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How Having Virtual Offices Hurt My Business

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The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made?” is written by William Vanderbloemen, founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group.

One of my best business decisions was to be old school and adopt centralized offices.

I think the power of being together as a team is vastly underestimated. While companies like my good friends at BELAY do exceptional virtual work, not all work can be done excellently virtually. And I had to chuckle at the irony when they had to rent space to have a company Christmas party—another testament to the pros of centralized offices.

Now that the popularity of virtual work is on the rise, how can you justify the value of spending the extra time, money, and resources on a centralized office?

Here’s a few things I learned when I focused on in-person work:

The dynamic of your work changes
When you’re working in the same space as your team, the entire dynamic of the process of your work changes. Take in-person brainstorming meetings, for example. Ideas build off of the energy of others in the meeting with you. You have teammates to talk through problems with as they arise. Productivity is higher. Creativity is stronger.

Your communication is better overall
One of the “killers” of virtual work is that the chance for miscommunication is much higher. When you’re working in person, you can see how each person is contributing to the team. That builds trust. When you’re talking to a client, they can read body language, conversational nuances, and engage in small talk, which sometimes is just what you need to put someone at ease with you.

See also: Why Not Selling My Startup Was the Best Decision I Ever Made

I had an employee working virtually for a while, so he would join our meetings via video calls. We had our entire team of 30 in the conference room, but he couldn’t always hear everything that was being said. And it seemed like no matter how often we upgraded our Internet, he would freeze on the screen at least one time during the call, often while he was in the middle of a story. Technology is really helpful when it works, but it can be infuriating (and waste a lot of time and money) when it doesn’t.

Your team and your clients will both feel the difference
The second part of my decision to have centralized offices involved shutting down the virtual side of my executive search business at Vanderbloemen. We originally thought it would be cheaper and easier to do interviews via Skype and FaceTime. We also thought it meant that we could expand our target client audience to smaller churches with lower budgets, and as a bonus, get to sleep in our own beds instead of a hotel room.

But client satisfaction went from 98% to 65% the year we started offering the virtual service. Bottom line: Face-to-face works better when you’re in a business that depends on people and relationships. Once we took the focus off of the virtual side, the quality and speed of our full-scale executive search work skyrocketed.

 

It is business, but it’s also personal
People connect with people best face-to-face. There’s a personal element that I think is vital for business. When you make your customer feel understood, that’s a big step in them wanting to work with you. This goes for clients and interviewees, and it goes a long way in building an effective and powerful team.

Most of the problems you’ll face in your business have to do with people, because that’s where your business starts. Sometimes, you need another person, in person, to help solve challenges, come up with fresh ideas, or sell someone on your work in a way that a Skype call can’t live up to.

I’m old school. I like face-to-face, whether I’m in the office or executing searches. The reality is, it’s more costly, but it’s been one of my best decisions ever. The return on investment of that time and money is worth the solid relationships you’ll build with both your team and your customers.