There were 17.2 million telecommuters in the US in 2009 and the expectation is that numbers will increase significantly over the next decade. With the increase in people working from home, and the creation of a “virtual office” environment, there is also an increase in the need for software designed for the virtual office.
Software tools designed to replace the “benefits” of an office
There are several perceived and real benefits of an office environment versus working virtually. Let’s take a look at these and see how virtual office software tries to compensate and provide enough of these benefits to enable staff to work from home effectively:
- Face to face communication – working in an office environment enables communication and collaboration to take place face to face.
- Better collaboration – the fact that employees are sitting next to each other can help to improve collaboration and teamwork.
- Attendance and time management – ensuring that staff actually turn up to work on time and are working (not watching TV in the living room). This lack of management trust that staff will actually be working is a significant reason that companies are less likely to allow staff to telecommute.
Lets take a look at some of the software that can be used to create an online virtual office and provide these same benefits of a real office space.
Replacing face-to-face communication
There are several free software tools that can be used for video chat as a way to replace face-to-face communication. Skype has a video chat facility including a team video chat room that allows team members to chat for free over the Internet. Oovoo is another paid option that claims to be higher quality than Skype.
There are also many web meeting and screen sharing technologies that can help members to see each others’ computer screen and so simulate being in the office together discussing and demonstrating something on the computer. This technology can also be used by technical support staff to troubleshoot problems with another person’s PC, or provide trainings. These technologies include: Yuuguu, Team Viewer, Dimdim, Show My Pc, Mikogo, GoToMeeting, Yugma and WebEx.
How can you use software to help with collaboration in a virtual office environment? There are many online software tools designed to improve collaboration and help teams to communicate more effectively
Firstly there are project management tools such as Basecamp, Wrike and Central Desktop. A different approach is to try to use software that is similar to Twitter in that each team member posts their updates, and it appears as an activity stream. An example is Yammer. It’s difficult to say which approach is best for you until you have tried them and see how it works in your company.
Attendance and Time Management
At the end of the day, one of the major reasons why companies maintain an office is to make sure that staff turn up to work each day and work a solid 8 hour work day. In a virtual office environment it is difficult for managers to know if staff are really there, and know what they are actually working on. Are they working or just sitting in front of the television? There are a few different approaches to this problem, but one of the issues is that employee monitoring software is usually not specifically designed for a virtual office environment. In fact this type of virtual office monitoring software is usually focused more on keystroke monitoring or other intrusive ways to monitor workers. The problem with this strategy is that it is highly likely not to be accepted especially when a person is working from home using their own home computer. They certainly do not want to have everything they say and do monitored, and in fact it is illegal to do monitor in some jurisdictions, especially if private communications are monitored.
Time Doctor is software that is specifically designed for this purpose – managing a virtual team and making sure that managers knows what team members are working on. Time Doctor helps to make sure that all team members are working and this software will create a “virtual office” for your business. Here are some of the features of this virtual office software:
- Recording the exact hours worked by team members.
- Multiple non-invasive methods of ensuring that the person is really working the hours they say they are. These methods include: tracking web sites visited and applications used on their computer only whilst working, automatically allocating the person on a break if they move off their computer when they say they are working on the computer and optionally screenshots of the persons screen every few minutes (this method is more invasive and actually is not necessary for most companies).
- Record the activities of each team member, and show the manager exactly how long they worked on each activity.
- You can view at any time who is online and working and exactly what they are working on.
Try Time Doctor software as a solution to create your virtual office. Using this software you can be sure that your team members will work just as if you had a real office.
Time Doctor http://www.timedoctor.com