Tag Archives: distributed workplace

Lessons Learned about a Distributed Workforce and Listening, via NTC

12 Apr

So, on return from my Nonprofit Technology Conference experience, I am realizing that I should no longer stress on what I say in presentations. Why such a cavalier and reckless approach?
Because most people remember 5 mins out of the 90 that you present. My favorite moments as a presenter are un-facilitated conversations between the presenter/experts and the audience/attendees. If I’m all bent out of shape about what I present, the attendees can sense my nervousness and it becomes awkward for everyone involved. Also, this is the age of conferences that are not limited by the confines of the geo-location of the event, and we are now able to double or triple our audience with free tools, and therefore extend the conversation beyond the 30-50 people sitting in the room. This can be useful and engaging, as long as we are ready to listen and respond in real-time (and be armed with tools to make next steps happen, if they are requested) to the remote participants who are listening across multiple channels.

I was in two sessions:
Janet Fouts and I led a session, Listen First! Finding Networks and Connections in Social Media, about how to not only use Social Media as a broadcast channel, but also how to listen and respond. Janet’s among the best I have found in the field of social media marketing and consulting. She is a social media consultant, and her specialty is Nonprofits. You should hire her.

I had an interesting hyper-real experience in that session, where I was able to “hear” a comment of disagreement about a certain message on a slide Janet presented, and since I was listening in real time on tweetdeck to the live-tweets about the session, I was able respond to the person in real-time, and ask that individual to back up the comments with details. The person happened to be in the room, but if they weren’t we still would have been able to field questions and clarify misconceptions, because we were listening.

We were able to turn a potentially negative impression broadcasted publicly by a tweet, into a conversation and clarification on the part of the presenters. This is the stuff that can only happen if you are armed with the tools to listen in real time. Much of what we discussed and the list of tools is available on Janet’s blog at http://janetfouts.com/listen/.

Here are the notes from my listening session, transcribed by Amy Sample Ward:
Listen First! Finding Networks & Connections in SocMed http://bit.ly/b4LDaF

My second Session, Cross-platform Events that Rock, was about multi-channel mixed reality events that occur across multiple platforms. I think this one was a bit over the heads of most of the people in the room, and in the future, I would probably break the session into two parts:

One part about why having an event on multiple platforms and listening and allowing people to participate across multiple platforms is important because you extend your potential audience exponentially, if your content is easily accessible via using one branded hashtag, consistently, that is easy to subscribe to and to share (and how to do this, with tools)

The other session would be about the technical how-to of streaming audio and video extending the conversation beyond the real world to the virtual world. This part was a bit out of context for the audience in the room, who were still trying to Grok the concept of mixed reality.

Much of the excitement of this kind of panel is readily visible in the real room, when it finally becomes understood and clear that the conversation is not only happening in the physical space, but also across multiple other platforms, like Twitter, Second Life, You Tube, Flickr, etc.

My largest observation and most poignant discovery from this conference did not come from the sessions though. I learned and finally proved, at NTC, that having a productive team no longer is limited to all parties living in the same physical location.

Lucy Bernholz’s article on Cloud Computing and Infostructure made me realize that much of what I have been doing to communicate with my remote volunteers and consultants would be impossible, even a few years ago, without a accessible web services to help fill in the real-time communications gap.

I don’t even think about what we do as cloud computing nor was I even sophisticated enough to name the way that we work and communicate as a thing/system that is listed in Wikipedia. For our team, it is just the daily norm of the way we get things done and as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Evonne Heyning, Layal Rabat, Jessica Dally and Randi Kopp all had dinner and drinks with Megan and I at NTC, and most of us have been working together and communicating for several years. Yet it was fairly insignificant that it was the second time that most of them had ever met Megan Keane and I.

We are not alone in this norm of working. Beth Kanter and Allison Fine wrote an entire book together, having only met face to face one time. In order to work, using tools from the Cloud, you need a certain type of personality. You need to be able to work collaboratively, to able to multitask, be willing to work across channels and most importantly, you need to be bale to course-correct and change direction if the tool you are using is not working. It must be ok to admit failure and be ready to fix the mistakes, be willing to broadcast the changes and be ready to respond to criticism of your mistakes. For example, If wikis are not getting the right kind of results, switch directions and use Google Docs instead.

Finally, from having the rare occasion to meet my colleagues Face to Face at this conference, I realized that there needs to be one project manager-type in the group who is very good at connecting all the multi-platform communications and organizing it, so there is one accepted and single place to connect all the components and communications of a distributed workforce. This is the connective tissue that is consistent in its branding. For example, with our group, we all know and share the hashtag #NPSL. Therefore, if we are all subscribed to tags on Flickr, YouTube, Tweets and Delicous bookmarks, we are all constantly being informed of what the group is contributing to our project. All that happened at NTC this year on twitter is accessible at the hashtag: #10NTC

Having attended many sessions and not really walking away with that much new information, I realized that the reason why many of us were there is because we feel it is important to maintain the non-virtual “real-life” face-to-face connections with our colleagues. I believe that the reason we are all so tied to having F2F being so important is because it is a quicker, less deliberate way of communicating. As soon as we can accept and pro-actively use tools like video skype, virtual and distributed workplaces will become more common. When we are more natural in our virtual communications and the awkwardness of not being physically next to our colleagues when we speak to them softens a bit, we won’t have to limit our communications and colleagues to those who live in the same location as us.

That is, once we get over the novelty aspect of virtuality and stop playing with our hair while we look at our own reflections on video-skype, we can actually extend the reach of not only our events and campaigns, but also our workforce. Also, once mobile access is cheaper and the tools are portable in a real way, all will be easier.

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