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Offices are Overrated

Everyone knows that “two heads are better than one.” There’s a reason why we still use that saying – it’s true. Traditionally, the only way businesses could reap the benefits of employee collaboration was to bring everyone together in one place: the office. However this is changing, and companies have begun to rethink the conventional idea of the office.

The times, they are a changing. Today for the first time ever, businesses face a tough choice: they can either decide to seek out the best talent regardless of where they are located, or businesses can choose to place a premium on having everyone at one central place – an office. Simply put, “What is more important to you – having the best developer who’s really committed to do the best work in the way he wants to work, or in getting somebody in the same room?” asks customer service company FastCustomer’s co-founder, Setphanie Hay in a recent Upstart Business Journal article. Hay brings up an interesting point. The advancements in technology over the past several years has brought the debate of having a “virtual office” to center stage.

With the advancements in communication, project management, and collaboration tools over the last several years, the debate over the perceived benefits of having a traditional “brick and mortar” office is heating up. Take for example, Chelsi’s piece on how work today has become an activity instead of a location. Employees all over the world are now able to be as productive (if not more) than those sitting in their cubes.

Take for example, FastCustomer. The company’s work force spans from Washington D.C., Flagstaff, Arizona, Reston, Virginia and Hawaii. Hay stresses the importance of having the best person for the job. For FastCustomer this means taking advantage of the recent advancements in communication tools, like Skype and Campfire. “Video Skype is so crucial, especially when you and your co-founder are disagreeing on a particular item,” says Hay. We’ve only recently been able to be as productive outside the office as we once were sitting at our cubes. But it’s not just companies that are beginning to realize this trend.

These new, geographically diverse organizations are also bucking the traditional investor philosophy where “At the seed stage, having a distributed workforce operating from home office and garages isn’t much of a problem” but “at some point, you have to have the main garage.” So far, FastCustomer has not had any difficulty raising money. In fact, the company announced that it raised $750,000 from 500 Startups, Fortify Ventures LLC and angel investors.

The startup has also benefited from some early national media attention. Consumer tech sites like covered the company in April 2011, resulting in a rush of 15,000 downloads in two weeks. The startup was also No. 9 on Time magazine’s list of top 10 smartphone apps, part of the magazine’s Top 10 of Everything of 2011 rankings in December.

The shift is happening, and that’s a pretty cool thing. While change always brings about some unexpected challenges, this is one I’m super excited about.

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