Embracing the Virtual Workplace
Once upon a time, going to work meant spending 8 hours a day in the same location with a bunch of people all working in one place while completing tasks for one company. Everyone knows this version of ‘Once upon a time’ is as old as the 18th century fairy tales we were told as children.
Going to work has changed dramatically as technology allows mobile productivity (work anywhere, anytime) to soar. In 2008, when I started JFields Marketing, I conducted business out of a back bedroom recently vacated by child #1 who had left the nest for college. With a laptop and a smart phone, I confidently embraced the virtual work space to launch my fledgling company.
Ten years later, JFields Marketing (JFM) office is still in a virtual workplace mode. The exact space has changed, but the address is the same. Today, JFM business gets done in a 20’ x 20‘ room connected to the back of my home with two desks, 3 computers, 4 monitors and various electronic devices that support the rest of a day’s work. Work also gets accomplished by uber-talented graphic designer and marketing specialist Kendra at her home office, where she designs logos, coordinates social media campaigns, and cranks out weekly marketing for all our clients. From Nashville, Leslie executes email campaigns and video editing, while adding her considerable creative voice to content. And Nate lends his voice and expertise in JFM social media and admin efforts way out west in Phoenix, AZ.
Embracing the virtual workplace is a moving target, as 2017 has been a significant growth year, and meeting the needs of new clients and new services meant expanding our team.
As it turns out, instead of buying new desks and chairs, shuffling physical space to make more room, we engage with Nate and Leslie mostly via Skype,seamlessly incorporating their digital marketing skill sets into our work flow. The virtual office has been a flexible solution to meet our need to expand productivity, while supporting low overhead, and an environmentally and employee friendly configuration.
Did you know a full 65% of the world’s companies now make provision for virtual work? Though ‘virtual’ can be defined a variety of ways, Wiki-pedia says, “A virtual workplace is a workplace that is not located in any one physical space. It is usually in a network of several workplaces technologically connected (via a private network or the Internet) without regard to geographic boundaries.” Virtual work is a constant, even culturally significant imperative. Operating virtually is a challenge, but one that has rewards in the flexibility, independence and productivity it fosters. Our virtual team is successful because each person has these unique abilities:
- good communication skills
- right attitude – considering themselves a professional dedicated to a task
- ability to balance work and home, minimizing distractions such as TV, social media and FedEx deliveries among others
- tolerance for isolation
All of these traits and characteristics add to up a terrific set of emotionally intelligent marketing professionals who are actively working to produce good work, and feel good about their work in the process.
To keep us connected and effectively collaborating, we rely on this mix of collaboration tools:
Time Fox time tracking software is a paid software platform that allows each of us to track work and manage projects on a client, time, day and task basis. Easy to access reports help with invoicing each month, and now that we have multiple staff, each team member can track hours at the same time.
Trello is a super flexible, free collaboration tool that keeps the weekly flow of client projects and tasks organized and easy to access. We meet on Mondays to review plans for the week using Trello to click off completed tasks and add new ones so everyone can easily see progress and who is doing what. Trello’s learning curve is short and user friendly, something particularly appreciated by me.
Slack is a dedicated internal communication tool that replaces the problem of too many emails. We use it for team messaging and sharing working documents before sending on to clients for their review.
Skype is our go-to video conferencing tool, a daily workhorse in the virtual space that is truly just like being in the same office together. The interface is so easy to use, and audio/video quality nearly flawless. (We’ve found a few good workarounds for those infrequent connectivity issues.) Skype has been around since 2003, a granddaddy of the technology world.
Dropbox gives us a solid way to share all types of files, whether internal and external. Our clients are gradually becoming savvy to the beauty of Dropbox file sharing, and we especially like it for sharing photos. Paying an annual subscription fee gives added security and file space that is well worth the $100 fee charged by Dropbox.
Google Drive is another cloud based file sharing platform that is most useful to use for spreadsheets and working documents with ongoing content based projects.
When it comes to finding good locations for client meetings, or planning sessions, we’ve also embraced the virtual meeting place. Panera is our most frequent meeting spot, with consistently great food and coffee, and wifi that has gotten better over the years.
For a more dedicated, quiet meeting experience, here are a few alternative locations in the Syracuse area that can accommodate small or larger groups. Some are free, some require reservations, some a fee. But all provide unique opportunities for gathering a team to tackle the task at hand.
- Christ the King Retreat House - a beautiful former mansion tucked away in the hills of Dewitt that offers meeting spaces, tranquil gardens andlunch, with reservations.
- Tech Garden is a business incubator that offers meeting rooms, office space and other resources to support businesses looking to grow.
- Syracuse Co-Works is a unique subscription based work and living space with open conference space, offices, and a professional recording room
- OneGroup is an insurance and employee benefits company that has made a state of the art collaboration center available to the public for larger group meetings.
The opportunities and resources for virtual work are endless and widely accepted. For our part, we’re embracing the beauty and challenge of succeeding in the virtual office, wherever it takes us. It’s bound to be an interesting journey.