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Office Not Required?

Looking for an office for Webanywhere in Katowice, Poland, 2012
Office Not Require – Sean Gilligan Podcast

Webanywhere was established in Keighley in the North of England in 2003. My business was started from home in my back bedroom. After one year of working from home and taking Over two rooms at my parents house, we established our first office at the Aire Valley Business Centre. We soon outgrew the first office taking over a second office before expanding to 10,000 square feet of space. The new office accommodated 150 staff in a single site open-plan office.

International Offices

As a bootstrapped business and self-funded we decided to establish a development centre in Poland in 2011.

We went to Poland because of the highly skilled technical staff and competitive pricing. Not doing this would have meant the business would have needed to take out a loan to support our growth. 

One of my developers in my UK office was Polish and following the birth of Adrian’s twins and he decided to return to Poland to be closer to family.  We didn’t follow Adrian to Poznan a city in the west of Poland but we did establish an office in Poland nonetheless.

I had visited Poland whilst interrailing in my 20s so I was familiar with Warsaw the capital and Krakow in the south of the country. I decided to advertise for project managers in Poland on LinkedIn. I mistakenly missed our preferred location when posting the job advert so I received candidates nationwide. One essential skill required by candidates was excellent Business English. Screening candidates by video not only explained their skills and experiences but also demonstrated their communication skills.

My shortlist of candidates lead me to select a General Manager called Michal Klaja. Michal persuaded me to select Katowice over Krakow as an office location. Both cities were located in the south of Poland and were close by to airports. Krakow was better known due to its tourist attractions but Katowice was lower cost and had a larger population with its satellite cluster of cities.

Webanywhere Office, Katowice, Silisia, Poland, 2016

Following the 2011 office opening of our Polish office we opened offices in the USA in Chicago and Philadelphia. This brought us closer to customers and tapped into new talent pools. Our companies international reach helped with our diversity and inclusion policies and brought new ideas to the business.

Webanywhere’s first office in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Office for Attracting Talent

Little did I realise that the opening of the Polish office would lead to the closure of our UK office in Keighley. Moving from our Keighley office we went to plush new offices in the centre of Leeds. One of the key objectives was to have a swanky office to attract talent. Whilst we did have customers in Leeds most of our customers were in the United States. The office was smaller than our prior office in Keighley and was open plan. I regret making the office so open because counterintuitively I think it hindered collaboration. The office was conveniently situated near the train station with bars, restaurants and cafes in close proximity.

Fitting out the new Webanywhere Leeds office in 2015
A Group of Leeds Beckett University Students on work experience at Webanywhere HQ

Work from Home in 2022

Fast forward to 2022 and where and how work gets done has changed. An office is no longer as important. Talent can be hired anywhere and to work at any time. The expensive office, the headquarters of the business at it’s focal point has now shifted. Just as shopping has gone online offices are now in the cloud and digital headquarters are the new normal.

In some ways this is sad because there is less in person social contact with employees. In other ways people are given greater flexibility, there is less pollution due to reduced commuting times and work-life balance has been re-calibrated.

Work is no longer about the hours committed but the outputs and achievements made. Flexible work means you can work on the weekend, and an evening or very early in the morning outside of the normal working hours. This means you can adapt to your lifestyle but also focus on work when you’re in the flow of work and you have momentum.

It’s no longer about location and office it’s about which time zone do you want to play in? There are legal and tax constraints when hiring people in different countries but platforms such as UpWork allows you to hire people in the cloud with digital contracts. 

Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous work means that it’s no longer about presentism and it’s more about better documentation, working on your terms and working when and where you choose. 

There are constraints such as scheduled customer calls where you need to be available but the whole notion of going to the office has been put into question. You might want to meet for onboarding, team meetings and other types of activities but this could be hosted at a hotel venue rather than the traditional office.

Traditional businesses that are lagging behind on the digital transformation curve will continue to encourage attendance at the office. Other businesses who adapt to modern technology can realise the cost savings made by not having to pay rent and rates. 

Having run several surveys with my staff asking how many days they would like to come to the office each week the verdict is loud and clear. I and the management team thought two days per week. Staff wanted to attend just one day a week and some people would rather not attend at all. Extrapolating employee expectation on office attendance into the future and all of a sudden you need less Real Estate, less square footage and the viability of current bricks and mortar office space has to be revisited.

Getting rid of your office and simply having a virtual PO Box for mail is an option. We haven’t gone that far. What has changed is when, where and how we work has become remote first. We are now hiring people across five countries not just three. The entire game of retaining and growing your staff and retaining and growing up customers has been disrupted. 

You can now start your business globally not locally. In this brave new world your office location says less about your reputation. Greater credibility is seen by how many countries you are trading in and your international presence.

