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How Linux Foundation Runs Its Virtual Office

Cost savings is only part of the picture behind the nonprofit's remote workforce strategy. Linux Foundation exec says the virtual office has made the team more productive and innovative, and happier in their jobs.

Policies like Yahoo's aren't without their logic; poorly planned virtual offices or work-from-home flexibility can cause serious problems. McPherson said there are some key considerations and challenges that executives and managers can't shy away from if they want their virtual organization to succeed. For one, you'd better be ready to work hard on hiring the right people.

"You have to invest more time and energy into hiring than maybe you could get away with in a non-virtual org," McPherson said. Not everyone's cut out for remote work, and there's an inherent trust involved in managing and working with people that you rarely see in the flesh. That's not lip service, either: Linux Foundation takes its hiring so seriously it keeps an organizational psychologist on the payroll. The psychologist evaluates candidates and their likelihood of success in a virtual environment. People who value independence, freedom, and flexibility tend to be better fits; those who fear isolation or lack of direction, not so much.

"You need to hire people who are very self-motivated, very responsible, and who really prize freedom --who don't want someone looking over their shoulder or telling them to be in an office because everyone else is," McPherson said. While motivation and responsibility would certainly be fine attributes in a traditional office, too, McPherson said the face-to-face environment allows for a wider range of personality types and work styles to succeed -- some of which might be a poor fit for virtual work.

The new hire onboarding process can also be tougher in virtual offices. Things like orientation or shadowing veteran staffers get trickier when people are spread across several time zones. Managers have to be up to the task. "As a manager you have to work harder to make sure you have a connection with your employees," McPherson said. Email often leaves much to be desired from a management and interpersonal perspective, for instance. Linux Foundation makes a point of getting employees together in person at various events during the year. In general, issues of corporate culture -- or simply creating that culture -- require a different approach than the corporate campus environment.

"You have to take more time to communicate to people: This is the type of organization we are, and this is the type of organization we are not," McPherson said. "How you treat people is hopefully the embodiment of the culture."

When you do it right, though, the payoff can be far greater than just cost savings or a deeper labor pool -- especially if you invest the right amount of time and money in building the right team.

"I always hear jokes about: 'Oh, if I worked from home I'd never work.' Really? I feel like my employees work much more than when I had employees in physical offices," McPherson said, adding that schedule flexibility makes people who are well-suited for remote work more productive, not less so.

"You have that commitment and ownership of your job more than when you're just sitting there in that cube farm," McPherson said. "For us, if you hire the right people who are motivated by that, you just get more commitment. [You get] people who really love their jobs and like to work, but also like that they can go to the gym at 2 in the afternoon when it's not crowded. In an office, [people would say]: 'Why isn't he at his desk? It's 2. There must be something wrong.'"

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David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/13/2013 | 2:14:29 PM
re: How Linux Foundation Runs Its Virtual Office
I notice they're not such open source purists that they can't use collaborative tools they don't directly control, like Google Apps.
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