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Virtual Public Relations Teams

This article on the pros and cons to virtual pubic relations teams was published in SpinSucks on April 19, 2016 and was written by Gini Dietrich.

When I worked for an agency here in Chicago, there was one thing that drove me absolutely insane: They clocked you in every morning.

There was one day that I worked 22 hours, but by golly, if I weren’t at my desk by 8:30 a.m., I would be docked pay.

It drove me crazy. It didn’t matter if you were at the office until 9 p.m. working on a new business pitch (as it often happened) or traveling with clients and working more than 12 hours, you had to be at your desk by 8: 30 a.m.

Now, those of you who know me well, know that 8:30 a.m. is midday for me, but that’s not really the point.

The point was your butt in your desk chair was rewarded, not the billable hours or getting results or even happy clients (though I had a married client who cornered me in a hotel and then complained that I wasn’t doing my job, but that’s another story for another time).

Virtual office? Many people are skeptical of those who claim to be working from home.

And, let’s be real, when I’m told I have to do something, I don’t react super well. It’s that whole having trouble with authority thing and the main reason I went out on my own.

Productivity Doesn’t Have to Happen At Your Desk

Fast forward to today where I run an organization that is distributed across North America and Europe.

Because of time zones, everyone works their own schedules—with a few scheduled team and client meetings thrown in—with the goal of, I don’t know, getting their work done.

Let me give you an example.

On Friday, I took a SoulCycle class at lunchtime. On my walk over there, I talked to someone who might invest in Spin Sucks Pro and worked out a deal for next steps. I took the class and, on my walk back, I talked to a new business prospect who verbally agreed to hire us.

Then, I had a hair appointment on Friday afternoon and, on my walk there, I spoke with our web developer and got through six action items. While sitting in the chair, I got all of the Spin Sucks blog posts for this week read, edited, and scheduled.

I was incredibly productive like that and I didn’t have my butt in my desk chair.

If I were in the typical agency world, I would have had to take half a day off to do all of that. Or, in reality, I would have scheduled my hair appointment for a Saturday and I would have taken SoulCycle at 5:00 a.m.

Instead, I write at 5:00 a.m. because that’s when my brain is freshest and there are zero interruptions and I ride my bike at lunchtime when both my brain and my body need a break.

There isn’t anyone who a) sees me working at 5 a.m.; or b) is clocking me in every day.

And it is glorious!

Are Virtual Teams Becoming More Popular?

Yesterday, Spin Sucks reader and my friend, Travis Peterson, sent a picture of a friend of his who just set up his new office.

It’s a gigantic umbrella on a Florida beach, with a beach chair, a folding table, his smartphone, and his laptop. Literally right on the beach.

How would you like that set-up?

The world, it is a changin’.

When we got rid of our physical office location in 2011, it was pretty scary. No one had a virtual team back then and there were a couple of prospects who thought we were a fly-by-night organization (even though we were six years in by then) because we didn’t have an office.

I actually had a prospect tell me she couldn’t do business with us because she couldn’t get past the fact that we didn’t all congregate in the same space every day.

When I asked her if that was because she planned to visit us, she said, “Maybe on the rare occasion I’m in Chicago.”

Today, the virtual team seems a bit more commonplace and I often wonder if we were the right agency for her, if she’d still have a problem with it.

Even still, it seems like the only companies that are doing it today are tech. Even in the agency world, we are an anomaly.

The Pros (and Cons) to a Virtual Team

But there are some major pros to setting up a business this way, other than working as I did on Friday afternoon:

  • You can hire anyone, anywhere. If they are best for the job, it doesn’t matter where they live and you don’t have to disrupt their lives by moving them to your headquartered offices (not to mention not having the expense of the move).
  • Everyone is BYOD, which means the cost of equipment is pretty much nill. Today, everyone has their own computers so we allow them to use that for their work. Our IT professional services all computers and they are required to install the software we use (DropboxZoomSlackLastPass), but the expense of buying everyone a new PC every year or so is completely gone.
  • No land lines exist anymore. Clients have direct access to their teams through cell phones. There no longer is the need for a land line and almost everyone is no longer skittish about providing their cell phone numbers.
  • The flexibility is incredible. As you saw by my Friday, I don’t care where people work, when they work, or how they work, as long as the work gets done and the clients are happy. Of course, you do have to attend meetings and generally be around for clients on their work schedules, but I don’t care if you do it from the chair of the hair salon or on the beach.
  • When we were in an office, I would visually watch people take note of other’s schedules. We had a content manager who liked to go to the gym at 4:00 p.m. She always came back to the office, but it was usually around 5:30 or 6:00, when most people had already gone home for the night. So no one saw her “make up” those couple of hours. Instead, they got mad that she would leave that early. That no longer exists!
  • Clients are also distributed. Maybe not in the same way, but we work with clients in North America, Europe, and Asia. So the fact that we have the technology down pat to use video chat for meetings is a gigantic plus. If we were in an office together, we’d not have it as professional as we do today, just out of necessity.

The only thing I really miss about having a virtual team is the one-off brainstorms that happen after you have a really good client meeting and want to bounce ideas. We’ve tried to replicate that through video chat, and it’s a nice replacement, but it’s not quite the same.

And, for the team members who are a little more extroverted than me, I know the drop-ins to people’s offices is missed (I don’t miss that because I never could do deep work in the office).

Those truly are the only cons so the pros far outweigh any resistance to building a business this way.

For those of you who have a virtual team, I’m curious to hear if you love it and why.

And, for those of you who don’t, what do you think it would take—or is it even possible—to work this way?

image credit: zoom (but I will get a photo of us during our team meeting today and replace it)

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.