Monday, May 18, 2009

Virtually on vacation

I took a few days off for Mother's Day and went to visit my parents in Prescott, Arizona with my 5 year old son. Before leaving my home office, with a few clicks I was able to forward my office phone to my cell, load working files onto a USB for my laptop and bookmark our online server.

Packed up and checked in at Reno Tahoe airport with an hour to spare, I plugged into one of their laptop wifi bars. I answered client emails and began negotiating an ad buy. Once in Arizona, I was wified into my Dad's house, got ads approved and to the pub and secured a last minute ad buy with a client.

This was not arduous work, but it was work. And because it was so easy to check in, catch up and tune in, I kept doing it. I checked work email every day, even on the weekend, and called co-workers and clients. As far as my clients were concerned, I wasn't even on vacation (although I had told them I would be). But the fact is, I never really felt completely on vacation.

Having a virtual office made leaving home and continuing to work seamless for me for the first time. But it also deprived me of a full on four-day break from work. Of course I only have myself to blame. Next time, I may opt for a total vacation instead of a virtual one.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Virtual office status meeting week two.

We had kind of a hard time staying on subject.
Guess we were making up for all those hours we aren't able to goof off together. Virtual goofing has not yet been perfected.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Insanely Great vs. Insane

This seems to be the most fitting tile for our going virtual endeavor. Over the last month as I have been talking to people about going virtual, I seem to get two different reactions. There are those that think the plan is ingenious, and there are those that think we are insane.

The fact is, there is only a hairline of a difference separating the two. At Estipona Group we’ve made doing insanely great work a corporate mantra. That leaves us very little room for error. The rewards, however, are plentiful and worth the effort for both our clients and ourselves.

While saving money played a role in the decision, going virtual wasn’t simply a cost cutting measure. It was also part of an historic evolution of our industry and this company. In 1993 when I founded the company, the advertising industry was just starting to embrace the computer. While the computer had played a role, it really didn’t take hold until that year. I saw a lot of talented people lose their jobs as staff needs were diminished and some refused to change the way they worked. Suddenly, a senior art director, art director, junior art director and production artist could be one person. That worked to the advantage of my one-man agency just getting started and using technology as part of my strategy for growth.

In the 90s the Internet, like the computer, was a major game changer for our industry. It has replaced or supplemented many of the traditional media such as TV, Radio and Print. These media have traditionally provided these agencies with the bulk of their income, media and print commissions specifically. As their share of the marketing budget has shrunk to support online marketing, agency revenue derived from TV, Radio and Print has also shrunk.

Fast forward to today. About 50% of our services revolve around the Internet. Consequently, our revenue from other media has decreased. So, even as we grow, the work we do has lower margins in comparison to traditional media. One might conclude that we just need to charge more for our services. But I don’t believe across the board fee increases are prudent, sustainable or even possible in the current economic climate.

Internet and email, web-based servers, ichat, video chat–communication and collaboration technology has evolved to the point where now we can work very effectively in a virtual world, and it is pretty much seamless for our clients. We can even do interactive presentations over the web as if the client was in front of us.

At the end of the day, the choice to go virtual seemed logical. Still does. I do not have a crystal ball to tell me what’s around the corner. All I have is history and experience to go on and everything points to another major shift in our industry. While going virtual may not be the only answer it is at least a new strategy and course. A course I’m willing to try for the next 6 months because as you know insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ed looking dapper in scrubs

I generously let Ed do this 6am scout of a new surgical suite for a still and video shoot. Doesn't he look cute in scrubs, and sleepy?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Can working from home make me a better mom?

All working parents struggle with the juggle - trying to be committed and devoted to both our jobs and our families. At the same time. While working from home doesn't add more hours to an over full day, it appears to offer the promise of making my schedule and my life a bit more flexible.

Last Thursday, during the course of the day I was able to do a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, stir the compost pile and think about dinner in between client calls and brainstorming sessions. I forwarded my office phone to my cell, left my home office at 3:30pm to pick up vegetables from the community farm program and take my son to his 4:45 karate lessons. After karate lessons, I got dinner on the table before my 5 year old had to beg me for a pre dinner "snack", played Legos and read to him before bed.

