It's debatable, which is exactly what happened in my last post titled "Four ways to to bring your non-profit into 2014." I think it's a worthy conversation because I think we can have emotional attachment to our office. This isn't a negative thing about us, it's probably connected to our personalities and the way we like to work. Some personalities need "a place" outside of their home in order to be effective. So many of us in non-profit leadership don't clock in and clock out. Therefore, we have a healthier relationship to work when we have a location we can come into to work and then leave when it's time to stop working. Admittingly, I'm on the other side of the spectrum. An office feels like a coffin - "death by office" is how I would phrase it. For me to function in an office the environment would have to be open, bright, textured, and technologically advanced. (Any chance I have some sensory issues!?) But I also work alone almost all the time, so to be around other humans I have to "get out of the office."
Do I have a work space? Sure I do...in my basement...with a single half window. But in my work history I'm on my fifth office space. The first office was a 1600 square foot juggernaut. Each staff member had their own office with a door. There was a greeting area for an administrator. We had an amazing conference space and even storage space. How could we afford it? We couldn't. A donor gave us the hook up. But after time we lost the hook up and went from 1600 square feet to 400 square feet for three times the amount we were paying for rent on the "juggernaut." I've been on a staff of six in an office and I've been the only staff member working in an office.
So the question remains, is an office worth the investment as a non-profit? I would encourage non-profits to become less office dependent and maybe even to become office-less. Here's a couple of objections I think would be raised:
1. Monitoring Productivity - The means of management are changing. "How do I know my staff members are working?" It's a valid question but most leaders I know working through virtual means are using Basecamp to delegate and track the work of their team. The cost is $20 to $50 per month for most non-profits, which is significantly cheaper than rent space. Plus, a study at Stanford University demonstrated virtual workers were more productive than those tied to an office. (Read the fine print though because the working role probably had a direct impact on the study).
2. Being Relational - Every organization, for-profit or non-profit, has a culture and cultures are created and maintained through relationships. This was the average day for me working in a multi-staffed office with lots of space: we all walked in the morning, said hello, and then went into our offices and shut our doors to be distraction free. Relationships, working or personal, are only as good as the intentionality we have towards them. Does an office make your community better or set your team up for better community? It probably depends what you as the leader are doing in that space to grow community but I don't know if an office creates community.
3. Community Presence - My buddy Luke had some great points in my last post, one referring to not having an office could be costing the organization visual presence in the community. I think it's a true statement. I think as non-profit leaders we have to ask if we are recognizable in our community especially if we are raising local dollars to exist. However, I do think the means of community presence is changing. Here's an example from the organization I work for:
Would I be able to argue this mission doesn't exist because I haven't seen their office? Our means of presence is changing significantly. People may not view our organization as a professional organization until our videos look professional. Also, our tribes are extending past our geographical boundaries. People impacted by our organization may move away but remain heavily connected. So, I'm not saying the local visual presence is a waste but it might have less of an impact it did 10 years ago and might not be needed at all 10 years from now.
Okay, now it's time for you all to weigh in! What do you think? Is the office still necessary for non-profit work? Is there a size of staff that makes an office necessary? How do people judge your professionalism as a non-profit, is the most effective tool a sign above the office?
Please comment below!