In June 2001, Knowledge Anywhere Founder Charlie Gillette published an article in The Eastside Journal, entitled Tips to Setting up a Virtual Office.
This newspaper clipping, recently re-found during a move to our new Seattle office, serves as a time capsule into the past. Written 19 years before Covid-19 and the steep incline of remote work, this article will take a look at the original article and compare it to our current remote work climate to see what's changed and what hasn't.
Knowledge Anywhere, a Bellevue online learning company, has grown significantly over the past few years. But walk into our Bellevue headquarters and you’d think we were a fledgling startup. Why? Our office is nearly empty. Most of our employees are working hard, but from somewhere else- virtually. Our core promise to clients is the delivery of custom web-based learning solutions in six to eight weeks. Pulling off this requires creativity, communication, and concentration, plus lots of long hours. We meet our goals, in part, because we let people work away from the office, where they work harder and are also happier. About three-quarters of our approximately 30 employees and contract workers have their primary office at home. They come to headquarters for weekly meetings. More frequently they communicate with their supervisor, deliver completed projects and receive new assignments via email.
Employees who prefer to work in the office take advantage of flextime, and often adjust their hours to avoid peak traffic or to meet family or personal obligations. Veronica Amucha, a product manager, provides a good example. She works from home in Bellevue two days a week, communicating in real-time with technical staff and project managers via MSN messenger. This allows her to parent her newborn daughter and 21-month-old son without extensive use of daycare. Andrea Riseden Perry, our graphic designer and marketing specialist, likes homework because of the creative space she set up at home. Not only is the ambiance conducive to concentration and innovative design, but she also has the equipment she prefers. It would be hard for us to match these features in an office. Even our executive vice president of business development, Bill Strelke, uses flex times. He can break away for his children’s school events, and activities he previously missed with work and travel.
Implementing a virtual company makes takes more than just sending everyone home and downsizing office space. It requires deliberate strategy and careful planning to avoid both financial and morale-related pitfalls. To other companies considering switching to a virtual office format, I would like to suggest the following guidelines based on our experience:
1: Hire only highly motivated people. When there’s no clock to punch and no manager walking the halls, you’ve got to be able to trust your employees to work on their own- even if the sun has come out or the ski slopes are in perfect condition. So, hire very accountable individuals and set clear goals. Ask for proof of successful independent work when recruiting and conducting new-hire interviews. If hours counting is an issue with contractors, structure compensation on a project basis, paying only for deliverables produced.
2: Access to the latest technology. Virtual workers need the basics- a PC with email and cell phone. But also consider real-time communications technology like DSL, Messenger, cellular mobiles access to data, or PDS for email and text messages. The real-time aspect is more important than you might suspect because of the sense of isolation that can impact virtual workers. Organization between the virtual team is also key. Our project managers and developers depend on version control software and a central file storage program for easy access to current projects and company documents.
3: Allow for social needs. Even the most hermit-like person needs a pat on the back, an appreciative smile and face-to-face contact every now and again. Virtual team members may not get their “social fix” very often – or at least not from co-workers. Employees should cultivate a team environment. Scheduling regular touch base meetings and encouraging collaboration will create camaraderie, and let people put faces with names on email and voices on the phone. At our company we find that weekly lunch meetings work well. Often the company provides food, and we all break bread or while discussing current goals, challenges, and progress.
4: Be generous with virtual praise. This is a corollary to the point above. If your team members feel isolated or underappreciated because of their physical distance from the office, they're not going to prioritize your work. We’ve found that virtual employees are motivated by approval and positive recognition. Taking the time to send an email or phone call when you're satisfied with someone’s work provides positive feedback and shows they are viewed as a valuable contributor to the company.
5: Become a world-class communicator. Reply quickly to each and every message you receive from virtual employees. Treat them like you would a team member at your office door asking for help. Also be sure to disseminate news to all employees, regardless of location, to avoid a perception of favoritism for in-house staff.
We adopted virtual office strategies for very practical reasons. We’re a lean company, and virtual workers have allowed to save money. Hiring and training costs typically run about 25% of a new recruit’s salary. You eliminate these outlays by retaining happy and loyal employees- in our case, by letting them work virtually. With virtual practices, we can hire the best people available no matter where they live, pay them highly competitive rates (not for time spent commuting, but for actual work done), and retain our top talent. With Seattle now having the third worst traffic in the nation. It’s a safe bet that we may soon see more companies converting to a virtual office format.
Charlie Gillette Monday June 11, 2001, Eastside Journal
What's Changed Since 2001
Quite a few things have changed since 2001, as evidenced by the Classified ads listed next to the article. $1145 for a 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath in Bellevue? What a steal. But for now, let's focus on remote work and training. Here are the top differences between the original article and today:
1. The amount of workers that are or expect to be working remotely at least part-time.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, in 2021 approximately 27.7% of the American workforce worked from home at least one day per week. Additionally, 5.2% of workers worked from home exclusively. These numbers likely reflect the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many companies have implemented remote work policies in response to the crisis.
2. The latest technology has improved and changed.
Sleek Learning Management Systems (LMS), Teams, and Slack have replaced DSL, AOL, and MSN Messenger.
What's Remained the Same
While some things could stand to be updated, the overall accuracy of this article remains eerily similar to the advice of remote work today. The core tenants of online work benefits, staying in touch through technology, and establishing accountability programs are still relevant today.
About Knowledge Anywhere
Founded in 1998, Knowledge Anywhere creates and deploys easy-to-use, performance-based eLearning tools to make the transfer of knowledge more flexible, effective, and engaging.
Our Learning Management System, Virtual Reality Training, Course Library, and Course Development services, combined with our experience and stellar customer support, enables our users to create a learning and development program that delights Learners and drives company growth.
Schedule a talk with an online training expert for free here!