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Pros and cons of the virtual office

with 4 comments

planet office by inacentaurdump -http://www.flickr.com/photos/inacentaurdump/2951669295/For the past six years, we’ve been working out of our individual houses, in our virtual office.  We have a centralized phone system, email, IM, and our own software to track sales and support conversations.  We use a few other tools to share information, but haven’t gone to the level of using webcams to communicate (yet).

Overall the positives about running this way far outweigh the negatives, but it wasn’t always clear how it would play out.  Here are a few pros and cons of what we’re doing.

Pros

  1. No time wasted commuting.  Like lots of people, I used to spend over an hour every day in the car.  Now, it’s like each one of us has extra time to work, spend time with our families, or do something else productive.  Commuting is stressful too, so as a bonus, we’ve gained extra productivity by feeling better at work, too.
  2. Office politics don’t exist.  This is partially a consequence of having a small company – there is no corporate ladder – but it’s also partially because playing long-distance office politics is impossible.  There’s no opportunity for cliques to form because we spend most of our time focused on the tasks at hand.
  3. When you’re in the groove, there are no interruptions.  Nobody comes by my office to chat, check on me, or pull me into a meeting.  Occasionally, I hear a kid screaming in the background, but with a noise-cancelling headset, even that’s not an issue.
  4. Low overhead.  Let’s face it, office space costs money.  And if we had offices in the bay area, it would mean lots of money.  Instead we can pay relatively high salaries which go much further in places like Portland, Reno, or Chattanooga.

Cons

  1. You really need to work at communication.  When we first started, it was really hard.  Finally, Ted and I realized that we need to be on the phone with each other almost every day to make sure we know what’s going on.  Getting together has value, too, so we try to meet up at least quarterly.  Part of the reason we go to trade shows is to have that bonding time.
  2. It’s not for everyone.  There are some people who thrive in this environment, but not everyone.  You’ve got to have a ton of self-discipline and motivation.  There are days where I miss going to lunch with my co-workers, and there are times when I find myself just looking out the window…I can imagine that some people would end up daydreaming most of the time.
  3. There’s no way to micro-manage.  Each person who works at Moraware is very self-motivated, but despite the high level of performance everyone needs a kick in the pants occasionally.  There’s no social pressure to even pretend to work, so keeping the intensity and motivation going can’t rely on “management by walking around”
  4. The size of our company is limited.  There’s no way that we can have a hierarchy, so there’s some limit to the number of employees here.  Hopefully, we’re just limited in the number of people we hire, not the number of customers or revenue.

In general, we’ve made some choices about our company that greatly enhance everyone’s lifestyle.  There are some obstacles that we’re constantly working on, but so far none have been insurmountable.

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Written by Harry Hollander

June 16, 2009 at 7:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Another Pro is the fact you have access to on demand offices and meeting rooms should you need to impress a client etc.

    Paul

    June 16, 2009 at 7:37 am

    • We’ve been lucky that we usually impress our customers with the software, not offices. Early on, one prospect wanted the sales pitch in person, and came over to Ted’s house and got the demo…with a friendly pet dog helping close the deal.

      We have considered temporary spaces for training and user group meetings, but so far haven’t done too much with it.

      Harry Hollander

      June 16, 2009 at 8:33 am

    • Thanks for sharing. What a palserue to read!

      Justis

      June 10, 2011 at 4:45 am

  2. I was just reading a related article in Inc about Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress and Automattic) who also all work from home. They do have an office, but rarely use it.
    http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090601/the-way-i-work-matt-mullenweg.html

    Ted Pitts

    June 16, 2009 at 9:37 am


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