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Gini Dietrich

Pros and Cons of a Virtual Office

By: Gini Dietrich | October 15, 2012 | 
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One year ago, we made a strange, but important, business decision.

We decided to go completely virtual, giving people the opportunity to work from home, save on commute time, and be more productive with little to no daily interruptions.

At the time, I said we’d revisit it in 10 months to see if, at the year mark, we should go back to having an office.

When we discussed during a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, the answer was a resounding no.

How it Works

At the time, there were only two of us in Chicago, with other members of the team spread across the country. And I was spending a good three days a week out of the office. So it wasn’t a big deal.

But during the past year, we’ve not only added new team members from other states and Canada, we’ve added some from Chicago. And everyone works from home.

For the people in Chicago, I do in-person one-to-one meetings with each of them on Mondays. I do the others by phone or Skype, depending on the person’s preference.

Then, on Tuesdays, we do an all-staff meeting where we have the chance to discuss client work, upcoming projects, and business results. We’ve tossed around the idea of having the people in Chicago in one room while those not here join us via Google Hangouts.

I suspect, though, people enjoy not having to get ready for an in-person meeting or making a commute to one location in favor of chatting on the phone.

Pros and Cons

I remember a couple of years ago, a very well-respected business leader in my Vistage group said to me, “I don’t think you like managing people. It goes against your personality. You should find a way to run a business where you don’t have to do that anymore.”

He was right. I’m naturally an introvert, which is a hard personality for a business leader. I don’t like to be interrupted. I like my routine. And the HR issues that arise from politics in the office drive me absolutely insane.

People used to argue over the temperature of the office, turning the A/C up and down until one month our electric bill, for a 2,500 square foot space, was $1,000.

Those arguments are gone and so are the, “He ate my food” and “Why are the dishes piling up in the sink” debates.

No one comes in to my office, slams the door shut, and starts to vent…no mater what I am working on at that particular point in time.

I love it.

From a business perspective, my team is completely focused on results, not activity or staying at their desk during lunch or after hours just to prove they work more hours than anyone else.

Productivity has increased nearly 30 percent.

But, on the flip side, most of our communications are electronically, where you miss sarcasm, nuances, and body language. If a person is having a bad day or isn’t feeling well, they project that on the email, instant message, text, tweet, Facebook message, or pigeon carrier you just sent. And sometimes it’s not so good.

We have to be really careful about having hard conversations in person or via the phone (which still isn’t ideal, but sometimes the only way) vs. electronically.

People ask me all the time what we do about meetings. The truth is, I’ve had the occasion to have three meetings, in the past year, that required space. And they were all with vendors so it wasn’t important we have an office to show off.

If clients in Chicago want to see us, we go to them. If out-of-town clients want to see us and they’re visiting Chicago, we meet them in their hotel lobbies.

There has only been one new business meeting where the prospect wanted to come meet with us in our offices. When I told her we are virtual, she dismissed us from her list of candidates.

I guess there still are people who think legitimate businesses have to have actual office space.

Which is Better?

All-in-all, the pros completely outweigh the cons. Heck, the increase in productivity, alone, outweighs the need for office space, rent, furniture, security, utilities, equipment, and more.

It’s a new day. The web allows us to work like generations before us never would have imagined.

We now have the opportunity to work with experts around the globe, without having to incur the cost of moving them to one location or them having uproot their lives.

Who knows? Maybe offices will eventually go away and those people who scoffed at us will come back, looking for advice on making the virtual thing work with multiple offices and multiple employees.

A girl can dream.

A version of this first appeared in my weekly Crain’s Chicago Business column.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

189 comments
Outsourced Business Services
Outsourced Business Services

Having virtual offices can indeed have pros and cons. Thank you for posting this informative article about such. Cheers!

Centennial
Centennial

This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives in depth information.

ArmieCabrera
ArmieCabrera

A great read on the pros and cons of virtual offices. The insights are truly useful. Thanks for sharing. 

Sdrew
Sdrew

I think that it is great that the virtual environment is working so well for your company. My feeling is that if you can get the job done, then where you do it should not be of  great importance.  I wish you continued success!

