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Office rent rise prompts remote response from Cloud Industry Forum

Faced with a 40% rent rise, the Cloud Industry Forum took the bold decision to close its cash-hungry southern office and embrace remote working – facilitated by a Skype for Business Cloud PBX.

Whilst Crossrail will bring many economic benefits to London and the South East, it’s not without its downsides. The economic growth it’s predicted to fuel is impacting the region’s already inflation-busting property market.

It’s an issue with which the Cloud Industry Forum is familiar. Early this year the trade body’s landlord demanded a 40% increase in the rent for its Maidenhead offices.

That dramatic hike prompted chief executive Alex Hilton to review how the organisation operated, resulting in a transformative move that would both cut costs and enhance productivity.

It saw him return to a theme he’d previously raised on a business-to-business social media platform.

“As an aside I’d posed the question on LinkedIn of who needs an office these days? It generated a huge response which I found interesting,” he recalls. “By far the majority, some 99% of people, said they totally agreed, that they operated a mobile workforce.”

Events then overtook, placing the idea firmly in the real world for Cloud Industry Forum (CIF).

“Our rent was put up considerably, by 40 percent in fact, and so we were looking at our finances. About 10% of our overhead costs were going into the building and yet I and a number of other people actually tended to be out of the office quite a bit.

“So I made the call to close the office.”

Not so long ago this move might have seemed bold, even reckless. But today switching from a fixed-base to remote-working business model makes increasing sense, thanks to the growing availability of empowering technologies.

The CIF is better placed than most to recognise this. Representing big IT vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, Dell and Intel, it exists to champion and advocate the adoption and use of Cloud-based services by businesses and individuals.

But even so, in making that switch the CIF recognised the need to partner with a technology supplier it could trust to ensure the smoothest possible transition.

“Pennine were recommended to me by a former colleague,” says Mr Hilton of his decision to select the Bury-based data, networking and communications specialist for the project.

The company upgraded the CIF’s existing Skype for Business to incorporate the platform’s Cloud PBX – a virtual telephone exchange.  “Pennine did a good job for us,” reports Mr Hilton of the switchover which also saw the CIF’s existing telephone numbers being ported over to the cloud platform, prior to the office closure.

The Cloud PBX offers many benefits, including removal of the management and IT infrastructure costs associated with traditional ‘phone systems. It is also fully integrated with Microsoft’s Office 365 suite which means, for example, that Exchange calendar can be exploited to route calls according to business hours and individual availability.

“I can also see people’s availability and, if I need to get hold of someone quickly an IM conversation is an easy thing to do now,” says Mr Hilton, touching on the unified communication functionality yielded by Skype for Business.

Crucially for CIF, though, the solution enables remote working, uniting a geographically disparate workforce whilst eliminating the need for time as well as cost-hungry commuting and office space.

“Our staff are fairly widely spread from Scotland to the South West and South East. One lady had for 20 years been travelling in from North London and it was taking her 1.5 hours each way to get to work. She’s a happy bunny now!”

It’s not just that staff can work from home, but they can make calls from anywhere at any time.

“We can take Skype calls anywhere, I have a PC that’s permanently anchored to my desk in my home office, but I also have a Microsoft Surface that’s the device I go out and about with. I can be anywhere and still pick up calls, information and so forth.”