At JH Media Group, we have recently announced our decision to take a new and exciting dive into the virtual world. We have chosen to leave our physical office in order to create a cost effective and technology based structure for the sales and operations portions of our business.
A new study has found that 43% of all small and mid-sized businesses would consider going completely virtual due to recent advances in technology and decreases in economical well-being. The actualization of our new future is explained in the following post where we will look closely at why.
What Does “Going Virtual” Mean?
By definition, “going virtual” means that we as a company and we as a technologically inclined environment are moving away from a culture of based on competent generalists and moving towards a group of specialists who are effective, efficient, and good at meeting their deadlines.
Efficiency means that work is getting done, and when people are held individually accountable there is a greater pull for quality work. However, we are not advocating complete individuality in our version of a virtual company. We are still focused on efficiency and quality work, but our collaborative efforts through web based programs should support the management theory. The theory says that companies exist because collaboration crates more value than individuals working on their own.
In considering the ecological, economical, and employee benefits we have decided that “going virtual” is indeed the most beneficial option for our company. We have also taken all precautionary measures to keep our employees well connected and morale high.
Removing the Heft of Brick-and-Mortar
There’s no need to wait until the end of this blog to release the most compelling reason for making our office as virtual as possible. By eliminating the cost of renting and maintaining our administrative office we are able to channel that money into our development, research, and other aspects that will continue to keep our client relationships strong. In other words, we are saving our company a substantial amount of money that can be used elsewhere.
In addition to financially assisting the progress of our company we are also assisting in diminishing superfluous costs spent by our staff in commute money and time, and who could say no to a little extra pocket change?
In addition to the increased freedoms for our staff and our lessened expenses, the technologies we have adopted are saving money as well. There are now a multitude of free technology programs with high quality performance techniques that rival expensive and unnecessary software, and we are leveraging our knowledge and access to these platforms to save money and increase working capital. In the instance that we cannot find the right solutions, we it is possible we will build one, just as we have done with our project management software.
“Our clients ask us all the time to solve problems for their businesses using web based software development. We build solutions for them, and we do the same for ourselves,” says partner and product developer, Jeremy Minnick. “Now we have started taking some of these solutions to market. With the overhead we are saving, we can build more, sell more, and really add to industry.”
All kinds of companies tout their sustainable practices, and unfortunately, for many it is a marketing ploy. As a technology company, we feel we are in a position to set an example to other small businesses. Why are we doing this? Because we can, and we should. It is our responsibility to operate as efficiently as possible and save as many resources as we can.
Many of the people on our staff have close connections with ecologically friendly projects, so this decision is an integral part of our existing company culture. Catrina Cook of J House market development comments, “We feel that grossly extravagant business cultures are dying for a reason– because they are irresponsible. Consumers are realizing they need to be responsible with their decisions, so they are choosing services and products from businesses who do the same.”
Technology, Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is
We certainly would not be able to accomplish this without the number of free or low-cost technology tools available today. Because these tools exist, virtual operations become an option. Many companies create these tools and attach hefty licensing fees, however, there are just as many who have found a way to offer the same tools for next to nothing. A prime example is Skype, who allows multi point video conferencing for free to other users. Compared to Cisco’s recently unveiled Umi solution, which will run you $600 for the kit and $25 a month for service, the choice is a no-brainer.
Case studies performed on virtual offices show that in the end, employees can accomplish just about anything with a laptop, some free software, and limitless access to the Internet. We have found great tools and tested them over the years. We use wikis and Google Docs for internal document management and sharing; IM, FTP, Go2Meetings and Skype to collaborate; and a number of self-built client and project management tools.
“We have been using virtual technology for years to work with clients and with each other,” says Long. “This only makes sense. We will operate more sustainably—both financially and environmentally. Our employees will be happier, and we will use the money we save toward company growth and investments, such as research and development for our new trade show industry software, ExpoRep.”
Embracing the Change
As we pack up our bags and move to a door where the lock and key are in the sky, there are adjustments to be made. We are physically “bringing our work home,” and it will take more than a quick coffee break to adapt. The staff at JH Media Group is youthful with bright and enthusiastic minds. This younger mindset makes working at home or in other third place settings of choice very appealing.
When our Office Manager, Kate Cook, was asked about how our staff would feel about this change she responded by saying, “Everyone is really excited. A lot of our staff has growing family, and that extra hour every day is very valuable.” In addition to developing families, a new comfortable method of work will allow our employees to stretch their minds to previously unachievable states in the confines of an office building.
The biggest change will be the act of routine which often serves as a stress buffer for people with rigid schedules. We have encouraged our staff to create routines that are indicative of their traditional work agendas so that there is still some form of routine involved. We are also encouraging our employees to not confine themselves to one space. If we are expressing the freedom of busting out of the office walls, it won’t accomplish that liberation if the dark basement room becomes the only source of work space.
Keeping it Real
This transition, as exciting and beneficial as it is, does come with potential hang ups. Without a central location to hang our hats, brew our office-flavored coffee, and write funny quotes on a whiteboard, there is the concern that morale will fall short and the phrase “part of a team” may lose its meaning.
We have the firm belief, however, that our use of technology will keep us connected — after all, technology is what we do. We have also begun having biweekly meetings in various coffee shops and places around town, and in the event of a time where we need to have a more private and/or emergency team meeting with everyone, we are still operating and holding our private production offices.
Additional management concerns are accountability and for those who need a structured environment to keep on task. Thankfully, our staff members are all self directed,. We have allowed a liberal amount of remote working in the past to give employees the flexibility need to manage their personal lives, and so many of the kinks were worked out long ago.
One piece of software we will be using in order to maintain a high morale and positive accountability across the board is a program called WorkTime. This is a time tracking software that will track computer related activities and time spent on certain activities as soon as you “check in” in the morning and will shut down as soon as you “check out.” This will keep all of our employees on track and will serve as motivation to work diligently during the allotted “office hours.” We have been using this for job costing for a while, and now it will serve two purposes.
As I discussed earlier, our collaborative efforts online have been seen everyday within our office, and we will soon be using these and more. One such example is a program we have adopted which involves a seamless telephone system that will allow our clients to keep us united and easily accessible at all times. “Clients won’t know we’re not all in the same building,” says Kate Cook. “We have set up a seamless virtual phone system that calls directly in and out of each employee’s computer using extensions of our existing phone number.”
In direct link to our own use of technology, we have communal chat rooms, access to this phone line, and different versions of live video streaming that will optimize our ability to maintain cohesiveness between our employees in different places. Ironically, the reduced proximity of people in the same room create a more productive environment. Meanwhile, our use of technology holds people to the same standards as seen in a traditional office setting.
The Bottom Line
In total, we feel that the move to virtual is a complete win-win for us: we can cut resource consumption and overhead (and put those savings into improving our products), allow our team to stay connected whilst working in private and comfortable environments, and walk the walk as a web development firm.
“We are an online company,” Jason adds, “it’s in our blood. The web is built on distance and allowing humans to connect and create in spite of that. By adopting this and integrating it into our culture, we force ourselves, in a sense, to become more true to this spirit and create web applications and sites for our clients that reflect our closeness to the online mind relative to our competitors.”
We are looking forward to this journey.