2/24/12

A Business Hub for Virtual Work

Loving & Business (Part 12)



One of the greatest challenges currently, with so many people working outside of an office or company environment, is keeping the sense of touch, community and belonging. It is not isolated to any one industry, although the challenges are different for a company that is locally based vs. regional, national or even international.

All companies have experienced this with cost pressures related to size of the physical footprint, cost of gas and time for commuters. Internet access, shared data and communications options have erased many of the former barriers that used to necessitate bricks and sticks. Even the consumer, in many industries, is able to interact with the company online, rarely, if ever, visiting in person. Business models have changed including many new business models that have a minimal physical footprint if any.

Small companies, where the individuals interact frequently, do not face the challenge of maintaining vibrancy and culture in the same way that larger companies do. Perhaps some of the most challenged are sales companies. Sales people by nature are highly social and perform at their best in a highly interactive environment. They enjoy and appreciate recognition from not only executives in the company, but their peers as well. Their competitive nature is important not only in beating the competition but also winning accolades for top performance, creativity and or initiatives within the company.

So in a world of text, emails, social media exchanges, online information and reduced personal interaction, how do you create a vibrant magnetic culture that attracts, motivates and feeds the best talent? How do you really enable the touch and interactivity? Harold, one company owner, has found several ways to deal with the challenges a growing virtual work culture brought.

Harold is the owner of a sales organization with over one hundred 1099 sales people. The only employees are in support roles. His company is well known for their market presence, expertise, industry tenure and ability to put together sales. With a market share that hovers between 46 – 48% in a good sized city, his company is considered to be number one and absolutely dominated the market on their side of town. A number of years ago, he built the office space he currently occupies to be the best in the area, providing the business and professional accoutrements for the best in the business. There are private, semi-private and group work spaces, state of the art technology is found throughout. It is an inviting and impressive building. When designing the building, he wanted to make sure that there was privacy but not isolation. Traffic patterns and locations of common elements made interaction easy without being forced or work compromised. The 1099 sales people paid desk, management and usage fees in return for high commission splits. Many, with the slowdown in the economy, saw moving their offices home as a cost savings that made sense with little potential impact to their earnings or ability to earn.
That decision changed the dynamics for Harold in that he had a lot of space and significantly reduced people using and paying for it. The other thing that changed was the busy noise that had been an enjoyable backdrop was gone and with it a part of the culture that had been built with the activity and exchanges between people who now did not even pick up their mail.

After some thought, he knew that unless he could bring the vibrancy back, some of the people staying would reconsider their decision.

While hoteling is certainly not a new concept, he decided to explore the options that it could present not only for his own sales team but also types of business professionals in related and non-related businesses. He examined the common areas for better ways to use and monetize these and literally turned what had been built for his company into a community business center.

Some of his support staff is now re-allocated to work in and for the business community rather than just his company. He has set up some business services that are for sale to those using space under the hoteling arrangement. He already had all of the front desk staff, the technology and the space. So there were really no costs for infrastructure changes and he is now making money off his space with a waiting list of people wanting space and services. His own sales staff has grown to almost 150 people who want to be in the company where the action is.

What is interesting is that his company changed from a business destination to a business hub. Harold’s story is really one of bringing loving and business together. He found that people want to come in and meet, work and have a business community that is full of activity and life. I suspect that as more people work from home, there will be more community hubs created much like this one.

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