Ditching The Office

from the some-good,-some-bad dept

A few years back, we went from what had been a virtual office to actually having a real office. Yet, since the company had been virtual for a while, we've maintained something of a hybrid between a virtual office and a real office. Not everyone goes into the office all the time (some of our employees aren't local, though the majority of them are). Some rarely go into the real office at all. Still, there are days when we do try to make sure that everyone's at the office, and that can be quite useful. However, Wired is suggesting that more companies ditch their offices completely and move entirely to a virtual office arrangement. I can understand the appeal, but I think that a hybrid approach may work much better. There are times that having a real office space is quite useful, such as in allowing for more impromptu brainstorming and discussion. It also opens up the lines of communication much more. While our staff is good at using instant messaging, chat rooms and phone calls, there have been times when just sitting across from one another has helped get things done more quickly. Both the real office and the virtual office have pros and cons, but I'm not sure that it makes sense to go completely to one extreme or the other. Having a space that can function as an "open office" area, while allowing employees to telecommute most of the time seems to create a nice balance.


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    Nathania, Oct 29th, 2008 @ 8:36pm

    I love it

    I love telecommuting. I hated the office b/c of office politics. It was like being in high school with gossip and people getting promoted for likability and not for talent.

    I get to sit in my recliner, avoid sitting in traffic for hours, and play my music when and what and how loud I want. I don't have to worry about a work wardrobe, and since I can work from anywhere, I worry less about vacation time.

    It's nice that you guys get so much done during face-to-face meetings, but I've found pretty much the exact opposite when I worked in an office.

    Hopefully, telecommuting is the wave of the future sooner rather than later. What better time than a bad economy to implement the changes?

     

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    DaveW, Oct 29th, 2008 @ 9:02pm

    Right Balance

    I think you hit the nail right on the head. There has to be a balance. Nathania can avoid the politics etc., but those situations where F2F contact pays off can also happen. It is sometimes dangerous to be "out of the loop"! It is important for companies to enable both sides and let the employees settle on what makes them most productive.

    DaveW.

     

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    Chunky Vomit, Oct 29th, 2008 @ 9:37pm

    I agree that a hybrid solutions work best. While I strongly prefer to work on my own, I also think that efficiency is important, and from time to time, efficiency is best when we are all working together in the same space.

     

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    crystalattice (profile), Oct 29th, 2008 @ 10:28pm

    An office gives you a chance to connect

    I think hybrid is the way to go. Telecommuting is good in so many ways, but people able to get together and have a good BS session is also good.

    So many ideas can get thrown around when people just hang out together. Having a place to go and chat is great. Usually digitial communication is used as a tool to accomplish a purpose, at least for business people. But it doesn't meet all the needs a person has.

    Being able to order a bunch of pizzas and just talk is important for many reasons: the human need for belonging, affirmation of self, non-verbal cues, etc. Not to mention how many ideas or problems can be discussed without the pressure of "work" being on the mind.

     

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    Ryan, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 2:10am

    It'd be nice..

    Some countries laws prohibit offices in homes. I know in China where I am there must be a physical address. So if we go virtual, which would be great, we would need an empty shoebox office with a sign to get a trading license.

    Perhaps there are similar countries who have the same laws.

    Still - who wants to give up afternoon beers on a Friday?

     

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      FarSide, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:53am

      Re: It'd be nice..

      We had our Beer-Fridays revoked about 4 years ago (no one had caused trouble or had too much - the new CEO never drank and didn't understand it, so it had to go).

      Luckily I have been able to work from home for the last 4 months, so now I have Beer Fridays AND Beer Thursdays (and on occasion Beer Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays...)

       

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    Roger, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:47am

    Don't underestimate the power of human interaction

    Sure office politics sucks. Commuting sucks. I hate both those too.

    But part of the human experience is interaction. How much of human endeavor and accomplishment comes from solo flyers, plugging away in silos? We are social creatures and as convenient as it may be to avoid social interaction, we must strive to work together. For a complete interaction we need eye contact, to perceive the subtleties of timbre and pitch in voice, nuances of body language, even the smell of someone's perfume.

    I recall a story (The Naked Sun ) by famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in which the world (or a world) had devolved to a society where no-one had any meaningful personal interaction (except to procreate). At what point will we become something like that?

    I fully support telecommuting. I just don't think that the need for human interaction should be sacrificed on its altar.

     

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    Bruce P. Van Cleve, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:57am

    virtual office

    I agree that a hybrid approach works best. In my business I have a small office (not in my home by the way) for me to work in peace and quiet and to meet clients in. Located in an office complex, it also has meeting rooms available to use as needed, it's all very efficient. I can gather everyone together occasionally to collaborate. The point of migrating to a semi-virtual arrangement is to get away from the outdated notion that people all HAVE to be in the same large office or building to get their work done. It just isn't true.

