Working virtual, some observations

We’re an organisation that does not have a physical fixed office, where we have offices, that we frequent during the normal business week during office hours. Our normal working day, is not defined by entry through a door into a building, after a journey either by car, bicycle or public transport.

How does our working day start? Well for the most part, for myself, it is when I log into the online services that I utilise. This normally means waking my Mac Book Pro up by lifting the lid. For some of the others that work with me, or have in the past, it is when they log into our private Lotus Sametime (instant messaging) server. 

In the past, I have gone months without actually meeting others, in the real world that I’m working with. When I inform, some of the more senior managers, that I engage with about this, they are normally very intrigued. I don’t think many as yet, have tried to manage staff that way. I must say, and think some that have worked with me, would agree, that at times it has been interesting :).

There have been a few times, where the only way to communicate an idea, has required using either screen sharing or white boards, as it becomes too difficult through Instant Messaging alone. On the odd occassion, to be different, meeting in person has happened, but it is the exception not the rule. There are various reasons for this, but for the most part, it is natural to get used to working from where you want to. To meet, requires travel time, and this disrupts concentration and thought processes.

For some reading this, this is just the normal way of working, everything is online and available, from whichever location that you are at, at that moment. I have a 3G USB Modem, and can access my communication tools, from everywhere that I frequent.

What I like about working virtual:

  • Can drink the coffee I want to, when I want to
  • Am able to use the online tools that I feel are most appropriate without the threat of them being turned off eg Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, LinkedIn
  • Don’t spend a lot of time each day traveling to and fro
  • Achieve considerable output, but is somewhat bursty in nature
  • Meet interesting people online, who are in the same situation
  • Spend more time, with partners and long term customers, in cafes around Adelaide
  • Business wise, I believe as we have less fixed assets, we have better performing financials based on metrics, such as ROA (maybe not so based on pure sales data)
  • Less formality, thus affording more time to learn and experiment with ideas
  • Enables us to work effectively with people in different geographic
    locations then our selves and potentially different timezones (as long
    as there is some overlap)

What I dislike about working virtual:

  • Sometimes, there is an urge just to talk to someone during the work day (twitter and funnies, don’t replace some of the human emotions of interaction)
  • Need clear frequent goals to be set, hard to monitor progress as you can not look over shoulder
  • Staff that are working on a part time basis, when not sure how to progress, ignore your voice mails, and respond by email šŸ™‚ – thus people can sometimes over rely on emoticons to understand mood
  • Not having think time, whilst listening to the radio in the car, with travel
  • Missing subtleties of facial expression in communication – emoticons and tone (verbal and written), can miss things
  • Parking inspectors, who leave fines on your windscreen, when you have been talking for too long at the cafe

For the most part, I believe the positives outweight the negatives. I’m hearing now, that businesses are starting to realise that they need to assemble teams, from the best talent pools, that they presently have available. This is now spanning time zones and geographic terriortories, not just allowing people to work remotely in the same city.

What experiences have you had? How have you overcome obstacles?

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