How To Solve The Biggest Problems With Distributed Teams

How To Solve The Biggest Problems With Distributed Teams

Do you ever get frustrated building digital learning products? Here at Elucidat, we spend a LOT of time talking about this with folks in the e-learning industry. In fact ‘frustration’ seemed to feature quite a lot in some of our discussions (see our previous post about the underground revolution in elearning). It was out of such conversations that Elucidat was born.

The drive towards distributed teams

If you work in the digital learning industry, (and especially in the agency sphere), you’ll know that although what we strive to create is quite hi-tech, the production process can involve a fair number of different roles in a team to produce what becomes a ‘handcrafted’ product.

To make a successful digital learning product you need a multi-disciplinary team:

  • Instructional design to manage the learning solution
  • Creative direction to produce the concepts,
  • Graphic artistry to create the imagery,
  • Scripting to craft the words,
  • Development for the technical functionality, and
  • voice-over talent for additional oomph.

And that’s just to mention a few of the roles involved in crafting great digital learning products!

What’s more, our teams may no longer even be located in one office. “Distributed Team working” is a becoming a fact of life (Gartner estimates that over 54 million employees are currently involved in some form of remote work). If you are one of the growing numbers of professionals in the digital learning arena, it’s increasingly likely you’ll be part of a distributed team at some point.

It’s not hard to understand why great companies embrace the ability to work with e-learning talent that is geographically dispersed. Certainly for me I’ve reached out across continents because distributed teams:

  • Allows me to tap into a wider choice of talent rather than being restricted to a local talent pool.
  • Helps me to keep our overheads low.
  • Brings diversity to the team.

But, having team members geographically dispersed (sometimes in different time zones) can pose issues. It was fine when we all worked in the same building. All our required software was installed on our work desktops. There was a network drive, which stored all our work, organised in project folders and accessible from other offices in the network. We could ping files back and forth to each other without worrying about where the latest version was or, let’s be honest, without always following protocol because it saved time to do it like that. It went sort of like this:

How To Solve The Biggest Problems With Distributed Teams

How to slay the ‘distributed’ beast

So faced with these types of issues, what can we do? Well at Elucidat we have been investigating how cloud based technologies can solve exactly these problems as they allow access from anywhere at anytime.

We are aware that solid internet connections are necessary to make this work, but we’re finding that high quality internet connections are now so widely available globally, that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages which is why we see many major software services being provided in this way.

Based on the issues we’ve discussed, at Elucidat, we have set out to solve the problems distributed teams experience in developing e-learning.

Here’s what we have learned

Essentially, cloud based authoring tools provide distributed teams with one development environment and one file. Gone are the headaches of having multiple versions of files. The file automatically gets updated.

What’s more, you can have as many people working on the file simultaneously without onerous uploading and downloading each time someone needs to make a change or addition. So, it’s not an issue if Joe has changed the file this morning on the Greenwich Meridian, or Ella made additions after that Stateside, on the East Coast. The file they each work on is always the most recent, incorporating everyone’s updates – all of the time.

Of course, you’ll still want to employ a process for tracking changes and revisions. I am used to working in spreadsheets and bug tracking software which are cloud based so that updates are captures securely and multiple people can be working in the tracking tools simultaneously. Google Docs does the job for a simple spreadsheet tracker.

If you want to roll your development and tracking into one application, there are tools available which incorporate features which help you track each other’s updates. For example, in Elucidat, we developed a comment tool that lets you add notes for the rest of the team to see what changes or additions you’ve made right there on the development file itself. We did this because we were tired with having to switch between windows and files to view the course and track changes at the same time. We’ve found that really helps boost productivity in our team.

In these times, when customers increasingly want more for less of us, every little utility that boosts productivity helps.

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