This blog, you will notice, is made up of many people from different places contributing their original works- that is nothing new – now. But some 2 or 3 years ago when we first really started to venture into the virtual workspace we had little idea what any of us were doing. Things have come a long way in a short time and many of us are becoming more comfortable with the idea of collaborating and even creating online in groups. Here are some of my thoughts about leading and motivating these awesome virtual entities into healthy and organic places to create and work!
While volunteering at the Millennium Network I was able to experience the new way of working – virtually. Once I was in the thick of a project working with a team virtually, I began to understand that I needed new tools and resources to adequately make this virtual workspace successful!
Failures (aka Learning Opportunities)
The first thing I noticed was that all of my years of leadership and management training – were failing me. The techniques relied heavily on face to face communications, including visual cues and vocal tone – there is so much that can be said just by the intonation of your voice. Secondly, once you’ve electronically met all of your team, managing the varied individual schedules and meeting times was a difficult task; multiple timezones, multiple job types and task schedules -it was a real learning curve. Also the temptation to work or create at all hours of the day because you know someone somewhere is awake needs to be addressed: these tools are supposed to actually free up more personal time – that was how they were originally sold to us! Just because you and your team can work 24hrs a day doesn’t mean you should be. Stress, fatigue and members dropping out of the project can be the result! Finally, interpersonal relationships and team dynamics required individual attention, ie: we would have to allocate time with each individual member on a regular basis for one-on-one meetings to ensure tasks were being completed. Also – I wanted to actually get to know who they were – they weren’t autobots on the other side of the screen (could you imagine? Bumble Bee on my team?!). The level of accountability definitely changes working virtually – especially when you are volunteering your time (as everyone in this example had been).
Successes! (aka here are some thoughts and tools that might help you keep your sanity):
Virtual leadership for me meant that I had to be incredibly organized. My beautiful articulate ornate and precise language was counter-productive via email, or Google Docs or even conference calls. This is where my media writing background finally came in handy. I had to be concise. I had to be direct. I needed to clearly understand the scope of the project and how each individual member (members of committees) fits in the final picture. I was honest about time-lines and ensured that the team recognized how important those time-lines were to the greater project. I had to motivate them to contribute in ways that were an efficient use of our time:
Google Docs – great, free, interactivity allows for each member of the team to easily view, contribute and share information in documents, spreadsheets and presentations; not every member has to have gmail to access the documents created by the team lead [though it sure helps!] and you can export documents as needed.
Personal Brain – I LOVE this software for brainstorming, strategy building and mind mapping. It’s free [although I’ve been using it for years and recently upgraded to the pro version]. It allows for a visual respresentation of your thoughts and allows for tangents like documents, webpages, contact information or notes to be added to each thought – so the links between the thoughts are realistic and I just love the way it works! You can print and export parts of your ‘brain’ however you should note that you will only have full functionality for a short while with the free version. You will be able to retain, change and save all of your future mind mapping – you just won’t be able to export it after the demo time expires.
Basecamp is a pay service which is really professional choice -I have yet to use this platform specifically but it’s the choice of many small businesses and large enterprises alike.
Applications: My ‘smartphone’ is particuarly inept and hates to function properly so unfortunately I don’t have any insight into mobile apps currently [except for ones that don’t work well – which may be a representation of my phone not the application- I have a 2yr old phone running windows mobile – says it all doesn’t it] but if you have any suggestions please share I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have some insight on these.
Meetings and Time Zones and Schedules Oh My! Pavinder Tut (from the Millennium Network) introduced me to Doodle which I love. I think it’s a great tool and it puts the accountability not only in the hands of the team leader but of each individual as well. Lord knows I’ve probably spent hours of my life in the past attempting to hunt people down, wait for their responses, reorganize if there’s an issue – Doodle helped make the virtual meeting scheduling much more efficient! (it’s great for regular meetings too!) Mac Entourage – I also really enjoyed this application as it allowed for so many of my email accounts and project specific information to be pulled from separate external places; it did a lot of the heavy sorting for me after I had set preferences. Heap CRM was also handy – I used it mainly for storing contact info on the go – but it’s a great simple interface and easy to use.
Individuals Make the Team: I couldn’t understand personality through the virtual world. . When you’re meeting anyone for the first few times in person it can be awkward – let alone when they’re not even a real person but rather 1’s and 0’s in your inbox. I would have individual phone calls with the team members just to see what was going on in their world – work related or otherwise. I needed them to understand that I was actually genuinely interested in their skills and experience. The internet is a hard place to come across as genuine!
Skype is the obvious cheap and cheerful choice: free calls over the internet from Skype to Skype accounts; cheap international calling rates, great audio quality; fairly good video quality; chat on the side – we all know how great it is! Mac and PC friendly.
Also Pamela (PC only platform – sadness) is my new friend. Pamela is a software that allows for Skype video and audio to be recorded! Who knew! As someone who works in media, being able to record interviews or team ideas is a great boon! (Although please do let the other callers know that you are recording the conversations – not disclosing that information makes you creepy not clever)
Also if you are working as a member of the team – give the team lead a head’s up if something’s not working for you! If you don’t feel comfy in how you communicate, create or complete projects – then the entire idea of the autonomy behind the virtual working team is lost. None of the examples above are super original discoveries but I just found that when I was trying to figure out how exactly to function in this new working environment there was little in the way of direct links to tools or resources that worked. If you have others, let’s add them to the list!