Update on Whiteboards for Virtual Teams

whiteboard example
The design goal of many collaboration tools is to reproduce as closely as possible some aspect of the face-to-face meeting experience so that virtual project teams can be as productive as co-located teams. What I have found is that some tools developed for virtual teams actualy work better than the process they were built to replace. A great example of this is the whiteboard. Online whiteboards available today for free make many common whiteboarding tasks easier than the old fashioned flip-charts or dry-erase markers. You can use electronic whiteboards to brainstorm, problem solve, describe complex concepts, create flow-charts, or even vote on issues as a team. All it takes to be successful is a tool that has a minimum of features that are well-implemented and intuitive.

Just like desktop sharing tools (see my last blog), online whiteboards have come a long way in the past few years. There are now many free tools that have some excellent features and would be a great addition to any virtual teams’ tool box. I will mention a few here and comment on their pros/cons. Note: this is just a sample of current offersings and not intended to be an exhaustive list nor an endorsement of, nor recommendation for, any particular tool. Continue reading

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Update on Key Communications Technologies for Virtual Teams

As someone with a great deal of personal experience working in virtual teams and having managed a collaboration technologies research team for several years, I am very familiar with the obvious as well as subtle problems with the collaboration tools available today. As  I am sure you know, there are just way too many tools from which to choose. For this post, I’ll touch on my recent experience with just a few examples of those that provide communications (auditory, visual and data). Continue reading

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Announcing New Beta 2 of FreeBusySharing.com

nav1We are proud to announce the Beta 2 release of our free/busy calendar sharing service at http://freebusysharing.com. This release adds these features:

* Support for Google, Apple iCal, and Microsoft Office.com calendars;

* Ability to link more than one calendar (e.g., work and personal) and share any of them with others;

* A simple-to-use, on-line scheduling tool that allows you view all of your team members’ availability on one screen and easily find times to meet.


We will continue to add new features to the service in the months ahead. Check it out and give us feedback!

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A Great Time to Practice Telecommuting


photo by gak

We are a week away to a possible BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) strike in the San Francisco area…again. If your people can’t get to work, what will you do? Your competition elsewhere in the world is not encumbered by your particular transportation woes! They will take this opportunity to move ahead of you while you are shutdown because your people struggle to get to the office to man (people?) the phones or work on that critical project.

So, what better time than right now, this week, to practice your emergency plans for business continuity for natural disasters and the like. Surely you have such plans already in place just waiting to be triggered! Well, okay, if you don’t, at least ask as many of those affected by the pending strike to work from home one day this week. See how things go. Fine tune your processes and telecommuting technologies. It is better to be ready to activate your plans or at least be aware of your potential problems than to scramble to keep things together when disaster strikes.

For tips on how to run teams virtually, or how to better work remotely as a telecommuter, check out the rest of this site.

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Communicate Effectively with Technology

canThe number of technologies we have at our fingertips today to communicate with our virtual project team members is nothing short of daunting. In addition to the most natural and effective method we all know as ” face-to-face,” we have phone (wired and wireless), voicemail, email, instant messaging, blogs, RSS, SMS and Twitter, to name just the big ones.  Unfortunately, none of us are taught how to best use these techologies to get our ideas across to each other and to minimize the impact on our colleagues. It is no wonder, then, that we all struggle with them.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out which technology to use when or how to use it properly–it just takes a moment or two of thought Continue reading

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It's Times Like These…

vaccineIt is times like these that I wonder why it is that virtual teams and telecommuting are not a standard part of every company’s business continuity plans or, better still, part of the core of the way of doing business. Think about it…if the concerns over the current flu pandemic come true and millions of people get infected or even die, what will you do with your business? Will you send all your people home for a long vacation? Think of your revenue stream. Think of all the phones ringing with nobody to answer them and orders going unfilled. Or, how about those unhappy customers taking their business elsewhere because there was nobody in Product Support to help them fix a problem with your product

Fortunately, there is a relatively easy fix for many businesses: telecommuting.  If you don’t already have one, you owe it to your shareholders to setup a telecommuting infractructure and encourage eveyone who can work from home to do so periodically as part of your business continuity strategy.  If you have a culture and infrastructure that supports a work-anywhere workforce, you will be able to shut down your company facilities for a short time and your customers may not even notice the change. 

It just makes good business sense to be prepared for disaster. The disaster that shuts you down might not be a virus, it might be particularly bad weather, terrorist attack, or a global conflict.  Whatever the cause, being able to operate your business with a distributed workforce is prudent.

You can read elsewhere on this site how to get started with telecommuting.  Why put it off any longer?  


Photo attribution: samantha celera

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Announcing a new Free/Busy service

nav1calWe have just finished our first production version of a free-busy sharing service for Outlook users. You can check it out at FreeBusySharing.com. Using this service, you can share your free/busy calendar data with any Outlook user in the world, and they can share their’s with you. You can then use Outlook’s built-in free/busy time viewer to check for times to meet.

If you work for a company running Exchange, you probably use Outlook’s free/busy viewer every day to schedule meetings. This great tool allows you to easily see when your colleagues are free for a meeting. Unfortunately, without great effort, you cannot use this scheduling tool to see free/busy information for people outside your business. With our service, you can easily solve this problem. All you both need is a supported version of Microsoft® Outlook (i.e., 2002, 2003 or 2007).

Once you have completed the setup, you can easily schedule meetings from within your Outlook meeting scheduler. The free and busy times for each invitee should appear in your planning window and look similiar to this (Outlook 2007):

Check it out!

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Resolving Disagreements in Virtual Teams

conflictOne of the more difficult team dynamics project managers must face from time-to-time is conflict. The ‘conflict’ can be project-related or interpersonal, but either way, strong feelings are often involved, making rational resolutions difficult. For virtual teams where face-to-face time is rare or non-existent, conflict resolution can be especially challenging, even for the highly skilled virtual team manager. Continue reading

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The Best Thing About Virtual Teams

globeI was just reading an article offering tips to telecommuters. One suggestion was to stay on your boss’s and coworkers’ good sides. It’s easy to write something that someone takes the wrong way, the article said, and because you don’t see them you don’t know them very well.

Continue reading

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