Gini Dietrich

How a Virtual Office Allows You to Stop and Smell the Roses

By: Gini Dietrich | July 15, 2013 | 

How a Virtual Office Allows You to Stop and Smell the RosesBy Gini Dietrich

It’s hard to stop and smell the roses. Americans, particularly, live in a constant, 24/7, keeping up with the Jones’s society.  We’re so focused on what comes next, we forget to slow down – or even stop – to look back and see what we’ve accomplished.

In November 2011, we moved Arment Dietrich out of our 2,500 square foot office space in downtown Chicago. By that time, we’d already begun a transition to a more flexible work environment and had people working in Idaho, New York City, Colorado, Ohio, and California.

One day, after traveling for a few days, I went into the office and all that space was empty. Patti Knight was the only one in that day and she was sitting there all alone.

I just shook my head.

Virtual Office Space

Between that and how much we were spending in rent each month, we decided to go completely virtual for a year to see how we liked it.

It wasn’t until the movers were taking our furniture and boxes down the 66 stairs to the moving van that I stopped to look at what we’d built and it made me a little sad to be giving that up.

Fast forward to today and, while we don’t have the office space and fancy furniture to tell our story to those who don’t yet know us, we’re a stronger, more efficient, and more profitable organization.

Here’s the other thing we (society) do: We worry about what people think if we don’t do things the way everyone else does. For a long time, I didn’t want to admit we don’t have an office because I know how some prospects view that. Along the way, we decided those people aren’t our target audience.


We focus, instead, on attracting, hiring, and retaining the very best talent for the job. We don’t have to worry about moving those people to our headquarters in Chicago, we don’t have to  pay per square footage, we don’t even have to buy technology or cell phones anymore.

This allows us to compete with some of the larger communications firms because we don’t have all that overhead.

For clients, it reduces our fees. For the company, it increases our profitability. Employees see it as a huge benefit and it allows us to compete at a different level than before. For me, I can focus on what’s important and not on why someone’s lunch is missing from the fridge or why the air is down too low.

We do things such as Google Hangouts for our staff meetings, a steps contest using a Jawbone UP – which the company purchased for everyone -and even use video technology to brainstorm or collaborate nearly every day.

Some of us leave our desks at lunchtime to exercise, while others prefer to take their dogs on long walks at 9 a.m.

We have unlimited vacation and sick time because we’re focused on results and not whether or not people have their butts in their seats from 8:30-5:30 every day. No one is worried that so-and-so goes to the gym at 3:30 in the afternoon because they only see the person is accomplishing their goals.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Because we had a goal of doing this for only a year, we constantly reviewed what was working and what wasn’t working. When it came time to vote on getting office space again, the answer was a resounding no. Not one person voted yes (including me).

Sure, being a virtual organization has its cons – just like having office space does – but it allows us to stop and smell the roses every day.

We’re focused on business growth and on becoming a communications firm of the future, not on keeping up with the Jones’s.

P.S. We’re just a little more than a week away from our free webinar with email marketing genius, DJ Waldow. Join us on Thursday, July 25 at 11 a.m. CT. Register by clicking here.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • patrickreyes

    I love how you have transformed the company with this. It is amazing that there still exists the need for face time vs. measuring success based on performance at some larger companies.
    More importantly, I appreciate how you tested it for a year and then revisited it again. That is the crucial step that often gets lost.
    Go Lions!

    • patrickreyes I’m pretty sure I can kick you out of here for cheering on your team in my home. GO BEARS!!

    • PattiRoseKnight1

      patrickreyes Did I see go Lions? GO BEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I’m in the process of looking for office space downtown but the virtual environment is something I’ve been entertaining for a while. My staff wants the collaboration and the flexibility, and yes there are days when the office seems very empty. It’s a double edged sword. 
    My clients are in the education industry and we sell pretty substantial workflow systems. I’m not sure if I could get away telling them we are virtual, but I will definitely test the waters by lightly probing them on the subject.
    Glad to see it worked out so well for you and your team. 🙂

    • HelenLevinson I was really concerned about what clients would think. That’s why I wanted to give it a year and see how it went. There isn’t a single client who has a problem with it and we have had only one new business prospect say they couldn’t work with us because of it. What I’ve learned is clients care less about where you sit all day and more about the value you provide them.

      • ginidietrich I agree! There is more to it on my end though. Another topic for our chit chat over drinks… if the planets ever align to allow for that to happen. 🙂

  • PattiRoseKnight1

    You just gave me a flashback of the move and the movers….let me just say that boys will be boys no matter how old they are!

    • PattiRoseKnight1 Yeah, that was a terrible experience.

