Working virtually

Author: Clark
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Of late, I’ve been involved in two separate initiatives that are distributed, one nationally, one internationally. And, as with some other endeavors, I’ve been using some tools to make this work. And, finally, it really really is. I’m finding it extraordinarily productive to be working virtually.

In both endeavors, there’s trust. One’s with folks I know, which makes it easy. The other’s with folks who have an international reputation for scholarly work, and that generates an initial acceptance. Working together quickly generates that.


The work itself, as with most things, comes down to communication, collaboration, and cooperation. We’ve got initiatives to plan, draft, review, and execute. And we need to make decisions.

We’re using one social media tool to coordinate. In both cases, we’re using Slack as the primary tool for asynchronous communications. We’re setting up meetings (sometimes with the help of Doodle), asking questions, updating on occurrences, and sharing thoughts.

We’re using different tools for synchronous sessions. In one, we’re using Zoom, Blue Jeans in the other. I like Zoom a bit better because when you open the chat or the list of participants, it expands the window. In Blue Jeans, it covers a bit of the screen. Both, however, handle video streams without a problem.

And, for both, we’re using Google tools to create shared representations. Documents, and occasionally spreadsheets, mostly. I’m experimenting with their draw tools; while they’re not as smooth as OmniGraffle, they’re quite robust. It’s even fun to be working together watching several of us editing a doc at the same time!

There are always the hiccups; sometimes one or another can’t attend a meeting, or we lose track of files, but nothing that doesn’t plague co-located work. One problem that’s unique is those folks who aren’t regular users of one or the other tools. But we’ve enough peer pressure to remedy that. And, of course, these are folks who are in tech…


One key element, I think, is the ‘working out loud’. It’s pretty easy to share, and people do. Thinking is largely out in the open. There’re subcommittees, for instance, that may work on specific issues, and some executive discussions, but little you can’t see.

And we’re unconsciously working in, and consciously working on, a desirable learning culture. We’re sharing safely, considering ideas fairly, taking time to reflect, and actively seeking diversity. We experiment, and we do serendipitously review our practices (particularly when we onboard new folks).

Most importantly, this is beginning to not only feel natural, but productive.  This is the new world of work. Using tools to handle collaboration, coordination, and cooperation (the 3 c’s?).  We’re working, and evolving too!

And, a key learning for me, is that this doesn’t preclude being co-located. Though I wonder if that would actually hurt, since hallway conversations can progress things but there’re no trails. Unless, I suppose, if you commit to immediately capture whatever emerges. That’s a cultural thing.

This working virtually is a direction I think will be productive for organizations going forward. It’s social, it’s augmented, and it’s culturally sound. It’s not to say that I won’t welcome the chance to be co-located with these folks at some point. There might even be hugs between folks who’ve never met before (that happens when you interact in a safe space online). But the important thing is that it works, well. And what else needs to be said, after all?


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Working virtually

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EdTech Café is a podcast series produced by the educational technology team at Stanford Medicine.
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