In Rolling Your Own Online Office, R/WW suggests several tools for telecommuting, including e-mail, forums, wikis, chat, document sharing, flowcharting and files. As a permanent telecommuter, I’m always looking for better productivity tools and I need some choice, as my clients have different needs and IT requirements.
I have several e-mail addresses and use one of my g-mail accounts as a spam filter, which transfers to my main account. I also have my domain name account, which can move with me, even if I change ISP’s. This is handy if you decide to change ISP’s and have to abandon something like the included @sympatico.ca account. Of course, I don’t want to keep all of my stuff on g-mail, so I forward my mail to the e-mail client on my computer. Currently, I use Thunderbird, which is simple & easy but I’ve been poking around with Evolution, which includes a calendar function and will probably use it when I transfer my main computer to Linux.
So far, most of my document sharing is with Google Documents, as this seems the easiest to get my clients to accept. I’m also looking at Coventi and have downloaded Zoho Office, but haven’t found any partners or clients to play with yet. Google Calendar works well with virtual teams, too. Also, I haven’t been doing much flowcharting lately, but have done a few designs on Gliffy, which is basic but is getting better.
With Gmail, I don’t have much need for sending large files. There are several file-sharing programs available, and I get offers from many of them on a regular basis. I’ve used Izimi for some files and find it works well. It’s only limitation is that your computer has to be connected for someone else to get the file, as Izimi doesn’t store your files online. This can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your needs. I’ve also used Filezilla for basic FTP as well as the YouSendIt service.
Of course, my blog and website is still the best virtual work tool. It lets me stay in touch with a large group of people – on their terms, not mine. My blog also includes a short version of my CV, listings of clients and everything else I want to share. This information decreases any friction with potential clients, as they can poke around without having to talk to me or send me an e-mail which is one less step needed in getting to know me.
Even in the short span of four years that I’ve been working in my virtual office, the tools have become simpler, cheaper and more plentiful. This is a good thing for anyone considering the path of the self-employed or freelancing.