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Going Virtual

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Max Chafkin

Everyone knows the workforce is becoming more virtual. Free online technologies offered by the likes of Skype and Google have made it possible for start-ups to be launched by teams of people who live in different cities or, for that matter, on different continents. As for established businesses, a compelling argument can be made that, between high rents and long commutes, virtual work is more desirable, too. And individual workers have found that telecommuting opens up possibilities for integrating work and life (in ways both good and bad) as never before.

So how does being a virtual workplace affect a company's culture—and the quality and efficiency of its output? To find out, we've decided to conduct a little experiment: Starting right now, Inc. magazine will cease to exist as a physical place. We, the members of the magazine's editorial staff, are packing up our things, turning off the lights, and leaving our offices (which happen to be really, really nice). The idea: If virtual companies are so good, why not give it a try ourselves?

For the next month, anyway.

To prepare, we've talked to experts in the field of organizational behavior and entrepreneurs who believe in virtual work, such as WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and 4-Hour Workweek guru Timothy Ferriss. The reporters and editors have taken surveys on our work habits, downloaded new applications onto our computers and smartphones, and created checklists to help us collaborate even when we won't see each other face to face as we normally do. Most of us will be working from home offices for the month of February. The rest will be scattered among hotels, co-working spaces, and the occasional laptop-friendly café.

As the experiment progresses, we'll be blogging about our experiences here on a regular basis. We also plan to post video interviews with experts and consultants who study virtual work. Then in the April issue of the magazine, we'll publish a definitive piece on virtual work—a look at pros and cons of running a highly-dispersed team (namely, ours), plus, tips on how to work virtually that any start-up or small business can use.

As much as this is an experiment in remote work, it's also an experiment in open-source journalism. Working remotely is never easy, and we may face particular challenges coming from an industry where it is still common for an editor, a designer, a photo editor, and a writer to gather around a table to look at a page proof.

Therefore, we need your help. Use the Disqus comments section below to post your thoughts, send us a tweet, or send me an e-mail. I'll be posting a series of the most interesting comments and the best tips in this blog, and compiling it all in the magazine story in April. If you work from home, or manage employees who do, we want to know your favorite tips, tools, and techniques for making it all work. Bonus points if you have specific ideas about how to work with colleagues in different zip codes (or different countries). Should we use IM or Skype or both? Do we need set check-in times to make sure everyone is on the same page? Let us know.

And help us to understand the bigger picture as well. What were your your reasons for building a company virtually? What are the pros and cons of working from home? When is a traditional office necessary?

Send us your thoughts. And stay tuned to Inc.com as this story develops.

Last updated: Feb 2, 2010




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