  • Oh so much to say since I just started a several month stint in an office after being virtual for over 10 years…..but can’t say it all yet……since I’m in the freaking office!?!!
    Ill be back!

    • LauraPetrolino I’m actually really curious about that. I know it’s only been a week, but you’ll have to report back.

      • ginidietrich LauraPetrolino Yeah, I’d love to know too. Do tell, Laura!

        • lauraclick ginidietrich LauraPetrolino Me too! I turned an opportunity down last week that involved me being “on site” while doing work for the client. I couldn’t do it. The walls started closing in on me LOL

        • KateFinley I think I would go on-site for a client if it was only once a week. It would make us better at doing the job for them, that’s for sure. But if it were more than that, I’d turn it down, too.

        • ginidietrich KateFinley I could do once a week.

        • ginidietrich KateFinley They wanted 40 hours! OMG

        • KateFinley ginidietrich ACK.

        • KateFinley Oh yeah. No freaking way.

    • LauraPetrolino Yep, commenting on my lunch break now.

  • bowden2bowden

    I love it (virtual), miss some (office) but hopefully will not to go back! The nimble opportunities certainly outweigh a few negatives!

    • bowden2bowden Every once in a while I think, “Boy this sure would be a lot easier if I had everyone in one spot.” But it’s maybe only once a quarter I feel that way so it’s not really worth the cost.

  • Woohoo! We’ve also been loving the (mostly) virtual life. I like your idea about giving everyone a Jawbone UP!

    • rosemaryoneill I really love the UP because it holds people accountable to blending exercise (even if it’s just a walk in the middle of the day) with work. We track everything in a spreadsheet so we all see what everyone else is doing.

      • ginidietrich rosemaryoneill Love the exercise idea too. That is the one downside to working from home — I’ve slowly gained weight! LOL I can sometimes find that I’ve been sitting in my chair for hours and not noticed. Definitely looking into this!

        • TaraGeissinger You definitely should look into it. There is also the Fitblex and Nike has one. Check them all out to see which you like best.

  • Lots to say on this topic. Like, for the first time ever, I turned down a lucrative opportunity because the client wanted me to be “on site” when I worked for them. Before being offered that opportunity, I hadn’t fully realized how much I’ve embraced the freedom being virtual provides. I do not think I would be able to work in a traditional office environment ever again. Just the thought of it makes me feel panicky and upsets my stomach. 
    I struggle with expectations and comparison but I consider myself lucky that so many people have switched to a virtual office setting. It has helped make explaining the situation to clients so much easier. And, I haven’t heard a complaint yet!

    • KateFinley I agree! I couldn’t go back to working in a traditional workplace either!

  • I love working from home -I eat healthier, I don’t have to commute and I get to spend more time with my puppy – plus I’m more productive. Because everyone can see my goals every week, it keeps me on my toes and I don’t have time to slack off. If I do, my team and our clients will know – and I don’t want to disappoint any of them!

    • yvettepistorio you do know that ginidietrich is getting you an office to come to work work for your birthday right?

    • yvettepistorio That’s awesome! Yes, when I had a home office, I ate better and my house was much cleaner. Which sounds silly, but it reduced my “life stress” and allowed me to be really focused on my work.

  • Yep, it’s the bees knees, that’s for sure. I often tell people that when you work from home, you never “stop” working. But I wouldn’t be more or less always on if I didn’t love my work, as well as the flexibility to actually have a work/life balance for the FIRST time in 26+ years of working. It rocks.

    • belllindsay I know what you mean. I was handling a website emergency last night from my phone while waiting for the Monsters University movie to start. (Our server was down.) I am sure to the untrained eye I looked like just another disconnected mom on her cell phone instead of talking with her kids. BUT — crisis was averted, movie was enjoyed and we all got to spend a nice evening together. 😉

    • belllindsay I hear ya, I’m in sales and I’m always working…….it might look like play at times, but always working….:). We may doze, but we never close….

      • bdorman264 belllindsay TaraGeissinger I think it isn’t healthy having the work from home because when I did that as an outside sales rep in LA for 5 years my work was ALWAYS there and it was oppressive. Takes a certain person to tune out work when it is at home. I want my home a place of zen and harmony. Not a place of stress. That is why Virtual doesn’t equal Home necessarily.

        • Howie Goldfarb bdorman264 belllindsay TaraGeissinger Yes, it is hard to strike the work/life balance, especially in sales, working from home. Because you know what? A lot of my customers work on the weekends, so if they are working, so am I! But that doesn’t mean that hours spent at my desk when I want to be in yoga class is helping that either.

