A successful virtual office

Q: My industry has a severe shortage of engineers, especially locally. Our recruiting difficulties have caused me to consider making my company a “virtual office,” so that I can recruit the top engineers from around the country without having to overcome the large hurdle of relocation. I’ve read what you’ve written about the emotional barrenness of emails and about the improvements seen in work effectiveness seen when people communicated in-person, even as informally as a “hello” over the water cooler. Can you provide some guidance on how to set up a successful “virtual office” or point me towards some recommended reading?

A: A virtual office makes great sense in your case, and can be quite workable.  The key will be balancing some in-person time, when you gather everyone together for some days together to plan, generate objectives, divide functions clearly, and so on.  But during that face time there’s another crucial goal: having down time to get to know each other.  That will make the virtual part work better. The expert on this is Clay Shirky. I had a conversation with him about the pitfalls and how to avoid them, available as a downloadable audio conversation.