Last Thursday was a virtual office day. In my former, bricks and mortar office life, I would wait until the end of the workday to pick up my veggie basket. This always stressed me out as I faced 5pm rush hour traffic, crowds at the co-op and the pressing need to get to my son's pre-school by 5:30 or face late pick-up fees. In my former office life, my husband, who is self-employed, took my son to karate lessons because I didn't have time.

Now typically all these tasks don't fall on my shoulders alone, but my husband was out of town last week for a family emergency. In my virtual office life I was able to get done what needed to get done and have the leisure to play with my son in the evening instead of telling him, "Sorry, mommy has chores to do," which is something I have been saying to him a lot.

After my son went to bed last Thursday I got back on the computer for about an hour and a half to answer emails and do some more work. I didn't do this because my boss is a time sheet natzi. Our office has always been a place where we could come and go as we needed as long as we got our work done. Yet, I never really felt comfortable taking off when there was work to do and other people in the office working. In my virtual office life I do.

My colleagues and I have good work ethics. We will continue to get done what needs to get done and take care of our clients. Working from home just allows us the freedom to manage the needs of our job and the needs of our families creatively.

Technical Difficulties

Day three of the experiment and I am finally reliably connected.  I had several ideas for what to title this post.  Standing over shoulders, Why is this not working! and This computer is going out the window. 

For some reason day one at home for me revealed that my high speed DSL connection had an incredibly weak signal.  So if my IP phone was in use, nothing else could be used.  If I wanted to send an email, it had to be text only and my phone wasn't going to be working.  If someone called in on my phone while I was working in our online agency software it would quit the program to power the phone.  I think it would be honest to say I was not happy with my productivity.  

After standing over the DSL man and Edward's shoulders for a total of 5 hours in two days I am absolutely thrilled to be working from home.  What's better is that it wasn't user error, just an evil set of circumstances with my computer/DSL line that caused my problems.

I have a stunning view of Mt. Rose from my office window so I am definitely in a brighter mood while at my computer.  I am the only member of this agency that has small children at home during the day so I am sure that will present it's own set of challenges in the days ahead. But, for today they stayed in another part of the house with their daddy, aside from the occasional visit to kiss me or tell me, "I just love you".  I definitely won't complain about that!

Friday, May 1, 2009

I now know why I haven't moved in 14 years

I had hoped that I would begin my first blog talking about how we came to the decision to go virtual. Unfortunately, I'm not in the mood to talk about that right now. I realized that after 14 years in one place, a business can amass a ton of junk. Somehow we were able to store junk in every nook and cranny. The little here and little there has taken three weeks to clean up. I hope this weekend will be my last tour of duty at 777 Sinclair as we remove the furniture that we were lucky enough to sell.

Aside from the cleaning and clearing, dealing with new the technology has been challenging. As Brian mentioned in his post, we've instituted about four major pieces of technology. In each case we've had some challenges implementing them. Nothing major, but all in all, it has caused me a huge amount of stress. We had the opportunity to test it out in our office for the last week and a half and we believe that all the kinks have been worked out. The technology now appears to be working great.

While the new technology is going well, the connectivity from home has been a bit slow and that is why this blog is late in posting. A couple of us, myself and Brandi, have been experiencing technical difficulties to say the least. Brandi as we speak right now, is waiting for AT&T to come fix her dsl line. It's frayed and is causing on and off connectivity issues. I, on the other hand, found myself up until 2:30 am this morning wrestling with a new modem that wouldn't talk to the router. At the end of it all, the culprit was one small field that I had filled out that apparently should have been left empty. I figured this out around 10:30 am. Needless to say, it's been a long first 24 hours of being virtual.

I want to thank all our clients and vendors for their support in this endeavor. We were concerned their might be some opposition or concern with our move, but we have received nothing but well wishes from most and envy from some. I also have to thank my staff for the insanely great work they have been doing. Last week was a crazy week. We had three major creative presentations, a major proposal, packing and working with new technology. Despite a month's worth of work crammed into one week, I am proud to say that not a single ball was dropped. I'm definitely thankful for this team and the work they do.

I know this post sounds a bit whinny, but I'm entitled to whine a little bit, as I have been working endlessly for the last three weeks. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am extremely happy about that. After moving for the last three weeks, I hope that I don't have to do it again for another 14 years.