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Virtual Office in Paradise - Why Not?

by Alan Ruby / August 30, 2018

Our company president recently forwarded me an article that was an opinion piece on the future of the office. The premise of the article was that the bricks-and-mortar office was here to stay despite its shortcomings, simply because virtual office options are just not realistic. I had just published my own article which offered a very different viewpoint. My article touted the benefits of the virtual office. As someone who has telecommuted for 15 years from “unrealistic” virtual office settings, let me explain.

The “Realistic” Bricks-and-Mortar Future

I will agree that bricks-and-mortar offices aren’t going to entirely disappear. But the argument that an idyllic location is not realistic seems a bit, well, unrealistic to me. Especially because, just a few months ago, I turned my head slightly to my left and gazed out the window at the “unrealistic” and “unfeasibly idyllic” view of Lincourt Vineyards in sunny California, as depicted below. This was my view from my virtual office window at the time.

Vineyards

Lincourt Vineyards – Unrealistic Office?

The conclusion of the article my boss sent me was that due to the reality of technology and communication needs, living and working in a virtual office in a remote cabin in Montana, a beach house in Key West, or a California vineyard gatehouse is too idyllic and simply not feasible or realistic.

 

Key West beach house

Key West Beach House - Unrealistic Office?

The article acknowledged the stress of commuting, the often uncomfortable and unappealing environment of a bricks-and-mortar office, and the constant interaction with co-workers that might drive you insane. All factors that would tend to direct the future office in another direction, such as to the beach house above.

It is the 21st century, right? So my question is – if all of your technology and communication needs can be taken care of, why NOT work in an office overlooking a vineyard? (Unless, of course, you don’t like beautiful scenery. Or wine.)

Why suffer in a stuffy office day in and day out when you can enjoy more peaceful surroundings while still getting work done?

Please, do not mistake me for a billionaire jet-setter. I do not have dozens of homes scattered around the world like George Clooney. I do not own the California vineyard home nor the Key West beach house pictured above. I have no unusual financial or technical capabilities.

The principal factor that allows me to work from a pleasant home environment is an organizational philosophy and an office structure that support remote working.

All of my colleagues work from home offices scattered from Pennsylvania to the D.C. metropolitan area. My home office used to be in the D.C. area until my wife and I relocated to the somewhat idyllic Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina. My colleagues and I communicate daily, and sometimes hourly, by videoconference and instant messaging. Unlike the holographic communications that are sometimes envisioned, we still use computer screens. (However, I suspect that someday we’ll get to the point pf holographs or beyond.) When an in-person meeting is scheduled, I make the drive up to the D.C. area.

And then there’s the office next to the vineyard in California. I can explain that too.

After growing up in Cleveland shoveling a couple feet of “lake effect snow” each winter, I learned to HATE the stuff. Consequently, each winter, I rent the small gate-house at Lincourt Vineyards and work in California in an identical manner to the way I normally work remotely in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Same videoconferencing. Same instant messaging. Have computer, will travel.

And why not? If I need to appear for a meeting, I can get on a plane from the Santa Barbara Airport. I can generally schedule my retreat to California at a time that does not interfere with any in-person meetings. There is no reason I can’t produce the same quality work from this idyllic setting that I could from my South Carolina office, which is also somewhat idyllic. But taking a break to go to California allows me the opportunity to get away, refresh, and reconnect with a place I love.

Which Office Future?

Maybe it’s not so much a question as to whether the bricks-and-mortar office will disappear altogether as it is whether more idyllic office settings will become somewhat of a norm. I am certainly open to competing ideas, and I understand that some jobs must be performed in person. But are we requiring people who could successfully work from a more idyllic setting to sit in logjams of traffic instead? From my point of view, literally out my window, I am sticking with the idyllic option. If not for everyone, at least for some of us.

Tags: Telework

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Alan Ruby

Alan Ruby

Alan Ruby joined Fentress in 2002 and is one of the company's senior architects. He combines an extensive knowledge of architecture and the built environment with analytical skills. Alan is an avid scuba diver and cyclist, and a long-time collector of abstract art.