Creating a geographically-flexible workspace* has always been my dream. It took me ten years from the time that I first added this goal to my business plan to finally implement it. Since April 1, 2000, I have been working from a home office, a suite of 1,400 square feet that includes a private conference and reading room, office space, and a work room with a long bench upon which I can repair computers and assemble books. I even have my own kitchen and lavatory. If my refrigerator were a little larger, I could comfortably live here!
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I have invited only a few business acquaintances here…my corporate accountants and my insurance agent. I think that I have had two clients into this office. Rather than inviting acquaintances here, I travel to their offices or schedule meetings in a private meeting facility (often a private room in a restaurant, so we can share a meal). I created my office specifically to facilitate my work style, and I have no intention of ever returning to a corporate office space.
To facilitate sharing networked data, I created a virtual private network with my coworkers, who also work from their homes, on four continents, and I have no intention of ever returning to a physical headquarters again. We talk, chat, and e-mail one another throughout the 24-hour day (because of time zone differences), and we are much more profitable in this new work environment. Because we’re more profitable, I was able to return to part-time academic work, an avocation that I had to leave in the 1980s, because I was so busy managing a physical office.
This physically-dispersed environment works well for coworkers who are motivated and can focus on the tasks that need to be done (I say this tongue in cheek, because I am notorious for procrastinating and letting postal mail pile up on my desk, unread). However, I flourish in this flexible work environment, as I keep my plate full…I always have a project waiting to be started, just as soon as I complete my current task.
I think that it is fairly common, within the IT industry, to create geographically-flexible workspaces for professional staff members. I caution that the vital characteristic is motivation. Employees who do not share a passion for the organization’s success will not, in the long run, do well without close supervision.
*I dislike the term virtual office, as the workspace physically exists. The common term does not grasp the inherent flexibility of private workspaces.