Volunteers and Virtual TeamsAuthor: Alan Mellor, almellor
Voluntary work is the best sort of win-win situation there is. Voluntary organisations get skilled help to achieve their aims free of charge. This keeps donation requirements down. Volunteers get an outlet for skills and interests they love doing, but don’t normally fit into their day job. And the satisfaction of being part of a team making a positive difference in the world.
It struck me that forming virtual teams – teams that collaborate over the internet, using tools like yuuguu – solve a lot of problems with volunteer based projects. If you manage volunteer projects, it would be worth your while to see if this can work for you.
A virtual team solves three barriers to being able to use a willing volunteer: time, place and (of course) money.
Work with volunteers where they live
By using your social media and traditional advertising skills, you can probably hook up with people who would love to volunteer on your project.
But what if they live far away?
If your project involves some aspect of digital work – designing, producing websites, videos, copy, graphics – then virtual work solves this problem directly. You no longer need to have your volunteer sit in your office to use a computer provided by you. You can direct and review work using screen share. You can transfer files electronically. You can chat using Instant Messages. It’s not uncommon for entire projects to be done in this way – just as we work here at Yuuguu.
Doing this opens your project up to a far wider pool of volunteers; with geography no longer an issue, you can work with anyone willing and able, wherever they live.
Work without a travel budget
A lot of project time – and budget – gets eaten up in meetings. It’s important to spend this money wisely at the best of times, and even more when you are a trustee of a charity. Ok, so you simply cannot build a well in a remote country without getting people, materials and tools on site. But you certainly can hold the design reviews of the engineering drawings virtually. And hold progress show and tell meetings virtually.
There are many possibilities for real world projects to work virtually. The well team could snap progress on bore hole excavation on a camera phone, and use screen sharing to show the remote project manager. Instant Message chat and telephone conferencing can bring together remote construction workers, the on-base project manager and the design consultancy to iron out the unexpected.
By taking the view of doing what meetings you can virtually, you can maximise the budget spent on the real objectives. A massive help – not to mention a right and proper PR boost – for any charitable organisation.
Work whenever your volunteers can
Another huge benefit is this: your volunteers will generally have day jobs. These jobs will clearly have first priority on their time; after all, you aren’t putting food on their table. So volunteers can be limited in when they can work. By forming a virtual team, you can reduce the burden of working at different times. Certainly, using yuuguu, you can send instructions and questions to volunteers who are offline, and they can pick these up when they come online. As soon as they do, yuuguu ‘Presence Indicators’ – traffic lights that say when you are working – will help you catch up quickly and efficiently. Much more so than email.
By opening up this flexible working, you can again include more volunteers than before – people who would love to help, but simply cannot work during your normal office hours.