As many of you know, I’m not a Ft. Lauderdale or San Jose based Citrix employee. I work out of the grand Citrix office in Minneapolis (my basement).  I’ve been a remote Citrix person since I started here almost 10 years ago.  And I can tell you this, being a virtual worker used to suck pretty bad.  Sure I could use any XenApp application over my internet connection effectively, but what was missing was being able to have an active part in brainstorming meetings and the feeling of being part of the team.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting when people started white boarding. Not much for someone on the phone to do. Nothing to look at, nothing to see, nothing to contribute.

I tried to travel to Ft. Lauderdale once a month and this was pretty effective. Unfortunately, as we all experienced, the economy crumbled and so did travel budgets (which was my only monthly escape from cold Minnesota winters).

This got me thinking about virtual workers. What do they need to be effective and still feel like a member of the team?  What have we done in our group to make our virtual workforce more effective?  From a user’s perspective, they only need a few things:

  1. Resources
  2. People Interaction

These are actually pretty easy to come by nowadays. 

First, let’s start with resources.

That was then…

  • I had to have a local install for most of my apps. Sure I could have used XenApp, but many times I was disconnected from the internet and out of luck. 

This is now…

  • I now use Application Streaming. Many of my applications are streamed down to my laptop. I figure that 90% of the applications I use are streamed, while the remaining 10% are not because they require a backend data connection in order to function.  What’s the point in streaming something for offline use if it requires a backend data connection?  I don’t see one.

What about people interaction?

That was then…

  • Trying to have discussions with coworkers was done via phone and required my own business line (Costs $$$).
  • Trying to work on the same doc was done by XenApp shadowing.
  • Trying to  whiteboard was a joke (have you ever tried it with your mouse? I don’t recommend it)
  • Trying to get peoples facial expressions/reactions was impossible. At one point I went 6-9 months without seeing my boss or other coworkers.

This is now…

  • Voice conversations no longer requires a separate business line. If I’m just doing a one-to-one conversation, I can use EasyCall.  If I’m taking part in an online meeting, I can simply use the integrated VoIP functionality within GoToMeeting.  No more long distance charges for me
  • Collaboration on the same doc is now easy with GoToMeeting. Anyone can modify the one open document and comment on the fly.
  • White boarding is done online, but instead of using a mouse we use sketch pads (Wacom, AIPTEK, UC-Logic). I even used mine during a recent Citrix TechTalk on offline mobility. And my manager just used it during a brainstorming meeting. Much more effective (and entertaining because my boss is not a very good artist.)
  • Face-to-face conversations are done with video conferencing (Microsoft Communicator, TokBox, Oovoo).  Actually makes you feel like you are part of the team.
  • Quick conversations are done via any number of Instant Messenger providers
  • Training is done online and collaboratively.  One of my coworkers used video conferencing and GoToMeeting to train others that were located on a different continent.  The feedback was extremely positive because the webinars was much more interesting when you can see everyone else.

Things have definitely improved for virtual workers.  The technology has matured and become more integrated, which is making our lives easier.  Are any of you virtual workers? What enhancements/technologies have you found to be helpful?

If you are interested in more information regarding virtual workers, take a look at the materials on this site.

Daniel – Lead Architect – Worldwide Consulting Solutions
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