The differences between an ideal traditional office and one optimized for virtual work are minor, but important. The additional bits of hardware and software that should be added to a virtual office are all designed to enable faster and more intuitive communications, because that is what is most affected when team members can’t work face-to-face. Key components that would need to be added to a traditional office are
- Telephone headset—Virtual teams spend many hours a day on the phone. A headset is critical to comfort as well as understanding what is being said. Noise canceling designs allow virtual workers to be productive in a noisy environment and reduces the annoyances during phone conferences.
- Phone conferencing service—At least one great phone conferencing service is a must for any virtual team to be effective.
- Virtual work software tools— These include at least one IM client, a desktop sharing tool, an electronic whiteboard, and a team space platform.
- Ergonomic chair—Because virtual work involves much more time sitting and concentrating on a computer screen, an ergonomic chair is very important to long-term physical well-being.
- Wide-screen display—a large and wide screen allows each team member to keep instant messaging and virtual whiteboard sessions running while doing other work.
For the advanced user, here are a few additional bits of technology that can further enhance productivity:
- Video camera—Provides a very effective tool for chatting about physical objects or for demonstrations. A good quality video camera, although rarely used, is still occasionally useful for getting to know someone better.
- Graphics tablet—Enables much more fluid and natural sketching for ad hoc idea sharing or brainstorming sessions.
- Speech Recognition—Speeds dictation and IM.
- VoIP—Lowers the cost of long distance or inter-country conversations.
- Dual displays—Provides more screen space for virtual tools, and you probably already have the required hardware on your desktop.
- Fully portable—Makes for a more mobile and flexible office when all work products are in electronic form. In other words, get rid of those old file cabinets and storage shelves as much as possible store all your work on your computer. Retrain yourself to write and edit on-screen. Not only does this make your office more portable, it speeds up your work and saves paper.