by Sarah Warlick, writer and copy editor
Barney provides his input on the latest design.
Running a busy company through a remote office is one of the things some people dream of. Then again, it’s also something that can inspire nightmares.
As many of you know, bbr marketing works almost entirely on the remote office model, so we have a fairly comprehensive understanding of both sides of the coin. We’d like to share our perspective with you so that any friends who may be considering such a thing can learn from our experiences. Of course, each company will have individual styles and processes that make your remote office unique. There are some aspects – both positive and negative – that are probably fairly common, though, so for what it’s worth, here’s what we have found in running our business with a virtual office.
Time management. We often hear people saying that they’d be able to get so much more done if they weren’t in a busy office. That’s true to some degree. Being able to control your environment by working at home, in a coffee shop or in the waiting room as you get new tires confers some advantages. You can pick your most focused hours to do the work that takes the most concentration, in many cases, and create an environment that is conducive to your particular style of work. The result is a real enhancement to overall efficiency.
That said, there is a significant increase in the time it takes to communicate about even little things, sometimes, simply because all discussion defaults to written media. We can and do use phone, Skype/Face Time and other collaboration tools when appropriate, but for most day-to-day interactions and questions, the first impulse is to launch an email or ping a partner with instant messaging. Some of the time, that leads to a distraction level that rivals that found in a traditional office, and on occasion, it can require a great deal more time to come to a shared understanding or decision than it would had we simply been in the same office, looking at the same thing.
Keeping track of documents. Passing files back and forth is a basic requirement, so we use Dropbox and other tools to share what we’re working on. This works quite well, but not flawlessly. There are times that wires get crossed and people are looking at two different documents or versions of the same document without knowing it. Careful labeling and clear instructions become more important than ever in a virtual office.
Brainstorming. As a marketing firm, a big part of our job is generating creative ideas. We love that! By working independently, we each have the time and space to pace, mutter, sing and twirl to our hearts’ content as we do whatever it takes to come up with the ideas we need. Being alone is a great comfort to those of us who stimulate thought in non-traditional (read: embarrassing) ways. But it’s also helpful to feel the energy in the room and hear each other’s ideas in real time, using them for tangential brain-work, so sometimes it’s best to get together for brainstorming sessions.
Pajamas! Yes, you can wear your pajamas, never see a human all day and refuse to shower until you’re good and ready. This is wonderful…sort of. It can be horrifying to realize you’re still not dressed and it’s time to meet the school bus. When everyone shows up for a meeting with wet hair, you realize just how common it is to put off basic necessities when they’re not imposed by external realities.
Working alone is fantastically luxurious in many ways. No commute, all the privacy you could want, pets to love and great flexibility. On the other hand, it gets lonely without co-workers to joke with and join for lunch. When the computer is being a total pain for no reason, it’s your problem to deal with and no one else’s. There’s no IT department and no cute colleague to flirt with. There’s also no way to explain to your mother that just because you’re at home doesn’t mean that you’re free to spend the morning talking on the phone with her.
Overall, we love our virtual office and couldn’t imagine dragging ourselves to a brick and mortar site early each morning. We love working in the middle of the night, on Saturday or any darn time that we get an idea – as long as we’re in control of those times. We do miss some aspects of the traditional office, but nothing so desperately that we’re anxious to go back. We also save a lot of money by working remotely – money that can be turned around and put back into the business and used to make our prices better than those of our office-bound competitors.
Some kinds of work simply aren’t suited to a team of colleagues all working in different locations, while others are an ideal fit for a virtual office. Personalities as well as deliverables will control how well-matched your organization is to a remote approach. We may opt for an office with walls one day, but as it is, we’re quite happy with the regular meet-up to complement our peaceful home offices.