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Virtual Offices Glossary

Virtual Offices Glossary

alternative work arrangement. Any flex-work arrangement where a worker works part-time or compressed schedules (flex-time) or at a remote site not owned by the company or a site of the worker's choosing (flex-place or flex-space or personal harbor) or job-sharing. 

boundaries (our own term). A logical abstraction of a division or distance metric that separates two things. Often some technology or technologies can be used to bridge the gap. For instance, 

  • physical distance may separate communicating participants. Cars, airplanes, telephones and videoconferencing reduce physical distance. For knowledge workers, it may no longer be necessary to live in cities near co-workers and it may be possible to reduce time and costs spent in transit, relocating, commuting and business traveling. 
  • a temporal distance in communication may be reduced, e.g., by email. Versions may separate different views of an entity through time. 
  • an organization chart may partition the control and information flow of knowledge in an enterprise. 
  • differing media, formats and information models may require mediation technology to allow use or conversion of remotely prepared information sources. 
  • security perimeters like firewalls partition information. 
  • legal boundaries like intellectual property rights and international law similarly partition information or function. It may be cheaper to create some forms of intellectual property in countries with high education and lower costs of living, affecting the global economy. 

There are many more kinds of boundaries. In general, boundaries serve a purpose, to partition a space, but they also create the need to dynamically cross boundaries as seamlessly as possible to reduce costs of boundary transitions

business relationship. There are many kinds of business relationships between business entities. An individual or a legal entity like a corporation can participate in many of these in varying roles. Most of these roles imply something about a shared though not necessarily legal contract between the parties. Examples are: customer, supplier, director, owner, partner, officer, employee, stock holder, consultant, program manager, office manager, principal investigator, student, exempt, non-exempt, consortium member, subcontractor, contract, grant, part-time, etc. There are IRS rules guidelines for distinguishing employees from contractors. The Internet provides a rich new way to identify, establish, and maintain business relationships. 

business processes. The patterns, rules, and recipes that govern how a corporation, workgroup, or other enterprise operates, including but not limited to 

  • internal communications (organization charts, roles and responsibilities, policies and procedures, reporting, time accounting, human relations, technical work), 
  • customer communications (information gathering and market analysis, image creation, closing orders for goods and services), 
  • supplier communications (purchasing, accounts receivable and payable, legal, accounting, forecasts), 

Only some business processes are affected by employees being distributed geographically. Many do not change at all. Many benefit from automation, whether workers are centralized or distributed. 

collaboration. Working together to achieve some result. Goals of the DoD DARPA Intelligent Collaboration and Visualization (IC&V) research program include developing infrastructure for rapid assembly of high performance teams and teams of teams to solve problems that arise quickly in large-scale military command and control settings and even more often in "operations other than war," e.g., disaster relief. Often, collaboration is across organization boundaries, involves intelligence gathering, secure communications, sharing diversely encoded information models on a need-to-know basis, continuous planning and scheduling, and coordinated action to fulfill a hierarchy of mission objectives while satisfying a variety of constraints or business rules. 

composition of an organization. A virtual organization or virtual team has a mission, resources, and members. Onto this basic structure is imposed a collection of business relationships, business processes, and boundaries that together are composed to form a description of the detailed instance of a working organization at some point in time. In any organization, evolution occurs and the organization over time can be reconfigured. Static organizations undergo change infrequently; the alternative is to provide for dynamic reconfiguration. Operations that change an organization are called "moves". Some moves are welcome and expected, e.g., giving out raises; others may not be, e.g., drug testing. Moves must maintain company invariant constraints, often called business rules, e.g., don't overspend your department budget. Virtual teams are in some ways simpler than virtual offices in that they are an abstraction that may ignore some of the possible rich set of choices in an organization, e.g., preserving intellectual property boundaries, which they may do because they are wholly within some context where that is a non-issue. That is, they project out (ignore) some of the possible abstractions that an organization might be composed of and invariants that it might try to maintain. 

corporate memory. The cumulative experience and intellectual property of an organization. Corporate memory loss is the decay of that knowledge over time as employees fail to record or maintain known information, the information grows stale and loses currency, or employees leave taking expertise with them. Not all such memory loss is bad; the term semantic garbage collection refers to purposely removing old records and corporations usually have policies for record retention for some kinds of records. A related command and control notion is situation assessment, where a model of a problem is created and maintained, often shared by many people with different kinds of expertise, and used for recording the current state of a situation, alternative courses of action, changes, and continuous planning. 

encapsulation. Encapsulation is the logical hiding of these details that only affect the functioning of the organization and not its results, products, or services. The customer may not need to know or care if a supplier is organized as a virtual office as long as high quality products and services result for competitive cost. 

gratuitous communication. Hallway conversations and socialization, coffee and lunch breaks, all these interactions lead to a feeling of community and may lead to the exchange of good ideas. This form of communication is often missing from the virtual office, except via email levity. 

home office. An office located in a worker's home. May qualify for an IRS tax exemption. 

home workers. A broad swath of people from mothers who work part time to professionals locating full-time offices in their home. 

infrastructure. Technology needed to support the information processing and communications needs of an organization. Until recently, many organizations purchased low level infrastructure (hardware) but created custom software systems in-house. In recent years, more modular software with standard interfaces is providing higher levels of interoperability, making it increasingly possible to interoperate with customers and suppliers in environments other than an employer's proprietary legacy environment. 

