Building Blocks for Virtual Businesses : Key technological systems you must have to succeed in the remote business world
This is a guest post by Ripley Daniels about "Key technological systems you must have to succeed in the remote business world.
Whenever I tell friends I had a tough day at the office, they laugh at me. That's because they know I don't really have an office. I work very hard but I work for a company that is completely remote. Only a few of my co-workers ever go into an office at all and when they do, it's only for short periods of time. Our "office" is a virtual one. To us, the traditional office workplace is a thing of the past, alongside Tyrannosaurus Rex, the slide rule, and telephones where you stick your finger in a hole and turn a dial.
Unfortunately, none of this prevents me from having tough days. I still have them. But the reasons have nothing to do with the fact that my co-workers and I don't have a brick and mortar edifice that we can use to plan, strategize, hold our meetings, make presentations, discuss sensitive business topics, build relationships, formulate projects, assess progress, and even socialize. We've figured out other ways to do these things. And those other ways work. In fact they work very well. We can conduct our daily business very successfully and do the same things that people in physical offices do, except we do them in a virtual environment. The only thing missing is the water cooler.
So how exactly did we figure out how to set up an office away from the office? The answer is: not without a lot of thought. The key was to first identify the critical elements that make an office function. And then find the right technology to replicate those elements in a remote environment. Here in a nutshell is a summary of those elements and some examples of the key technologies needed to make them work:
- Aid the access. One of the main advantages to a physical gathering place for work is that workers have easy access to the various tools they need to get their work done and they know the right area/room/desk to go to in order to quickly find and make use of the most appropriate tool. Our remote office needs to afford our workers the same easy access to the things they need to get their jobs done. Some of the technology that can make this happen includes the following:
- Employee laptops with cameras and standardized software (e.g., MS Office)
- Internet connectivity (home: Cable/DSL/FIOS; road: mobile broadband)
- Secure connectivity with built-in encryption (e.g., Cisco VPN)
- Cloud computing for backup email and business apps
- PDAs with business apps (e.g., contact lists, mobile Skype, easy texting)
- Client virtualization systems (e.g., VDI, Citrix)
- Take care of the talk. People that work together need to talk---all the time. And talking is something that happens with others (clients, stakeholders) too, both one-on-one and in a multi-player conference environment. There are good ways to do it from miles away. Some of the nifty tools available include:
- Internet communication technologies (e.g., Voice-Over IP, Skype, broadband phone) with call forwarding
- Desktop and mobile instant messaging (e.g., MIM, Gmail, Jappix, OCS)
- Conference call services (free, pre-paid, flat rate, or premium)
- Facilitate the face time. One of the most frequent and necessary (some might say ubiquitous) characteristics of an office work environment is the daily meetings. But how could we function without them? The truth is that communication via email and telephone lines is great but there are always times when nothing can substitute for good old face-to-face. Some of the tools that facilitate remote meetings include:
- HD video conferencing (the technology is widely available and getting less expensive every day)
- Web videophone software (e.g., Skype, MegaMeeting, Adobe Connect)
- Simplify the sharing. People who work together in an office have the ability to go up to their co-workers, hand them a document to look at, and get instant feedback. This feedback can be in the form of comments, edits, and/or wholesale changes. Very often the process is iterative, involving a lot of back and forth among multiple parties until a final version is achieved. In order to make a virtual office function the right way, this same capability needs to be built in. Fortunately, there are many tools available to do this. And the good news is that they are becoming more powerful and sophisticated all the time. Some examples include:
- Scribd: Allows users to upload and save documents in any number of widely-used formats. Also has a tracking feature.
- Knowledge Tree: Lets users share and edit documents, as well as set and receive deadline reminders.
- Firmex: Features include strong security and access control, making it a good solution for sensitive documents.
- Free file sharing: A number of vendors offer free solutions, including Google and Yahoo. A popular cost-free solution is available from KeepandShare .
Tough days? Sure, they happen all the time---in any office setting. But when you build your remote business the right way, you can make the transition from a physical office to a virtual office seamless. By using the right technology, your office can be wherever you want it to be.