Is image still important?
We recently saw a social media post in a group for business owners that divided the audience—it even had some of them in uproar!
The author of the post said that they would not do business with an entrepreneur who worked from home.
To them, having business premises validated the company in question and made them more professional.
The entrepreneurs who currently work from home were flabbergasted at the author’s seemingly old-fashioned approach to doing business. Some pointed out that technology allows people to work from anywhere today—and that many benefits can be enjoyed as a result, not least cost savings that could be passed on to their customers. They argued that where someone worked from was the wrong thing to focus on when looking for businesses to collaborate with or engage…that they are appropriately skilled and can deliver on their promises is much more important.
The post author was adamant that having business premises suggested a higher level of professionalism and quality.
One person put forward the concept of virtual mailboxes, hot-desking and flexible offices; they said it’s easy to give the impression that you have a permanent business address and associated office without being saddled with the full cost. To the outside world—even to the person who wrote the social post—there’s every chance they’d never know it was all a carefully-curated façade.
This made us wonder just how important a professional image is in 2022.
A straw poll in the office (our team works from an office situated on a city-centre industrial estate) was interesting. Initially, the reaction to the question of buying a product or service from someone working from home seemed clear: why should it matter? The discussion deepened, however, and some members of the team imagined going to someone’s home and collecting a purchase; they realised that they would feel weird doing this, and that they would have a negative perception of the business provider and the quality of the product/service purchased if it all stemmed from their home. The business owner could be an expert of the highest power in their field, but it wouldn’t matter; the value of their product or service would be deemed less if made/conducted in their back bedroom or at the kitchen table.
Perception still seems to be everything. For example, when asked if collecting a purchase from someone living in a mansion would be better or worse than collecting it from someone working out of a dilapidated shack amongst other commercial buildings, the mansion won out. It also seems to make a difference if a product or service is being purchased; if the latter, people felt it would be more acceptable to visit someone’s home.
Given that so many more people work from home nowadays, this perception could become an issue. In years to come, when it’s more ‘normal’ to visit a businessperson’s home to collect a product or service, attitudes may change; however, some of our younger team members were surprised that they were less forgiving than they thought they would be, relating to where someone works from.
Traditionally, having a professional business image also involved being suited and booted and having a stack of business cards to give out. Dress codes have relaxed a little (for example, if someone turned up to a meeting wearing smart jeans and a shirt/blouse, few people would bat an eyelid) and business cards are rarely used nowadays what with all the technology we have that can connect us with each other. Business premises are, perhaps, the last taboo in this scenario.
Maybe it’s an issue of size. If you’re a successful company, you’d imagine you’d have a team of people working for/with you. Few entrepreneurs would want these team members to stomp through their house each day, and it’s therefore natural, at that point, to branch out into business premises. That’s not to say, however, that a manager and team couldn’t all work from their individual homes; according to Brett, the director of Novus, however, this would depend on the team. If they are all experienced and can get on with the job with minimal supervision, working from home would be much easier than if they’re new starters, apprentices or inexperienced—then, they would require supervision, which is difficult to administer over Zoom or Teams.
Having a professional image positively impacts the success of business owners and entrepreneurs. This can clearly mean different things to different people, though. Whilst some people wouldn’t be put off doing business with an entrepreneur working from their home, it would bother others. At the same time, you could visit a business owner working out of a smart office within a brand-new complex, but if they greet you with their backside hanging out of their shorts and with remnants of their breakfast sandwich around their mouth, you may assume that they’re not the professional you thought they were.
The moral of the story is: working from home has become acceptable for employees, but the perception of actually doing business from people’s homes has yet to catch up.
As mentioned, it’s easy to create the perception that you have a permanent office within a smart business park. Though we’d like to think business owners don’t have to go to such lengths in 2022, we’d be wrong. Image, apparently, is still everything.