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Tips on how to run a multi-office company

by Nick Holcombe (Managing Director) | Sep 26, 2016
Within a few years of Dorchester's commencement, we found that we were adding new offices. A quarter of a century ago, email was invented and even then it was clear that this would be a means of keeping our communications costs under control, not to mention providing a good audit trail of our business decisions.

We found though that the cost of telephones was a massive proportion of our revenue. So the notion of the Internet effectively vanquishing geographical barriers became of interest to me, and even though software such as Skype was relatively unknown, I decided that we should be trying to use the Internet to carry our voice calls. By 2004 we had a rudimentary VoIP system established whereby we could transfer calls from Sydney to the other offices, and vice versa. This meant that even 12 years ago I could live on a regional rural property and take calls from each of the offices across the limited Internet that we had in those days, for free. Nowadays, we have evolved that VoIP system so that all of our internal calls and conferencing are carried across the Internet and are free, and our external calls are at excellent rates through SIP providers. Apart from the obvious cost savings the benefits from collaboration opportunities are enormous.

It was also immediately obvious that we needed to be able to record exactly what we had done so that we could report to the customers, complete invoicing, and keep a history of what had been done as well. But what became immediately obvious when our staff were separated by large distances was that we couldn't easily tell what we were all doing. The idea that we could spread work between the offices was appealing but not really practicable. The advent of a central terminal server had enabled all of us to access the one machine at the same time through the Internet from around the late 90s. All we needed was a database which would enable each of us to see what we all had scheduled ahead of us to do, and what we had done so far. So at roughly the same time as the phone calls were being made more pervasive, our workloads and what we were doing about them was made visible to all through a graphical software package written in-house.

The confluence of both of those technologies really started to make us all feel as though we were working as a team, nearly as though we were all in one office next to each other. We did toy with the idea of having all of our images on screens so that we could see body language in communications, but so far the fact that many people work from home in various states of dress has been a deterrent.

Sidney Kidman apparently ameliorated his exposure to localised seasonal conditions by having a vast spread of properties linked in a chain. Initially, the notion of having offices in regional Australia was considered to be comedic by some in urban areas, but we have been fortunate that even though often things are tough in the bush, downturns in urban economy can often be offset by upturns in the rural economy, and of course very often, vice versa. It really hurts when they are both doing badly and it is very rare for them both to be doing well at the same time.

Initially, much of the technology that had been learnt in the city offices was spread to the country ones, but now we find that everybody is contributing in each direction. Learning to survive in both environments can be a great educator. Some of the pressures of the city can lead to sharper work practices, some of the philosophies of the regional areas are often appreciated by the city customers.

From a personal point of view, IT has enabled me to enjoy the places I most wanted to be. I now enjoy watching the other Dorchester staff being liberated by that technology to be able to go to enjoy other locations in our office network that they might never have visited otherwise.
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