Inc. Magazine's case for virtual offices

Jane Berentson

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The stereotypical newsroom, the way a lot of people imagine it, probably involves reporters writing or on the phone, editors holding planning meetings over by the white board over there, and in general, a fair amount of hubbub. At Inc. Magazine headquarters in New York City last month, you might have witnessed the occasional tumbleweed cross from cubicle to cubicle. That's because the entire issue was created by reporters and editors working from home.

Jane Berentson is the editor of Inc. Magazine, which makes the case for the virtual office in this month's issue. Jane, welcome to the program.

Jane Berentson: Thank you.

Ryssdal: Where did this idea come from?

Berentson: We had wanted to do a story for a while about what it was like to work in a virtual office. And I assigned it to our senior writer Max Chafkin, who then said, why don't we report that story, but also go virtual at the same time. He would report on other companies and also report on our experience at the same time.

Ryssdal: Obviously, you're getting the issue out, so things presumably went OK. But how was it on the inside? You know, what was it like going to work in your jammies everyday?

Berentson: Well, it was different for different people. So I think there were some people who were a bit skeptical before we started it and thought, "No no no. We really have to come into an office. The magazine's a collaborative venture." But one of those people, for instance, decided that why do we ever have to come to the office again, because he could get out of his bed; roll 20 feet to his desk, still in his pajamas; save $300 a month on commuting and thought it was great. There were other people -- I, personally, for instance -- missed the social and collaborative aspect of coming to an office.

Ryssdal: There is that element, though, of social and collaborative work that doesn't work out so well. People pop into your office and it completely messes up your flow and you lose your place in an edit or whatever you're writing. I mean, it goes both ways.

Berentson: It absolutely goes both ways. I know that I do have a tendency to leave my office and walk through the office, making comments or interrupting people. And they're all very good natured about it, but I think there are probably times when they just wish I would just stay in my office -- or excuse me, not come to work in the first place.

Ryssdal: You know, when you hear the phrase "Oh, he's working from home today," there's a little thing that runs through your mind that says, "Oh come on. How much work can you really get done at home. 'Cause the dog has to go out, the kids have to get to school and you have to do this, the garbage is coming... Seriously, really, you're working from home?"

Berentson: I think there's a prejudice that goes around that phrase, because I think that it has been a signal of "no, you do have things to do and you're not really going to work." So you have to take on good faith, if you're going to do something like this, that when someone says they're working from home, they really mean they're working from home. And I would say our experience indicated that actually people worked much harder at home than they do in the office, because they would get into a zone and keep working. And I think this was true to a lot of the writers on staff.

Ryssdal: What about that little bit of extra something, that little bit of pizzazz that comes through a story, because somebody looks over somebody else's shoulder and says, "You know what? Right here, if you said this, it'd be just so much better."

Berentson: I think if one was to grow up in a situation where you were virtual, all those things would work themselves out. So, for instance, we are used to looking over the shoulder, but if that's not the way we were trained to work, we would find other ways of doing the same thing. One of the things we loved was Skype.

Ryssdal: Phone calls over your computer and video, as well?

Berentson: Phone call over the computer, you can see the person you're talking to, you could hold things up. I made people take me on a house tour, and they would walk around with their laptop and say, "Here's my kitchen and here's my living room." And it was fun. But also, you did have that very, well, nice feeling of being together.

Ryssdal: Jane Berentson, the editor of Inc. Magazine, the upcoming of which was produced entirely outside their offices in Manhattan. Jane, thanks very much.

Berentson: Thank you.

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