Virtual Office Toolkit
We were a small organization and most of us were parents. Our workplace culture was one in which we trusted each other to get our work done, even if it wasn't always between 9 and 5. The org made lots of space for people to take care of themselves during the work day—to go to doctor appointments or a kid's event—as long as we got our work done somehow. I telecommuted from time to time, sometimes for a couple months at a time, especially in the early days of parenting. It was a kind of informal flex time, which NPR reports is an increasing trend in some sectors and can allow for a better work-life balance. For me, working flexibly and virtually in this way has definitely improved my quality of life.
Since I work in tech—obviously a type of work conducive to the virtual/flex office—I am aware of more and more virtual orgs and companies as broadband becomes more ubiquitous, and as more people use telecommuting and flex time for various reasons. Some pros and cons...
- No commuting required. Ahh, so nice.
- If you do advocacy work, or promote/cover events, you can use a virtual office setup to work and live blog/Tweet from the field. When appropriate, this can be a great way to promote your cause and engage constituents.
- You can work in your pajamas, outside, in front of the fire, in your favorite cafe, or while you're waiting on the bench at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- My favorite pro: you can take breaks to exercise, walk, see a friend or your partner or child, take photographs, or make something. This requires some self-discipline, but the payoff is worth it.
- You can work anytime of the day or night, not just 9 to 5.
- You can work anytime of the day or night, not just 9 to 5. Work and life boundaries can be hard to maintain if you're not really disciplined about it (I am not yet there, myself).
- No face time and no spontaneous hall chats that lead to brilliant work-related insights (and fill the need we all have for socializing).
- Laptop, smart phone, and broadband, obviously. I live in a rural area, so I don't take those last two for granted. The town next to mine has no broadband and no cell phone coverage, and a lot of people who work virtually in cafes and libraries as a result.
- Telephone & web conference/meeting software: GoToMeeting or ReadyTalk are the two main ways that I have work meetings with my co-workers.
- Jing and SnagIt for screen casting and screen shots, respectively. These helps me communicate in certain situations when I would otherwise call a co-worker or client over to look at my computer screen.
- Collaboration Software: Basecamp, GoogleDocs, GoogleGroups, CentralDesktop (an alternative to Basecamp), Redmine (open-source ticketing and wiki collaboration software), Groupsite (fancier Ning; hosted social networking, document sharing and collaboration software). These are absolutely key for sharing files and communicating about and managing projects with a group of people.
- Instant one-on-one or group communication: Twitter, IM, Yammer and Google Buzz for instant private group convos. Yammer is my new favorite; you can set up a private Twitter-like group, share documents and images, and communicate socially and about work, almost like a virtual watercooler. For me, IM, Yammer and Twitter can help replicate that missing co-worker hall-chat epiphany experience (and some of the socializing).