Virtual offices: a case study

Virtual offices: a case study

North Star NP and Free Arts Minnesota work together to implement a radical solution.

Free Arts Minnesota works with youth in challenging circumstances to support artistic and personal development through mentorship and arts learning. “Our rent in downtown Minneapolis was unsustainable,” said Executive Director Sara Sternberger. “So we asked a hard and serious question: Do we really need an office? The answer was no.”

After salaries, rent is often the biggest expense for an organization of any size. Free Arts Minnesota estimates that they are saving $3000 a month.

North Star NP worked with Free Arts Minnesota to set up the technology to support the move. This included:

  • Setting up Microsoft Office 365 for email, calendaring and other communications and transferring all data and documents to Sharepoint for Cloud storage and access;
  • Implementing a virtual telephone system to answer incoming calls and send calls to staff members.

Is a virtual office right for your company?

Many staff members enjoy the greater freedom in their schedule, as well as the time and money saved on commuting and parking. This benefit may make it easier to hire, and employees can come from across the country—or globe. In the case of Free Arts Minnesota, staff still need to be in the area to provide the mentorship services in the community, but they have more flexibility in the day to manage personal life and work. Sternberger has a mini office in her car as she finds herself doing more driving.

Challenges can be overcome

All employees need to be equipped with the right technology. A laptop, secure and reliable internet connection, and smart phone are basic, while a webcam, printer and scanner are desirable. Free Arts Minnesota supplied printers for employees who needed them.

Free Arts Minnesota rents a storage space for art supplies, and a P.O. box for mail. “Given our passion for the mission and the work, the hardest part is we miss not seeing each other. Our frequent electronic communication is supplemented by a weekly meeting,” said Sternberger. “We also adapted our policies and procedures to reflect our new situation.”

North Star NP can support virtual offices in additional ways:

  • Identifying and implementing other online tools such as timesheets, bill paying, banking, teleconferencing, expense reports, project management, etc.
  • Being the physical address if needed.
  • Providing human resources support for updating policies and evaluating performance

Follow your art

Learn more about and support Free Arts Minnesota by attending the 16th annual Follow Your Art Breakfast on September 19th at the Metropolitan Ballroom.

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