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I just started working at a virtual office. I am finding that communication is harder as people have different schedules but you're not sure when they're around, if they're online, if they're available, etc. How can I have good communications with my fellow co-workers when we are all virtual?

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To aid communications, you need to ensure that everybody logs into some messaging system - Skype for example - as soon as they're "at work" and there should only be one system you all use. This way you can quickly see who's available and who isn't. If you can, try to keep to a regular schedule so that everyone knows that you'll be available at the same time each day.

Video calls via web cams could help here as well.

Having a shared calendar that marks holidays, business trips away will also help for the times when you have to break your schedule. Giving each other plenty of warning about appointments etc that mean late starts or early departures will also help.

If you aren't too geographically dispersed, arrange regular physical meetings. This should be both business meetings on work time and social meeting outside of work time. These will help you "bond" with your co-workers.

  • +1 Shared calendar and messaging system. While only one member of my office works entirely remotely, just about everyone has one work-at-home day every week. We have a shared GCal listing people's availability and people are expected to be reachable by phone, email, or gchat when they're off-site. We also have an office IRC channel for group discussions, though it's admittedly under-utilized at the moment. – sheepeeh Apr 18 '12 at 13:10
  • +1 You pretty much hit on everything I would've said. Shared calendars, and consistent expectations of communications (we use Google Hangouts for when people aren't physically present). – jcmeloni Apr 18 '12 at 14:13
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    +1 for core hours when everyone is online and logged in to a communication system. Email can help with offset schedules, but the amount of work that can be accomplished in a 5-minute real-time conversation can take hours of email. – voretaq7 Apr 18 '12 at 16:54
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Depending on how much influence you have at the company, it's worth suggesting that you all draw up an agreement between you as to how communication should be managed.

Any companies that I've worked at virtually, the policy has always been that if you are not in an office you still need to behave as if you are i.e. during working hours you should be contactable by whatever form e.g. IM, Skype, email, phone etc. If you can agree this policy then you can be comfortable that there are no barriers to you contacting colleagues.

And as ChrisF points out a shared schedule is a significant part of this and also regular face-to-face business meetings and social meetings.

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Although I don't work virtually, the places that I've worked that allow people to have virual office days have tended to have some guidelines to help reduce communication problems caused by people being in different locations.

The first is consistant hours. The concept of "core hours" exist in the office, and also apply to people working remotely. These are hours where they are expected to be available via the corporate IM network, email, and phone. Everyone on the team is expected to be working during these hours, with the exception of vacation or sick time. Core hours are, in my experiences, about 5-6 hours of the day, with the other 2-3 hours being at your convenience.

The next would be to keep everyone aware of your hours. In the office, people tend to have a signboard on their cube or office door indicating their schedule. It has their preferred email address, phone number, and an on-site point of contact (typically their supervisor). If they are taking any time off or will be unavailable, it is indicated on this. The use of shared calendaring systems also helps as people can indicate times when they have meetings (real or virual), vacation hours, or have allocated times to work that requires minimal disruptions.

Finally, people only tend to work a few days a week virtually. It might be helpful to pick a single day where everyone works in the office to attend to things that can not be done remotely. It also provides a good social bonding for the team, so consider a team lunch (even if it's in the cafeteria) on these days to try to make sure everyone's working well together.

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  • Skype

    You can use this to keep in touch with staff and clients. You can do calls and conferences at no cost.

  • Dropbox

    Share your files with staff or between your laptop and desktop.

  • Google Docs / Google Calendar

    Share and update documents. Share and update calendars.

  • Virtual office / address

    I use it as it is cheaper than hiring office space and I don't think P.O Box look professional, nor does a home address

Just what I use to aid with the operations and organisation of working virtually! Hope it is of some help.

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