By @mhawksey

Virtual Teams: Different voices, shared professional practice #PressEdConf19

We are excited to be joining #PressEdConf19 for a session that explores a conversational post format can be used to support reflective practice. We share tips from an ongoing year long project discussing the move to a distributed team and discuss the pros/cons of openness and share ideas to try yourself.
The idea for the session came from our ongoing blog project in which the two of us, that is Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell), write a monthly series of blog posts to openly share our approach to leadership. You can catch up on earlier posts and podcasts or find out more about ALT, the organisation we work for as senior staff. This post has been cross-posted on Maren’s blog.

What is conversational blogging?

Maren: Our conversational approach to blogging has three main parts: a shared document where we collect ideas/thoughts on an ongoing basis, a monthly deadline around which we draft a joint post, which is written like a conversation (we take turns to write sections sequentially) and then the last step is usually using a Google Hangout to finalise and publish the post discussing the content as we make final minor edits. To publish we post on our own blogs, linking to each other’s WordPress sites. We have each set up our own categories/tags for the posts on our respective sites and we each share links to the posts on social media.
Martin: Having a monthly routine really helps in making you take some time each month to reflect on recent developments and with the conversational format there is an opportunity to get feedback/input from someone else. This all happens in what I find is an the ideal timeframe, the discussion is still fresh in your mind but also there is time to reflect on the other person’s contribution and either use that in your own contribution or discuss further usually in one of our catch-ups.

Why do we do it?

Maren: leadership and managing teams are topics I found hard to blog about previously, but nonetheless they are a big part of what I do. This approach has enabled me to share that aspect of my work, and through the process learn a lot myself. When we set out on our journey to becoming a virtual team I found any stories and tips from others who had already done this helpful & inspiring and I hope that in turn these posts may be useful to others who are grappling with home working, online collaboration and leading virtual teams. We are fortunate to work for an organisation that embraces open practice and values what we do on our own initiative.
Martin: When ALT decided to move to becoming a distributed organisation I was aware that it wasn’t a journey many organisations of our size had been on and also with current trends in flexible working it would likely be a journey many more would start. With this in mind I was keen that as an organisation, particularly with a charitable objective that includes “for the benefit of the general public”, that it would be useful to others to capture some of the decisions we made and solutions to problems we encountered. In many ways initially I thought it would be a collection of how-tos, like how-to operate a virtual phone system, and whilst that does feature in some of our posts for us the process is more beneficial than the output.

Why do we blog/practice in the open?

Maren: As Senior Staff we often write about the work we do as an Association and representing our Members is a privilege that we are mindful of. It’s important for the voice of the organisation to reflect its values and a diverse community of professionals. These Virtual Teams posts and podcasts, published on our own domains, provide an opportunity for our own voices to develop and be heard, to share our individual perspectives reflecting our own interests, questions and challenges. Open practice always involves a degree of making yourself vulnerable, open to criticism or ridicule but thus far the constructive feedback and helpful comments outweigh those drawbacks.
Martin: I never actually anticipated people reading our posts but given the number of conversations we have had with people who have it suggests that there are those who find what we share to be of interest. As you mentioned, blogging in the open isn’t without its risks but I feel the benefits of someone else reading, sharing and/or commenting on our posts in general outweighs this.

Ideas to try yourself…

Maren: There’re lots of different ways to join a blogging conversation. You might find inspiration in this approach to academic blogging at the University of Edinburgh or the OpenBlog19 challenge started by David Hopkins. You might like to try blogging about a project with colleagues, prepare a list of questions or topics you each try to answer or take turns to address. My top tips would be: respect others’ voices, listen rather than transmit and take your time to reflect whilst you work together.
Martin: On a practical level I usually find copy/pasting from a Google Doc into the WordPress editor works without any problems and even images are copied straight into your draft. If you are experiencing problems with formatting there is an official WordPress Add-on for Google Docs, designed to let you “compose a document in Google Docs and export it directly to any or Jetpack powered site as a draft post”.
Thank you for reading #VirtualTeams #PressEdConf19.
Update: Embedded tweets from the conference

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