The Long Hallway

by Jonathan Follett

26 Reader Comments

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  1. For a design business, The Long Hallway is not an option: it’s crucial to survival. I’d say, scramble and adopt it during the slow initial rise of the trend, or be run over by it when it attains critical mass. Lucky Balaraman
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  2. But what about the customer? I think it’s much harder to introduce a virtual company in business competition and explain it to it’s customer than building up a working team. Those guys who work for us are allready experienced in futuristic web behavior. The clients mostlikely aren’t. This article is a very good one, very interesting. But i think my question / problem with it is at least as important. Answers or suggestions?
    Stefan
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  3. Hi All, Thanks for the comments, Lucky and Stefan. Stefan: In response to your question, I think, in competition for work, the virtual company relies heavily upon the business development skills, personal network, and professional reputation of its leadership. If clients trust your design sense and judgement, and you can show a track record of successful completion of projects, the virtual firm may be an easier sell.  In terms of gaining exposure and finding new clients, I have a feeling that leaders of virtual companies will spend a majority of their time on the road, meeting lots and lots of people at conferences and smaller industry gatherings. For kickoff meetings, design reviews, and the like, I’ve found that it’s not too difficult to make your virtual team a “real” one for a few days, assembling on site at a client location. Going to the client, rather than making them come to you, is often seen as a value-added service. You’re right in that the sales cycle is complicated for the virtual company, and that some people will not be comfortable hiring a firm with no physical headquarters. But, I have a feeling that, over time, this fear of the virtual will abate, as business decision makers get used to the idea of the long hallway. Does anyone else have insight into this from a sales perspective? Has anyone won, or lost an account specifically because their team was virtual?  Jon
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  4. just wanted to say, great article!
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  5. ALA is one of the few places in the virtual world where I frequently get the feeling that hey, I know exactly what you’re talking about! (Well, sometimes not, as it may happen, but that is also challenging and useful.) The situations and issues you discuss in your article are part of my everyday life, and mostly we’re just making it up as we go along, solving the most pressing problems asap and dealing with others - well, later, when they do become pressing problems. Thanks for a great article & greetings to everyone who is trying to create a balance between having a life and running a virtual company.
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  6. I worked for a long time in a virtual team. We made every week one meeting so everyone was up to speed and to avoid double and unneccesary work. These meetings also help to build trust in the team. It is very important that everyone in a virtual team /company trust each other. Difficulties with trust are bigger problems then the long hallway.
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  7. I don’t think there will be many virtual companies. But I totally agree that there will be many many projects with virtual teams. The difference is that a company has a common interest into something. Whatever the interest is, you want to build something stable, much more than just making a bit of revenue with one client. A project with a virtual team is different, you know that you are working together with the other team members for a limited time and after that you might work together again on another project, but you also might see the other team members never again. So if you have the possibility to work together on a project basis, why would you want to make a company out of that? A company makes sence if it is bigger than the sum of its parts. But to grow bigger these parts have to have strong relationships that I don’t see in a virtual company. So yes, work together as the article described, but not in the form of a company.
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  8. The problem that I have is doing the business side: sales,
    accounting, lawyers, etc. These people can be annoying to find,
    but absolutely essential to running a small business. Sales
    can especially solve networking issues in finding clients. Is there any effort to attach these folks to the more technology based networks?
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  9. I think it’s a thin line between a company and a team of independent professionals collaborating frequently. The key issue is indeed to ‘build something stable’, and yes, that is hardly possible if you just hire people cheap on a project-by-project basis without any intention to build long-term relationships based on mutual trust and benefit.
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  10. I couldn´t see a great difference between a project team and a small virutal company. In both cases everyone is following the main goal of the company/project and also own interest. In a virtual company you couldn´t switch of personal interests especially with not equal employees.
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  11. As far a sales go, the client doesn’t need to know that you’re a virtual company. Whoever is pitching to the client pitches as a member of the firm. Meet with clients either in public places, like cafe’s and restaurants, or in the clients’ own workspace. It maximizes the convienience to the client to do this, and helps them feel more comfortable. It shouldn’t matter that the guy doing the pitch is in NYC and the lady desinging the page is in Melbourne, AU, and the front end developer is in France, and the PHP guru lives on a houseboat in Lake Erie. Just provide a quality product and experience, and you can keep your vitrual company’s inner workings to yourself.
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  12. We’ve got a core team of four supplemented by a network of subs in illustration, database management, programming.. (you get the idea). It’s worked well for us and allows us to be lean and flexible but still maintain a “physical presence” that seems to be important to some of our clients. But what’s really made that work well is the suite of tools we use to collaborate not just on projects but on ideas, direction, studio culture - the things you’d find around the break room table or during drinks after hours that we noticed we were missing as a partially virtual team. Our favorite of those tools right is Campfire (37Signals.com), we started out using it as a brainstorming space for our team and subs, but it’s evolved into an open-all-day studio space we all log into in the morning and sign out of at night - between which discuss projects, each other’s kids, future plans, ideas and everything else under the sun all day while we’re at work in other windows. It’s really helped our subs feel like they’ve become part of the core team, helped everybody get and stay on the same page and quick questions get resolved fast, with transcripts available to look back and check if there’s a conflict about what was said. Great article!
