Building team work online

Recently at a BCcampus all staff meeting in Sidney, B.C. I was called upon to say a few words about our outgoing co-op students, Diana Chan and Hilda Anggraeni. I stood up and blurted out “They have changed our lives” then went on to try to explain, which was impossible in a short couple of minutes.

teammeetingHilda came to work for BCcampus in fall, 2010 and Diana followed the next semester. Then we latched on to them and wouldn’t let them go. 馃檪

These co-op students brought so much to the workplace — talent, enthusiasm, humour, energy, and everything else you can think of when imagining a perfect employee.

But employee is altogether the wrong word; it just wasn’t that kind of relationship. As a team we absolutely gelled. We all shared this desire to try out new things, and take risks. We also seemed to be able to thrive in the middle of chaos and uncertainty. But most important, we each had something unique to bring to the table, and we all listened to, and appreciated, all contributions.

It sounds pretty straightforward, but this kind of collaboration is really quite rare. What is even more impressive is that I can probably count the number of times we met face-to-face on one hand. I work from my home office. Leva Lee, Client Services Manager, works from a school district office in New Westminster. Diana and Hilda worked from the Vancouver BCcampus office some days, and other days from their homes or Simon Fraser University. Yet we felt very connected. And we had so much FUN!

Diana has already written a blog post where she shares her experiences working at BCcampus, and also showcases some of her work. Hilda is working on one as well. One thing I’m sure they’ll neglect to say as they modestly display the many artefacts they produced — logos, websites, prototypes, videos, blog posts, help documentation, guides, and on an on — is the break neck speed in which they worked. They were able to make sense of complex issues and needs, sometimes requiring a lot of digging into the history of communities or earlier conversations and decisions. Then they would come back with brilliant, clear proposals, or the perfect logo, or website design solution, or whatever. WOW. All I could say, everyday, was WOW.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on why our experiences with working with co-op students was so successful. Obviously what Hilda and Diana each brought to the workplace was outstanding, but there was also something about the team dynamics, and our use of technology to support our work.

From the beginning we agreed that email should be used only when necessary. It’s too easy to default to email, and then regret it when you lose track of the history of conversations and decisions. For several months we combined Beluga group messaging (since acquired by Facebook then shut down) with Skype voice meetings. In addition we used [the BCcampus]聽Confluence wiki where Hilda and Diana each had their own “job jar” space to keep track of projects and progress, as well as store sample work and files. We also used Dropbox for many of our shared files, and Google Docs for some work-in-progress. We experimented a lot, and the conversations around what worked and why was part of the fun.

Eventually we settled on Skype as our main venue for communication, and set up a “perpetual chat”. The result is that in a single space we have a record of all of our conversations for the past 15 months. If you go back to the beginning of our history, it takes a long time to load! And every Friday we scheduled a check-in (also Skype, and combined with our perpetual chat) for an hour or so for project updates and to brainstorm / problem-solve. If, at any time, the text conversation was getting hard to follow or we need to quickly reach a consensus, we’d just switch to audio.

When it came time to hire a co-op student for the summer semester, it only made sense for Hilda and Diana to be involved in the interviews. In fact, they took charge of the entire process — resume reviews, short list, interviews, welcoming committee, and training. Enter Heather Kincaid, the new, energetic member of our team. It has been such a smooth transition.

Last week I smiled when Diana popped into the perpetual Skype chat to offer some WordPress expertise. It made me realize that the team was still connected after all.

Photo: Skype Team Meeting L to R – Leva, Diana, Hilda, Heather

Republished from Sylvia’s web site, under Creative Commons license

Posted by Sylvia Currie