Do you need an office to set up a new business?

Running a business without an office might seem impractical, but it’s something many entrepreneurs have successfully achieved

Tuesday, 11 January, 2022

There’s a common misconception that the last two years have been hugely damaging to small businesses.

In fact, many startups and sole trader enterprises have flourished during this incredibly turbulent period, while larger and less adaptable businesses have often floundered.

Throughout 2020, almost 20,000 new businesses were launched in the UK in the information and communications sector alone, while service-sector brands are also booming post-lockdown.

Historically, each of these enterprises would have required a dedicated office somewhere, yet the pandemic has made working outside the office the norm, rather than the exception.

Indeed, running a business without an office is increasingly the preferred method of working. But how can this be accomplished in practice?

Trading places

Every business incorporated in the United Kingdom needs a registered head office, but it doesn’t have to be a commercial building.

Few mortgage lenders or landlords would prohibit a business being run from a private home address, providing customers aren’t visiting and goods aren’t being sold.

If you’d rather not have your home address published on the Companies House website, there are businesses offering registered head office addresses as a service.

They’ll forward mail and redirect enquiries, while some provide workspace for hot desking or client meetings.

Be warned that you may encounter issues with search engines, who often regard shared office addresses as unsuitable for inclusion in listings like Google My Business.

Going spare

Pre-pandemic, running a business without an office might have raised a few eyebrows. Today, we all know better.

From the ongoing use of video calling on news bulletins to the meteoric rise of Skype and Zoom, working patterns are more flexible than they’ve ever been.

That doesn’t just relate to working hours – it also means it’s acceptable to conduct virtual meetings with a wardrobe behind you, or a toddler having a tantrum out of shot.

Millions of people have repurposed spare rooms and outbuildings into offices, with technologies like mesh WiFi networks ensuring dependable online connectivity.

If you’re going down this route, our recent guide to making a home office nicer is worth reading.

After seeing how large corporate firms have been burned by ten or 20-year office leases, entrepreneurs are understandably reluctant to enter into long-term property rental agreements.

Nobody knows or cares any more if year-end accounts are filed from a branch of Costa, or if documents are photographed and emailed rather than being scanned in a mail room.

The world in your pocket

Another historic reason for not running a business without an office involved reliance on hardwired technology – server rooms, filing cabinets, tower PCs with installed software.

Given the wealth of mobile apps and productivity tools designed to keep professionals in charge and in touch on the move, it’s possible to run a business from a smartphone.

Even a budget laptop will comfortably manage online banking, document preparation, video conferencing and supporting the vast canon of cloud-hosted software in use nowadays.

Cloud hosting has also transformed areas like document storage and website hosting, which previously might have required the facilities of an office.

You can even call on ad-hoc IT expertise by finding a company offering remote desktop support, where you pay for their services only when necessary.

Contact tracing

Historically, clients might have felt reticent about dealing with a company without registered premises or a landline phone number.

The internet has given us many different ways to get in touch, especially as nine-to-five is superseded by 24/7.

Customers expect multiple communication methods, including via social media, while technology can simplify any received enquiries or comments.

Virtual assistants provide off-site reception duties, automated emails or chatbots acknowledge enquiries and buy you time to respond, and call redirects disguise your reliance on mobile phones.

These services each incur modest costs, but even collectively, they’re likely to be cheaper and more practical than basing yourself in rented premises five days a week…

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!