I think the answers are good, but we need to add CodeGnome's Law. Don't mistake technology for decision or committment.
I currently work in a split office - there is no way to tell if person x is in office A, or B, or working from home, or on a train. We have some technology (lync) for presence & chat, and we make heavy use of webex and cisco Jabber. But that is technology. You can fail with technology - it's easy.
The critical factor for success is a decision to work in a distributed office. Our CIO made a strong verbal committment that "Work is what you do, not where you are." If you don't have that culture all the technology in the world won't help you. If you collectively commit to that, you'll succeed despite the technology.
- Make decisions in official venues. Don't make a decision in the hallway and then assume that the folks in the other offices know about it. There is nothing that will destroy a distributed office faster and more thoroughly than the feeling that you are shut out of decisions that affect your future. If your in the hallway and making a decision, move back to someone's office and set up a conference call. The critical thing is to recognize a decision, analyze the scope of the decision and involve the right people. I suspect that if you can form this habit you'll find that a variety of workplace issues improve as well. Diversity benefits from transparency. Governance benefits from committing to a decision making process.
Distribute information intelligently. If you send every document to everyone in every email, you'll fail. If you only handle paper and only get wet ink signatures, you'll fail a different way. Make sure that the people who need to be consulted are consulted. Once again, that is a work process committment that will improve your office whether it is distributed or colocated.
Hold meetings. There are a wide variety of technologies to hold meetings (both colocated and distributed). Distributed meetings are slightly more challenging, but the marginal challenge of a distributed meeting is insignificant when compared to the difference between a good meeting and a bad meeting. If you hold rambling meetings with no agenda and no outcome and no preparation and no action items, that meeting is a failure whether you are colocated or distributed. It is a failure whether you recognize it or not. If you set an agenda, distribute the pre-reads, advertise the decisions, and collect the action items, and keep the meeting on target, the meeting will probably succeed no matter whether it is local or remote.
Collaborate. Bounce ideas off one another. Technology is a key enabler here, but you need to be able to spitball ideas and explore options. That can be a conference call, a telepresence session (cisco jabber, skype, lync, text chat, whatever). Don't let distance excuse the failure to collaborate.
Accept that some level of travel is necessary. I hate bonebagging, I dislike anything that requires my meatsack. I am my mind and my skill and those are not geograrphically bounded. But I drove an hour today to meet with my customers even though half of them are out of the office and we have no formal action items. My presence here is evidence that I value them and I'm willing to go the extra mile (or sixty) to be available to them.
I could add more bullets and run on, but the tl;dr is
- Decide that you want to succeed in a distributed work environment. Decide what "successful" looks like. Design a culture that will enable you to succeed. Culture, practices, expectations, respect, etc.
- Select technologies that enable success in the distributed environment. Mitigate issues.
Just got a lync message to head up the hall, so I'll stop there.