Virtual working? I’m a big fan — so much so that we based our whole agency on such a set-up.
But there’s a problem no one is talking about: Hiring junior staff, apprentices and interns.
Like companies we admire, including WordPress owner Automattic or Basecamp, we dropped a need for permanent office space some time ago. And our clients have been fine with that (especially as they’re mainly large tech vendors that power the internet and have made this remote working thing a reality).
But our core team — as well as dozens of freelancers we use — comprises experienced staff who have served their time in office space. They know the good practices to take from such environments, which include professionalism, collaboration, and being structured as well as creative. And they know the nasty stuff they get to leave behind — not just commuting but office politics and other distractions.
It’s different when we work with less experienced people. Editorial workflow might not seem so smooth. Collaboration can be trickier. But those things we can overcome.
More tricky are apprenticeships, internships and the like. At least once a month a reputable organisation gets in touch, trying to place someone who is typically studying something relevant to our work, maybe about to graduate or recently graduated from college. In past lives I’ve run intern programmes. I know how to do this kind of thing properly. But a big factor is this: How do those in entry-level positions or shadowing staff rub shoulders with more experienced workers?
How do we do this when most days everyone is in a different location? I don’t know the definitive answer. I’m not sure many others know the answer either.
And I’m asking not just for Collective Content. Large swathes of different industries are increasingly going virtual and remote. This is something developed economies in general must adjust to.
I suspect part of the answer is people simply trusting those they can’t see, as they/we do now with other remote, hired hands. Or workers spend a few years early in a career in offices, then go it alone. The rise of co-working facilities and other welcoming (free) places makes this easier than a decade or two ago.
That might work, practically. But I can’t help think that we lose something by not working side by side at least some of the time. Call me old-fashioned, but a few hundred thousand years of human evolution are hard to just shrug off in a generation. The old have always taught the young (and increasingly vice versa). The experienced have always passed on skills and knowledge to the inexperienced.
What approaches would you recommend? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.