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Managing Editor, Network World Fusion

How a virtual firm works

Aug 05, 20033 mins
Data Center

* One company shares its tips for successfully going all-virtual

Perkett PR has been an all-virtual firm since its inception in 1998. I recently spoke with Managing Director Michelle Chase about the 10-person company, which has employees from Boston to San Francisco, on how it manages to keep communication and production running smoothly without a central office.

Chase says the company began with CEO Christine Perkett working from her home office. When the business began to expand, she looked at office space, which at the time was at a premium. Perkett decided to invest that money in her business instead of expensive office space.

“Why would we pay money for that [office space] when it doesn’t affect how effective we are in our jobs?” Chase says.

While an all-virtual company is commonplace now, it was novel in the late ‘90s. There were a lot of questions to answer: How would they hold meetings? How would they collaborate? Clients also asked questions: How do you know your employees are working? How will you communicate with me?

Chase says the company has used many different techniques to manage their employees and run the business, but “it’s not as much science as trial and error.” Here’s some great advice on how they run their firm:

* “We hire people we know or who come highly recommended from colleagues we respect and trust,” she says. “That’s worked well; we haven’t fired anybody. Every hire has been a quality person.”

* For every project, specific, detailed roles, responsibilities and deadlines are laid out for each staffer. “We assign them to each team member and talk them through the responsibilities (e.g., Send agenda by 5 p.m., Tuesday),” she says.

* Weekly progress reports are delivered to each client. “We’re not doing it to just look over people’s shoulders,” Chase says. “We use it week to week to track the progress of any project by comparing reports side by side.”

* After each meeting, action items are recapped and assigned to staffers. This allows the firm to easily track the progress of a to-do from meeting to meeting.

* Managers check in with their employees weekly just to see how they’re doing, how they feel about their projects, their workload and how their personal lives are going. Chase calls it a “mental health check.” “A lot of times once you get somebody to talk, other things come out,” she says. “We try to make it very open and comfortable for people to talk to us.”

Next week, Chase will share more of her virtual team tips, as well as the internal technological tools that help the company run smoothly.