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Virtual Company: The New Green Business

Person holding world globe

Climate Change is big news just now, and for good reason. Just a few days ago, NASA posted photos of how snow in Antarctica was melting as a result of record high temperatures, and the ash has barely settled on the disastrous bush fires in Australia. Greta Thunberg is sailing around the globe calling for action with the weight of science behind her. The time to make a change is now.

But what can we do? Reusable water bottle, metal straw, bamboo toilet paper – check. As individuals, our influence is limited, but companies? They can do a little more. And just imagine if you could make a change in your company that saved you money, increase productivity and employee retention, and helped the environment. You’d be interested, right? Well, there is. It’s called running a virtual company.

What is a Virtual Company?

We talk a lot about remote working on this blog, given that’s what our business is all about. Virtual companies are the natural extension of remote working; they’re companies where all the staff works remotely. There’s no head office, no bricks and mortar premises, just a team that stays connected via the internet.

If you’re thinking that this arrangement is restricted to startups or companies you’ve never heard of, then think again. Here are just some of the big names that are made up of distributed teams of virtual employees:

Scopic – one of the biggest virtual companies with over 230 employees who work in 20 different countries. If you haven’t heard of them, Scopic is a web and app development company. Scopic pride themselves on their growth, which shows no sign of slowing at the moment.

Basecamp – you may use basecamp to manage your own remote team. The reason why it works so well, is that all of the company’s 115(ish) employees are working remotely – of course, they’re going to know how to design a tool that helps keep remote teams together.

Buffer – the social media scheduling tool also has a remote team of over a hundred. If you’re thinking, ‘Well, of course, all these software companies work remote, we know it’s great for developers’ then a) thank you for paying attention to our blog and b) remember that every company also needs salespeople, marketing, HR, accounts, and many more things besides!

Zapier – Once upon a time, Zapier was three friends co-working in a tiny apartment; now they employ over 200 people around the world. Their CEO, Wade Foster considers written communication skills vital for a distributed team, and we would have to agree with him.

DistantJob – Yes, we don’t just talk the talk, we also walk the walk. DistantJob is a virtual company, with our team spread across continents. That’s how we have learned so many lessons about hiring the right people and managing remote teams.

Cars in traffic

How are Virtual Companies ‘Greener’?

In the USA alone, 1,786 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses were produced by transportation in 2014 – that’s 26% of the country’s total. Imagine the positive impact that could be made if fewer people had to commute to work; the average commute to work across the USA is 26 minutes each way, that’s nearly an hour a day spent in the car that could be spent on other things.

It isn’t just a question of emissions, either. How many families have two or more cars, purely because of getting to work? The production and eventual destruction of cars take a high toll, particularly with the plastic used in interiors. If families could cut down on one or more vehicles, it would help the environment and their expenses.

Then there’s the question of office space. If your staff is working from their own homes, then there’s no need to keep a space for them in the office; that cuts down on consumption again; no desk, phones, office chair needed to duplicate their home office set up. Then there’s the issue of heating or air conditioning; we need to keep our homes at a reasonable ambient temperature even when they’re empty so why not just stay in them rather than heating or cooling another building!

Some benefits are knock-on effects; because remote employees don’t have to commute, they don’t suffer from any of the many ailments that spending an hour or more in the car a day brings with it. Healthier staff means less time off sick; less use of medications, medical visits, and the other resources associated with that.

One benefit of remote working which even office-based staff can use is the reduction in paper. That document that needs reviewing before the meeting today? It’s a PDF and can be read on-screen. The rise of remote communication and collaboration tools means that a team can sit and brainstorm together without the sacrifice of a single, physical, flipchart.

Beneficial Side Effects

It isn’t only the environment that benefits when people work from home. There’s also a host of other benefits that come along with hiring people from around the world. Things like an increase in the diversity of your team, which drives innovation and improves problem-solving.

And hiring remote moves money around the world. It funnels it away from the traditional wealth centers, whether that be a city or a country, and takes it to other places. It breathes life back into rural communities which have seen a decline as people leave for the suburbs, as our podcast guest Jo Palmer explained. The same happens on a global scale, wealth gets redistributed so when you hire remote you’re getting just a little bit more like Robin Hood.

Let’s not forget that many people work from home because they have to, not necessarily because they want to. We’re talking about working mothers, who can only balance those dual responsibilities by putting in the hours from home. We’re also talking about people with medical conditions, both physical and mental, those who need the reasonable accommodation of teleworking to play their part.

Remote Work Connects the World

We have found that working remotely makes you care more about the world, on a more general level. News about the spread of CORVID-19 to Northern Italy becomes more compelling when some of your colleagues work there. It’s harder to turn a blind eye to racism or discrimination when you chat each day to people who are in those groups. Remote working helps us to understand that Walt Disney was right, it is a small world after all.

While we’ve talked about some great examples of completely virtual companies in this post, you don’t have to go the whole hog to make a difference. Even if you just embrace working from home on a part-time basis for your team, that’s a step in the right direction. Better still, make the next developer that you hire a remote worker – and if you need help with that? Get in touch.

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Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon is a remote work advocate and thought leader and a specialist in persuasive writing. She has an MA in Creative Fiction, is a children's author, and a writer of award-winning short stories.

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