Posts Tagged ‘telecommuting’

Going Virtual

In Tips, Tools on December 10, 2010 at 6:23 pm

For four years, REACH has kept its nose to the grindstone and produced some nice work (at least we think so) without paying a dime of rent. We’ve had project teams as large as five people and scattered from Irving to Beijing. We go days, sometimes weeks, without seeing our coworkers in person. When I mention that to other business owners, they look shocked and, sometimes, appalled. And they inevitably ask, “How does that work?” Here are six keys we’ve discovered to making a virtual office run smoothly.

1. Meet. As much as we like the virtual setting, we do realize that there is value in sitting down to a table with coworkers. In-person communication is better, clearer and more rewarded. Is it always necessary? No. But it’s necessary to keep personal contact in the mix.

2. Stay In Constant Contact. No, not the poorly-designed email marketing system (sorry CC users, we’re not fans). I mean keep in close contact with the team. This has a lot to do with technology. At REACH, we do this with several tools that allow us to keep in close contact at all times. We use Basecamp for project management, Dropbox for file sharing, iChat for instant messaging, videoconferencing and screensharing, and of course email and phone. Almost all of our files, deadlines, messages and plans are available in the cloud. And all of those technologies are available on our laptops and mobile devices so no one ever has to say, “Let me check on that when I get back to the office.” There is no office.

3. Use the Tools. It’s one thing to have communication tools listed above, it’s another thing to use them. We’ve developed a “virtual open door” culture. We check in with each other often, and often it’s for no reason. A quick iChat conversation can start with “How’s it going?” “Whatcha workin on?” or “Did you see the Basecamp notes on Project X?” We don’t need an agenda to say, “Hi.” It’s the virtual equivalent of stopping by someone’s desk which, in many workplaces, is how a lot of collaborative work gets done.

4. Get It In Writing. Since much of our communication is via chat, Basecamp message, or text (rather than office chatter or in-person meetings), we’re forced to articulate our ideas, opinions and reports in written form. I think this is a good thing. What it loses in body language and voice inflection, it makes up in clarity and accuracy. Admittedly, I’m partial to written communication, but I think not meeting sometimes helps us have better meetings.

5. Lay Off. As much as we work at staying in touch, solitude is also an advantage for our agency. Since we’re free to choose our own workspace, we can find or create spaces that facilitate our work. For creative work, that’s often at home with no distractions and no one around. Creatives love to “crawl into a hole” to dig into their craft. And it’s easier to do that alone at home than it is with office chatter and an open cubical.

6. Use Temporary Spaces. Finally, we do have spaces available when we need them. Sometimes, there are client meetings or sales presentations that just don’t work as well at a Starbucks. For those, we use a virtual office called Intelligent Office that let’s us pay for office or conference room space by the hour. It’s professional and convenient. And it tells our clients we’re serious about our business.

So that’s how we do it. No offices. No cubes. No TPS reports. We have all of the tools we need and none of the stuff we don’t.

What do you think? Could a virtual arrangement ever work for your business? Why not?