        • Howie Goldfarb bdorman264 belllindsay TaraGeissinger I think it depends on the person. I work from a home office and can tune out just about anything — and have! I’ve taken client calls in the garage before because it was the only quiet place available with 2 dogs and 3 kids running around. 🙂 I guess in a way it’s my version of 33 tequila shooters! LOL

      • bdorman264  “We may doze, but we never close….”- Marry me!

  • YES, YES, YES! I actually wrote about keeping up with the Joneses last week. It’s rarely a good way to make decisions. Also, I’ve found the same thing re: prospects and office – the ones who ask about it and turn their nose up at the virtual concept are rarely a good fit. 
    I always think about this when I grow my team – if I’ll stay virtual and how to do it. I think there are a lot of benefits as you’ve outlined. The biggest downside for me is that I do miss the human interaction. I have to force myself to get out sometimes to be with people. But, I don’t need an office for that. I just need to be more intentional.

    • lauraclick I think it works for me, particularly, because of all the travel I do. I’m on the road two or three days a week so my two days in “the office” are a great reprieve.

      • ginidietrich Totally get that. I would feel that way too if I were in your shoes.

  • I think this model is the Workplace for Adults — people who have the self-discipline and responsibility to get stuff done without someone looking over their shoulder.
    One question: what do you do when you need to meet with clients who come to town or you need some neutral space  for in-town clients to get them away from the distractions of their office (like for media training). I’ve looked at a variety of spaces for hourly/daily rental. Do you use hotel conference rooms? Or does it come up?

    • RobBiesenbach In the past year and a half, it hasn’t come up. If we do media training, we typically go to them, which means we use a conference room in the hotel where we’re staying. But for clients here? Hasn’t come up.

  • Well, you know my thoughts on the matter. 😀

  • SavvyCopywriter

    I’ve been a firm believer in the flexible workplace and (to some extent) flexible work times for awhile now. It works for my business too. The result is improved productivity and higher quality work. Great to hear more organizations like yours are taking this initiative, giving it a go, and seeing the benefits it can have!

    • SavvyCopywriter We’ll be two years in November and so far, so good!

  • I could have written this *entire* post. We’ve structured our business this way as well and have been operating virtually for 8 years now. I truly believe it’s the secret to our success! Our team relies heavily on extremely talented work-from-home-Moms and I am proud every day that we’re able to give them the ability to get the best of both worlds! 🙂 We use 37 Signals platforms for organization as well as Skype and Google Hangouts for face to face interactions. 
    I think the key to running a virtual company is trust. I can’t physically SEE when everybody is working — and like you we have no set vacation time or sick time. Everybody is simply accountable and they treat my business as if it were their own, which in a way it is!
    I live in steamy SW Florida and thanks to my virtual business, I am spending July up in the cooler NC mountains with my three kids. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    • TaraGeissinger And tubing!
      I think not being able to physically see people is half the battle. I know when we were in the office, even when we were moving to more flexibility, it was really hard to watch someone leave for two hours to go to the gym when you got to the office before them and left after them. It’s much easier to track performance against results when you remove that human element.

  • There are times when you just aren’t on your game. When I walk away for an hour or so to clear the mind I’m way more focused when I get back to it. Can’t do that in a 9-5 corporate job. The fact that anytime I look to my left I see a mix of chipmunks, squirrels, and a dozen types of birds each day keeps me in good spirits! I did the corporate slog for so many years, it’s amazing that so many companies stick to their old ways. And like you said, with Skype, hangouts, and so many online project management apps its easy to say in touch and collaborate.

    • MikeHale Exactly. I don’t like feeling that I am just “clock-punching” by filling a seat when really my mind needs a break.

      • RebeccaTodd At my last big corporate client where I was doing software development I was told by my manager that if he saw me “just staring up at the ceiling” again I’d be off the project! I didn’t even try to explain what I was doing was called *thinking*. I knew for a fact he wasn’t familiar with the concept.

        • MikeHale Exactly! And when I was out with friends Saturday, and someone asked me about where my next vacation would be, which flowed nicely in to my new sales strategy for Europe…no one was there with a stop watch clocking those minutes of “strategic thought”. My boss gets it, luckily.

    • MikeHale I just had this very conversation with someone who will remain nameless. I told her I know how stressful it is to get up and leave your desk when you have so much to do, but it ALWAYS helps. If she’s overwhelmed or stressed, I ask her if she’s been outside yet. If the answer is no, I make her stop what she’s doing and go. It always works.

