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The Virtual Office

By Patrick Cisler

I was recently working on a project with Digital Media companies that led me to reflect on a major shift in daily work habits. The shift being working in the office environment to working from home. First, the steps that led me to this reflection; I found that many of the executives I was calling on were not prepared to handle calls from an economic development group let alone anyone else. The company’s primary phone number often went directly to the CEO/Founder of the company rather than jumping through various gatekeepers to speak with an executive. This made speaking to the right person easy, but the conversations were often short because the executive didn’t know how to handle the call. A lot of these companies can still be considered start-ups, so they may not have received a lot of attention yet. In addition, they primarily conduct business in the virtual world and don’t field a lot of calls. Because the majority of their work is done virtually, this leads to other frustrations from a targeted marketing standpoint. These companies don’t have a desire to relocate or open new offices. Their primary location is often chosen based on their desire of lifestyle. I recall reading on one of the company’s websites that they chose their location in Washington state because it was a “fun place to work.” This isn’t to say that other industries choose location without lifestyle in mind, but for Digital Media, there isn’t as great a need to choose based on logistical capabilities, customer/supplier availability, or even the local talent pool. I mention talent pool because computer-related job responsibilities are becoming easier and easier to do offsite, and more specifically, from home. In regards to this last project, I was sometimes told that I could reach a certain executive at his home number.

It just so happens that during the period of time this project was happening, I came across various online articles and books about the trend of workers asking their bosses to work from home. This is an easy topic for me to write about and relate to because of the nature of the work I do. In fact, when I first started working for Whittaker Associates, I thought that I needed to work at the office at least part of the day to show that I was working. I had this same thought in my previous career as well. The truth is that I am capable of working from anywhere, and depending on the nature of the project, anytime as well. I am comforted in knowing that some days I can work early mornings before typical office work starts, and other days I can work at night after dinner in the comfort of my own home, or on weekends if need be. Not only is this convenient for my lifestyle by allowing me to take on more responsibilities, but I find that I am more efficient as well. I experience this often in one of my other roles as a Development Associate for another organization. When I work from that office, I often find my time consumed by conversations with staff, clients, or visitors, or being pulled into meetings that I had not allotted time for. Not to say that these conversations weren’t necessary as those interactions are important, but space needs to be created for them. If I worked from the office every time I went to work, I would probably find myself pressed for time to complete my tasks. To clarify a moment, when I say work from home, in reality I am working from a virtual office. Give me a coffee, wireless, headset, classical music, and my computer, and I can make my office in many locations. This method proved extremely helpful on a recent vacation to Florida. Because I was in the habit of working from home anyways, working when I could on vacation wasn’t a difficult practice to begin. Driving 21 hours from Michigan to Florida meant that when I wasn’t driving, I was able to turn on the “Mi-Fi” and work on the highway.

Now I must admit that you must have the personality and right attitude to work from a virtual office, as well as the kind of job that allows it. Working from home or from a coffee shop can come with its own set of distractions, but if you love what you do it is easier to stay focused. I can see why those in the Digital Media industry are doing this. If done by the right people, it is an efficient way to conduct business. Are there individuals in your office that could benefit from not spending the time getting ready and travelling to work each day when they could accomplish their same tasks 30 feet from their bed? This is something to consider with your own employees, but also for those of you working with companies that may practice this habit frequently. Knowing that this is the trend, how does that affect your conversations and your approach to business? Regardless of how you respond to this issue it is important to recognize the implications to your business that other businesses are able to work from most anywhere, anytime.

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