Do you need an office? Many people think the modern office will adapt for greater collaboration. Others think a remote-first approach where perhaps teams meet once a quarter is a way forward. Hybrid work is being coined at the popular choice for this new normal. Should companies build talent around hubs or just do away with the need for hubs in the first place? There is less office politics when you are not in the office but relationships at work changed and perhaps there is less attachment to a company or brand? 

There are more questions than answers. Not having to pay for an office means more money for staff socials, travel, technology kit and perhaps profits. However, is doing away with office putting more of the risk on the employee? Staff pay for their own heating, broadband and electricity but they don’t want to pay for their commute to work. Perhaps we have reached an equilibrium that will reduce our carbon footprint and balance the work-life divide. A new era where work fits around life rather than life around work. 

The Metaverse

Offices are going online. Cities will need to reimagine office properties to attract people back. In London, for example, people are working from home Monday and Fridays. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are reserved for visiting the office. The question remains why go to the office in the first place when the office has become the home office?

Webanywhere still have several offices after 18 years of trading. I see a future of smaller offices as talent hubs in a greater number of locations. These offices will be places to meet in person to support hybrid work. Geographically offices will be dispersed across more countries and use time zones as an advantage, not a disadvantage when it comes to asynchronous work. Global teams working on one project across multiple timezones can accelerate productivity. Teams across timezones means you have more communication overheads but you have 24 hours in the day instead of 8 and that is a 3 fold improvement. 

The days of one open plan office and everyone under one roof have gone! It was nice to be able to walk over to someone’s desk and go for a coffee. I guess we will have to be satisfied with virtual coffees. The will of most people not returning to the office means going back to full-time office-based work would substantially increase staff churn. Without your staff you can’t service your customers so we would never do that. Therefore, we need to move toward this metaverse and more digital first collaboration. When we do meet in the office this time needs to be spent wisely. It shouldn’t be spent jumping on video calls. It should be for strategic planning, onboarding and building relationships.

Our work patterns and routines have changed. The clock is now broken. We meet in video rooms instead of the corridor. All hands meetings are streamed with video. We video call colleagues or send instant messages instead of tapping a colleague on the shoulder. Lunchtimes are in the kitchen not the cafe. Perhaps people are not eating together like they once did?

Working from my garden shed during the pandemic in 2020

The pandemic has disrupted the way we work. There is no going back to the 5 days a week traditional office. Are we now going full circle with the prevalence of working from home? I started my business in my back bedroom in 2003. Having opened offices in Keighley, Leeds, Philadelphia, Chicago and Katowice I’m now mostly working from my garden shed!

Video Call Sean

I always like talking to new and different people. If you would like to speak just click the video call button below and if I am online I will answer. So if you know me or you would like to talk do reach out.

Many thanks

Web Summit 2020
December 7th

Web Summit 2020 Review

A few years ago I attended TechCrunch Disrupt a technology conference in Berlin. It was thoroughly enjoyable to travel to Germany and soak up the atmosphere for one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. The impact of the pandemic lead us to attend Web Summit 2020 virtually.

Usually, Web Summit is held in Lisbon Portugal this year the event was held online. It’s the largest Tech conference in Europe with over 100,000 people attending including corporates, venture capitalists, start-ups and other attendees.

This wasn’t my first virtual conference because I’d recently attended Brits in the Bay online. Again, Brits in the Bay is usually held in person by GBx in San Francisco. It is fair to say that I probably wouldn’t have attended both Web Summit and Brits in the Bay had it not been a virtual event. Virtual events allow for bigger audiences because you don’t have to travel and pay for expensive hotels. Of course, because it’s virtual it’s not as personable and it’s harder to read the room. This makes it difficult when you are meetings someone for the first time.

I was particularly impressed with the Mingle feature on the Web Summit event platform. This allowed you to network with other conference attendees with random video calls limited to 3 minutes in duration. After each networking session feedback was given helping the algorithm provide better matching for the future. Whilst the matching wasn’t brilliant it was very exciting waiting to see who you would meet next. I did meet one person I know out of about 50 networking sessions. Virtual networking is fantastic for business development and building partnerships.

In a 3 minute dialogue, you’ve got to decide who goes first and how to use your 1 and a half minutes. I think early on you get to understand whether there is common ground. In cases where a partnership isn’t possible, you get to learn lots of interesting information and how people are trying to take their ideas into reality.

In addition to the ability to conduct virtual networking, there was the main stage with five main tracks. Attendees could choose from channel 1 which was for “General Key Notes”, channel 2 which was for “Creators”, channel 3 for “Society”, channel 4 for “Builders” and channel 5 for “Portugal”. Whilst the event was largely online it was good to see some footage from Lisbon Portugal where the annual event usually takes place. Talks tended to be shorter than their in-person equivalents due to the online nature of the summit.  

