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Jan 13, 2012

The new way of working

The new way of working slowly emerges. Technology needed for it existed for a while, although not in the most useable form. The issue is not the technology, but changing our own habits and assumptions about how to work.

The old way

At a meeting, everyone is handled an agenda. People read it, amend the agenda, they discuss whatever needs to be discussed. One person takes notes. The notes of the meeting are then typed up, and sent to other members to make sure nothing was omitted. This can be a special approval of minutes, or a more informal process. Then someone converts the minutes into an actionable plan, which almost always includes writing some document or a series of documents. Almost anything we do includes a policy statement, an announcement, an application, a survey instrument, etc. Many are also duplicated as web pages or published otherwise. The plan is communicated to the respective parties. Someone then writes a draft of a document, and sends it out for review. People send back their comments or corrections. The author has to incorporate all of those into a new draft, and send it again for review and comment. Alternatively, people who do little parts, report on their activities, if they remember, and someone in charge has to compile reports, so she or he can monitor the process. Then eventually the results of the project need to be either published or sent to specific people.

The new way

When a meeting is called; the agenda and the initial ideas on the issue are sent along, as a link to a Google Doc. People can add thoughts, questions, or objections on the document before the meeting ever begins. This saves time at the meeting, for all are more prepared. “What are we writing today?” is how every meeting should be started. IN other words, what are the end product? If it is a policy and an application form, we should work on those end products right away, skipping all the preliminary writing if possible. Very often the initial Doc is also reused as either a policy statement, or a discussion board, if a wider discussion is merited. As the project progresses, that doc is also used to record progress, concerns, dilemmas and whichever useful information needs to be gathered. It is often the case that projects take a long time, so participants forget what they agreed on, and what was done already. The doc is an archive, which can be quickly found and revisited. The majority of our projects are not confidential, and the doc can be openly available. Whenever someone asks for an update or a report, or a news item, we send them a link: if you need information, you plough through our working notes and find what you need. I am not doing it for you!
When we switched from typed or handwritten paperwork to files and e-mails, we gained in the speed of communication, but lost time with the ever-increasing volume of the communicated information. We lose a tremendous amount of time on e-mails, many of which are unnecessary. Just look at your inbox – it is probably a request to take some information, and covert it into a different form and share it with different people. The second shift that is going on right now is to distributed, shared information creation and consumption. It promises a significant increase in productivity, which really means cutting out all the routine and boring stuff. For example, at DLC meetings, we look at the minutes of the last meeting on screen, and correct them right there; I publish them as we speak. The minutes now have links to other documents, in case someone forgets, or is curious to drill down the information. This relieves me from the obligation to return to my office, open the file again, enter the corrections, then do something else to make the minutes public. When I return from most meetings, I do not need to sit again with my notes and translate them into actionable items, send them out to other people, etc. The minute we’re done, we’re done. I treasure those extra thirty minutes every couple of weeks, because I have more interesting things to do.
Here is another example. Last year, we spent a lot of time on creating a newsletter: I solicit information from people, and am routinely ignored. Then I pester chairs, and they pester faculty, and somehow produce blurbs and pictures. Then we edit, figure out layout, produce a PDF file, print on color printer, etc. Lots of time is spent with uncertain result.
The new way: Google Search emails me links to any news and any website changes that contain “Rhode Island College.” Most are irrelevant, but when it is our alum or a story about us, I read, and paste the link into our Face book page. When one of you sends me an e-mail with a picture or a link, I can now say, Great job, congratulations; can you please share this on Fb? This creates a semi-permanent record of news. So, when I am asked for news, I send a link. Some people still wanted us to produce another newsletter. But you know what? I am happy with the Fb format. It is not as pretty and organized as the newsletter, but it does the job. You want a newsletter? Well, go ahead, do it! If you need the information, you know where to find it.
Very few things in life are as satisfying as stopping doing things you did not enjoy doing.

1 comment:

  1. I too find GoogleDocs time-saving and changing the way I do some things. For example, the piece of paper I used to circulate in a class to sign up for a time or topic - now is a Google spreadsheet. No one loses track of it, it can be changed anytime as necessary, and in a spreadsheet we can even all enter at the same time and no one overwrites another. I often project this as it is happening when I want them to see each other's information. For my ease, I usually just make ti editable by anyone with the link rather than invite students by their email. As your examples, rarely does anyone outside those involved care enough to sabotage- or even look at- any info there!

    Connie Horton