July 1, 2019 marks the official date my agency physically moved from an office in Chelsea, NY to a full virtual model. How’s it going now?
Can you think back to pre-pandemic times? Doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago?
January 2019 was a very stressful time in my life. Directing a busy agency and having come to grips with the reality that I needed to find a new office space, as the current lease was increasing 40% by July 1, 2019, meant I needed to negotiate or move. So, of course having little success in negotiating with the building management company, I decided that I needed to start the journey in finding a new NYC commercial space to relocate the agency to.
Prior to our space in Chelsea, we had a beautiful office in SoHo for 15 years. Having the space in Chelsea provided what I thought was the best of all worlds: convenience to uptown, midtown, and downtown locations, close to all major trains, and the luxury and choice of incredible Chelsea dining options. As a result, it was decided the new space would remain in Chelsea and we proceeded to look at 20+ spaces over two months, give or take, that cost less than what the proposed rent hike would be and have room to breathe to accommodate yearly incremental increases.
Two big things happened in April/May 2019. One: we found a great space, and two: we backed out of that very great space on the day I was supposed to sign the lease. What happened? My family knew I was struggling with this decision, and at a family event, my brother-in-law, a senior level expert at the IT consulting firm, Accenture, told me point-blank “You don’t need an office space to do the work you do”.
That didn’t register. What does that even mean to not have an office space? Of course I need a physical space, or do I? Confused and thinking about it for a few days, I realized he was 100% right. What was holding me back from coming to that smart financial decision was coming to the conclusion that we needed a space to have a physical presence to be real, to be credible. I thought clients needed to know we are located “at a specific location” and can reach us at any time at that address.
After a lot of soul-searching, I backed out of the lease on the day I was supposed to sign it. Ugh, I felt terrible but it’s not often that I’ve changed my mind on a business transaction but it was the single best decision for the company.
So, I found and hired a new IT company (my now friend Erich from Level Desk) to set up the best, most secure systems designed to support a virtual workforce and to be able to support/service company-purchased workstations around the country. It was essential to have strict control over the workstations and their proprietary information as my agency has NDAs in place with companies worldwide.
So, how’s it going now?
I would love to say I had a “premonition” or the “foresight” to have moved the company to virtual just before Covid’s outbreak, but it was simply great timing. I can’t even imagine having to navigate a pandemic and transition the whole business and technology model in a rushed, panicked environment in March 2020. It took months of planning and execution in implementing new applications, custom-built systems that connect a distributed workforce, workflow planning, backup strategies, and the highest security were all critical for success.
Fast forward to today, July 1, 2022, and the pandemic is still out there, although a sense of normalcy has crept back too, thanks to science. Adventure House is still virtual and has expanded its staff nationally, so there’s no going back to the traditional office model ever again.
I think back to 2019 and frequently use the term “dodging a bullet” as a metaphor for not signing that lease. Having worked virtually for three years now, today, I leave you with a few observations:
People are happier working from home
It doesn’t matter if you have two young kids or are a single person living alone—people like the freedom of working from home. Personal errands can be attended to, more time can be spent with family or friends throughout a busy workday, and you have the freedom to sign on early, stay late, or take breaks during the day on your terms.
An every-day commute is counter-productive
People don’t like commuting, and it’s expensive, so why make people do it every day? I always said to my family over the years that I loved the commute as it was “me time,” but the reality is it’s exhausting and stressful. The new business workforce seems to be implementing a hybrid model, so let’s hope it goes in that direction for flexibility, and employee happiness.
If full-time virtual is your everyday, make a home office
Even though you’re home, treat the hours working like you’re at the office. I have a professional set up at home and I’m all business until I sign off —or, of course, my dog needs to be walked. Ideally, it would be a separate space so you can “close the door” when the workday is done.
Virtual is impossible without systems and strategies
If you can’t physically see your staff every day, make sure the team is present and you build a supportive community in which people can reach out if they have questions, need to collaborate or brainstorm, or want to review/critique work.
Virtual is great, but take the time to connect live with people
My daughter and I were recently traveling in DC and we took the time to have lunch with AH staffers Kenza and Jason who were in the vicinity. It’s important to take the time to meet your staff or colleagues casually and get together with clients for meetings at their office, in a shared space, at Starbucks. Whatever it takes but have lunches, meals… heck, go bowling if it works, but virtual can never completely replace one-on-one interactions and relationships.
Let’s see what the next three years bring!