6 Low-cost high-value strategies for virtual collaboration on a budget

[This post expands on a ‘virtual collaboration on a budget’ slide I used in a webinar last week, for Charity Village]

I’ve been snake-bit a few times, when it comes to virtual collaboration. Nothing deadly, it’s just that I’ve experienced too much frustration, and squandering of dollars, at the feet of the technology gods. Basically, although I/we set out to do different, our endpoint found us serving technology rather than it serving us. Ursula Franklin was right.

With a people-first eye that values relationships, getting things done, and reducing technology interface and cost, here is a mix of 6 unconditionally constructive strategies for collaborating virtually]:

  1. Agree on the work. Operate from a shared terms of reference. Manage expectations, up-front. Create a relationship-based roadmap to mutual benefit. Here’s 2 templates  to help you do that; BOSCARD and Collaboration Agreement. I use them both, regularly.
  2. Follow best practices for virtual communications and relationships. It’s my view that communication is the lifeblood of all effective relationships and collaboration. To communicate is to “make common”; i.e., be on the same page. Broadcasting is not communication. Here’s a few tips for effective communication, in-person, and virtually. Effective communications is a proactive conflict management strategy; i.e., saves costs, down the road!
  3. Choose and use appropriate tools. Try them out for free, then scale usage and cost, as appropriate (freemium model). Match the tool to your needs. When it comes to audio-video conferencing, I have an 80/20 rule; 80% of the time I don’t need/want video. Focus your “what tool should I use” angst on the special needs that your organization has; e.g., scheduling and tracking volunteers, creating high quality multi-media products, implementing a 1-800 support line. Otherwise, go with the tried and true. WhatsApp and Slack are part of the new wave of great, low-cost, messaging apps. Simple and secure. I message people around the world, for free, using WhatsApp. I love it.  These tools work for boards of directors, and families, alike. No infrastructure in the regions? No problem – set up your smart phone as a communications hotspot and hub. Expand access. Reduce costs.
  4. Run virtual meetings with intention. We all know death by meeting(s). This problem is double-downed in the virtual world, where participant distraction and invisibility are all too easy. Approach virtual meetings as you would the creation of a musical score. Hear each voice. Tie them all together. You are the conductor. For an a-z on running virtual meetings, check out Michael Wilkinson’s book on planning and running virtual meetings; virtual know-how from a world-class in-person facilitator! I know, personally, how well Michael runs meetings.
  5. Collaborate on support. Work with a co-facilitator in your virtual meetings. Pool your support across organizations; use a Secretariat. Leverage the younger generation; reverse mentoring. Maybe, if you aren’t already, include a millennial or two on your virtual project team.
  6. Learn your way. Virtual collaboration is about people working together, virtually. If it takes you years to get people working effectively together, virtually, chances are you’ve missed the boat. The virtual landscape is changing, continually. Adaptation is vital. Experiment. Learn from others. Try things out. Iterate. “The objective of learning is to integrate thinking and doing.” (Dr. Roger Fisher)  “Life, believe it or not, is improvised.” (Dave Morris) Ready. Fire. Aim.  You get the message.

All of the above strategies, and lots more, I touched on in my webinar last week, Virtual Collaboration for Volunteer Managers and Boards of Directors; done in partnership with Charity Village.

You can also access the webinar, and download the presentation slides, directly from Charity Village, here.

What low-cost high-value strategy would you add to my list? 

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