The move to distributed teams is clear and overdue, whether its due to telecommuting, geographically dispersed offices, or just staying in touch on the road. So, perhaps it would be useful for this entry if we focus on tools and techniques needed to really make distributed teams productive. First things first, to make this work you first have to have the right supporting processes and supportive management. The purpose of this blog though is to focus on the technology needed to make this work. 

SKYPE Skype is the best thing since sliced bread – in fact, it slices, it dices, it chops, it hops, it smashes watermelons. The key benefit (and limitation) to Skype is its peer to peer communications architecture. This means, that unlike other services, the quality of the video, conference, etc, doesnt degrade because a server somewhere is busy. Ive used Skype to call all over the world and across town, it just works. Heres the skinny: Calls: Calls directly to other skype users over the PC are free, anywhere in the world. Calls to phone numbers are referred to as “SkypeOut”. These cost a few cents a minute internationally, and are free in the US through the end of the year (2006). I bought my first Skype account in Tokyo 2 years ago for 10 euros and still havent depleted it. Youll want a comfortable headset to use while talking – Logitech Orbit is tops. Lets you pan, has automatic face tracking, great low light sensitivity, and it looks cool. For portability, the Logitech Notebook Pro is hard to beat. It has the important built in mic, clips to your notebook LCD, great resolution and low light sensitivity, and a nice travel case is included. Note that video seems to be Windows only right now.

Video conferencing: With Skype, forget it. Skype only supports video in a point-to-point call presently. Youll need to use something more capable (more expensive) like webex.  Conference calling: Skype supports conference calls of up to 5 people. So, it is fairly low end, but many times 5 is enough. There is a new Skype Polycom speakerphone for Skype that plugs into your USB port. Ive ordered on and cant wait for it to get here. Polycom has an impeccable reputation for speakerphones, so I have high expectations. And, like everything else about Skype, it is cool.  Chat: Skype has built in IM. You can IM while being on a call.  Desktop sharing: Some very bright Japanese fellow has built a plugin for Skype that uses the video capabilities of Skype to let other users see your desktop. This is immensely useful in meetings where you need to review a document, build a plan, share a presentation, etc. The resolution is great – much better than what Ive seen with other approaches, probably because it is peer-to-peer. Once you install Skype, you can click here to get the plugin. (Windows only).  Note: since video is only point-to-point, so is desktop sharing. That is, you cant at this time have a conference call and share your desktop. There are other approaches like Unyte, but I havent yet heard positive things about them. However, the technology is maturing fast and it will no doubt improve.  Skypecasts: this is more of a broadcast service for Skype users. Since anyone can join in and hear, youd need to use this feature of Skype as appropriate.
Hope this is of help!