Most just cannot fathom a completely virtual organization and they want to know how we work.
The funny thing is that almost everyone is already working with a virtual team, in some manner.
Your legal team most likely is not on staff in your office.
Same thing for accounting—or some part of accounting.
You may even have outsourced human resources or marketing or communications.
The difference is, you don’t consider them part of your team. You consider them consultants.
But they are part of your team—and they are virtual because they’re not sitting in your office.
They contribute to a part of your culture—and they make decisions that can make or break you.
How We Work: The Mixed Team Doesn’t Always Work
We didn’t make a strategic decision to go virtual.
I had a long-time colleague who moved to New York City for her then boyfriend’s (husband now) job.
We didn’t want to lose her—and she didn’t want to leave.
So we set her up to work from home.
I’d be lying if I told you it was a cakewalk and it is what made the decision for us.
But it wasn’t.
The people still in the office cut her out of meetings.
They wouldn’t loop her into decisions.
They’d even sometimes “forget” to tell her things from clients.
When digging into it, I discovered it was because they didn’t think it was fair.
They also wanted to work from home.
It was kind of an eye roll moment. They had worked with this person for years. Some of them even considered her a friend.
So, in November 2011, when we could no longer make our office lease payment because the economy was so bad, we made a big decision.
The idea was to have all of us work from home for just a year.
But, when about 10 months had gone by and it was time to look for office space again, I was met with resistance.
Everyone wanted to continue working from home.
Which was fine by me because it is glorious.
How We Work: It Provides Cost- and Emotion-Savings
No longer did I have people flying off the handle because someone ate their lunch.
There was no more surprise $1,200 electric bill because they kept fighting over the thermostat.
If someone’s computer blew up, it was no longer my problem.
No one fought or said mean things to one another under their breath.
They were forced to have video chats when something wasn’t going our way and the snooty emails stopped.
Not to mention, I could work in my cycling clothes and ride at lunchtime, while also working on my tan.
All of our former commute time was either used for getting uninterrupted work done or seeing our kids off to school.
Both luxuries we did not have in the office.
But mostly, when I looked at productivity of every individual, it rose by 80 percent.
Between that and no longer spending $150,000 a year in office space, it made complete sense to stay where we were.
That was six years ago.
Since then, we’ve been able to hire the very best people for the job we need done—no matter where they are in the world.
We have people scattered across the U.S., Canada, Spain, and the Philippines.
How We Work: Determining If It’s for You
There are a few reasons you can consider when determining if a virtual team is right for you:
- As it turns out, work doesn’t actually happen at work. Ask anyone where they get the most work done and I’m willing to bet most will say at home, on the weekends or early in the morning or late at night. No one says, “In the office.”
- The commute for most people is a killer. I have a friend who just took a job in Chicago and his commute will easily be 90 minutes each way. That’s THREE HOURS getting to and from work. Ug. Imagine what you can do with three hours if you’re not stuck in a car or on a train.
- When I started my career, I had my eyes on the swanky corner office, the company provided BMW, and stock options. Sure, I had to give up that dream when I went out on my own (or more figured out I’d have to provide it for myself), but it’s been worth it. You can live anywhere and do anything. If you love to ski, you can move to Park City and ski all you want, while still doing the job you love.
- The nostalgia of all-hands-on-deck Monday morning meetings is just that. You don’t actually need to have them in-person, nor do they need to last an hour. Today’s tech-savvy young professionals don’t care about your nostalgia. They do care about a daily five minute huddle that sets momentum for their day.
- A few months ago, an article was passed around about the idea that human beings are not wired to work eight hours a day. It worked in manufacturing, but it doesn’t work in today’s information economy. Not only can our brains not be productive in that kind of environment, we stop being creative and interesting, too. In a virtual organization, you focus on results, not on hours worked. If someone can get their job done—and done well—in six hours, so be it!
It definitely takes some doing, an open mind, and well-developed processes, but if you agree with just one of the bullet points above, this might just possibly be for you.
How We Work: The Benefits of a Virtual Office
There also are some benefits to having a virtual office—ones that transcend both company and people.
- The quality of life for everyone improves. If your commute is seven steps to the bathroom to brush your teeth and then another 14 steps to your office, you can spend your time being productive when it works for you. Ron Friedman has a great quiz to help you figure out your most productive times. For me, it’s early in the morning (I’m writing this sentence at 5:26 a.m.), but it also means by 3:00, I need to be doing busy work.
- Not to mention, you can live anywhere. Love to ski? Move to Colorado. Want to be near the beach? Do it. Dawn Buford keeps talking about living on Cape Cod for a summer. I’m encouraging her to do it next summer! It doesn’t matter where you are when you work for a virtual organization.
- Everyone saves money. I mentioned above how much money we saved by going virtual. But it’s not just the organization that saves money. Your colleagues will, too. On gas (which also has the benefit of helping the environment), on clothes, on food, and more. Plus, you can write off your home office on your taxes. Money, money, money, money!
- Being virtual doesn’t mean you can’t have an office. Some people (like my husband) need a place to go everyday. Maybe you don’t have a dedicated office at home or your kids aren’t in school yet. Or perhaps you’re more productive when you leave each morning. Muck Rack has an office in Manhattan—and most of their employees work from home. Do what works best for you.
How We Work: Building a Culture
The next question people inevitably ask about how we work is:
But how do you build culture when you’re virtual?
Culture isn’t about the free breakfast or the video games or laundry services.
(Though those things are certainly nice.)
It’s about how people do their jobs, the values of the organization, and how you treat customers.
It’s includes things such as:
- How you talk to customers. Are they always right or is there some leeway? How do you behave when a client fires you?
- How you talk to critics. Do you feed the trolls or do you ignore them? What if someone gets so upset with a decision you’ve made, they block you on social media? How do you respond to that?
- In the quality of your products or services, does it have to be perfect or is finished good enough?
- How you talk to one another. Do you have face-to-face (or Zoom-to-Zoom) conversations to provide feedback or have tough conversations or do you put it in writing? Do you shout and use obscenities or do you treat one another with respect?
- Is your workload dispersed? Do you pull all-nighters and expect people to work 24/7 or do you take Fridays off?
- What kind of risk do you take? Do you favor fast growth pivots or do you prefer slow, but predictable growth?
Culture is important in a virtual organization because, the stronger the culture, the less training and supervision you have to provide.
The less supervision means you trust the grown-ups you’ve hired to do a good job.
In how we work, we focus on doing the actual work instead of defining and practicing it.
It has forced us to forgo the social activities and team-building exercises.
We do this in favor of creating processes that can be repeated so our clients and students have the same experience with every one of us.
How We Work: Just Do It!
There certain are some downsides to how we work, which I’ll cover in a later article, but the pros far outweigh the cons.
I have one colleague who needs to travel to a different city today.
He’s taking the train and will be offline for only an hour this morning.
Technology and the fact that he’s already accustomed to working virtually allow him to work while on the train.
Six years ago, he would have had to take the day off to accommodate his personal schedule.
That’s for the birds!
Why not work where you can, when you can?
All those in favor, say aye!
And now it’s your turn.
What benefits do you see from working virtually?
If you’re thinking about doing it, what questions do you have?