  • Other than personnel and insurance (of course), our occupancy costs is one of our top expense items. I’ll bet we don’t average 5 walk-ins in a day. 
    For me however, an ‘office’ gives me a sense of purpose even though I could actually work out of my car. I’ve been doing the Lanier gig for 30 years now and I’ll bet I can count on two hands how many times a customer has stopped by to see me. 
    Yes, we could go virtual fairly easy and probably save some serious change. It would be interesting to see your evaluation in 3-5 years to see what dynamics you gave up by not having an ‘office’ vs the efficiencies you gained by being virtual. 
    I’m sure this won’t come as a shock, but my wife wouldn’t let me stay home anyway; I would have to have an ‘office’ somewhere…….:).

    • bdorman264 I think depends on the business. In your case I bet there is camaraderie building from being together. So I wonder how ginidietrich gets that team feeling from a far. I find with my work I am often out of site out of mind. So I have to pester clients with emails and text messages.

      • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich There are some dynamics to be achieved by working with others in my world. Sales can be very lonely at times so it’s nice to have others to commiserate and brain storm with.

    • bdorman264 You could go to Starbucks and bug all the baristas.

  • techsocialite

    I started a career a year and a half ago with ShiftNote, a software company that makes communication and scheduling tools for restaurants, retail, hotels, etc. The company has three virtual offices, and it’s freaking fantastic! We have the same vacation, non 9-5 policy, and honestly, I work more now than I ever did. We’re all passionate about what we do and growing the business, and goals are more important than sitting in the same spot for 9 hours a day. 
    We Skype every morning, and use our own software to stay in the know on things happening with the business. We also meet up a few times a year and not only work, but enjoy each other’s company. 
    Our mobility also allows us more opportunity to go out and visit customers.
    I love the virtual office setup, and recommend to everyone!

    • techsocialite I LOVE that you meet up a few times and enjoy each other’s company. I try to fly one person to Chicago every month and then we all get together once a year. For the people who are here, they’re lucky because they get to see members of their team once a month. But we’re still small enough that we can’t afford everyone here every month. Yet.

  • techsocialite

    Thought – someone should throw a virtual office happy hour, Google Hangout perhaps? :o)

    • techsocialite I heard that in ginidietrich ‘s Google Hangouts everytime someone says ‘Social Media’ everyone drinks. Every time someone says ‘Facebook’ that person has to take off a piece of clothing. At least belllindsay told me this. So I guess even in summer everyone is wearing like 13 shirts and jackets and all look like they live in Alaska. But then Toronto and Chicago are pretty close to Alaska weather I think.

    • techsocialite During the fall and winter, we do wine:thirty on Thursday afternoons over Hangouts. Not in the summertime because we have summer hours on Friday, but we’ll institute it after Labor Day.

  • KaryD

    I’ve read a lot recently that supports the notion that this work environment is the one that will allow companies to attract the best talent. Not gonna lie…I sure do miss the roses from time to time.

    • KaryD I’d actually be really interested in the pros and cons of both, from your perspective.

      • KaryD

        Sounds like a potential blog post. 😉

  • I can’t wait to be back in company that has a virtual office. Not having to “dress up” and commute everyday will add hours to productivity alone.

    • stevenmcoyle And brushing your teeth at your desk!

  • I like that you said Virtual vs Home office. This works if you can find an ‘office’ somewhere with no one like a wife who works nights or a kid who is 2 around. I also think this is why large companies prefer workers with a partner and kids….this ensures they need to come to their building to work!
    But you are right because an office is a place you do work. It can be anywhere.  I have worked on wilderness hikes during lunch with my smart phone!

    I have 2 homes next door (the inlaws and the rich absent neighbors) that I go to to work like I am right now. And I can go work at the Big Picture to enjoy maple donuts and vermontcoffeeco but not a good place if I have to make calls.
    In the mornings before my left foot went bad I would take my daughter and go jogging with her stroller and use my smart phone to schedule the 40% of my clients twitter content that is informational vs conversational. As well as converse with people in their networks that are tweeting at that time. As well as stopping to see the cows sheep and pigs. Now I am stuck bike riding much harder to do anything while riding….WAIT GOOGLE GLASS WILL SOLVE THIS!

