There are many advantages to a virtual office.
Gini Dietrich loves our virtual office, she has said as much on several occasions.
To her credit, she also is not afraid to present the potential disadvantages this setup may create.
I appreciate our virtual office because it allows me to be a part of Arment Dietrich and Spin Sucks—an opportunity lost without this arrangement.
With full recognition of this opportunity, I personally struggle with certain elements of my virtual office space.
This struggle has less to do with “virtuality” and more to do with my perceptual landscape.
My Need for Non-verbal Cues
The American Psychological Association described our capacity to perceive non-verbal communication with a phrase I could never improve upon.
They deem is as an exquisite sensitivity.
But I have always had a nagging suspicion, that I am far too dependent on this exquisite sensitivity.
If I am right, maybe it was because I had a strong, quiet father growing up? Or I am a visual learner? Or perhaps a touch neurotic?
My confidence in the comprehension of information decreases as I move further “down” the pathways of virtual office communication modes: Face-to-face (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime), telephone, and finally email/text.
It is the email/text that often confounds me.
They a words on a screen, devoid of inflection, eye-rolls,, smiles, pursed lips, tone, and most of all, intent.
Frozen In Time
Ding. An email or a Slack arrives.
And I know that either one has the potential to freeze me.
It is a Slack from my boss.
Her name is Laura Petrolino. Laura shoots straight. She is direct. She is blunt. She is organized. She gets things done. She is my boss. She is a cross between a modern-day Brigitte Bardot and Tony Soprano. And I kill her slowly. Everyday.
In Laura’s “Slack,” she inquired about a paragraph I wrote earlier in the day. She simply asked, “What does this paragraph mean?”
A question cannot be more simple.
I start to answer her question, and it happened: I froze.
My mind started racing.
I couldn’t just answer her question.
I mutter to myself, “For the love of God, ANSWER HER.”
I am frozen.
What was going on in my mind? All the following:
Was that sarcastic?
Was that rhetorical?
What does she mean by “What does this mean”?
She reviewed this paragraph already, and I sent it to the client.
She did review it didn’t she?
Did I feed the dog?
I eventually answered Laura’s email. She replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about?”
Ugh. Would have loved verbal cues, but in this instance, time was of the essence.
We eventually sorted it out. In the meantime, I’m fairly certain her head imploded.
My Need for Dimensionality
Beyond the fact that Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions was authored by A Square (presumably a square from London), the story occasionally reminds me of working in a virtual office.
It goes like this: Flatland is a two-dimensional world.
All of the inhabitants of Flatland are themselves two dimensional (women are lines; men are polygons).
The narrator of the story is Square.
Square has a dream one night.
He dreams he enters a realm called Lineland.
He meets the king of Lineland who is convinced that the single straight line that composes all of his kingdom constitutes all of existence and all of the universe.
Square cannot convince or even get him to comprehend another place called Flatland.
Sometime after his dream, Square is visited by a stranger, Sphere, who tries to convince Square of a third dimension.
Just as the one-dimensional king, in his one-dimensional kingdom, couldn’t comprehend Square’s two-dimensional world, Square couldn’t comprehend Sphere’s insistence on a three-dimensional world.
In a virtual office, sometimes I feel like Sphere.
Half Superhero, Half Emoji
Corina Manea is her name.
And she is my co-worker.
I have never owned a business, but if I had, I believe she would be a perfect employee.
She is 50 percent wisdom, 50 percent teacher, 50 percent producer.
Corina lives in Spain.
One of the greatest attributes of a virtual office is the ability to comb the globe for talent.
And she is talent.
When I am corresponding with Corina, through any means other than virtual face-to-face, I picture her as her photograph.
I see her picture on Slack 50 times a day, but I only “Zoom” her once a week.
I also picture Corina as her favorite emoji.
She ends nearly every Slack discussion I have with her with an emoji that only she uses.
She is larger than life in many ways; yet she is two-dimensional in my thoughts.
And that makes me terribly sad.
This tendency to think of a photo instead of a person is not isolated to Corina, it holds true for other employees as well.
But it is pronounced with Corina because we Slack so often.
The Solution for the Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs are hard-wired to look for answers, to put out fires, and generally lead a life of consistent worry.
With this understanding, I will address the above concerns with solutions, before the entrepreneur running Spin Sucks Slacks me to brainstorm solutions with her.
And I will bullet point it for my boss Laura Petrolino, who has never seen a bullet she didn’t like.
- Be proactive, suggest a virtual face-to-face when you are feeling overly dimensional.
- Don’t freeze, simply tell your co-workers to please provide additional context.
The following bullet points are strictly for me to remember.
- The advantages of the virtual office allow you to work with this marvelous group of people.
- You have communication issues even when you are physically standing in front of someone.
- You work in your pajamas.
- If you don’t implode Laura’s head, someone else who cares less for her will.
- You don’t own pajamas.
- If you need a three-dimensional Corina, vacation in Spain.
- Time to feed the dog.