Meme1820
Meme1820

Glad to hear that virtual is working out well for you, Gini. It certainly sounds like you are going about this kind of set up in the right way, holding regular meetings and Skype calls with your staff, even if it is just to have a quick catch up helps to keep everyone in the loop and prevents any feelings of isolation. I wish you continued success in your virtual office set up!

Mel,

alldayPA

http://www.alldaypa.com/virtual-office

wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

@todayspreneur @KavalonThatsMe Thanks for the RTs. (I love @SpinSucks.)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@DaveThackeray Thanks for the RTs this morning (er, afternoon)!

lauraclick
lauraclick

Read this post earlier in the week and am just now getting a chance to comment. So glad you're enjoying a virtual office. I think there are huge benefits to this for the businesses that can do it. Not only does it make you more productive - it makes you more cost-effective for you and for your clients. So far, I've only had one person seem uncomfortable with the fact that I don't have a REAL office. It will be interesting to see if more offices move this direction.

 

I've been working at home for eight months now and It's been great for the most part, but it does take some getting used to. I'm definitely more productive, but I have the trouble of pulling myself away from the office. It can be hard to live and work in the same space - it makes me work MORE!

 

Also, as a people person, it can be really lonely to work from home. Yes, I talk to clients, vendors, partners and prospects all day, but sometimes I do miss the water cooler chit chat and the ability to walk down the hall and talk or ask a question. As great as phone, skype and social can be, sometimes in-person interaction can be good. That's the only downside.

Kellymotivates
Kellymotivates

@geoffliving Hey Geoff! How is Soleil? (I hope I spelled her name right)

janbeery
janbeery

Gini, we've come to the conclusion, that with our team spread around the globe, with only a few members in town, it's our goal to get there. 

Happy to get rid of the lease. (have another year on it) then we'll be implementing a similar set up. We already have "virtual Mondays," which has worked out well. 

Our clients don't need to come here very often, and we also meet them in the hotel lobby, when their in town. 

Thanks for sharing, Gini. I was going to ask you how it's going! ;)

lyn_cgp
lyn_cgp

@Steveology @ginidietrich Good day to you Steve.

shawmu
shawmu

@Cojourneo cheers! How's the day going?

NathanKSmith
NathanKSmith

I think it really depends on the size of the company and the type of job an employee has.  The larger a company gets the more difficult it can be to manage them remotely.  It can be done with today's technology however not everyone is tech savvy enough to do it.

 

Employees who travel a lot may prefer working remotely since being away from home can take its toll on family life.  They want to spend as much time as they can with their family.  Others who have to concentrate & collaborate more on projects may do better in an office environment.  

 

They key is to focus on your employees work habits and how you can make them as productive as they can be.  If they are capable of being productive working from home then virtual officing can work, however you will never know until you try it.  I would not recommend going virtual all at once.  Start with small tests then expand the virtual program over time.

Cuecos
Cuecos

@ladyxtel @ginidietrich I liked the article (and the idea) very much! Have a great week!

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

So many comments, I think I will just add that the industry plays a part as well -- perhaps not in the decision but at least in the resources needed to support a staff remotely. Being in PR, you obviously have a tech-savvy org. If you were managing a team of auto part salespeople, it might not be as easy or have as great an impact on productivity.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

I was a distance-based marketing guy with an IT company in Virginia for over a year. But since I was the only one in marketing, there wasn't that much communication on a daily basis. The people I was working with were on sales calls or handling IT crises constantly. It was the height of the recession, and overall, it wasn't a very good experience, although we did get some things accomplished. They wanted to see me for a week each month, which was weird because they didn't even have time to work together I got there. They just wanted to see me. 

 

The funny thing was, my boss thought the arrangement was great. 

 

That said, I think distance working could be fantastic, IF you're working with a team of people on a project, especially if the clients are out of town. I imagine working together virtually is a lot different than working separately virtually. (Can anyone follow that?) 

 

Gini, I'd think the virtual nature of your team would serve to make you even more adept than a traditional agency at serving out-of-town clients.

allenmireles
allenmireles

As you know, I am a big fan of our virtual office and I have worked virtually in my own business for the past 19 years. At Arment Dietrich I never feel disconnected from the team and we communicate all day long. I also love the fact that I can work from my office here or from Boston or LA--a huge selling point for me.