    • Howie Goldfarb I work from home and send my 2-year-old off to daycare and get to enjoy a nice, quiet house ALL DAY. It’s awesome. Then, when I need to feel less isolated, off to the coffee shop I go. I even, on occasion, get to have lunch with my husband (who works in a more traditional punch-the-clock-at-the-office environment. Love working from a “home office” 🙂

      • Kato42can’t afford daycare yet! We have a sitter sometimes but this will be my first year since 2009 making above the national poverty level income. My wife is a dance teacher. If she got a day job it would pay for day care…maybe…and nothing else. She did retail making $10 an hr for a bit. 10-7-taxes-gas= negative income. At least she has state healthcare I haven’t been to see a doctor since 2007 because that was when I left the corp world. 
        Kind of sad that 80% of US jobs pay $30k or less. 4/5’s of us live in in the third world.
        So count your blessings! 8)

        • Howie Goldfarb Yikes. I hear you, Howie. I actually pay for daycare with borrowed money – I’m finishing up the last course in my Master’s degree and working part-time (from home). 
          I find sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “la la la la la” helps to drown out those pesky money thoughts. 
          Although, I am lucky to live in Canada, where you can always access health care. It would be awful to have to worry about that 🙁 Hopefully things will turn around for you guys soon!

    • Howie Goldfarb I love how you use your phone to do so much of your work. That’s what it’s really about. Being able to work (and live) wherever you are, whenever it works.

      • ginidietrich did not work on my ride this morning though did tweet bdorman264 and you! lol

  • Great post G! I’ve been on both sides of this equation in two comparable roles…there are benefits and drawbacks to each. 
    While I respect what bdorman264 and Howie Goldfarb are saying about working from a remote office in sales means “you may doze, but never close” (that’s GOLD, Bill!), it is really, really hard to maintain my travel schedule and be present and in clean clothes at the office. I often return from my road trips on a Saturday. To have to come home, clean my house, wash my clothes, repack my carry on, be in the office Monday and back on a plane Tuesday is nigh on impossible. If I could instead do my Monday catch-ups from my house while I do some laundry and open my mail, is it so terrible if I am also listening to my vinyl and drinking my Haitian Bleu? 
    Conversely, I do love being in the office- especially after long road trips where I get so desperate for non-sales conversation- to see my colleagues and catch up with what is happening in their worlds, work or personal. 
    Now that I am going to be on the road even more (somehow!) I am pushing for this flexibility, to split between my office and my kitchen table.

    • RebeccaTodd I did your kind of travel in my 20s when I worked at FH. On the road T-Sa. I often landed at 10 p.m, ran home to shower, and met my friends out…just to have some semblance of a normal life. Then in the office (in a suit and heels) on Mondays and back at it on Tuesdays. Maybe that’s why I love this setup so much. My travel isn’t quite that bad, but I really love working from home after three or four days on the road (which is where I am right now).

  • What I find amazing is the number of companies that won’t budge off rigid hours. 
    Our newspaper is fairly traditional in the office sense. We even have cubicles. However, I’m about to go workout and will be gone for about 90 minutes. Nobody will say anything.
    We have two reporters training for marathons (or half marathons, I forget which). I do not care that they come in a bit later in the morning. It keeps them happy and they do a great job.
    At the same time, we’ve got some staff who need that 8-5, hour for lunch, two breaks rigidity. It is what they work best under, so I certainly don’t hinder that if its what they are after.

    At the end of the day getting the job done well and on deadline is what’s important.

    • ClayMorgan Great points Clay. We have a split in our office as well, for lack of better terms, between the “clerical” and “professional” staff. Some roles need the hourly mandate- some do not.

      • KateNolan

        RebeccaTodd ClayMorgan Yup, that’s pretty much how we’re set up with a mix, but everyone is pretty much expected to be here for office hours (and then some). I tried, for a while, to make 8:30/45-6:00 with some at-home post-office hours for “my” projects work, but after enough snarky comments from the higher-ups I’m now 8:15-5:00 and I’m less inclined to work on projects at home. Now they get less time and I work on personal projects at night. Of course, we’re in manufacturing, so the traditional time-clock is what rules. Someday, though…

        • KateNolan RebeccaTodd ClayMorgan Excellent points! When I am too tied to regular office hours, I do the same thing- even when I feel inspired to work at home, I “leave it” for office hours! Why should I curb a desire to work when I feel like it, just because I am forced to be at the desk when I am not feeling it? Weird “logic”.

    • ClayMorgan I spoke to a CEO group last week and found a lot of this old way of thinking. I think organizations will change when Gen Y begins to have positions of power. Until then, it’ll be “this is the way it’s always been done.”

      • ginidietrich ClayMorgan ahem. In 99% of the cases you aren’t CEO unless you are old Gini! Of course they have old thinking!
        You wait 20 years when 40 year old punks make fun of your virtual office idea because they just plug a wire into their brain socket and download the work into the matrix, takes 10 secs…they disconnect, collect their pay and enjoy the rest of their day.

