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The technology you need to work remotely

Technology allowing virtual collaboration is transforming Australian workplaces. When managers at the Melbourne-based custom software developer and integrator Readify send out a meeting request, they don’t honestly expect anyone to actually turn up. But they do expect everyone to attend. With four offices around Australia, staff at Readify have become used to working in teams where not everyone is located in the same building, and they are encouraged to work remotely either offsite or at home when appropriate.

Electronic collaboration using tools such as audio and video-conferencing service Skype, real-time text-chat tool Yammer, and a slew of document-sharing and project-management software, is rapidly changing the nature of workplace communication in Australian businesses.

It helps to see faces and have more of a personal relationship with people than just communicating by email or collaborating on a document together.

WHY VIRTUAL COLLABORATION WORKS

The reason electronic collaboration works so well at Readify is due to a combination of smart technology, smart training, and using the right tools. Oddie says the company’s meeting rooms and workspaces are wired up with screens and speaker phones, providing access to a range of document collaboration and co-authoring tools. When a meeting starts, it is easy to bring up an electronic document that can be worked on by multiple parties in different locations. “Everyone is literally on the same page.”

The capabilities of tools for remote collaboration are growing daily, and many of them are either free to try, or even free to use in perpetuity. Skype is now the default choice for both consumers and businesses when it comes to low-cost audio and video-conferencing, along with Google Hangouts, while Yammer is being used at organisations from Westfield to NAB for real-time text-based chatting between team members.

While some managers might decry the potential for distraction that these tools create, Oddie says he’s found that the opposite is true at Readify. Live collaboration on documents has all but eliminated the use of email attachments, and solved the problem of multiple document versions being created. Because these document collaboration tools also record all interactions and contributions, they form a comprehensive account of activity and create a knowledge base, which proves especially useful when projects are handed over.

BUILD VIRTUAL RELATIONSHIPS

Oddie says electronic collaboration is at the heart of Readify’s culture and is captured in the company’s virtual work manifesto. He believes this sort of collaboration has helped improve the social fabric of the company, too. “Using services like Yammer instead of email helps us to build some of the relationships and subcultures around the business, beyond the raw communication, which then makes the work communication easier.”

This relationship building has led to subgroups for cyclists, gamers and a book club, which bring employees together around shared interests even when they are not physically working together.

David Sampson from technology consultancy Chamonix has helped numerous clients get the most out of electronic collaboration. He sees social and cultural considerations as being just as important as the technology, especially when employees are working remotely. “I recommend bringing the whole team together at least once a day, at least ‘semi-face-to-face’ over a video link, so everybody can discuss what their issues are, what they are working on, and their plans for the day,” he says.

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