my bricks are fading


When I started my online ventures, I iron-fist mandated that there would be no physical presence, no phones, no employees, and no inventory. Many times, this was a hard line to hold. For some things, ad sales as an example, it was even (initially) counterproductive to not follow the conventional business model. But the mandate has held for more than a decade now and during that time it has forced me to find workarounds, automation, expert systems, alternative policies & procedures, write explanatory web pages, etc. Many of them were trial-and-error, required considerable tweaking and adjustments --but when one finally worked and settled in, it became just one more level of separation from the bricks.

But I have bricks-based businesses, too. I've tended to get more and more distant from them, as well, mostly managing through proxies and email. One, a small real estate firm, seemed ripe for using some of the tricks I've learned to reduce, distribute, or -occasionally- eliminate "the bricks way" of doing it. Also, as a class of business, real estate has become increasingly web-based during the last 10 years. Email is now THE communication medium of choice intra-office, other agencies, and clients. The postage machine went idle first, then the copier, then the fax, and now I can even see dust developing on the phone PBX.

Anyway, the other day I was moving yet another procedure (change orders) off the physical and into the virtual when it dawned on me; we're about 5 years away from not needing an office at all. We could do all the business much the same as we do now, but the bricks aren't needed, or certainly, not as many of them. Maybe just a nice conference room in a communal commercial suite. Anybody here know of a real estate, or similar service business that has gone virtual in your area?


virtually almost gone

I have a physical office.. and everyone comes here to report to work.. simply because we have some local clients that still like that face to face meeting...

Something has not changed in the past 5,000 years or so of written history... people still like that face to face meetings and actually meet the people you talk to.

That being said... we built an internal CMS system, use an online messanger.. can forward our calls to a cell phone.... in essance I feel I could run the company without being client impacting for several days .. maybe a week or two without any of the guys or girls reporting to the office.

However I still run over to the programmers desk to ask a question.. I still go over to the guy doing Account management to ask a question.. I still go to the person doing directory submissions... again to ask and to give and take advice...

Can we run via IM, CMS, E-Mail and phones only? The answer is yes... but could I do it as good as physically talking to the people... I have to answer no.

Bricks are still relevant for me

I agree with Founder about talking face to face. Its the single biggest reason I have an office. Its so much more productive to have everyone in one place.

We tried completely virtual office and it worked great until

we had to take on a trainee, there is no way you can do training virtually and have it be anywhere near as effective as having someone there where you can help them out when they get into difficulties.

I'm glad things are going

I'm glad things are going this way, I haven't seen the inside of an office since autumn 2005 and I would love to keep it that way. There is though a comfort of having human beings around and bricks businesses tend (not always) to be a bit more stable. Time will tell but it has been tempting to fold and go back to the two-piece straight jacket and stripy silk noose.

Since real estate agencies,

Since real estate agencies, particularly small ones, are really loosely-formed confederations of individual businesses (each agent is, by tax law standards, an independent, self-employed sub-contractor, i.e. they get 1099's not W2's), they're perhaps more easily ported to the web than most other service businesses?

There is a small clerical staff, primarily for switchboard and receptionist jobs, but that function has greatly fallen off as the client is now coming to us via email. There was once a need for forms & supplies inventorying, but the critical ones have already gone to online downloading or server-based forms via the MLS.

Nice post. With my data up

Nice post. With my data up in a cloud, I almost don't need a laptop/computer either.

100% Virtual

I dont have a office nor a employee, mostly communicate thro email.

Possible to go almost brickless

with real estate, but not entirely. One reason here is state law that requires a physical address with hardcopies of files.

I also agree with the training aspect. Next to impossible to train without being there face to face.

>cloud Yeah, but Sergey just


Yeah, but Sergey just telepathically dispatches it to you from On High, Matt. Or are you going to spring for an Iphone?

My Mobile Connection form factor of choice: R6. (Thanks to Lazerubb for the original laptop research. We're on sub-notebooks now and thinking about sub-sub-notebooks.)

