How can technology support flexible working?

Rita Chiu

Rita Chiu is a Learning Design Coordinator at Box Hill Institute with over ten years’ experience across the VET, corporate and government sectors. Can we encourage innovation and teamwork while also working at different locations? Rita says yes – if we take advantage of the technology available to us. And there might be some extra benefits to this approach too.

The need for flexible working arrangements

My team members are talented, hard-working individuals who are at different stages of their lives and careers. This means different pressures and responsibilities, from family demands to personal priorities. They also have different hours during which they are most productive. Some require a quiet space to do their work, for example, which isn’t easy to achieve when you work in an open office and meeting rooms are in high demand. So we have a flexible arrangement where team members can work from home, and we also have several staff members who work remotely at client sites. But these set-ups require support, both in terms of management and technology.

The challenges of working remotely

Working from home can be an isolating experience, and it can be difficult for both the manager and the team to bounce ideas off each other, share workload and be transparent. In my experience the most effective way is to call each other, but then other team members miss out on the spontaneous problem solving required for innovative projects. In an effort to keep everyone informed of what has occurred, the email trail begins, with the risk of either getting bogged down in words or losing ideas and messages when people get dropped of the CC list.

How technology can support individuals and teams

For adhoc conversation and collaboration we use Yammer. In our case Yammer is a good tool for collaboration across departments within our organisation. We found that having the chat tool embedded in the browser was not useful, however, as we often missed alerts. The file collaboration option is useful when teams are contributing to a single document, but the need for this is rare.

For meetings we use WizIQ, which is accessed through our Moodle. These meetings are often fast-paced as people are able to contribute either through speaking, typing or sharing their screen. The different modes of communication happen simultaneously.

We use Lync 2013 to chat one on one or as a group. When the need arises we invite members from other teams to join our discussion on specific projects. It’s handy to conduct project handovers between teams and to explain concepts and storyboards via screen sharing. This is a better tool for bouncing ideas too. The online meeting space is great, so we don’t need to wait until a room is free to conduct a handover. Projects are never held up because someone isn’t working at the office.

Making our progress transparent

We use Trello to track the development of online resources across teams. The process is:

  1. The project manager divides the project into sub parts (these are usually units of competencies) and creates a card on Trello. A card represents a component of a project. It has a start and end date, and contains the details to complete that component. A project will have many cards.
  2. The project manager allocates a label for the card, and if the card is ready to go and ready for a learning designer, it will be labelled accordingly.
  3. The rest of the team is able to see everything that is in the pipeline at a glance.

Since Trello is cloud based, I can access it on my phone, iPad or at home on a PC and get an accurate snap shot of where my projects are at. It’s particularly handy during client meetings!

It’s also quite easy to allocate quality reviews, online reviews and testing by allocating tasks to team members. They will get an email notification, but the important information is retained on the card. It’s much easier to track, and doesn’t clog your emails.

Example of a Trello board for a kitchen redesign project

Other benefits of online collaboration

Learning designers should have practical experience collaborating online. If we expect teachers and students to collaborate and participate in a blended or fully online course, we should also experience what it’s like, and understand what works and what doesn’t. By connecting online, we learn about the frustrations and challenges, as well as the benefits and potential. If we get annoyed with a lot of emails, surely students and teachers will too! Ultimately by offering a flexible working environment we ‘walk the talk’. If we the learning designers find it painful, we can use this experience to refine the process so that when it is delivered to teachers and students it is an efficient and enjoyable learning experience.

Are you ready to walk the online talk? Contact eWorks to find out how.