Magazine Staff Produces Entire Issue From Home The entire staff of Inc. magazine produced its most recent issue without setting foot inside an office — all with the help of e-mail, Skype and instant messaging. Inc. Editor Jane Berentson explains the virtues and pitfalls of running a virtual company.
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Magazine Staff Produces Entire Issue From Home

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Magazine Staff Produces Entire Issue From Home

Magazine Staff Produces Entire Issue From Home

Magazine Staff Produces Entire Issue From Home

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/125630815/125630790" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The entire staff of Inc. magazine produced its most recent issue without setting foot inside an office — all with the help of e-mail, Skype and instant messaging. Inc. Editor Jane Berentson explains the virtues and pitfalls of running a virtual company.

Read 'Inc.' writer Max Chafkin's Article

NEAL CONAN, host:

The latest Inc. magazine hits newsstands today. And if you haven't picked up your copy yet, it features an article focuses - that focuses on the virtues and the pitfalls of running a virtual company. But what you can't tell by looking at the cover is that the magazine's editorial staff of 30 produced this entire issue without setting foot in the office for an entire month. Like many telecommuters, they did it all with aid of email, Skype and instant messaging - and lucky for them, brick and mortar-based printers.

Telecommuting is one thing, but running an entire business from afar is another. How about you? Could your business function without an office? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. And joining us now is Inc. magazine's editor, Jane Berentson, and she's with us by phone from her non-virtual office in New York City. Thanks for being with us today.

Mr. JANE BERENTSON (Editor, Inc. Magazine): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And after a month away, what did it feel like to get back to your desk?

Ms. BERENTSON: Actually, it felt very good. We have a very close-knit staff, and we were kind of happy to see each other. But I have also noticed that I don't want to spend much time in my physical office, so I'm wandering around more than usual. So I think I'm not quite acclimated yet.

CONAN: And that close-knit staff, does being scattered to all these various homes and coffee shops and various other places where people -working, did that affect the unity of your staff for a month?

Ms. BERENTSON: Not for a month, because we knew that we were all going to return and be together again. But I think if we were to suddenly go from being a bricks-and-mortar office to a virtual office for, you know, the rest of eternity, then I think that would be something you'd have to consider, sure.

CONAN: What was the best part of working in a virtual office?

Ms. BERENTSON: Well, one of the best parts was sitting in my living room and watching the snow come down in February, which is when we did it. So there was - obviously, no one had to commute. And even when commutes are within the city, it's still, you know, a half an hour, 45 minutes, you know, putting on your boots and going outside. So I would say that was one of them. But secondly, I think that a lot of people found that they were more productive at home than they are in the office.

CONAN: And you write that, in fact, you tended to lose track of time, especially when you were writing and find - look up and suddenly late at night.

Ms. BERENTSON: Yeah. I think the people who both took to it the best in terms of their productivity but also missed people the most were the writers. I think if people - writers are happy to be at home all the time by themselves. They tend to be freelancers. The people who look for staff jobs at magazines are those who prefer to be around people. But if they're writing a story or doing reporting, it was very easy for them to be at home doing that from - either with Skype or, you know, with their regular phone and then using their laptop computer to actually write.

CONAN: And I was curious about that. One of the things you first say is one of the earliest lessons you learned is, pay no attention to those companies that sell you the equipment and the software you're going to need to run a virtual office.

Ms. BERENTSON: Oh, my God, no. It's just amazing how much stuff you can get free, and it's all extremely high quality. So what we really liked the best, I think, of everything was Skype. And for those who aren't familiar with it, it's using your laptop or your PC as a phone. And if you have a webcam, then you can actually call each other and look at each other as you talk.

And one of the things that I had thought I would be spending time doing -slightly frivolously - would be going to people's houses and visiting them there, partly because I'm curious as to how people live. But I found with Skype, I could just say, you know, pick up the laptop and take me through your apartment. And that was a lot of fun.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. BERENTSON: But that created a connection between people, which was excellent. And also, it's free. If you're calling someone who has Skype and you have Skype, it's free.

CONAN: You know...

Ms. BERENTSON: We saved a lot of - I mean, if we were to go virtual, we would save a lot of money on phone systems.

CONAN: I was going to say, after a while, you do become accustomed to your co-workers' wardrobe, pretty much you know what their - what's in their closet. I expect you found out a lot about your co-workers' - well, sweatshirts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERENTSON: Well, you know, in journalism, we're a pretty casual bunch. So you know, I'm sitting right now with bare feet and blue jeans. So it wasn't that different at home. But you know, there were times when someone would prefer not to be on videoconferencing, that was just audio, and those were the times when it was like, yeah, I really am in my bathrobe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I did note that in a footnote on - there's a little asterisk at one point. It says, some of us cheated.

