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The Increase in Remote Workers
Since the start of the Internet revolution, more and more people have been working remotely. Often called "telecommuters," these people have the ability and flexibility to work from home or from their own domicile, even when their employer's headquarters are thousands of miles away. Companies who searched in different areas for talent can now reach into the workforce pools that were not available to them decades ago. It is usually a question of whether the individual they were interested in would be willing to move closer to the main office. Now, with telecommuting capabilities, both employers and employees do not find distance to be an obstacle.
This does not necessarily mean that there are no challenges with telecommuting. There are quite a few, especially for employees who are part of a bigger team. For employers or management, the challenge is keeping the employees in sync with each other. This is all the more evident if team members live in different time zones all over the world. For a project management team, wherein deadlines are always a priority, it is important that everyone is on the same page from inception of the project, through project planning and, finally, during implementation.
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Project Management Tools
Implementing the correct tools to use is integral in running a successful team of telecommuters. Microsoft Project is one of the tools a project manager of a company often uses, whether running it remotely or not. However, MS Project alone cannot fulfill the telecommuter's needs without the use of other tools with remote capabilities. Netmeeting and/or WebEx are great additional tools for remote workers. They can provide presentations, show progress and design, and even provide trainings using these two tools.
Microsoft Sharepoint is also another software that many companies with remote workers use for document sharing. It also provides a viewable calendar in order for each team member to enter their times and dates for when they will be out on vacation, training, or put deadlines of projects. Each progress status is viewable on the calendar. This tool also allows communications between each team member, by posting and commenting on published announcements and communications. There is also a section in Sharepoint for discussions.
Another project management software that proves to be a good tool for telecommuters is the OnStage portal. It provides an online portal for people to collaborate and share documents, all in one place. It can provide a more efficient and effective way for project management teams to track tasks and progress and share information with each other or clients. OnStage also provides its own email portal, whereby everyone can have their own email account. This provides a more secure way to communicate with each other compared to using ordinary Internet email. Sharing of multiple documents is also possible using the email system.
Email and file sharing are both important tasks for project managers that OnStage can provide. Aside from those two, it also provides SSL encryption to ensure that the documents are safe and secure from hackers. OnStage also provides a customized URL, so each company can have the benefit of its own organization's name in the online website address. It also recognizes the following languages for better communication between team members-- English, Dutch, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Swedish and more.
Users can use OnStage on their PDAs and hand-held devices, which streamlines the interface with these gadgets. Documents are viewable with iPaper from Scribd, which is advantageous when sending huge downloads or large files. One can use the OnStage free for as long as needed and depending on minimum requirements. Therefore, if you are a small company starting out, this tool can save you some money until you get your company established. To find out more, visit www.onstageportal.com.
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Other Must Haves
Remote users also need other tools that are available for telecommuters that are not specifically for project management teams only. Aside from email, telephone, and hand-held devices, it is also important to have instant messaging software. AOL, Yahoo, and MSN messengers are three of the most widely used chat tools. A company may also use Jabber, which provides additional encryption for IM purposes.
A WIKI-site created for knowledge sharing is also another important tool for remote workers. It is a place where people can share internal processes across the teams.
Citrix is another tool used by remote users. A company can use Citrix aside from VPN as a web interface for the project management tools such as MS Sharepoint to provide a more secured location for file sharing.
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Challenges Can Be Met
Even with some of the challenges that go with handling offsite teams, companies are willing to provide their employees the right tools to be successful. In the end, it will be a win-win situation. After all, excellent tools equate to better results.
For another take on outsourcing work, read Ronda Robert's article "Should You Outsource Your Project Management Needs?"