US & World

Virtual offices have their perks, drawbacks

Could cubicles become a thing of the past?
Could cubicles become a thing of the past?
Janice Watje-Hurst/KPCC

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The nine to five office job isn’t as common as it once was. As communication technologies increase, working from home does also.

Recently, the business magazine, Inc. decided to publish their entire April issue without stepping foot in the office. It required planned conference calls and tools such as Skype and instant messaging, but overall, production went fine.

Jane Berentson, the editor-in-chief of Inc. magazine, talked to Patt Morrison about the experience and what she learned from it.

Berentson highlighted some of the advantages of a virtual office and suggested that new businesses try it out. “I think the last thing in the world you would need is an expensive office someplace and everything that goes along with it,” she said.

“So I would say, start out in your apartment of your house. Grab a few people and take it from there and see whether you’re comfortable with a virtual office or whether you need to get together.”

Also joining the conversation was Kirk Aubry, Chief Operating Officer of gloStream, a company which supplies doctors with medical records software. He already runs gloStream virtually, but is looking into a permanent space for his headquarters.

Aubry put in his two cents: “There are lots of benefits to working virtually. It requires that you be flexible. There’s a cost savings.”

Virtual offices may save money for businesses and save hours of time lost in a commute (not to mention cut back on emissions), but there are things lost. A caller pointed out that if there were no offices, clerical and janitorial positions would be cut. So while businesses would save money, people would lose jobs.

Berentson responded, “I also think things would shift a little bit. So maybe people would have more lavish home offices. In terms of the kind of janitorial jobs or something like that, people would still have to be places. It wouldn’t be big office buildings but it might be places where people congregate.”

On top of that, many people were concerned with the loss of inner-office relationships and possibly productivity. Both guests and many callers agreed on one thing: it depends on the company and the staff.

“The ideal scenario is, depending on the business and depending on the business needs, somewhere in between,” Aubry said. “There are certainly trade-offs.”