Ms. BERENTSON: Yes. There were some cheaters in the group. We set it up so that - I thought about if I were really going to have this, a company that had this, I thought that I would want some kind of office space -you know, four desks someplace, and a copy machine, and a few things like that. Which would, of course, be a lot less expensive than the offices we have now. But I didn't want anyone to suffer from this experiment, and that if they needed to come in to work - I mean, one of our copy editors got the laptop for the first time ever. So she spent quite a bit of time dealing with the IT department at some kind of tech service place because it wasn't really working very well. So she needed to come in and use the computer here.

But people - there were rules. You couldn't sign up more than 24 hours in advance, and no more than four people could be here at one time. And I think really, probably, maybe two people used the office in the entire time we were away.

CONAN: Well, we want to hear from our callers. How would your company fare if it was a virtual office; 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Ken's(ph) on the line, calling from Denver.

KEN (Caller): Yeah, hi.

CONAN: Hi, Ken, go ahead.

KEN: Hi. I'm - I actually have transformed my work and now work 100 percent in a virtual environment. And I'm very happy to do so.

CONAN: And what do you do?

KEN: I'm a radiologist. And I did the private practice grind for about five years. And about two years ago, I switched over to work, actually, for a company called Virtual Radiologic. And (technical difficulties) and work for 180 hospitals in 16 states, and I'm able to deliver care to patients just about anywhere.

CONAN: I guess it's been a long time. Many, many years ago, as a kid, I worked as an orderly in an X-ray department at a hospital, but it's a long time since they've actually used film.

KEN: Absolutely. Everything's all digital now.

CONAN: So you can download any of the images you want to look at and say, why, that's a broken ulna. And I'm afraid you're going to have to get that fixed.

KEN: Exactly. And what's kind of nice about it is that we're able, you know, we're able to let - I'm a subspecialist - and we're able to deliver subspecialty care to hospitals that would either never be able to afford me or keep me busy enough, you know?

CONAN: And do you miss running into your colleagues and saying, have you noticed that wonderful article in the annual - I forget what the monthly radiology review is, but I'm sure that you want - you look for people to talk to.

KEN: Well, you know, the funny thing is, is that when I was in private practice, I would work at an imaging center or a hospital, and I'd be by myself. Now, I work with other radiologists that are on IM lists. And so there's a constant chatter in the background, and it's very easy for me to get a consultation from one of my colleagues anywhere from Florida to Hawaii, just to cut and paste the link to the image that I'm concerned about, and get a subspecialty second opinion before I render my interpretation.

CONAN: And you're finding...

KEN: So I'm actually - I actually have constant companionship with up to, you know, as many as 56 radiologists at a time.

CONAN: And you keep up with the X-ray gossip that way.

KEN: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: OK. Ken, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

KEN: You bet.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And that - in journalism, we tend to run in to people in the hallway and say, did you see that piece about such and such? And there's a lot of creative spark that goes on that way. You used IM as well. Did it solve that problem?

Ms. BERENTSON: I think if there was a problem, that probably was it. And particularly from my point of view, it - I found that I couldn't tell what people were doing, and it's not that I wanted to check up on them and see, you know, if they were working at all. But sometimes, you just want to look over and look at someone's face and see, oh, you know, they look like they're having trouble with this story.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BERENTSON: Or you have an idea, and you want to just bounce it off someone and then they can say, you know, no, that's a stupid idea or, no, that's great, let's go - let's go with it. So that kind of very fortuitous and easy conversation, collaboration is much more difficult even with IM. The radiologist could get the second opinion, but that's a little bit different than working out a story.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Joel(ph). Joel calling from Denver.

JOEL (Caller): Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: Go ahead, Joel.

JOEL: Yes. I actually - I'm in the creative business as well. I run a video production company. And I used to work in a brick-and-mortar post-production facility. And after about six years of doing so, realized that there was really no need for me to have the overhead of the facility that I'm in - with the ability to use FTP services, services like you send it, and file transfer services. And by going virtual, I now have grown from just working with clients in Denver to having clients all over the world.

CONAN: And you can get the editing equipment and the stuff you need, that's all on your computer anyway.

JOEL: That is, exactly. I mean, I run everything I need. I have all the software and hardware that I need. I have great frequent flier miles right now because I travel around the world to the clients as opposed to bringing them to me. And then we take the footage back to Denver and - either in my studio at my house or at my partner's studio -we cut the footage together and FTP back to the client. And then within hours, it can be on the air.

CONAN: All right. So interesting. Joel, thanks very much for the call. And Jane Berentson, in addition to describing your experience, you look at other people who have virtual offices. And it's interesting, one of them similar to Joel's experience, well, needed to hire software workers - his company is based in San Francisco - did not have to hire people just in that ferocious market but could hire them from anywhere, but still kept a little office somewhere in San Francisco to meet clients.

