The Cost of Distance

Doing proposals from home was my new normal long before COVID-19. It sort of snuck up on me. One year I was staying in worn Toronto hotels for weeks at a time, eating room-service meals at 8PM, and the next I was tip-tapping away in my home office, jumping up to move the laundry over when the buzzer went.

I like working from home, mostly. I even turned down a contract last year mostly because it would have required me to work from a downtown office for information-security reasons.

At home, I can work my own schedule, as long as I meet deadlines. I save time and money and wear-and-tear in the commute, whether that’s by car or by bus. I save money in lunches out. I avoid most interpersonal conflicts. I can concentrate better, with fewer interruptions and no disruptions. All good, right?

Not quite.

Whether it’s just me or the whole team that’s working remotely, there is an administrative cost to working at a distance. It’s hard to quantify but it’s real nevertheless. It’s the cost of communicating with people I never see.

It’s the time to develop detailed but clear spreadsheets to track and communicate the status of each proposal section, rather than just maintaining a sheet on the wall. It’s the time to check in with everyone by email or phone or video conference rather than just catching them when they walk by. It’s the delay in getting an answer on a simple point — a clarification on the operations concept, the latest title for a given position — when the person you need to connect with is not sitting on their phone or email. It’s the time to untangle miscommunications and misinterpretations that would never have happened in person — and the delay in even realizing that they’ve occurred — when you can’t see that glazed look on someone’s face.

On one distance proposal where I was coordinating a gaggle of writers and editors, I figured that extra communication took an hour or two out of every day. That’s a whack of lost productivity.

But even in the absence of a global pandemic, there’s no going back to full on-site proposals. The measurable costs are too high: office space, computer infrastructure, travel, and accommodations. As businesses re-jig their space and their processes to enable work-from-home (WFH, the newest acronym I know) for public-health purposes, they could do worse than to check with their proposal teams to get a realistic assessment of what it’s going to cost.

 

4 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    When Wood Lake, the publishing company I used to (partly) own, bid on projects, we started by adding a 15% “fudge factor” to allow for unforeseen eventualities. As time went on, we raised the “fudge factor” to 50%. I’m sure someone has done a study of the overhead costs of simply maintaining an office that can’t be directly applied to a project. In hindsight, I’d love know how optimistic/pessimistic we were.
    JimT

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – I was never part of the costing of proposal efforts. On the rare occasions when someone wants a quote from me just for my time, I find that I have to add 30 – 50% to what I think is reasonable. Documents that have been developed without any editorial (writing) direction take a whack of time more than they should.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Carla – Oh, yes, I believe it, given your usual role. Being a writer is relatively straightforward – harder, for sure, but in the range. Trying to herd cats is entirely different. 🙂

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