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New Book on Working in a Virtual Office

Entrepreneur Pat Troy, founder of the Association for Severna Park Improvement, Renewal and Enhancement (ASPIRE) writes a book on the “Virtual Office.”

It's a virtual corporate headquarters inside Pat Troy's purse. Wherever her iPhone goes, her business goes.

The Arnold entrepreneur could write volumes about what she's learned in moving from the traditional bricks-and-mortar office to one that exists mostly in cyberspace, but like the leaner business model she follows, she's condensed it all down to a slim 129 pages.

"Flex: The Virtual Office Advantage" was published by Bay Media Inc., the publications management company she runs with the help of technology from her office on the second floor of her waterfront home in Twin Harbors. Her organization management firm, Next Wave Group, LLC, and Facetswoman, which produces events for women, are also housed there.

Although the book came out this summer, Troy is just now finding time in her busy schedule to celebrate its release. The founding chairman of ASPIRE, Inc. (Association for Severna Park Improvement, Renewal and Enhancement), co-founder of Chesapeake Academy, and former three-term president of the Greater Severna Park Council has been active in business and community organizations since moving to Anne Arundel County in 1976.

She uses a host of web-based applications and techno-gadgets to keep her schedule and task lists straight and to manage projects and client accounts. Her team of 18 people, nearly all contractors, possess all the access codes they need to work together – without really being together.

They collaborate on layouts, edit materials, connect with customers and vendors, handle administrative tasks – all from the comfort of their own homes. Perhaps while wearing their fuzzy pink bedroom slippers. Or maybe at 2 o'clock in the morning, if they want to.

"It's looking at the world with a new filter. The old barriers are gone. It's exhilarating in a way," said Troy, 64. She rented about 2,600 square feet of professional office space on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park until 2006, when the desire for more diversity and flexibility could no longer be denied.

The transition actually began earlier, with 9/11, when Pat began running "what if" scenarios through her head. Then Hurricane Isabelle came along in 2003 and knocked out power to the office for several weeks, sending staff members in different directions. "That convinced us we could work in a new way," she said.

Once she made up her mind to go virtual, there was no turning back. "I went to the UPS store, bought a mailbox, and that was it," she said. She still has a receptionist who answers the phone – but she lives on the Eastern Shore. Thanks to a little thing called Voice over Internet Protocol, it doesn't matter.

While it was a bit strange at first, her work team has grown to like their new work paradigm. When they do meet face to face, it's more productive, Troy said. Her clients like it too – "because it saves them money," she said. Overhead expenses such as rent, insurance, utilities, and janitorial services, have gone away. Troy figures the new way of operating saves her business about $10,000 a month.

The changeover didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen without snags, she said. Some workers felt a bit isolated at first. There were issues of software compatibility. Established systems for operating had to be tweaked, and tweaked some more. Along the way, Troy realized she had the makings for a book. "There's not a lot written about it," she said.

The book (her first) lays out "12 Principals for a Successful Virtual Office Transition" in simple language. (Among them: "Place is a state of mind" and "Virtual does not mean paperless – just yet.") The cover art, by Annapolis artist Phyllis Saroff, is of a rubber band – the ultimate metaphor for complete flexibility.

Its practical advice is aimed at two niche markets – the small business owner who is considering the move from a physical office to a virtual office, and someone who wants to launch a start-up in a virtual direction. It's also helpful for employees, contractors and clients of virtual companies.

Arnold resident Erwin Abrams launched a healthcare and nonprofit consulting business after retiring as president and CEO of Hospice of the Chesapeake nearly a year ago. He found the book "a valuable resource," he said. "This is a lady of tremendous insight and sound judgment and she writes to the reader."

Now that she's made the virtual leap, are there any regrets?, Patch asked the author, who's planning to move a large file cabinet to make way for a video conferencing center.

"None," said Troy, as she checked her iPhone to see where she needed to be next.

"Flex: The Virtual Office Advantage" is available online at www.FlexVirtualOffice.com ($14.95 plus shipping) or from Amazon.com.

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