Ms. BERENTSON: Yes. Absolutely. And one of the great things about this for something like software developers or a videographer, I guess a lot of different companies - I mean, we talk about one who is a public relations firm - is that you're not too strained by geography in your hiring. So that if you find that there's a software developer or whomever who lives in Alabama, that person can stay there, and you can work as easily with them as you could with someone across the street, as long as you're all virtual. And of course, you can, you know, pay less as well. So there's all sorts of savings that you can do by having a virtual office. But also, there's an opportunity to hire people that ordinarily would not move to your headquarters.

CONAN: We're talking with Jane Berentson, editor of Inc. magazine, put out this entire month's issue virtually. Nobody - well, almost nobody went into the office. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I was curious: One of the things you said was an advantage was that managers found that they got a little distance from the people they were supervising, and that helped.

Ms. BERENTSON: Well, yes. It helped in some way and hindered in others. I think it helped because people felt - you know, they're kind of thrilled with the independence. I think there is something about the boss walking around the office and they - I don't know, intimidating or whatever. So I think it freed up a lot of people. But also, I personally had to make appointments to talk to people and that, I found, took more time. It was more labor-intensive than just, you know, wheeling out my office and asking someone to come talk.

CONAN: Let's go next to Remy(ph). Remy with us from San Antonio.

REMY (Caller): Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: All right.

REMY: I work for a company; we basically take care of foreclosed houses. And...

CONAN: And that's something you seem to need to do on the road, you'd think.

REMY: Oh, yeah, we're out all the time. But it's interesting because we work for a company based out of Austin, Texas, that we never step foot in - ever.

CONAN: Ever.

REMY: Ever.

CONAN: And so they just keep in touch with you by email and text messages, that sort of thing - phone calls?

REMY: Yeah. Emails, phone calls. And the way we show them the work we've been doing is, we upload photos on the Web site, which is good and bad. It has its, you know, pros and cons.

CONAN: Have you heard of Photoshop?

(Soundbite of laughter)

REMY: I'm sure they have.

CONAN: I'm sure they have, too. And they send you a check, I guess, electronically, too.

REMY: Yeah. The whole thing is electronic. I never - like I said, I'll never step foot in that building, probably. The only drawback is sometimes, because you're dealing with photos and you're dealing with media, you don't have that eye-to-eye understanding of what work's been done and what's not. So sometimes there's communication problems. But it's a very unique situation.

CONAN: It's interesting. And also not knowing whether your boss - not knowing your boss, personally, I guess, not seeing them eye to eye, you don't know whether they have experience doing what you're doing or whether they're just - don't know what they're talking about.

REMY: I just know if they sound friendly on the phone. That's it.

CONAN: That's interesting. All right. Remy, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

REMY: Thank you. Thank you, big time.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Thank you. And Jane Berentson, whose crazy idea was this?

Ms. BERENTSON: Well, it was senior writer Max Chafkin's crazy idea. I had simply wanted to do a story on virtual workplaces because, you know, that story hadn't really been told. It had already been kind of secondary in profiles of companies as opposed to front and center. I assigned it to Max Chafkin and he said - kind of, ha, ha, you know, why don't we go virtual ourselves?

And, you know, it was like, yes. That's fantastic. Because there's something about seeing the psychology and the emotional aspect, we knew we would probably increase our productivity because everyone said that that's true of a virtual office. But in reporting, we figured getting into the emotional and psychological realm would be more difficult and then we could experience that ourselves. So it was a great idea by Max Chafkin, and we all embraced it - well, almost all of us.

CONAN: Almost all of - there's an interesting...

Ms. BERENTSON: There was a few that didn't want to.

CONAN: There's an interesting list in one of the sidebars in your piece, about - obviously, once you're not working at the office, you can go anywhere, and the advantages and the disadvantages of a home office, the beach, the coffee shop, the library, the co-working space or the conventional office. And of those, where did you prefer to work?

Ms. BERENTSON: Well, the first thing I did was get on an airplane and go to Key West, Florida, to visit my friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERENTSON: And a lot of people - I mean, people went to Mexico and France and Boston and Washington and California. I mean, we really took this seriously in terms of trying to work in all sorts of places. But so, I worked for a while in Key West and then I came back, and I really sat my living room and worked there. I did not go to Starbucks. And I think partly that was because it snowed a lot in February, but also because I was happy being home.

CONAN: Well, Jane Berentson, we're glad you're back at home in the office.

Ms. BERENTSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Jane Berentson is the editor of Inc. magazine, and joined us today from her office in New York.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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