    • ClayMorgan Good for you, Clay. There needs to be more bosses like you in the world. There are people who need rigid schedules and those who need freedom. If you give people an environment where both can thrive, you’ll have happy, healthy and productive employees. Well done, sir!

  • Building on what ClayMorgan said… Companies often won’t budge. We recognize different learning styles in our schools but not necessarily different work styles in our offices. Freelancing is a great example of the fact that a company I work for doesn’t care how many hours I put in on a project or when I work on it, as long as I accomplish it well and in the time they need it. Why can’t more companies work this way with the employees who work best in that “structure”? Or at least be more flexible in offering certain days to work remotely?

    • Word Ninja I think it boils down to human beings do things the way they’ve always been done. To ask us to change is very hard…we don’t like to do it. I was pretty stubborn about this at first (and a little scared) and now I can’t imagine it any other way.

      • ginidietrich True, and I can understand feeling apprehensive, especially if things seem to be working OK ‘as is.’ But you stepped out, which takes some guts!

  • I love the virtual office for a million reasons beginning with productivity. I always got more done and found a higher quality of satisfaction.
    Sure, sometimes you miss the interaction but it really cuts down on endless meetings and the chatter that sometimes made work harder.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes I wonder if I enjoy it as much as I do because I’m on the road two or three days a week? I get that interaction way more than my team does.

  • Glad the mad experiment worked out! I know when I have to go into the traditional office setting I’m up earlier to get a few hour of work in before the morning commute. Now I am able to wake up and have a relaxing cup of tea to see what is happening in the world. I’m also way more creative at home, mainly because my kick-a$$ mission control is higher tech than anything most companies will provide. Work remote also gives me the opportunity to take field trips to inspire when getting stuck in a rut.
    Congrats again on making time to smell the roses, to find that productivity and profit.

    • briantudor The other thing I love about it is people would much rather use their own technology than what the company would provide. I’m totally cool with that and our IT team supports them.

  • I think I always comment the same way when you talk about this topic.. when I need to get stuff done, I work from home. There are WAY too many distractions in an open-office environment. Being in an office environment again I find it takes me 40+ hours to do what used to take me 25.  That’s a whole lot of lost time.

    • KristenDaukas The constant interruptions were always what killed my productivity. Not to say we haven’t completely eliminated those, but it’s easier to ignore an instant message or text than it is someone standing in your doorway.

  • KevinVandever

    You’re my hero.

  • Pingback: Gini Dietrich on the Benefits of a Virtual Office |()

  • Liza Butcher

    I spent over a year working from home and am so delighted to be working in an office environment now. I thrive off face-to-face interaction with co-workers and find working from home alone is a challenge for me, especially with a cute, energetic dog bouncing around the house. I do think working from home should be an option, since some people do very well in that environment.

    • Liza Butcher I was curious how the new job is going for you!

      • Liza Butcher

        ginidietrich I am loving my new job at Kinark Child and Family Services. I am learning so many new things everyday and am teaching myself so much too. I am rocking the Adobe Creative Suite!

  • Okie dokie I finally made it back! So yes, I was a virtual worker for over 10 years, before that I was in an office working in the political world, so one could technically say I’ve never really experienced office life (because politics is just different and I was traveling or on the hill most of the time, soooo….)
    I have now completed one week and one day for a contract consulting position I’m in for several months and here is my perspective ‘from the other side’
    Summary (if you are busy and don’t want to read further): BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Ick! Hiss! (Cue slime dump)
    First let me remind you all that this is coming from a total extrovert! I love having people around me and as a virtual worker I needed to make sure I went out every night to see people, even if it just meant heading to my best friend’s house for a doggy playdate, I needed to have social interaction. So I’ll start by saying that the one thing I like about working in an office is having people around me all the time. 
    Now, the cons:
    -I’m much less productive because I’m not in my own space, I’m not comfortable, I’m worried about the fact that I’m freaking freezing and have 8 cardigans on vs. spending that time working. When at home I’m able to fly through so much, but office work is full of waiting and often being on other people’s time schedules. I’d guess my productivity has dropped a good third and it drives me nuts because I thrive in a highly productive atmosphere. Oddly enough I’d also guess that my productivity level is higher than most of those around me because they have some how adapted to the drag…this drives me crazy too. Let’s just get stuff done folks!
    -The time drags. I’m not sure why because what I’m working on is very interesting. But when I’m at home working I’d often be clicking away in a creative manifesto and all the sudden it’s 5pm and I had no idea where the day went, but I had a ton of awesome work done to show for it. Now an hour seems like a century. Here again, I think it has something to do with not being in my own space, not being comfortable, not being able to jump around like a lunatic for a few minutes when I just need to regroup, or go take 15 to walk my dog an then come back better for it. 
    -The amount of time I waste prepping and packing food to take, dealing with actually changing out of my workout clothes, commuting and what not probably steals a good two hours from me each day…again valuable work time, or even more importantly valuable recharge time.
    -For me personally,  a very important part of my day is connecting with others and being a connector for them to others. This is part of what I do and important across the board. In the office I’m totally disconnected (because of ‘rules’ on computer use and firewalls, because obviously I’m five). This is extremely problematic for me on multiple levels
    So over all this experience has in fact confirmed that office work stinks and I was born to be free!
    I’m a peacock! I’ve gotta fly! (and everyone who knows that reference instantly gets a petro gold star)