LauraScholz
LauraScholz

I love that you're virtual now. I've done it for five years---and managed as many as three employees at a time. They loved it. Now, I just have one intern, and we meet every couple of weeks. Generally just to catch up. What I love most--in addition to not having to put on real girl clothes and make-up and then commuting--is the control over my schedule. Today, I took got up at 7am, took a class at 9am, ran for six miles, went home, had lunch, worked for a few hours, then came back to the studio for a class, now working before I teach. I love the flexibility with my training schedule and the ability to run errands mid day. I work every day except Saturday, but I don't mind, because I can control when and where and how I work. Only problem is I have a "noisy" co-worker, i.e. Tim. ;) I'm like you--I'm an introvert, so dealing with people is hard--I'm fine if I can socialize online and still get things done. It's also a million times cheaper for overhead (plus, tax deductions for home office), and I get to cook and eat at home more--I often make a big meal during my post lunch or mid-afternoon slump. I honestly don't see the need to force people into a cubicle setting for 8-10 hours a day. I don't (and never did) find that productive. I'm much better on my own.

delwilliams
delwilliams

You know Gini, you could rent one of the meeting spaces at a co working site. Usually not more than $100 if you had to for a meeting. That's how some make extra cash on top of the desk space.

DaveThackeray
DaveThackeray

@ginidietrich We all get bogged down in this timezone parlaver. When it's midday here, it's midday. End of. You look great in a sombrero.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @lauraclick This year I decided not to let working from home interfere with my life. I have an office and I come in here every day. Then I shut my computers down at the end of the day and don't restart them until the next morning. If I go through the trouble of restarting my computer, it's for something really important. And I stopped working weekends. If I can't get my work done during the week, I have a priority (or delegation) issue.

geoffliving
geoffliving

@Kellymotivates She's great! Played in a pumpkin patch today. How are you doing?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @janbeery We really love it. I was expecting people in Chicago to tell me it was time to get an office. But they each said, "NO WAY!" Other than the occasional prospect who's not OK with it, it's been fantastic!

P51Dave
P51Dave

@ginidietrich you are so welcome, my office went virtual years ago for the same reasons, still going strong

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @NathanKSmith I just read an article in Inc about this very thing. There is some software built specifically for virtual offices that allows (allows?) you to track how much time your employees are spending on their computers. It tells you what sites they're visiting, how many keystrokes they make, and more. From my perspective, if you have to put those controls in place, you don't have the right adults working for you.

Latest blog post: Fighting Hunger with No Names

joshchandler
joshchandler

 @NathanKSmith Yes, I would agree. It is important to consider the type of employee you should allow to work virtually and not simply assume everyone will work well in the virtual space.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @barrettrossie Yeah, I definitely think it would be more difficult if you were the only one working remotely while everyone else was in an office. We did that for a while and then decided to see if we could all work from home. I didn't expect it to work as well as it has and I certainly expected everyone to say, "OK, that was fun. It's time to get an office again." But I was wrong!

lauraclick
lauraclick

 @ginidietrich A really great model, for sure! That's something I'm working toward. For me, I think it might just be time to get some more help! 

Kellymotivates
Kellymotivates

@geoffliving I am doing great thanks! How cute that she played in a pumpkin patch, the pics must be gorgeous!! Nice to hear of your JOY!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@P51Dave I kind of love working from home. You too?

AlmostSavvy
AlmostSavvy

 @ginidietrich  @NathanKSmith Tracking virtual employees while who knows how much time on-site employees are spending on Facebook, Amazon or texting their friends? It makes no sense to micromanage people to this degree. As you said, if you've got the right people, get out of the way and trust them to deliver. And, if you've got the right people, tracking their bathroom breaks and keystrokes will surely cause them to go find someone else who will value and trust them.

NathanKSmith
NathanKSmith

 @ginidietrich   I can't imagine any employee that works virtual would like knowing that their every move is being digitally watched.  At the end of the day if your employees are being creative & productive, your customer base is growing and happy, and your company profits are growing there is no reason to micro manage their every move.  

delwilliams
delwilliams

@ginidietrich I must admit I have never met someone who adjusts and pivots accordingly like you do. Yes, I do think you hung the moon.

P51Dave
P51Dave

@ginidietrich absolutely-get to stay comfortable, there is the problem of no separation work/personal life, P51 is single location

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