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  13. I recently used a company that was pretty much based on this setup - although the project worked out well the senior managers I worked for were never convinced about the professionalism of them because they didn’t have “an office”. Admittedly these were not web or tech savvy people - the company’s core business had nothing to do with the web or IT - but a lot of companies still fit that description.
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  14. Great Article.  I’m in the midst of building my own virtual company.  Two observations based on my experience: 1 - Virtual works great when you have a group of people who are highly talented and self-directed. I think it’s much different to _develop_ the talent of a virtual team.  Teaching really requires face time to be done right. 2 - I think at some point you have t have some kind of “meat space” for your company.  A nice office space where you can bring Clients and team members for meetings/socials and prospects for pitch presentations.  Clients want to “know where to find you” and a nice office can help them feel like you are planning on “sticking around” and will take good care of their business.
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  15. I think many creative professionals function in this sort of environment to one degree or another. The company I work for farms some of their work out to an agency in another state and maintain contact usually only by internet or phone. I rarely need to have face to face contact with my freelance clients, and even have a few clients whom I’ve never met in person.
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  16. I’ve been running a virtual company for years now, and I actually make it part of my pitch. If you present it the right way, it’s a positive. For example: “Because I have less overhead, I can pass these savings onto you, Mr. Customer.” Get it?
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  17. Thanks great article and much needed since our company is contemplating the long hallway. One concern, or maybe two, that I have is, the creative energy that happens in a room of people is almost impossible to replicate over the phone or via email etc . . . There is something to be said when everyone shares the same physical space and shares and discusses ideas freely. It seems almost impossible to have this dynamic in a virtual situation. And like another comment earlier I can see the ability to do projects in this manner but long term, strategic thinking regarding a company seems much more difficult.
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  18. Losing the ability for face to face collaboration is indeed a challenge for management, but it is trumped by the ability to access a greater depth of talent.  No manner of face-to-face will make up for a team that is composed of more talented individuals. BTW: Once again the quality of your articles is incredible.
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  19. Transparency and honesty is crucial, especially when providing quotes for each creative project. There are dozens of on-line communities discussing rates for everything from logo design to Web site production openly. It takes a client five minutes to see if their own quote is somewhat realistic. Honest professionals will thrive in this virtual environment, which is very competitive. Honesty also generates many desired testimonials, inspiring present clients and establishing some credibility for new ones.
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  20. In the 80s and early 90s I worked in a Fortune 500’s cubicle farm.  Since then, I’ve worked in virtual companies only and absolutely love it.  You do need self-motivated partners and fairly frequent phone/email contact to keep excitement at a steady high, in my experience.
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  21. Great article. I run a micro firm acting as a virtual company. I haven’t found it difficoult yet to have clients embrace this innovative way of running a firm.
    They’re just happy when they understand that they’re buying the best they can buy. And they pay just for what they need, not for the overall “structure” that lies behind the project.
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  22. I think that with the advent of instant messenging, conference groups, and webcams, that this is not such a bad idea.  I’ve known someone who made a two hour commute to work one way.  Then you’ve got the price for gas.  This is a great labor and expense saving technology.  People do need people skills to take advantage of it though. -ted
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  23. Nice article. The long hallway can be quite OK for some businesses, can cut costs, and bring many other benefits. On the other hand, even if you have met your coworkers in person before, it is no guarantee that you can create a sustainable long term environment.
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  24. ...has demonstrated time and time again that many paradigm shifts have been forged in the heat of crisis…like now (Spring 2008): As the crushing costs of energy and resulting related expenses rise, virtual companies, telecommuting to established brick-and mortar businesses and hybrids yet unborn will spring up. Count on it. There will be little distinction between creative people and more (no offense meant) mundane types of knowledge/information workers in their remote work style. Current questions about virtual management, trust of workers unseen and “should I shave and shower before I web-cam the rest of the team?” are mere details. Soon enough terms and phrases like “virtual companies” and “telecommuting” will themselves be relics, as are phrases like “IBM compatible” and “new media” today. The actions and concepts behind the phrases will simply be the way we live and work—routinely.
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  25. This is exactly why I am excited to be starting a business; now more than ever.
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  26. Wow this article holds true even today. In fact these days, it’s so easier to outsource work or form your virtual team and get work online. There are so many Web 2.0 project management and collaboration tools available these days! And I completely agree with copy-writing skills. I think even though the broadband speeds have substantially increased in the last few years, and videos have taken over to a great extent, but yet text still remains the main driver of the internet. Great article. Brought back a lot of old memories.
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