Patricia Troy, CAE, principal of the association management company Next Wave Group, moved to a virtual office in 2006 and has never looked back.
In fact, she was so happy with the decision that she wrote a book—Flex: The Virtual Office Advantage—about going virtual to help others make the switch. Here she shares some lessons she’s learned along the way.
What was the smartest thing you did to prepare to go virtual?
To make the decision to do it quickly rather than spread it out over a long time. I’ve talked to people who say they need a three-year plan or a five-year plan. In my mind, I think that would have drawn it out far too long. It was a quick transition.
What was the toughest part?
Dealing with all of the stuff—the physical stuff, the copier, printers, and all those kinds of things. That’s not what really makes a business at all, but [they] are the outer trappings of what we tend to confuse with being a business. Just trying to deal with all of that can be overwhelming.
What do most leaders get hung up on when they are considering this?
Worrying about if people will like it. Will they get social interaction? Will they be able to have some of the benefits of being in an office where people can stop by and talk to people? People worry about that a lot more than they need to.
What’s the biggest benefit you’ve realized?
What we found, and it was a bit of a surprise, is we started being more effective working together this way. I used to have an open-door policy, and people would wander by my office and say, “I want to talk with you.” They knew what they wanted to talk with me about. I didn’t. And I would do the same thing to them. So, now it’s, “Can we set up a time to talk?” “OK, but what are we going to talk about?” Because we have to make a deliberate effort to meet, that changes everything. Everyone is prepared when they get there. I think our effectiveness has really gone up. There’s a lot more accountability and independent thought that comes about when going through this process.
What do you miss most in a virtual office?
Casual communication. You just don’t really have that when people don’t see each other. I send out a weekly newsletter—a simple thing—about what’s going on companywide. It’s the kind of stuff that they might pick up in an office even though it’s not something they are working on. We try to keep people informed that way. That’s the biggest thing we miss.