Intranet. Refers to a company's private Internet or more loosely to the computing infrastructure within an organization. For many centralized organizations, this usually consists of high speed communication lines, local area nets, workstations, PCs, or dumb terminals, all supporting TCP/IP and encapsulated in a physical security firewall, which allows only some communication protocols like email and also allowing modem-based dial-in password-based connections from employee's homes. Intranets based on Internet technology are much cheaper to maintain than proprietary corporate networks. Firewall-based solutions make it very difficult to permit finer-gained or logical information access in a controlled way, which would permit some customers to "see inside" the organization but with limited access, for instance. Virtual Private Networks and certificate-based security use encryption on top of standard Internet and can be used to accomplish this. The Intranet: A Corporate Revolution is a comprehensive list of the advantages of intranets and links to other Intranet sources. 

location-independence. In this context, location-independence is the property permitting a worker to move about freely from place to place while carrying or having immediate access to his/her personal environment, including work environment. 

middleware. Monolithic "stovepipe" systems that do not interoperate or share information well are increasingly being replaced by more modular, standards-based technology. Middleware refers to a layer of communication-bus software that provides standard communication data models, interchange formats, services, and facilities that together constitute a standard framework for rapid assembly of distributed applications (see Object Management Group). Today, much middleware is domain generic but increasingly standard middleware exists for interchanging domain-specific technical and business data electronically (e.g., Electronic Data Interchange, PDES/STEP, OMG business object facilities, standard interfaces to reduce accounts receivable cycle to improve cash flow in supply chains). 

mobile workers. Workers who travel and work at the same time. Includes field workers (e.g., insurance assessors), business travelers with laptops, and anyone who moves to where the work is (e.g., home repairmen, soldiers in the field). This may imply a need to carry tools and information to the work site and possibly communicate sometimes in an untethered mode but often in a permanent remote site (e.g., via ISDN), either continuously (e.g., using wireless connections for email, for instance, from RadioMail or Datalink International) or discretely (e.g., via dial-in lines or periodic sneakernet), possibly away from conventional infrastructure (e.g., in a jungle) or connected to normal or abnormal infrastructure (e.g., via foreign plug adapters and telephones) or connected only by long-distance to an Internet provider (e.g., using satellite links like Hughes DirecPC Turbo Internet Service (see www.direcpc.com - using a DirecPC Satellite Dish, one gets 400 Kbps on download) unless you are an information provider when uplink bandwidth is too low), and often in band-width constrained circumstances where quality of service varies widely (<1Kbs, 2.8Kbps, 28.8Kbps, 128Kbps, higher). Infrastructure required includes wireless modems (spread spectrum (2 Mbps) or infrared modems (3 Mbps)), routers to modem banks, phone jacks, adapter plugs, telephone, ISDN, or high speed lines, phone, fax, videoconferencing, white boarding, and palmtops or laptops. 

mobile office. Tools, technologies, and workspace that a mobile worker needs to get his/her job done. 

MUD. In on-line game-playing, Multi-User Dungeons provide complex reconfigurable environments, roles, and habitats. 

nomadicity. As defined by the Cross Industry Working Group (XIAT), nomadicity is the "the ability of people to move easily from place to place, retaining access to a rich set of services while they're moving, at intermediate stops, and at their destination. A person is a nomad vis-?-vis the NII if she moves as little as from one desk to an adjoining one or as far away as across the continent." 

personal environment. As defined by the Cross Industry Working Group (XIAT): "The many parts of our lives -- our family life, business life, personal social life, business social life, etc. - each frequently involves a different physical location. People move between these places as they move between the different phpects of their lives. Doing the appropriate thing in the appropriate place is key to the way many people organize their lives." 

remote employmentremote work, telework. Any working arrangement where the employee performs some significant portion of his/her work from some work site other than the employer's central office-typically from the employee's home, thereby substituting information technologies for commute time. Remote workers include a wide variety of knowledge workers, e.g., accountants, architects, attorneys, bookkeepers, claims adjusters, computer programmers, engineers, estimators, graphics artists, journalists, technical researchers, technical writers, telemarketers, transcriptionists, and many more. Depending on the conditions of work, the business relationship between the company and worker may be employer-employee or employer-contractor. Contractors generally provide their own equipment, communication lines, have different performance evaluations, and set their own hours. 

