We never meant to be a virtual company, it just sort of happened.
Becoming a virtual company has played a big part in the development of our ‘corporate’ culture -- in terms of how we do business and attract talented people to work on our team.
When we started in 2009, we had two full time employees, two part-time employees and subcontracted some of our tasks to another company. The system worked well, mostly because our partner company was good at the back end while we were good at working with our hospitality customers on the front end. Our original sales guy was a newlywed with a sweet home office, and our graphic designer in Los Angeles was free to work pool side or at the beach. Both did an awesome job for us, and neither needed a desk. Our longest tenured employee found us soon afterwards on Twitter and told us right away she would get a lot more done if she worked virtually.
As we grew, the need to be together increased, but still not enough for a brick and mortar office. Coffee shops and hotel lobbies worked just fine for face to face meetings. It also provided a nice change of pace for our team of laptop warriors. As our services branched out, we hired contractors to handle some of the additional work. By now, we had learned that the best people to fill positions in our organization weren’t always in Seattle and that being virtual was an awesome way to work.
3 Keys to a successful virtual company
According to www.GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, ‘50% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency.’ Of course not every industry is cut out to be virtual. Ours, however, is quite well suited to whatever you like to call it: ‘teleworking,’ ‘telecommuting,’ or being ‘virtual.’ Nearly all of our work is done online, and when we meet with our clients in person, it is always at their place of business. Forcing our team to trudge into the office does not seem to offer any tangible benefit or increased productivity.
The Forbes article ‘You're 87% More Likely To Love Your Job If You Work From Home’ shows that many people would prefer to work from home. In our experience, that number seems to increase with age. As employees grow and develop their skill set (and often their family), their need for interaction in the office (whether it be social or developmental) decreases. We think our virtual environment offers a recruiting advantage as well. Working at home is not for everyone, but it is now a key component of our culture. We look for candidates who have the confidence and discipline to get the job done.
There are many tools available today that support a virtual business like ours. The first situation we needed to address when we went ‘full virtual’ was our company hard drive. After researching and testing several options, we settled on a Google platform. This allowed us to address several of our needs at the same time: file sharing, email, and a calendar system. Adding new users is now simple for our IT Department, which happens to be me. Cloud Sherpas made the migration from our old system simple. Other tools that have helped us along the way are Expensify, Zenefits, SalesForce and GoToMeeting.
3 Benefits of a virtual office
In a traditional office there are a lot of meetings. No one likes unnecessary meetings. We have a company meeting once a month using GoToMeeting, our Social Media Managers have a conference call bi-weekly, and I have an accounting call at regular intervals. That’s about it for pre-scheduled meetings. The few meetings we do have start on time, are generally shorter, and more productive. There is no morning water cooler update or hellish commute. No commute to the office leads me to the second benefit which is…
Quality of Life
Even a short commute requires an hour a day when the whole process is considered. It is fairly simple math to calculate how many hours are saved in a year when this can be avoided. Stress level is reduced, carbon emissions are lowered, and time with loved ones is increased. Additionally, much of our work is not required to be done during typical business hours. Our team can work on some of these tasks when it better suits them. This means it’s no big deal if someone needs to pick up their kids from school, get in a quick workout, go to the dentist, or pick up relatives from the airport during ‘business hours.’ The benefit to the company is that everyone is happier and healthier, and thus more productive.
We can work anywhere, anytime. If someone needs a change of scenery, there is always a coffee shop nearby. I visit our clients often, and I can be just as productive in an airport or hotel as I would be in an office somewhere. Recently we had to have an important team meeting but Jason, our Creative Services Manager, was on a flight. No problem! He logged in via the airplane’s Wi-Fi and was able to see the screen and contribute via chat. Even for us, this was a first. Money saved on office infrastructure can be used for client visits, who are spread from Calgary to Costa Rica.
It’s not always easy being virtual
Certainly there are some challenges we face as virtual employees. Anyone who works from home and has a dog or small children can tell you that noise and distractions abound. Realistically, being a virtual company could also become a challenge as our company continues to grow. We do maintain a traditional office in Bellevue for the times when we need it. (We have to get our mail and store our trade show booth somewhere!) But for now, all future planning aside…I am going to enjoy my morning coffee in a T-shirt, knowing that my dogs will not ask me if I watched Survivor on TV last night (they were there with me!).