    • Oh…and the second moral of this story is….I MISS YOU GUYS!!!!!!

    • LauraPetrolino The same thing happens to me when I’m working at home. The time flies, and I get so much done. I actually have to make myself stop. Luckily I have to eat…

    • LauraPetrolino Um, I KNEW there was a reason I liked you! Man, I feel  you on this. I was the reverse….worked in an office my whole career until the past year. I definitely like being free MUCH better. I’m more productive and absolutely hated the bureaucracy, the firewalls (that was huge) and the drag, as you called it, in office culture. I hated the birthday parties and cake passing…it felt like Office Space. I hated looking out of my beautiful high-rise office and longing to be outside and take a break whenever I wanted. 
      But, the downside is I definitely miss being around people. I get way more done now, but I definitely have to find ways to get out and be with people. Sometimes, my husband is the only person I’ll see for DAYS and that’s not good for either of us! 😉 
      Anyway, thanks for the perspective. It sounds like we’re in similar camps! One of these days we WILL meet!

      • lauraclick YES we will! This year is going to be the year of the “Laura Bomb’, I just hope the people are ready for so much amazing Laura-ness in one place!

    • LauraPetrolino I found in the office world anyone who had jobs that didn’t have incentives to make more money whether it be sales or group bonus goals, the people who have no incentive walk around bugging those who do. I used to hate having people bug me non-stop to chit chat. The other side was when I had a home office in LA I had a sister company an hour drive away that had the Divisional Big Wigs. This meant the 2-4x er month I had to work from there I spent half my day schmoozing/building relationships.
      What a waste of my time!

      • Howie Goldfarb Precisely! It is really interesting you bring that up, because the whole office ‘culture’ thing is something I’m really watching closely, partially because that is a big part of what I’m there to do (which is ironic in many ways). I think companies waaaaay, waaaay, waaaay under estimate the effect the cultural trends of an office space affect EVERYTHING (including their bottom line)

    • LauraPetrolino I was at a meeting last week and we were trying to get access to my Keynote file. They wouldn’t let me hook up my own laptop, they didn’t have access to Dropbox so I could download it, and my Mac wouldn’t talk to a flash drive. I said to the owner of the business, “I’ve never been somewhere that the security is so high I can’t access anything. And you’ve invited me here to talk about social media!” 
      So I really, really don’t understand why organizations shut their employees off from the world. That might be one of my biggest pet peeves.

      • ginidietrich It’s mind boggling really. It took a whole week for me to even be able to access my own computer there. A week! And same situation, can’t use my own laptop, pretty much every site is either blocked or ‘a security risk’ (aka, spin sucks is a security risk, so congrats!) 
        Again, this brings up culture issues and the roadblock those cause, as I mentioned in my response to Howie Goldfarb above. I could start quoting Viktor Frankl here, but long story short, when you treat your employees a certain way they will respond accordingly. Trust affects culture, if affects motivation, it affects the feeling of ownership in a job and an organization. In many ways it is the difference between setting up a culture where the employees are part of the organization vs. just ‘working for it’. That distinction is HUGE!
        When it comes down to it the deal is this: I don’t need a proverbial time clock to check in and out of, or firewalls to prevent me from being on Facebook because I see what I do differently. It isn’t a job I show up to, it is something I really love, something I feel I do that uniquely contributes to the world. When I don’t do as well as I could in my work I let myself down because I don’t live up to the goals and potential I aspire to. 
        Not all, but many office cultures make ‘work’ a task, vs. a passion 
        (sound the trumpets….you can tell I’m all worked up when I start making verbose speeches! Haha!)

        • ginidietrich Man, I wish Livefrye would let me like my own freaking comments because I just inspired the crap out of myself! Go me! Woo!

        • LauraPetrolino I liked it for you! This reminds me of working in the ad agency and you had to check in with reception when you arrived at work. She had a spreadsheet and she’d put an X by your name with the time you arrived. But no one was looking to see what time you left each night and that drove me crazy. If I were 15 minutes late, I got in trouble, but I got no comment if I didn’t leave until 9 p.m.