Main stage key notes would often be attended by over 1 thousand people. If you wanted interactive experiences you could join smaller Q&A sessions or masterclasses. I joined one masterclass held by AWS where instead of joining a text-based live chat I was able to join the video conference. I generally preferred the more interactive sessions making connections rather than consuming content. One of the frustrations of the show is posting questions which don’t see the light of day. Perhaps I need to ask better questions or get them in earlier! This could represent a big opportunity for future online events?

Virtual events have fixed start and end dates but should they be allowed to run on? Some trade shows have pre and post-conference sessions and perhaps online events can be expanded beyond their predetermined dates? On the third and final day of the event the conference continued on into the evening. Web Summit started each day at 12 noon to 8 pm to accommodate both European and American time zones. Many of the guest speakers joined from the United States including Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow and top tier venture capital firms such as Sequoia, Klein Perkins and Index Ventures. Whilst Web Summit claims to be the pre-eminent European tech conference there was a big US influence on the show.

When you are at a trade show the last day often involves a rush to the airport to get home. Virtual conferences don’t have the packing up of bags and stands before the show has even finished. Web Summit gave all participants both a password-protected website to access information and a companion mobile app. Long after the conference had finished I continued to receive messages and connections from participants. It makes you wonder when the actual conference ends? Perhaps there is a missed opportunity from the conference organisers not to extend the event? 

There is no question the amount of data created on both the Web Summit web app and mobile apps will be astonishing. It will be interesting to see how the event organisers use the data for next years event? Perhaps they will compare the data for 2020 with 2021 in sophisticated ways to make for an even better event experience for returning participants.

In a traditional tradeshow, your badge is scanned and there are technologies for geographical understanding such as footfall. However, in comparison, an online event generates a much deeper understanding of speakers, sponsors and attendees which in theory should lead to greater personalisation.

Web Summit has announced that they will be back in Lisbon in 2021. It will be interesting to see how they balance the needs of in-person attendees versus online participants? Personally, I love attending live events but given the economics, environmental impact and travel times it is tempting to stay at home.

Face-to-face communication is best especially when you’re meeting people for the first time. However, video calls offering sophisticated matching might surpass the effectiveness of in-person exhibition shows. Ultimately I think hybrid events will be the way forward.

Event organisers will have to strike a careful balance between the offer for in-person attendees versus online participants. Organisers will need to think about the price of an online ticket versus being in person. Sponsorship is key to events. How and where sponsors spend their money will be interesting for the future. Perhaps smaller in-person trade shows will be complemented by online participants?

If you want to learn more about virtual events please visit Event Anywhere:

Series 1 #SeanInTheShed on LinkedIn

New #SeanInTheShed Series 1
Watch 18 Episodes on LinkedIn
#SeanInTheShed is a new daily business talk show started during the lockdown 
Coaching Sean talks to Antony Cockle about Organisational Development 

Social Media Sean talks to Alex McCann about Social Media 

Finance Sean talks to Simon Palmer about the Financial Landscape  

Sales Strategy Sean talks to Steve Crow about Sales & Marketing Strategy 
Silicon Valley Sean talks to Richard Kil about Silicon Valley 
Tax & Risk Sean talks to Andy Wood about Tax Planning and Managing Risk
Marketing Sean talks to Pete Coates about Online Marketing 
Events Sean talks to Pete Erikson about Events Management 
IPO Sean talks  to Jonathan Straight about Floating on the Stock Market and to James Poulter about Voice Technology
International Sean talks to Simon Bedford about International Business 
Sales Coaching Sean talks to Nijar Kapur about Sales Coaching
Self Development Sean talks to Bianca Best about Self Development and Phil McKeith about eCommerce
Mentoring Sean talks to Victoria Tomlinson about Mentoring 
Legal Issues Sean talks to Gareth Yates about Legal Issues 
Technology Innovation Sean talks to Howard Tullman about Technology Innovation and Start Ups
If you would like to be a guest on #SeanInTheShed we go live daily at
(BST) 4.30pm and warm up at 4pm. Please direct message me on LinkedIn.
I hope you enjoy watching.

#SeanInTheShed On LinkedIn LIVE

Following the coronavirus and everybody working remotely I now work out of my garden shed. If social distancing had not been introduced then #SeanInTheShed a business talk show wouldn’t exist. It’s one of the small ways we can turn this crisis into small positive actions.

I talked with Antony Cockle

We go live at 4:30 pm every day of the working week. We start off by talking about the interviewee and how they started their career, then about their business followed by how they are coping with the coronavirus crisis and any advice they would give.

Having published my own book “Flexible” about five years ago I was able to get Beta access to LinkedIn live. I either had to use it or lose it and so I decided to get started.

I talk with Simon Palmer

#SeanInTheShed has made me become a better listener. I’m also learning a lot along the way and making some fantastic business connections which might be mutually beneficial in the future. It’s also good to reconnect with people I’ve known over the years.

#SeanInTheShed broadcasts on a daily basis on LinkedIn LIVE.

Visit my page on LinkedIn to see the archive of #SeanInTheShed footage