a good location for sustainable businesses," he says. "I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but since the Stern Report [sic] we've had a rush of inquiries from environmental technology firms."
Scarbrough is also convinced that rural areas such as Cornwall are likely to be major winners as the knowledge economy evolves and more firms look to limit their environmental impact. "As we move to a knowledge economy the key thing you'll need is skilled people," he says. "If you can have an edge in attracting people, and a good location can give you that, then you'll really benefit. When I first moved to Cornwall I was with a start up that was advertising for high end IT professionals, and even with the current staff shortages we were inundated with applications."
"The computer age has meant that you can work anywhere," adds Hocking. "So why not work somewhere like Cornwall where you can go for a surf before work."
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