Virtual Office allows freelancers and remote workers to ditch traditional office space, and the high costs of rent that it entails.
The virtual office is a rapidly growing solution to the modern entrepreneur’s problems. The biggest of these problems being the troublesome business cost of RENT! No matter what your work is, you likely pay some kind of monthly fee simply to live with a roof over your head.
For the burgeoning entrepreneur or freelancer (who probably does most of their work from home), you may ask yourself: why would I take on an office lease when I can’t even stand paying my apartment or home’s rent? My whole goal is to work from home anyways!
As small business owners, we want the above fact to remain true no matter what. However, things don’t always work as we hope they do. As a business grows, so do its needs. You may take on new employees, new clients and new vendors that frown upon a home address. With the advent of new technology, this doesn’t mean you have to relocate to a fully serviced office. Plenty of large, profitable companies have found that remote workers and virtual offices help attain their goals just as well.
Prosperity no longer means a 100-story skyscraper in the middle of a big city! Here are the top 5 companies who have reached enormous levels of success without letting a physical office space define them.
1. Automattic - Accessibility
Automattic is a company that’s been changing social media, SEO and content marketing since 2005, with their creation of the WordPress platform. In case you’re living under a rock and have never heard of WordPress, it’s the most used blogging tool in the world besides maybe Microsoft Word. WordPress has fundamentally altered the way that businesses handle marketing, being used by 30% of all websites.
Automattic has accomplished this feat all while using an entirely remote and virtual workspace and employee base. Automattic offers their workers the luxury of working from anywhere in the world, providing a $250 monthly stipend to allow them access to coworking space, coffee shops or substitute workplaces. According to the founder of Automattic, this decision is more than just a way to save money. It’s inherently a method of improving the company’s inclusion to international employees. As he puts it, most of the world is unable to make it into an office for highly specific working hours. This includes people dealing with parenthood, disability, or other limitations that prevent them access to a 9-5 job.
A virtual office space allows for employees to bring in unique perspectives regardless of their location, physical ability, transportation or other irrelevant factors. In 2016, Automattic closed their former San Francisco headquarters - because hardly anyone was showing up! For Automattic, the virtual office is leveraged not only for its flexibility, but also to improve the company’s inclusion of all types of employees.
2. Mozilla - Cost savings:
Companies love a metropolitan business address, but traffic jams and long commutes are anything but good for business. Enter the virtual office!
While Mozilla doesn’t operate fully remotely, almost 50% of their workforce works from home in locations across the world. A large part of their success was creating virtual offices in a number of prominent locations like Toronto and San Francisco. Another contributor to this was the enablement and positive approach that the company’s management took to ensuring remote workers carried the same corporate values. In terms of training, workers are assigned a remote buddy that guides them through the training process.
Mozilla’s flagship product, the Firefox web browser is open source that allows for collaboration from just about anywhere. Their model for work effectiveness relies on quarterly goals that employees must stay on track to meet.
One of Mozilla’s top values is transparency. This shows itself through their data privacy policies on the web browser, as well as with their company policies. For this reason, Mozilla needed a presence in technology hubs like San Francisco, Toronto, London and Beijing but without the stringent geographic requirements placed on workers. Scaling down its office presence in favor of virtual work has been a massive success for Mozilla, who largely operates on a non-profit basis.
3. Gitlab - Work Style and Efficiency
GitLab develops highly coveted software for the DevOps lifecycle. Their technology helps software developers streamline the production of new applications and the testing of current applications. Other companies on this list have evolved their remote work style out of either necessity, the nature of their products, personal conviction or the ease of doing business. However, GitLab has a slightly different journey. GitLab had to fight their investors to keep their unique remote work style. From the beginning, GitLab’s CEO Sid Sijbrandij simply found this method to be the best possible way to work. For this reason, GitLab is a premiere content creator on processes for doing remote business. They are a forerunner in the development of effective remote work methods.
According to their CEO, a key to their success has been aggressively documenting the activities and methodologies of its employees. This practice has done much in democratizing information within the company. By opening up documents to be edited by other remote workers, they are able to get feedback and insights from others on the many different processes within the company. Another change that remote work has brought to the company’s structure is a focus on results, and not time put in.
For this reason, the company has developed an enormous handbook, in which much of this documentation goes. This allows employees to have a quick resource to reference that explains the company’s cultural values and common practices when faced with certain problems. Gitlab’s virtual office techniques are helping drive the ecosystem of work as we know it. The success established by this Gitlab will likely pave the way for the way remote work is conducted in many future companies. This is likely the best example of success for a fully remote company.
4. Buffer - Flexibility for the people, Global HR source
If you go to your local coffee shop it’ll likely be filled with people on their laptops, doing schoolwork, freelancing, or remote work for one of the companies on this list!
Buffer is a commonly used social media management tool used to help companies get the most out of their digital marketing campaigns. They work with companies small and large, to schedule and optimize their posts on a variety of social media networks. Their usership includes giants like Shopify and Spotify, who have extremely powerful social media followings. Buffer’s team started out fully remote, as the founders were frequent travelers who decided to recruit from afar.
Also, visa issues meant they sort of had to travel! Operating a fully virtual office provided them access to talent across the world, all without the hassle of a centralized location. Buffer’s story shows how a virtual office can be used to operate in new markets, regardless of visa and immigration restrictions. As we all know, some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the U.S. come from abroad. With increasingly strict regulations on entering the country, virtual offices allow for access to talent and ideas from anywhere in the world!
Another benefit: Hiring a distributed team implies a self motivated workforce, able to be productive from a coffee shop, coworking space, or their own home. The vast differences in time zones have become one of the greatests boosts to the company. The distribution of their workforce in virtual offices allows for constantly attentive customer service, no matter the time. Engineers are always available to fix issues that arise in the software. Buffer is a great example of how a team grew organically, from the ground up, with a fully remote workforce.
5. Zapier - Smart example for usage of virtual office space for IT (SV)
Zapier is an automation software company that specializes in integrating various apps into a comprehensive workflow. This allows for seamless transition between apps like Slack, Gmail, DropBox and Calendar tools. It seems like a complex task to accomplish from all parts of the world. However, Zapier has managed a fully remote team since their start in 2011.
Like other companies on this list (i.e. Buffer), Zapier organically grew into this virtual office business model. Its founders were starting Zapier from the ground up as a side project, while they both had jobs and school to keep up with. Time to meet in person was few and far between, which led to the development of a remote style of communication. From here, they scaled up with the same fully remote process. Zapier’s story shows how the virtual office can boost small businesses and startups with busy owners. Often times, businesses start off as a side hustle in complement to work or school. The virtual office provides legitimacy to Zapier’s business from the start, and the flexibility its owners needed to thrive.
Something of a common theme here, they focused on hiring what they call “doers”. People who will get things done without instruction or micromanagement. This inherently creates a quality workforce to be deployed from anywhere in the world. If you think about it, remote work ideals are at the heart of Zapier’s company culture. Their business drives people to connect all their applications for business, enabling remote work offices to be set up just about anywhere!
The purpose of creating this list is to illustrate how work is evolving, and how we shouldn’t be scared of it. Technology is opening new avenues, and making workers more mobile than they have ever been before. The companies in this list have all successfully leveraged a virtual office and remote workforce to better their business, despite what the critics say. My hope is that you can use this as inspiration when building your own business, and as a reminder that you can say no to office culture and still be a success!