Financial benefits of escaping the rat run and working from home

Sue De Bievre, chief executive of Beany, at work. Yes, really.
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Sue De Bievre, chief executive of Beany, at work. Yes, really.

Life in our cities can feel gruelling, and expensive. Slog into the office, slog home, pay the mortgage, pay the rent.

There's another way, but it requires embracing the cloud.

Sue De Bievre did it, founding a cloud-based accountancy business called Beany, whose chartered accountants do their work from home offices anywhere they please.

Not for Beany is the expensive city centre office. Not for Beany accountants is the rush-hour grind.

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Beany has accountants in Hawke's Bay, Papamoa, Hamilton, Dunedin, Queenstown, Rotorua and even Auckland.

Commuting is a bane of modern life.
RAFAL OLKIS/123RF

Commuting is a bane of modern life.

De Bievre does her accounting from Hawke's Bay, often from home, sometimes from cafes.

But that's not a barrier to growth, with client businesses, who pay a monthly subscription for services, worth well in excess of half a billion dollars from all over the country.

She estimated running four office hubs around the country would cost around $72,000 per year in rent.

Then there'd be the office power, phones, insurance, rates, stationary, probably equalling the rent. Add hardware maintenance ($48,000 per year), long and short term service contracts like cleaning, cyber security, physical security and other support ($96,000), and receptionists ($192,000), adding up to just shy of half a million dollars a year.

She says this figure doesn't even factor in hardware set up costs, and traditional hardware server costs.

Beany does use some "shared space" and clearly has phone, stationary and cloud hosting costs, but going virtual saved around $455,000 a year compared to the the traditional office based business model.

De Bievre believes many service business owners could take a lot of cost out of their businesses, and make them a lot more competitive.

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For employees, there's a great deal of flexibility, including breaking the tyranny of distance, which can bring personal financial advantages.

De Bievre recalls her own life in the commuting, office-bound rat run.

"I was that female accountant working for someone else," she says, and feels a sense of mission in helping others make the leap into a better life.

"I like the imagery of springing all those women out of their cubicles."

The biggest impact on their personal finances is springing them from the necessity of buying, or renting in cities like Auckland.

"The cloud has given us the ability to work from anywhere," she says.

Remote workers can buy better houses for less because they work from home, the taxman helps them pay their mortgages, and insurance.

ANZ's home business division lists some of the financial benefits of working from home, included no commuting and lower transport costs.

A worker who used to do 12,000km a year, might find they now do as little as 5000 km a year, so the car spends a lot of its time in the garage, is protected from the sun and weather, and lasts a lot longer, ANZ says.

Research paid for by the Australasian Railway Association in 2015 estimated the average New Zealander commuter pays $11,852.98 per annum in car ownership and running costs.

The costs will vary from individual to individual. As well as petrol and maintenance, working from home ends the need to pay for parking, which can easily consume a four-figure sum in major cities.

People working from home can also share some of the costs of running your home, such as telephone, rates and electricity expenses, and it can be cheaper to dress as there's no need for fancy business suits and dresses.

But them working from home can push up some costs, like the power bill.

For some, working remotely can mean being able to command significantly higher salaries than they could get in the area where they want to live.

One of De Bievre's Queenstown clients has a London-based job, which he does from Kinlock, working 7pm to 3am daily.

While some people do become entirely home-based, many others are adopting a halfway house - using flexibility to do some working from home.

This can be particularly valuable to people with young, or school-age children, enabling them to keep down the hours their children have to do in childcare.

This reduces both parental guilt, and cost, while allowing parents to continue working and earning.

In 2014, Statistics NZ found almost a third of employed people spent some time working from home over a four week period, but for most employees it was a relatively small number of hours.

Technology has now reached the point where physical meetings are no longer necessary. Beany client meetings are done by Skype or Google Meet.

As well as the personal financial benefits of working from home, there's been a happiness gain too for staff, says De Bievre.

Part of that is a physical comfort thing. Research shows commuting reduces life satisfaction.

But De Bievre says her accountants do miss the social nature of a traditional office.

​Last year she surveyed her accountants. "Most said they did miss walking into the office sometimes," she says.

They compensated however, and found they were spending more time with friends and family.

"It actually makes us more sociable in our private lives," she said.

"They had all come up with strategies that helped deal with the isolation," she said.

Some do some of their work in social environments like cafes, a strategy De Bievre uses.

A few also used shared working spaces from time to time, and De Bievre said the cloud services Beany accountants used included Slack, a communications system they all used to chat during the day.

"We have time built into our budgets for gossip," she says.

 - Stuff

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