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Launching a Virtual Architecture Practice: Video 1. My Story and What’s a Virtual Firm?

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Hello architect friends. This is Jennifer Kretschmer, AIA and I'm going to talk to you about launching a virtual architecture practice with all remote workers. There will be short video segments that you can watch each day rather than participating in the full one-hour segment at one time. Today we're going to talk about my story and what is a virtual firm.

I started my firm in 2003. I rented an office soon after that and in 2005 I hired my first remote worker. This person was local to my region, but he didn't want to come into the office every day. I'd already worked with them before. So, it was really easy to bring him on as a remote worker. It was at that point we started to look at (remote worker office) protocols and what were the best things to do (with office standards). I moved the office, stopped paying rent and moved all the office practices into my home in 2008. So, that's when we became a virtual office or virtual firm. I didn't have any staff employees coming to my space. I work primarily from my garage and sometimes I worked in an office in the house or even from the dining room table. Sometimes I even met clients at my dining room table. In 2015, I remodeled the garage, very Silicon Valley style, so that it was a better space for bringing in clients. These pictures that you see on this slide are pictures of the garage studio now. In 2018, I hired my first out-of-state remote worker and as of today I currently have two remote workers in the Bay Area with me and four other remote workers outside of the state of California (which is where I'm located).

So, what exactly is a virtual firm? Well, it's an office that is free from geography; meaning that you can work from home and all your staff also works from home. You don't really need to have a rented space. That's the model that we're working with right now. Office space isn't required. Principals and staff are all remote workers and all work from home. When we meet we hold our meetings wherever it can be convenient. Sometimes it's a coffee shop. Sometimes it's our co-working space which is a space we share with other businesses. Or (we meet) through video conferencing. Video conferencing is something we use a lot within our firm.

Our client meetings are also held wherever convenient. Since I have the (garage studio) space, our clients generally come to me. We can also use the conference room at our co-working space and sometimes we go to the client’s homes. The main thing to keep in mind when you're working in virtual firm is a new mindset. Sometimes when we think about our firms, we imagine the spaces and the bookcases with the product library. The new mindset is that it's really not about the place. It's (instead) about a group of people being brought together to accomplish great projects.

I did this session at the last AIA Conference on Architecture and I polled the people in the room. There were about 200 attendees. I asked them “Why are you interested in the virtual firm?” These were the results. The most popular one was that people want the freedom to work wherever and whenever they want regardless of their employment status.

So why would anybody do this? Well, for me it started out with reducing the cost of overhead. It was the start of the Great Recession and I also wanted flexibility with my work schedule. At the time I had young children and I thought that if I could work from home and I could still run the firm. I didn't have to keep a regular 9am-6pm schedule. Although (keeping a consistent schedule) is something I do to keep focused, if I needed to go do something for my kids, I am able to (take care of that). I also found that since a lot of my projects are single family residential remodels, additions and new custom homes, my clients tend to find it a lot less intimidating when I moved (the office) to my home rather than coming to an office situation.

I do want to stress that (working from home is) the future. It's very likely that your clients are used to working from home, or at least by this point, they're getting used to doing it (working from home).

At the A’19 Conference I asked attendees what their biggest concerns were about having a virtual firm. Many of the people in the room were firm owners and so their biggest concern was not knowing what their staff is doing each day or every minute since in a virtual firm you're not able to walk around and look at over someone's shoulder and see what they're working on.

That's all I'm going to talk about today tomorrow we're going to talk a little bit more about remote working and how to work with remote workers so thanks for stopping in today on this first little session.

Key terms: work from home, WFH, remote working, virtual office, virtual firm, architecture firm, architect office, architect practice, architectural practice.



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