     

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    MW, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 6:29am

    Telecommuting vs. Old Schoolers

    I'm fairly new to the company I work for and any time I bring up working from home to some of the old timers ( either in age or just having been with the company for awhile ) I usually get blank stares or rebuffed nicely. Some of them seem to change their tone when I tell them there is not one thing I can't do from home, but they usually have something they think is crucial that I be in the office. I prefer to email fellow associates so I have a record of what we talked about, this keeps me from wasting post-it notes.

    In the end I think some parts of companies could stand to allow some of their folks work from home but you always have the departments that have to be on site for various reasons, and you know they'll be pissy since they have to come to the office.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

      Re: Telecommuting vs. Old Schoolers

      Currently, I can't telecommute much because of policy, and it's a real pain.

      At home, I have a 15Mbps/15Mbps internet connection that is basically all mine during the day. At work, we have a 3Mbps/3Mbps connection that is shared by the 50 people here. Much of my job requires me to VPN into client systems, so the internet connection speed is important.

      At home, I have 24" widescreen monitor (1920x1200), 750GB of fast hard drives, and 4GB RAM in my main workstation, while work provides a 17" 1024x768 monitor with an 80GB SATA-1 hard drives and 1GB RAM. Since I need to run VMs to test software configs, more RAM and fast, big hard drives are a must. But, everyone must have the "standard build", so that nobody feels slighted because their machine isn't as good.

      It's kind of sad that more managers don't understand the gains you can get from telecommuting employees (especially when the physical commute is at least 30 minutes).

       

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    westwind, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 6:33am

    In-person advantages

    My hobby involves something of a virtual office, and I have to chime in agreeing with you and most of the other commenters. I work with people from all over the country and around the world, and we've gotten quite adept at collaborating through the ether, but there's really no substitute for face-to-face contact for a lot of c

     

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      westwind, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 12:28pm

      Re: In-person advantages

      D'oh. Not sure how it got cut off mid-paragraph -- I thought it errored out completely and didn't post anything. Anyhow...

      ...no substitute for face-to-face contact for a lot of creative work. I recently had the opportunity to meet in person some of the other people with whom I work, and the difference was amazing. We were able to discuss and work on things in person much more efficiently than chat ever permitted.

      Has anyone had any experience with the use of voice chat in distributed collaboration circumstances? While it's no substitute for real face-time, does it improve normal interaction?

       

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    Christopher Smith, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:05am

    Office timeshares

    There are some facilities that will rent "offices" and conference rooms by the day, or will allow businesses to buy what are essentially timeshares and use the space only when needed. I'd like to see more of this approach, since it makes the larger, comparatively more expensive facilities available when needed but eliminates wasteful spending (and construction and resource use, etc.).

     

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    Sean, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:49am

    Can't hack it at home all day!

    I work remotely, and I'm actually in a different country at the other end of Europe from the office of the company I work for. But I still pay rent and fees to have my own office (or rather, a desk in the office of a friend). You might think that's crazy but here's why.

    I crack up if I'm at home all day. No-one to grab a coffee with, no-one to say "Hey, what's with the weather today?", no interaction except by email, chat and maybe the odd phonecall.

    No outside stimulus to make me think "hey maybe I should get off TechDirt and focus on this issue I'm working on"... which is exactly what I'm gonna do right now.

     

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    IT Guy, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 9:24am

    Not for everyone

    Every situation will be different, and for anyone to make a sweeping recommendation just reflects a lack of understanding of both people and organizations.

    Telecommuting doesn't work for everyone, even when physical presence isn't required to do the job. For example, some people aren't self-disciplined enough to do the job without the structure of being in the office. For others, their home environment may not "work for work"; roommates on different shifts, toddlers, whatever.

    From an organizational standpoint, if some people are "at work" and some aren't, there's a perception issue that the people not "at work" aren't doing as much work as those that are in the office.

    My personal preference is to work at home in the morning, and be in the office in the afternoon, and while that isn't a problem in my current job from a technical standpoint, it's a big political issue.

     

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    Looking to get out, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 11:53am

    Where are they?

    Where are the telecommuting jobs? I have been searching for a telecommuting job and they are very hard to find.

    I am a software developer by trade and would love to get out of the office.

     

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      nasch, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 1:45pm

      Re: Where are they?

      At my last job, the big boss had a flat rule: no telecommuting. I was planning to move anyway, so they lost an employee who would have been happy to keep working for them. Now I have a full-time (software development) telecommuting job because there's not a lot of IT where I am. There aren't a ton of such jobs but they're out there. Do the usual job search things, plus appropriate keywords like "telecommute" and "remote". It took me about four months to land this job.

       

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