Life on Google Hangouts

Life on Google Hangouts

by Jamie Appleseed, GMin co-founder and entrepreneur who currently runs the Baymard Institute.

GMin's board and executive staff take questions from the public on new initiatives and lessons learned.

GMin’s board and executive staff take questions from the public on new initiatives and lessons learned.

GMin couldn’t have existed 20 years ago. It simply wasn’t possible to efficiently coordinate and connect with one another the way we do today, thanks to the high-fidelity and low-cost tools available.

GMin has been a virtual organization run by volunteers (distributed across the globe) since its inception. Our work isn’t even “remote” because that would imply we have a homebase or headquarter from which we operate. We don’t have offices and we never meet in person when we work. We live on Google Hangouts.

In spite of our lack of office space, we’ve managed to execute successful projects across Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa. Our work that has been recognized by organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, UNICEF and the Clinton Global Initiative.

So how do we work and organize? Well, when we need to have a “face-to-face” meeting, we connect via Skype or Google Hangouts for a snappy video conference. When we need to share files and write documents, we head to Dropbox and Google Drive. Need to ask someone a question or start a discussion? Shoot your teammates an e-mail.

It’s absolutely true that sometimes colocated work would be desirable. Traditional organizations certainly enjoy some advantages to virtual ones, especially when it comes to informal information and knowledge sharing. It also tends to be easier to spot misunderstandings earlier on and sorting them out can often be done instantly, without scheduling a video conference or writing long e-mails. Not to mention the encouragement and motivation that naturally transpire as you work side-by-side with your teammates. Positive reinforcement and relationship building can get lost when all work is mediated through wifi connections and computer screens.

Yet there are upsides to virtual organizations too. For example, you’re not limited by geography, which means you can move from sourcing the best local talent to sourcing the best global talent. A truly global organization like GMin organically fosters and attracts a diversity of cultures, personalities and talents. And because people can work whenever they please from wherever they happen to be, your organization by nature operates 24/7 (there’s a 12-hour time difference between some of our members!).

Indeed, the freedom to work at your own schedule from anywhere in the world is crucial to a volunteer-based organization like GMin because it enables people to put in work whenever it suits them. Got an hour or two of downtime in the airport? Why not put that time to good use? Feeling a surge of inspiration one evening? That’s a chance to source those rare moments of clarity into lasting outcomes.

Virtual work will never be the same as colocated work, and consequently working in a virtual organization will never be the same as working in a traditional office. There are upsides and downsides. You try to play into the strengths of your organization’s nature and attempt to work around or mitigate its weaknesses.

We’re all growing and we’re all learning, but one thing is for sure: virtual organizations are no longer wishful thinking, they are now a viable organizational design – a new way to work and organize. GMin is proof of that.

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