I really dislike the term “virtual” office. It sounds so tentative and not real. The reason I’d even consider a non-geographic based, non building “office” is to become more relational as a presbytery, not to become something less. We are making the transition now as staff in Monmouth … with the final affirmation of the presbytery tomorrow night. So, here is a copy of the proposal I put together, with a rationale, a plan, and a timeline …
Monmouth Presbytery “Office” Proposal
As the Regional Presbyter and “head of staff” I propose that we terminate the lease with Plumsted Presbyterian Church and move out of the manse in New Egypt; the staff will adapt to working remotely from home and/or churches in the presbytery according to the plan outlined below.
1. Current use/non-use of Building
- With part-time staff and flexible schedules, Marie is often alone in the building. I am in the office only one or two days a week. Patty often works out of the Genesis Center space in Lakewood or is on the road visiting churches. Carl works mostly from home. Howard comes to the office one day a week. Phyllis is at the office more often because she is also the interim pastor of the New Egypt congregation.
- Only a few meetings of the presbytery routinely occur at the New Egypt location. Currently, the trustees meet in Red Bank, COM meets at Old Tennent, CPM meets in Allentown, Mission Council meets in Freehold, Nominating meets in Jamesburg, Educational Ministries meets at Lakewood Hope, and Personnel meets at Old Tennent. Only MDSC, ADSC, the staff and, occasionally, the Mission Working Group meet at the office.
- The location in New Egypt is, by the map, in the geographical center of the presbytery, but it is not conveniently located for most of our members. Drop-in visits to the presbytery office are rare, if ever.
- Perhaps the previous EP was able to handle the administrative responsibilities of caring for a building, but as a Regional Presbyter I find that I am not able to be on top of building maintenance or care or supervise any “improvements” that we might make to the building.
- Marie has been keeping up with regular issues of concern at the office, but she calls on Howard frequently to handle “building and grounds” concerns.
- Howard has been kind in being the building and grounds guy, but his priorities need to be focused on our bookkeeping and accounting. The burden of having him responsible for building issues is more than his part-time position can bear.
3. Budget Savings
- While the lease with Plumsted Church is only one dollar per year, we have a non-specific verbal agreement to make capital investments in the building, to pay for utilities, to make repairs as necessary to the building, and maintain the property (lawn, snow removal, etc.)
- In addition, we expect that working from a “virtual office” will save us money in office equipment and supplies, service contracts, and insurance.
4. Presbytery Model and Shift in Focus
- Presbyteries are no longer embracing the “corporate model” for organization or the work of staff. Monmouth Presbytery, too, is moving away from a hierarchical/authoritative and presbytery centered model to one that values relationship, interaction, transparency, and is centered on serving our pastors and congregations. Giving up the “office” is a natural shift away from an emphasis on building and structure toward intentional relationship building.
1. Work from Home
- The staff would primarily work from home. They would all be accessible by cell phone, email, text, or chat.
- Some additional or updated technology will be required. Carl and Marie need up-to-date laptops or tablets and software. We will need to buy cell phones or give a cell phone allowance/reimbursement for staff. All staff will use Dropbox for file sharing, Facebook for real time messaging and group discussions, and Skype or Google Hangouts for video chat; all of these services are free.
- The “Presbytery” phone number will ring on Marie’s phone. She will greet callers as she does now and either answer their questions, hear their concerns, or refer to another staff member or committee chair just as she does now. Though she will not be able to transfer calls to other staff member’s voicemails, she will be able to give cell numbers or take a message and have the staff member get back to the caller.
2. Staff Interaction
- Staff days and will be held twice a month. We will gather for worship, lunch and staff meeting at churches. This will give us an opportunity to get know church staff, pastors, facilities as we meet in various locations throughout the presbytery. Times and locations of staff days will be publicized in the newsletter and on the website.
- At least once a week the staff will check in with each other via conference call.
- Staff will have a Facebook profile. We will have Facebook open when “working” so that we can interact in real time via the messaging function. In addition, we can keep up with the “goings on” of each other through our personal pages and share presbytery news and staff concerns through a private group.
- When needed, staff members can meet together at a church or coffee shop, etc. or by telephone, conference call, or Skype.
3. Physical Address and File Storage
- We will need to have a physical address for corporate records and denominational publications. We would use the address of one of our churches. (I have approached Lakewood, Hope, since this is where the Genesis Center is already located.)
- We will need to change the location of our Post Office Box. It would most likely be in the same town or city as the church that we use as a physical address. (We are discussing this with Lakewood, Hope)
- There are some physical files which we need to store and access occasionally. That, too, could be stored in a church. (Again, we are discussing this with Lakewood, Hope)
4. Lease Concerns
- Our current lease with Plumsted Church expires the end of January 2014. We have asked for a three to four month extension on the lease to enable a smooth transition and move-out according to the timeline below. The trustees have agreed to gift the congregation with a lump sum payment of in exchange for improvements to the manse that were implied but never accomplished.
- I suggest we enter into a covenant of agreement with Lakewood, Hope (or another congregation) for the use of storage space and the address.
- Discuss proposals, hear concerns from staff, personnel, mission council, and more. (done)
- Raise the possibility with the presbytery at the presbytery meeting and through Facebook and the regional presbyter blog (done)
- Implement working from home one day a week for Marie (done)
- “Feel out” the likelihood of using space at Lakewood (talked with pastor and she thinks the session would be open to discussing this)
- Send letter to Plumsted Presbyterian requesting meeting (done)
- Follow-up discussion with staff at staff meeting (Dec 11)
- Share formal proposal with Trustees, ADSC, Personnel (done)
- Meet with representatives of session of Plumsted Presbyterian to share ideas, issues, plans, concerns, etc. (Dec 18)
- Send letter to Lakewood Hope requesting meeting (done)
- Finalize plans, sign covenants of agreements with Plumsted and Lakewood, Hope (Plumsted is done; Lakewood Hope is waiting for session approval)
- Staff makes necessary adjustments to working from home.
- Begin Staff Days at congregations, and weekly conference calls.
- Begin working from home as able
- Virtual office plans shared with Presbytery at meeting, via newsletter, Facebook and website
- Staff moves all personal books, computers, files, etc. out of the manse.
- Files, supplies and copier moved to Lakewood, Hope
- Publicize “garage sale”
- Hold “Garage Sale” for items/furniture that we no longer need
- Give away what we can
- Dispose of what is left
- Clean and prepare Manse for turn-over to Plumsted
- Complete the move out
- Turn in Keys,
- Terminate lease on April 30
Wendy S. Bailey, Regional Presbyter
Revised January 27, 2014