Virtual Office Software: What is the Best Option?

manage a remote working team

There were 34 million telecommuters in the US in 2009 and the expectation is that this number 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.

Recreating The Benefits of an Office Environment

There are several perceived and real benefits of an office environment versus working virtually.

  1. Face to face communication – working in an office environment enables communication and collaboration to take place face to face.
  2. Better collaboration – the fact that employees are sitting next to each other can help to improve collaboration and teamwork.
  3. 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.

Now, let’s 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:

Collaboration Software

There are many online software tools designed to improve collaboration and help teams to communicate more effectively. These tools could greatly help in a virtual office environment.

Firstly there are project management tools such as:

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 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. As a productivity monitoring software, it helps to make sure that all team members are working and will also help create a “virtual office” for your business. Here are some of its features:

  1. Recording the exact hours worked by team members.
  2. 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 while 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).
  3. Record the activities of each team member, and show the manager exactly how long they worked on each activity.
  4. You can view at any time who is online and working and exactly what they are working on.

Try Time Doctor and see how it is a great virtual office software solution. Using this software you can be sure that your team members will work just as if you had a real office.

time tracking software

  • Mitchell Yates

    Thanks for the list, you mentioned a lot of great tools.Businesses are evolving and the presence of virtual technology in the office space is increating. Products like iMeet ( allow users to meet online and share information. iMeet allows you to be more thank just a voice on the other end of the phone, you can connect and collaborate with up to 15 people in HD video, or 125 people with web and audio. iMeet will change the way you do business by making it easier and simpler than ever.

  • shrini

    The above mentioned ones are hosted services. I prefer something on premise; like RHUB web conferencing appliances. It works from behind my companys firewall.

  • Hila Adar

    I just wanted to mention that Clarizen is not only a collaboration tool, but also offers issue and time tracking.

    Here you can read more about time tracking using Clarizen:

  • kay

    This is pretty cool. Will have to try it in my soon asap. But Africa – Nigeria is yet to imbibe the culture of working at home.
    Cool app