People are often surprised to learn that we converted O’Connell Meier to a virtual firm several years ago. My own mother never could believe that we could manage staff in multiple states and several countries from a home office. After all, she’d seen the fancy offices, complete with four team areas, three conference rooms, 75+ file cabinets, reception, kitchen, etc. How could we successfully leave that infrastructure behind? Why would we want to?
The idea to go virtual came to us back in 2003 when I was virtually managing a team of 125 advertising volunteers for a presidential campaign. This group was meeting deadlines, collaborating seamlessly, and producing terrific work. My in-house employees were doing great work, too…. but they were also wrestling with horrific DC traffic, long commutes, and daycare challenges. Not easy when you work in a deadline-driven business that sometimes requires late nights. And, we were paying rent roughly equal to the price of a new Hyundai each and every month.
Still, the idea of going completely virtual was scary. Especially as we the online management tools were primitive compared to the tools we have today. Sure, we could email drafts, comps, and proofs back and forth. But how would we really know that people were working? How would we train new team members? What would clients think? Didn’t we need the office for client meetings?
But, when we stepped back, we realized that clients rarely came to our offices. Why should they? They all had great conference rooms, too. And no one could survive at our company if they weren’t dedicated and self-motivated. Plus, we realized that we were already working virtually for our biggest clients… when managing large conference or membership campaigns, we were in constant daily contact with clients from our desktops.
When we launched our social networking company in 2004, we decided to launch virtually. It was a smart start-up move… and the lessons learned very quickly convinced us to take the whole agency virtual. At first, we kept central offices for meetings and training. But, as online tools improved, we eventually left those behind as well. And, despite all our fears (and my Mom’s inability to understand), it was definitely one of the best business decisions we ever made. In future posts, I’ll talk about the tools we use to keep our team working as one cohesive unit… and how those same tools help our clients.
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