Friday, June 12, 2009

Essential Tools for your Virtual Office

Not every business can afford to invest in important utilities and resources, especially during the startup stage. But assuming you have enough dough to own a desktop in working condition and broadband, here are some free web tools to address the 5 most crucial needs of any business:

1. Video conferencing and telepresence: Tokbox is a web utility that enables onscreen Vcon using a web cam. Unlike the more popular Skype which mandates an installation on all terminals and permits Vcons only among registered users, Tokbox is purely online and only one person in the entire team need maintain a profile; all others may directly join the Vcon after they receive the session URL from this user. Dimdim is a similar service but the free version allows only 1 webcam. TinyChat allows upto 12 members in the free version. Chat, session recording, file-sharing, whiteboard and screen-sharing options are other features available between the three.

2. Document storage and sharing: Dropbox, Mozy, Wuala and Box.net are store-sync-share utilities and may be used like an online USB drive. Google Docs, and Zoho enable online creation, editing and sharing of docs, spreadsheets and other Office Suite components. Both have mobile versions so you can access your docs on the fly. Additionally, Evernote, Google Notebook for notes, Flickr, Picasa for pics and SlideShare, Authorstream for presentations are useful sharing options to explore.

3. Finance Management: Mint is a good tool to manage your business’s income and expenditure. You can link your bank account to your profile after signing up and get ready reports, charts and break-ups as the money keeps going in and out, practically eliminating the book-keeping task. Other features like alerts, easy categorizations and mobile access ensure you are always on top of things. Wesabe is an interesting alternative.

4. Project Management: ClockIT takes care of all your time tracking, milestone mapping and Gantt chart plotting requirements. You can assign tasks to co-workers and track progress conveniently. It also has a file storing facility that enables sharing of project related documents with the concerned team mates. Onyaka has a dead simple interface and is a convenient tool for staff scheduling.

5. Space Management: Floorplanner is a cool tool to ensure that you plan and utilize every inch in your office. Starting with a 2D layout, you can drag-n-drop furniture, flooring, windows, doors, plants, electronic items etc from the elaborate library and then render it in 3D at the click of a button. You can also share your workspace designs with non-registered users. Dragonfly is a similar tool with all the functionality of Floorplanner and has a sleeker output, with the translucent walls creating a really classy effect.

So until you can afford a swank office with ubercool telepresence gizmos and a team of expensive-looking finance blokes, the above utils should certainly help you run the show just fine.

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