Even though we're a small town, we've had free public wifi hotspots for about 18 months now.

> state law that requires a physical address with hardcopies of files.

I still have plenty of (commercial property) bricks, just no need to be high-$$ bricks for file cabinets. But any company could do one of those small-office co-op spaces and share a receptionist, a conference room, and a file room. 99% virtual, one toe in the bricks for legal purposes.


One sidebar of my/our going virtual is that we're also being forced to address remote-ish training. The BIC is developing and maintaining more and more of the routine training stuff as files. It's possible, and we're already doing it, to at least partially train and oversee new staff and agents quasi-remotely ...and we haven't even begun to put the shoulder to that with easily available stuff like dvds and podcasts. But what I'm seeing is the actual diminishing need for staff as we peel off more and more functions to the server forms, so there is less and less training, too.


Tell that to Michael Dell or Jeff Bezos. In my first virtual business, after the burn-in period, I found that the minimalist costs of being virtual made the bottom-line higher even if I lost some sales.

We aren't all the same

We started online and now offline is 80% of our profits. In fact 60% of our sales are now from partners, mainly because we were shit scared of dropping out of google.

I'm glad we did that. At least something would be left if the internet disappeared tomorrow.

And my latest investment has been a coffee shop. How is that for bricks?

I'm totally online with 9

I'm totally online with 9 staff in 3 countries.
We all use skype phones and laptops.
Mail goes through the accountants office.
I'm very proud of all of this until I speak with anyone from the offline world then I feel the urge to lie or avoid the question as I always seem to feel inferior.

Gerbot, why should you feel

Gerbot, why should you feel inferior? You have knowledge and skill that they don't have.

Virtual is the future

There will always be bricks companies but virtual is the future, you are ahead of the curve GerBot, be proud!

limited customer base for lots of reasons

we're house hunting at the moment and, although we have been going into a few offices and putting requests in we don't seem to have any better level of service from them than from the ones where we've only been in touch via websites, email and the odd phone call. I guess good estate agents are good agents and meeting face to face gives a slightly warm fuzzy feeling but it doesn't make them any better or worse at their job. Plus at the rate good houses are selling around here now, they can be sold via the website by the time the details get sorted and delivered by post.

That said, there are still a huge amount of people who don't have internet access or who would rather go in to see the agent to actually talk terms. Going entirely online at the moment, for any business which isn't clearly one where people are online could be dangerous.

Plus when looking for a temporary rental when we moved areas I had an entirely different experience with letting agents. Bunch of muppets all of them. They didn't add homes quickly, remove them when taken, or answer queries by e-mail. Perhaps its a question of profit margins but having had that experience once I was dubious about trying online again and I suspect that happens to a lot of people.


MLS is a great system, it is helping our search in canada a great deal, in the end though you still need to look at the houses and a warm body to provide the key and make the deal. We can shop remotely but not buy. I guess there are a lot of industries where the last critical mile will always be offline.

Hi DianeV, you know I think

Hi DianeV,
you know I think it is some kind of contagious insecurity.
They need a big corporate office and client list.
the typical top 10 firm with fortune 500 clients crap.
problem is the corporate propaganda then seems to pass from them to me via some kind of weird peer pressure.

interestingly it is the people who seem most content with themselves who actually like/value what I do and where I do it from.

i like and value material goods (I'm not afraid to say it) but what I find odd is the value attached to do a 55hour week for someones elses client and all the while they'd make you redundant in a heart beat if it made them more money.

I guess it just says a lot about certain people's insecurities really

Gerbot, I know what you

Gerbot, I know what you mean. It sounds like they're running their insecurities onto you. I wouldn't take it personally. They're trapped; you're not. And that (your not being trapped) is everything, is it not?

I know what you mean about people being content with themselves.

To be honest, I don't "do" offices, or drive freeways to get to work, and I'm not interested in clients who feel that that type of thing is the criteria by which to judge our work. And, anyway, there's plenty of good, solid, honest work out there.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.