Let’s face it, we all can’t work 9-5 in a well-appointed office building, or even in a super-techie start-up loft, with people who take care of making sure we have everything we need, where we need it, and when we need it. (Anyone who has ever gotten that call from accounting asking us to turn in our timesheet at the stroke before the paycheck cutoff knows exactly what I’m talking about).
Sometimes, a lot of times, we work our own hours in an office setting we have haphazardly created to meet our needs of the moment. We fly by the seat of our pants, creating vague notions of systems, finding technology as we need it, and just making things work on our own, outside of the umbrella and comfort of a traditional business office, with all the different hats we wear neatly organized by department. We are consultants, entrepreneurs, business founders, project workers, and we work in an alternative workstyle.
I know a lot about working in an alternative workstyle, I’ve been doing it for the last six years, first as a consultant, and then as a Co-Founder for a start-up company, Duncan+Coleverria, a company that helps businesses embrace their alternative workstyle.
Our company didn’t exactly start off with that mission. We were founded by two consultants that were just looking for a better way to work from home. We wanted to be that “office umbrella” to help other small businesses work more effectively. We started by researching and identifying tools and resources, or ways to operate a business from home or a start-up office that others, like us, found useful or productive.
Our first year we surveyed a bunch of small businesses and asked a bunch of questions about tools, technology, and resources they use to run their business. We also asked one simple question. Are you satisfied with your home office set-up? Shockingly, nearly 80% of the independent consultants surveyed said they would like to work from home more efficiently. This intrigued us, in fact it began to consume us, because we felt so much the same way.
As we talked to more and more small businesses we were struck by how many times we would hear, “working on my own is great….but what really sucks is….”. The “buts” were not always the same, but there was one consistent and glaring commonality. Every “but” had to do with the mental and emotional state of working on their own. Never did people explain specific tools or resources that they needed to improve their office set-up. We never heard, “gee, if I just had a better accounting system or CRM system, working on my own would be fantastic”. Each and every time business owners brought up their emotional responses to working from home, “but it gets lonely, but I don’t feel as productive, but it’s sometimes stressful trying to figure out all the systems, but it’s hard to balance everything.”
Many consultants, start-ups or really small businesses can set up shop quickly and easily in their own home, in a shared office space, or even a small rented office space with as little as a cell phone and a computer. Very quickly systems need to be put in place, and they usually come at very inconvenient times, like needing them yesterday. They only seem to present themselves as needed, and the systems that are set up tend to only address the mechanical needs of running an office.
The first system needed that generally surfaces is when our own bills come due and we realize, “oh yeah, I need to figure out how I’m going to get paid”. Which also means needing a reliable method to track hours, expenses, and other costs associated with doing business. After finding the post-its and receipts taped to our computers with our hours and expenses scribbled out, we purchase Quickbooks and figure we are set.
Getting the systems in place is just half the battle. Embracing the experience of working in an alternative workstyle requires something altogether different. The first time I had to invoice I was riddled with indecision…which template should I use, should I customize it? what should the terms be? I froze. I turned off Quickbooks and decided that I’d get back to it when I had more time to think about it. I barely got my invoice out in time to get paid within two months of doing the work. I had the mechanical needs of invoicing met, but not the mental or emotional state to accomplish it. I wasn’t wearing my accounting hat that day, nor did know anyone with Quickbooks knowledge able to hold my hand through that first invoice, without fear of getting my own invoice for accounting services at the end of the month.
In researching business systems and tools, we quickly realized that there are many, many companies that have tools and resources targeted to small businesses and some of our favorites are listed on my evolving Skinny Scoop list of tools and resources. We also discovered there are organizing companies who help individual and small business owners set-up systems to be more productive. BUT (there’s that word again), we found nothing but a smattering of ad hoc social networks to address the mental and emotional challenges of working on one’s own. And usually those were thinly veiled promotional listings for a variety of services that had nothing to do with my business.
With this realization, our company shifted gears a bit. Instead of focusing on addressing the gaps of tools and resources, or developing an organizational structure to help the work flow, we focused on addressing the mental and emotional gaps that comes when working on one’s own. We focused on creating Flipside Workspace, a place where businesses can maintain their independence, yet reap the emotional and mental benefits of working on a traditional office setting. A place where businesses can interact, meet, and connect with peers. A place where businesses can invite guests to join them for meetings, even if they are half-way across the world, and interact as if they are sitting side-by-side in a conference room.
We developed Flipside Workspace, because frankly it was what was missing from our own work experience as consultants. For the past eight months my business partner and I have been working side-by-side in our office, located in our virtual business park Flipside Workspace, even though we live 70 miles apart.
We work with consultants around the world, and invite them to join us in our conference room for project meetings. Some businesses that we’ve worked with have embraced this alternative workstyle so much, that they’ve leased out their own office space and now have Flipside Offices available to use. Others have joined on as individuals and come in when things get a little lonely in their day and they need to find someone to bounce ideas around with. Nothing brightens up my day more than when I look up at my desk and see a colleague stop by just to say hi. And unlike getting messages via email or Facebook, I don’t get distracted. I’m able to stay focused on work, concentrate on the “virtual” face of my colleague, and not be tempted to click on that link to watching cats dance on YouTube.
This is how we embraced our alternative workstyle. Since Flipside has worked so well for us, we opened it up to other small businesses. Of course, Flipside isn’t for everyone and nor do we want it to be. We would love to hear your experiences working in alternative workstyle, what have you done to help you embrace your alternative workstyle?
Lisa Duncan is CEO of Duncan+Coleverria, Inc. and Co-Creator of Flipside Workspace™. Lisa and her alter ego can be found in Duncan+Coleverria’s Flipside Office M-F 9-4:30 PST, located on the lobby level of Flipside’s office building. She encourages businesses to stop by, say hello, and see how Flipside Workspace can help you embrace your alternative workstyle.