Magazine Article | June 6, 2010

The Virtual Office Has Its Place

Source: Life Science Leader
Dan Schell author page headshot

By Dan Schell, Editorial Director, Life Science Leader

There’s nothing like coming to work on a Monday morning and finding a note from the president of the company lying on your chair. Your first thought — especially if you’re not accustomed to receiving such personal correspondence — is probably, “Well, this can’t be good.” In my case, it wasn’t bad at all.

The note said, “DS: Not sure if you saw this Folio article. Jim,” and it was written on page 58 of the May issue of Folio magazine. The article summarized a recent story in Inc. magazine that discussed some of the pros and cons of working from home, otherwise known as the virtual office. Jim knew I liked the Inc. article and that the concept was intriguing to me, especially since we as a company had always required employees to work in our offices. In the concluding section, titled “The Verdict: Keep The Office,” Jim had underlined two quotes from the author of the Inc. article: “Nobody really hated it” and “I was more productive, but less happy.”

Having read the Inc. article a few times, I thought those two quotes were a good summary, and they got me thinking about start-up pharma and biotech companies. In this age of strict cost cutting, the overhead of a physical office is often considered a luxury to a start-up of any kind. And while that business model may seem enticing to follow even as you grow, I think the “less happy” part of the second quote should be seriously considered. In other words, don’t believe working from home is the solution for all of your current or future employees. For instance, positions that require creativity, like marketing or even R&D, often are better suited for environments where there are other people around. That’s when real collaboration happens. It’s spontaneous, occurring in hallways and break rooms. And, it’s a different kind of spontaneity when compared with using a webcam or instant messaging.

There are still a lot of layoffs and cutbacks occurring in the life sciences industry, and I’m sure the virtual office concept is being considered as an alternative for companies of all sizes. Just remember, it’s not a panacea.