In researching the cover story for the April issue of Inc. magazine, The Case for the Virtual Company, the entire editorial staff went virtual. Using email, mobile phones, and video conferencing they spent the month putting together the issue from home, coffee shops, and any place but their luxurious offices in Manhattan.
While many of the staffers missed the camaraderie of the office, they also enjoyed their new flexibility, and gained many of the same insights into virtual workplaces that we at VSee have discovered.
Among their findings:
- At $49 per square foot for Manhattan office space, a virtual office can save a lot of money.
- You don’t need a lot of expensive consultants and equipment. In fact, consumer-oriented tools are often more advanced than what is left behind in the enterprise.
- When working at home, one needs to find new ways to establish boundaries between work and home.
- You still need some sort of physical office, even if it is just a place to meet with customers.
- Trading an ergonomic chair for a mattress can give you a backache in a matter of days.
Perhaps the most difficult problem in making the transition was discovering the cultural practices that enable collaboration at a distance, since there were less chance encounters in the hallways and at the water cooler. One virtual CEO they interviewed said he found he needed to call his employees just to chat so they would not feel out of the loop.
In the end, most of the employees looked forward to returning to the office, albeit on a more flexible schedule. They did conclude that going virtual can work for a lot of organizations, but the ones that will get the most benefit from it are those that designed their cultures around this mode of work from the beginning. Whether provided through physical proximity or technology, the social aspects of the work environment are essential.