Joys and Pitfalls of Virtual Office Life

Our office at is entirely virtual. We are spread out over time zones, over the country. Some of us work non-stop, some of us work part time and fit this in among other businesses and family and life in general.  Some of our very part timers we have never even met face to face.  Most of our clients, same thing. Some of our service providers, our designers, our coders, our programmers, live halfway across the world.  Many small internet businesses operate this way.  And I have a love-hate relationship with the virtual office.


Increased productivity: Not only does this fit amazingly well into my personal lifestyle, with the right people, the productivity level of an at-home employee is much higher.  Because we never leave the office, we are always at work, and tend to jump online to do a couple things at any given time.

Working at any time of day: again this adds to increased productivity, because our staff can do the non-work fun things at any time of day. Volunteer at their kids school.  Hit the mall when it is not crowded. Take a trip on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday. Take a nap on a day that you are particularly tired.  The thing is, we’re always going to make it up, either working til midnight unlike many of our In Office counterparts, or working through the weekend.  Or bringing the laptop to gymnastics class and working straight through watching your daughter’s backflips and cartwheels.

No travel time, no fancy outfits. No prep. This means either more downtime for a happier worker, or more work time for a happier boss. On the low side, even a sloppy college guy needs 30 min to shower/dress, and 15-45 to drive to work. This is saving 1.5 hours a day x 5-6 days a week, that’s a lot of life to live (or another day of work!)

IM: instant messaging as a main form of communication can be so much less of an intrusion than a phone call, or than someone stopping by my cubby. I can take my time to answer, I can finish my thought online, i can outright ignore it for 30 minutes until I am ready.  I can’t very well ignore a colleague standing next to me asking me their questions. It’s free. It travels around the world instantly. and I have a record of every convo to refer back to.  Also, there is something really playful about it, and although we may lose jokes around the water cooler, some of my very funniest belly-laugh moments have been making jokes with my co workers on IM.


Communication issues: although I do love IM for communication, there are times it drives me absolutely batty. To discuss a complex issue, to analyze a project and share input, to talk with more than one at a time, it’s just tedious and time consuming. And when you take a short cut to type less, the clarify suffers. You can have a 10 minute convo before you realize you are talking about 2 different things. and you lose the tone of voice. You lose the look in their face.  It can take its toll.

Time zone issues:  it is nice if you are all on the same time zone. If my California writer needs me, I feel obligated to stop cooking to help even though it is 6pm. After all, 3pm is prime work time there…..  (funny they don’t share this obligation at 6am their time!)

Respect and company impression: I worked for someone awhile back that did not want customers to know that I had a home office. They wanted to give the impression we had this big office with cubbies and secretaries and a sign by the street. Is there still a stigma against this? I personally do not hide this any more, and I find that (guesstimating) 30% of our clients have home offices, particularly smaller businesses. I think I do not let it color my impression of a company, but then again, when a potential client has a secretary, has office hours, has a staff of 80 and a conference room, am I subconsciously impressed?

Never off work: for the same reason productivity is high, home and social life can suffer. You are just never off work. It takes an enormous amount of willpower to take time off. An office job you leave at the office at 5:30 or 6p (5pm is so 80s), and many do bring work home. But because home=office, an at-home employee is more apt to check email more frequently, or squeeze in some extra project to try to get ahead for tomorrow. Again great for productivity, but must be careful about burnout.  I try to encourage co-workers to take the time as they need it.

So although I preach that life is about so much more work I do sit here typing through dinner and knowing I will work until at least 10pm.  Then again, when I am on my way to a field trip next week (I really did take my  laptop on a 2 hour bus ride field trip once to build links for clients), I’ll be glad the work is done and I didn’t have to take a personal day.  Overall, the good outweighs the bad, and I remain a big fan of the virtual office.


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