  • JodiEchakowitz

    Gini, as you know this is a topic that’s close to my heart – especially since this July is 12 years since I started my virtual agency (bring out the champagne!!). While I agree that those who aren’t willing to work with a virtual agency should not be our target audience, it’s still disappointing when a large company you would love to have as a client (especially after they ask you to participate in an RFP) decides that the virtual approach is not for them (happened to us earlier this year). At the same, it’s really rewarding when you secure new business with a company that’s skeptical about the virtual model but is willing to make it work. For this new client, I know that it’s a huge opportunity for us to demonstrate that location is irrelevant to the results that we can deliver.

    • JodiEchakowitz In today’s world, location is totally irrelevant. We have several clients we haven’t met in person, but do lots of video conferencing and it works really, really well.

  • rdopping

    Interesting points. I have to reinforce your point that office space does not drive culture, productivity and profitability. People do. Once a culture is in place good office space “supports” that culture. There are certainly many other organizations that have a ROWE who also have space for people to get together in the same place to share ideas and interact. Mitch Joel interviewed Adam Alter recently who nailed something very well; humans will find a way to connect because we cannot, inherently, be alone. 
    You have achieved that in a different way but i have to ask; do you miss the physical nature of interaction when someone is in the same room as you when you are working together?
    I did also want to reinforce that the other factors; accountability, open-minded approach to business, maturity and the realization that your type of business didn’t benefit from physical space is more important than the simple fact that rent can be applied in other ways to benefit your clients and your profitability. I am assuming your IT costs have compensated somewhat for the gain in overhead anyway.

    • rdopping I don’t miss the physical nature of interaction at all. But I wonder if that’s because I travel so much? I’ve been on the road several days a week for the past few weeks so I think I get what I need that way and am happy to put my headphones on and work when I’m home.
      As for the IT costs…that has gone down too. I’ve found people prefer BYOT (bring your own technology) and we just support what they already have. I don’t have to worry about shipping them machines, getting them back if they leave, etc. We have a process for getting the files and that’s that.

      • rdopping

        I do wonder how your approach scales. It’s great that you can take advantage of all these cost benefits. I suppose you pay your employees exceptionally well as compared to their industry peers. Right? 😉

  • As a person who has telecommuted since 1998, I greatly appreciate the work/life “blend” (new term I heard since there never seems to be balance if entrepreneurial) that a virtual office offers. There are some challenges:
    – When leadership is old-school and assumes you are not working unless they can see you
    – Clients that need to know you have physical space for development teams…because your competitors do
    – Maintaining a company culture when individuals are so focused on their own work/life blend that there is no corporate culture of camaraderie. Harder to know how co-workers are doing on personal milestones, life events, etc…when you never see them face-to-face. Hard to take the relationship to the next level on an open conference call.

    • dbvickery The first two we don’t face. The last one I work really hard on, as the leader. Part of our “Get Up and Move” contest is to invite that kind of conversation into our meetings. While it’s focused on fitness and health, we always find the conversation moves toward what might be keeping us from getting 10,000 or more steps.

  • FelicityFields

    I’ve been office-free for 3 years now.  But I have 1 client for whom I make the trek out to their offices once a month, simply because they need the security blanket of my presence. (Which is a fabulous presence to have around, you understand – for them. ;))
    Every month I’m more thankful than I can say that I never have to go back to the 9 – 5 office grind again.

    • FelicityFields I do the same for some of our clients. I don’t have a problem doing that. I just wouldn’t want to do it every day.

    • EmilyBrown2

      FelicityFields Yeah me too. I’m loving to work at my own pace and my own time :)) Still I give my best as a

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  • We have physical office space (mostly because I have more kids than bedrooms and they pushed me out of my home office) but I don’t care where folks work. One of our team members likes to work in a co-working space once a week or so and that’s worked out great.
    In addition to giving her a fresh perspective she’s meet some folks who could be resources on our extended team, she’s gotten to see how a different group of folks works, and made some friends. It’s been 100% positive.
    I agree with rdopping that humans have to connect — so we’ll find a way whether there is a physical office or not.

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  • I think the key is getting the technology that allows this.  Even if you don’t plan on 100% remote work, getting the right tech now can keep you efficient in the event you need to work remote unexpectedly, and will set you up for a more flexible business model down the line, should you decide to change.

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  • Having a talented virtual staff bring cost savings to the company.  You never have to worry about not having enough office space because of new employees. Virtual Staffs are the future today.