Top five virtual workplace dos and don'ts

Organizations with many remote workers can bring them all together in virtual office. Here are the top five dos and don'ts for building a virtual office.

Soon, the desks, file cabinets and conference rooms used in your office may only be found online. All the needed files and documents could be stored in a "virtual workplace." No paperweights required!

A virtual workplace is an electronic office that has all the tools co-workers need and facilitates the interactions required to support the nature of work to be done. Discussion boards, links to instant messaging and company databases can all be found there, said Bill Bruck, co-founder of Falls Church, Va.-based Collaboration Architects, Inc. His company designs and implements virtual offices.

It takes careful planning to design an office that promotes productivity. Virtual offices are no exception, said Bruck. Here are his tips for making a virtual workplace really work.

Don't just throw a lot of individual tools into a virtual office. "Create an integrated workplace," Bruck said. "Don't just use discrete tools." Everything in this workplace, or portal, should be integrated, from Outlook to instant messaging, from important documents to even pictures of co-workers.

Do put interaction at the center of the virtual office. One of the main reasons for creating the online workplace is to increase interaction between co-workers.

Do integrate with Microsoft's desktop communications tools, such as .NET (formerly MSN) messenger, Outlook and the Windows media server. Even if you're not doing a Microsoft-solution, integrate with those tools because those are on your user's desktops, said Bruck.

Do strongly look at Microsoft Sharepoint Portal Sever, Microsoft's portal technology. Build Web parts where Sharepoint Portal falls short. Build applets into it where it doesn't do what you need, he said. You can already buy 200 applets, but in a couple years there will be 2,000, he predicted.

"Do consider your company's Human Resources staff as a key stakeholder," Bruck concluded. They are the people who can help you with the entire process and training. "If you're an IT person, that's not your strong suit."

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