Remote Working and Volunteerism

The last post didn't quite cleanly segue into this, so a separate post.

When I lived in DC, a good friend and I were looking to volunteer with a nonprofit organization, doing web work for them. They happily accepted remote volunteers (they're in San Francisco, we're not), and had a shiny-new teleconferencing system setup just for folks like us to be able to help out.

That was great, everyone agreed, until the rubber hit the road. The video camera in the conference room was often pointed randomly, never at any presentation that was going on. The microphone either wasn't mobile or wasn't passed around; in either case, our ability to hear decreased exponentially with the distance of the person speaking to the microphone.

I gave up volunteering soon after, as did my friend; we weren't able to be productive. Talking to a friend who works with the organization locally, their perception was that there just wasn't "enough interest" from remote volunteers to make it worth their money and time to support. We chatted more about it, and they may restart the program, but in any case, it's efficiency lost, which really does count, especially when time and money are very limited.

So, what's the upside?

With my current job allowing remote work, I've taken some lessons learned away from that experience. If you have a significant number of people outside of the room you're meeting in who are part of the meeting, it's quite simple: have one local resource outside the room connect to the meeting in the same way.

If you have five folks in the room, and ten folks in Kentucky, take one of the five and have them participate from their desk. If they're having minor difficulties hearing, seeing, or contributing, have them take notes on how to improve it. Rotate which team member is sitting outside each meeting. If they're having major difficulties contributing, make it absolutely acceptable for them to walk in and fix the issue. If those are too extreme, make it okay for them to instant message or text message people in the room to ask for a correction on the problem.

Sometimes it's as simple as someone sitting next to the microphone ruffling through a large stack of papers; sometimes it's a dead microphone, and there's not much you can do. But having a process in place to proactively address both technical issues and distractions amplified by an misplaced microphone makes it easy to get remote workers up to 100%.

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