Being a loner is not a virtue in a virtual partnership. Dianne Morse Houghton, president of Jaffe Associates, a virtual partnership of 19 consulting and public relations specialists, says the specialists look for partners who want the flexibility that working from home provides but who also enjoy and value interaction with others as part of a team. Houghton herself was lured to join Jaffe from a traditional consulting firm because it was a perfect answer to her lifestyle needs when her husband, Paul, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, was assigned to a U.S. submarine whose home port is Hawaii. Houghton recognized that being part of a virtual partnership would give her the flexibility she wanted: She could work from Hawaii when Paul was there and go back to their permanent home in Washington, DC, when he was at sea.
For Kathy Garland and Maxine Guli, virtual partners of G II Design Group, a Glencoe, Illinois, interior design firm, another aspect of an in-sync partnership is similar priorities. Garland has two children; Guli has five. With all that responsibility, each must agree: Family comes first. "That's not to say we don't work hard," Garland says. "We do. But when something comes up in our families that requires our presence, it's important we feel free to go."
The home life of virtual partners plays an important part in the success of the partnership, according to Michael Dziak, president of InteleWorks Inc., a telecommuting consulting service he operates out of his home in Snellville, Georgia. "If there's a difficult teen in the home and the partner is going to be called away from business every so often to deal with problems, I want to be aware of that," says Dziak, whose partner, InteleWorks vice president Theresa Perry, lives nearby. "And I like to have a [congenial] relationship with my partner's spouse. That way, if I call and leave a message, I know my partner will get it."
Respect for personal preferences and personal lives is also essential. Mary Ann Galloway, president of NWB Managed Care Development LLC, a development and consulting firm for managed care companies, works out of her homebased office on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina; her two partners are on the West Coast. She and one of her California partners are early birds; the other is a night owl. Considering time zones and biorhythms, the window of time when they can get together is narrow. "It may be that we're all working at the same time only three or four hours a day," Galloway says. Respecting the difference, they try to schedule conference calls at an hour convenient to all--but are flexible enough to recognize that, on occasion, adjustments may have to be made. And they're appreciative of and responsive to each other's personal goals and responsibilities. Galloway says it never entered their minds to be anything less than supportive when one of the partners' mothers became ill and she had to take off several months to be with her until she died.