society of experts model. A step beyond a virtual office where individuals provide expertise to many organizations and the line is blurred between employee and contractor. Certainly, this model requires distributed work. Agreements on compensation, statement of work, ownership of intellectual property all must be made explicit in this model. 

tele-. At a distance. Examples: Television, telecommunications, and more recently telemedicine, telelibraries, … 

telecommuting. Communicating, collaborating, and working while geographically separated from the central office via electronic devices such as faxes, videoconferencing, or modems. The term was coined over twenty years ago. Telecommuting is more relevant to periodic remote employment, where the employee spends time in an central office and occasionally "telecommutes" there, than Virtual Office. See Gil Gordon Associates, a center for telecommuting information. 

telepresence. Just like being there. Several technologies enable varying degrees of telepresence, from mail to phones, video conferencing, and virtual reality. Smellivision is still a research area as are Star Trek holodecks. 

telework centers. When employees work remotely from a central site but not at their home, instead at a satellite center. The center may be owned by one employer or space rented to permanent, migrant, or occasional workers (called hoteling). Executive office suites are a variant where businesses share secretaries, meeting rooms, etc. Incubators are variants of these where new business are provided additional services including business advice when getting off the ground. Airlines provide a variant for nomadic workers via a membership fee at airports (e.g., Admiral's Club). 

videoconferencing. When individuals or groups meet together at the same time but at different sites and can see and hear each other. Two way, broadcast (as in M-Bone), and multi-way conferences are supported but for differeing technologies or costs. Videoconferening is related to audioconferencing which only involves groups of people hearing each other and which is far more pervasive today. See section of Internet Tool Survey on video-conferencing.

virtual. A logical abstract surrogate or simulated function. Opposite of real or physical. Examples include virtual memory, virtual reality, virtual environment for training, virtual classroom, virtual laboratory, virtual space, virtual clipping service, virtual meeting room, virtual pet office building, virtual tour of Ireland. In the case of a virtual organization, it almost always involves physical distance between employees or operating teams, but sometimes it involves security boundaries (e.g., firewalls) or legal boundaries (e.g., ownership of intellectual property co-produced by member organizations in a virtual enterprise). Some virtual organizations are aggregate composites of a number of real organizations. 

virtual office, virtual company, virtual corporation. (1) A permanent corporation or partnership containing a significant number of remote workers. The Virtual Office fulfills all of the roles of the traditional, centralized office (e.g., it has corporate officers, owns intellectual property, has employees, pays taxes) although the employees work at home offices and collaborate for the most part electronically with occasional to no physical contact with other employees. See Advocates for Remote Employment and the Virtual Office (AREVO).Virtual offices are typically corporations (legal, logical entities) and corporations typically are not defined with respect to geographic locality of employees. Virtual offices are a matter of degree since even in conventional offices, many business relationships are necessarily maintained across distributed environments, for instance, customers and suppliers are located at different sites, project co-workers are often located in different divisions, and the CEO's speech may be via videotape. In both traditional and virtual office's the organization mission remains the same, but some business procedures change in the latter to accommodate collaboration at a distance. (2) A dynamic, interactive VRML model of an office where drawers of filing cabinets pull out, the calendar or clock can be viewed, and the phone rings. An example

virtual enterprise. An assembly of best-of-class geographically distributed individuals and/or organizations assembled an "enterprise" for the purpose of solving a specific problem or creating a product. The Virtual Enterprise may disassemble after completing its mission (but often does not). See NIIIP definition of Virtual Enterprise. Anti-trust rules apply to limit unfair competition and some virtual enterprises limit technology they produce to pre-competitive technology or reference implementations leading to standards, available to all member organizations. Generally, technology needed by a virtual enterprise is similar to that needed by a large central enterprise except in some respects: 

  • virtual enterprises are often virtual offices (distributed environments) 
  • they face the added requirement of controlling the sharing of intellectual property across organizational boundaries 
  • they may be ephemeral 

virtual organization. Includes both virtual offices and virtual enterprises. This term could also be applied to standard bodies, consortia, research projects like those at MCC, contractual teaming arrangements (but usually is not). 

virtual team. By extension from the term virtual office, a virtual team is one that is constructed for some mission where members are geographically distributed. Both virtual office and virtual team are similar in that they both involve distributed membership, will need similar infrastructure, and will involve planning and executing a mission in a resource-constrained environment. Where a virtual office is relatively permanent with a long-term mission, relatively stable membership, relatively stable resources, and a shared context (corporate culture) that may take months or years to put in place, a virtual team may add of lose members fairly dynamically, the shared context must be transmitted as quickly as possible, and the situation is subject to rapid change. This might at first seem like it requires breaking down communication barriers (boundaries) and putting in place a collaborative environment quickly, but it more likely means having a fairly well understood environment that is modular in structure, rapidly configurable to meet widely differing needs, and evolvable as situations and priorities change and available technologies become available.