Go Green With The Virtual Office

Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 2070 , Published on 01 September 2012

Traditional vs. Virtual Office

Ever tried to think about how to make your office building or office space more environmentally responsible? This is a very common trend and/or mission in today’s traditional work spaces: changing to more eco-friendly lighting, beefing up recycling practices, avoiding paper copies of documents, etc. While all of these are effective and important steps in the effort to green-up today’s offices, there is still one solution that offers a completely new dimension of greening to today’s workplaces – getting rid of them altogether.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Following are some aspects as to how a traditional office affects the environment.

  • Traditional bricks and mortar offices use electricity all day – to run lights, computers, printers and copiers, facsimiles, security cameras and alarms, fridges, microwave ovens and coffee machines, hot water systems and any number of other appliances. Even outside business hours, many offices have night lighting and armed security systems that constantly use power.
  • Traveling to and from a traditional office building on a daily basis causes a further impact on the environment. If you drive you are contributing to air pollution and using up just a little bit more of the oil supply. If you have several employees, the environmental footprint of your business can be even larger.
  • Widespread use of virtual office environments reduces highway congestion and save money for both the employer and the employee. Many companies are now eliminating the need for physical office and thus the cost of leasing, lighting and maintaining that space.
  • Then there are the small things we don’t think much about – for example, if you or your employees purchase food in take-out containers at lunch time, or pick up a few cups of coffee in paper cups during the day, you are adding to that massive global rubbish pile of take-out food containers.
  • At the other end of the scale the demand for bricks and mortar office space for an ever-increasing number of businesses contributes to the expansion of our concrete jungles and the consumption and manufacture of the materials used to build them.
  • Companies like to be responsible and maintain their ‘triple bottom line’ performance. By adopting Virtual Offices, companies can not only cut the costs enormously but be responsible simultaneously.

For the vast majority of knowledge workers in the world each work day begins by `going to office'. The office is where one's `desk' is, where team meetings take place, where one meets colleagues, supervisors, and team members; and also where one catches up on organizational gossip. At the same time, spatially and often globally distributed teams are commonplace these days with variable degrees of distribution. For example, teams may be distributed over floors, buildings, cities or countries. It is becoming increasingly common for knowledge workers to conduct a majority of their interactions during the course of a work day electronically, using email, chat, phone or even video, without ever meeting face-to-face. In fact, a growing number of employees today work from home; some organizations have even gone to the extent of dispensing with the physical offices for thousands of such remote workers.

So, why do we still `go to office'? Are we losing something by working remotely? If so, how can innovative collaboration technology restore this missing 'something' for remote workers and distributed teams, and perhaps even go beyond it?

Virtual Office – What it is not?

  • Another IM tool
    • IM tool is not based on a spatial metaphor. Groups of people are created by users themselves i.e. is user driven which is not realistic.
    • One needs to know everyone on his/her contact list/groups which may not be true in case of an professional setup like an office.
    • There is no awareness of ongoing conversations between others whereas in real life one will hear all that is being said in his/her ‘aura’.
    • Cumbersome to use, e.g. one has to initiate/join conversations whereas in an office you would just go up to someone and start talking.
  • Another Virtual World
    • General purpose – too many updates, bandwidth heavy.
    • Aura-based communication and presence – aura sizes too large, don’t always know whose listening.
    • Interface issues – navigation by small increments, manually change window focus to switch from chat to navigation or vice-versa.
    • General animations and actions – may be inconsistent with domain, accidentally start dancing or flying in office.

Virtual Office – What it is?

  • Enables informal interactions with employees or coworkers in a remote office.
  • Be virtually at your desk when working from home/out of office/travelling.
  • Manage a remote team by virtually walking around .(MBVWA)
  • Visit a collaborator’s office.
    • Housing a distributed team.
    • Outsourced knowledge work executed in offshoreoffice.
  • Interact with remote co-workers when physically inoffice.


  • Replicates a real-world office-The virtual office mirrors the real office both in architectural and internal layout. Each employee gets the same virtual seat as his real world seat thus maintaining the realism of the Virtual Office. To develop this model we start from the floor plan of the office and create the 3D model.

Floor Plan of the office

  • Logical Location Grid - The office space is divided into set of logical locations which can be mapped on the X-Y plane. Range of cells is marked for different places in the office viz. rooms, conference room, seats, corridor space. The user navigates from one logical cell into another as he would do in a real world.

3D Model of the Office

  • Aura – Aura is a bounding space around him which matches the real world aural range. A user can see status of other users; can text-chat with them who are present in his aura. The aura changes as user moves virtually and gets the new aura information.

3D view of the Office

  • Navigation - Navigation in Virtual Office is incremental i.e. a user can move one cell at a time. User can use arrow keys to navigate in his aura. However if he needs to ‘visit’ someone outside his aura he can either find the path himself or can use the navigation command and the system will find the path itself. In any case the navigation is not by teleporting because that doesn’thappen in a real office.

Navigation by ‘walking’

  • Chat - The most important feature of the Virtual Office is the facility to chat with the colleagues. VO provides an aura based chat wherein you can chat with the users present in your aura. However to enhance the functionality, shout mode and whisper mode are also provided. In shout mode your chat goes to the whole office as in if you are announcing bagging a new deal to the whole office whereas the whisper mode comes in handy when you have to gossip.

  • Screen Sharing - Screen sharing facility is incorporated to deal with collaboration over documents, reposts and codes and remote management. Any open source solution like VideoLAN (VLC) can be used for this purpose.

Meetings in Virtual Office Conference Rooms

There’s a common saying that a good boss is known by the number of meetings he attends. A typical meeting in an office includes everyone going to the meeting room, choosing a seat to sit, presentations, interactive sessions between the audience and the presenter and maybe an Audio/Video in some cases. A Virtual Office solution will be incomplete without this feature. The salient features of Virtual Meetings are as under:

  • A document is shared among all the audience which will be used for the presentation. All the users have to navigate to the conference room either by ‘walking’ or using the command based navigation whatever suits them.
  • Speaker
    • Initiates the presentation for all by using the appropriate command.
    • The webcam video and 3D audio is being streamed to all the audience.

Speaker View

  • Audience
    • Moves to the conference room and choose where to sit depending on the availability of the seat.
    • Can raise hand to ask a question or to seek a clarification from the presenter.
    • The presentation document can be independently navigated or can be synced with the presenter.

Audience View

Virtual Office offers almost all the functionalities as would a real world office. For the above mentioned merits more and more companies are adopting this solution. It clubs the Green IT and ‘something’ which someone misses when working from home/travelling. Virtual Office is a complete package and has a bright future.

This article has been authored by Varun Verma from NMIMS.


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