it easy for managers to delegate and track the progress of projects on the fly. When these complementary tools are used together, teams can stay connected, support each other and contribute to project aims and workflows wherever they are based. Many tools also offer additional facilities and apps that growing businesses can add to their suite to match their evolving needs. A key driver in the move away from traditional office set-ups and towards dispersed workforces and virtual offices has been the ability for teams to use mobile technologies to talk as though they were face-to-face. From one-on-one conversations to fullteam chats, people are increasingly arranging and joining meetings from a range of mobile devices, threatening to make conventional office-based conferencing obsolete. Interactive whiteboards can also help make meetings and conference calls more productive. These
From one-on-one conversations to full-team chats, people are increasingly arranging and joining meetings from a range of mobile devices
allow multiple workers, whether they are physically present or joining remotely, to participate in whiteboard sessions and make changes in real time. As well as virtual whiteboard apps for laptops and tablets, there are advanced hardware versions, which enable teams to develop, share and record their ideas visually, as they join a meeting from diverse locations. Often several people can contribute at once, which encourages fastmoving brainstorming sessions and stimulates creativity. In building a bespoke virtual office, a variety of routine tasks can now be outsourced or automated. Virtual assistants and receptionists can handle incoming calls, call forwarding and rerouting, booking appointments and message delivery from remote locations. These services usually offer local or international numbers and outbound dialling from these numbers via mobiles or tablets, enabling businesses to establish a global presence while still running a lean, low-overhead operation. Using these kinds of virtual services, business leaders and their teams can stay focused on the core tasks that produce the most return. A new reality? Today’s virtual office – with a highly collaborative, dispersed
workforce connected via cloudbased tools and access to specialist outsourced services to facilitate inbound communications – is already becoming the norm for many fastpaced, developing businesses. Looking further into the future, new augmented- and virtual-reality technologies may take this to the next level. With virtual-reality headsets, workers could eventually be able to enter and leave virtual meeting spaces at any time of the day or night where they can see their colleagues or their “avatars” and interact with them as if they were sharing a real-office space. This new reality might seem a long way off but Mark Zuckerberg only recently announced ambitious targets to get one billion people using the technology, noting its ability to create a “sense of presence, like you’re right there with another person or in another place”. Bearing this in mind, there is no doubt that the right tools, technologies and service providers, combined with good management, can reduce costs, increase flexibility and help entrepreneurs and startups grow and extend their international reach far beyond their size. Using these workplace enablers in the right way can also facilitate teamwork, release creativity and show that the business really cares about colleagues, employees and customers wherever they may be.