Amplify Collaboration: How Collaboration Across Time Zones Can Work!
At amplifiEDucation we practice what we preach, working together across time zones, in three different countries: USA, Brazil and Argentina. So we want to share with you what it is like to collaborate virtually, as it is really amazing what can be done nowadays through technology. We share ideas anytime, we see each other’s work as it unfolds, we participate in each other’s struggles and successes. We not only work together but we develop our friendship and mutual admiration. We wait in expectation as we know that Silvia will soon be a grandmother again, we laugh together as Andrea’s preadolescent son restarts her wifi without warning, we keep our fingers crossed for Katrin’s connection as she goes on a skiing holiday, we look together at Silvana’s photos from a school trip to see a Brazilian indigenous community.
All that is achieved through virtual connections, making us feel as we are just next door. Our main channel of communication and decision making is through video conference using Google Hangout. This is a great tool as it easily allows multiple participants and sharing of the computer screen whenever needed. We have regular video conferences, scheduling according to time zones and each one’s busy lives. We may do Google Hangout in our pijamas at home, while making dinner, on a trip or just as we get settled on a good wifi. There is no boundary to “where” you “need” to be to work together in this way.
We get all the work discussed during the hangouts organized with Google Drive. This is the perfect sharing tool if you already have Gmail. If you have not used it yet, it allows sharing and commenting on documents, spreadsheets, organization of images, etc. We also use several other tools for creation, but Google Drive is our central sharing location. We not only add content to documents before our hangouts, but we also add content live during the hangout, whenever necessary. An example is the organization of our Twitter Chats. We all add ideas for chat questions live and give each other feedback, while we talk over Google Hangout. It feels the same as if we were all working on the same document, in the same room. Actually it is better, because we would not be able to easily add ideas, in an organized clean manner, using a physical document.
But we don’t communicate only through Google Hangout. We have actually developed an almost daily communication with Instant Messaging and Email. We have started using email for quick updates, resources we find, discussion of issues that develop over time, and so on. Then we really picked up Instant Messaging for those quick updates that we wanted the group to know about, react to or follow up. So our routine chat now runs mainly on Instant Messaging, while the email is left for longer or more detailed discussions. We feel like we can contact each other anytime, but we are also aware of each other’s busy lives and we have developed enough trust to say we may only be able to respond later.
Why did we bother to start this connection and stay connected? I think the best answer to this question is on this TEDx talk by a former student from Lincoln School in Buenos Aires. If you bear with his explanation about finding like-minded people, you will understand how you can grow your reach and find the best people to work with, only if you allow yourself to cross virtual borders and connect. At 6:30 minute in this video, Caio explains this idea by referring to Stephen Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From) who said that the Internet is the modern version of 17th and 18th Century London coffee houses, where people came together to discuss new ideas. After all, Caio says, “chance favors the connected mind”.