Magazine article Talent Development

The Remote Boss

Magazine article Talent Development

The Remote Boss

Article excerpt

It's 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and Sarah I Parker is leading her team. She's not dressed in a suit, and she's not getting in her car or hopping on a train. She has no office to go to and no specific arrival time to meet. Parker works for a major software company, and she manages a group of developers who work out of their houses all around the globe.

Using Skype, Parker starts her day by seeing who's online, and chatting with her team. She also logs into a project management system to see what's on the docket for today. Her calendar is shared and reflects time blocks for calls with clients, a check-in with her team, and a block of time to build out a resource proposal to add additional contractors to a project. She takes a sip of her coffee, made fresh in her own kitchen, and gets down to business.

As broadband Internet access spread around the globe, businesses began to question why they were spending money on physical office space. With collaboration tools and resources, low-cost videoconferencing technology, and e-commerce, virtual companies went from concept to reality.

What is a virtual company?

The term "virtual" has come to mean a variety of things. Before it was co-opted to mean something that exists in cyberspace, but not in the real world, virtual meant "almost" or "very nearly identical." But the rise of the Internet has spawned a whole new lexicon, and many words that meant one thing before the Internet now mean something quite different.

When we talk about a virtual company, we're not discussing something that is almost, but not quite, a real business. A virtual company is an organization that typically exists without an office, without a warehouse full of goods or a store full of merchandise. It's a business that runs primarily online. And in addition to not having a headquarters or a bunch of stock on the shelves, virtual companies typically have employees who work from anywhere.

Enrique Levin, co-founder of Zintro, has been operating his company virtually since its inception. Zintro is a platform that helps connect companies with highly specialized experts for projects, phone consults, and jobs. The company has employees all around the world, doing everything from software development of their platform, to account management for clients, to sales and marketing. Levin sees tremendous benefits in operating as a virtual organization, and wouldn't work any other way.

"By not being bound to a specific location, the pool of talent is expanded globally, allowing us to hire the best talent available in the world," he says. "Due to the reduced 'control' over employees, it forces us to manage by goals and measurable results. It makes us more cohesive, and more responsible of our work. We communicate more transparently and it allows for better accountability."

You wouldn't be alone if you assume that virtual companies often are startups or very small businesses, but you might be surprised at how many larger organizations operate this way. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a limit on how big a virtual organization can get. Companies such as Mozilla, Automattic (the business behind the hugely successful blogging platform Wordpress), Basecamp, and Wikipedia all operate as virtual organizations.

Management practices of virtual organizations

The defining feature of a virtual business is that it doesn't have an office. No headquarters with a big neon logo on the outside, no physical space where employees can gather around the water cooler, no cubicles filled with fake plants and family photos. Virtual companies exist primarily in cyberspace. In addition to being office-free, virtual companies also practice the following management strategies that set them apart from more traditional businesses.

* Free-agent workforce. While some virtual organizations take a traditional approach to employment, and use mostly full-time employees to get their work done, it's the exception, not the rule. …

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