Written by Tobias Henz
A behind the scenes look at how we work using zoom.us and Podio
When founding eMUN-fellows.net in the late summer days of 2013 in beatufiul Heidelberg, Germany, we did not only face the challenge of securing funding as well as recruiting the first class of eMUN-fellows in a very short time frame. Additionally, as it was part of the founding vows of the initiative, both fellows as well as team- and board members would be distributed over the whole country at best. Therefore, we also had to make sure both communication and team-work would run smoothly and effectively as well in a manner that allowed for a team-spirit to form.
We conducted approximately 40 online interviews within only 2 days with high profile young leaders in order to recruit the first generation of young leaders to be shaped and refined during their time as eMUN-fellows via Skype. The multifaceted challenges and difficulties made it more than apparent that a more professional solution was dearly needed to communicate with and train the delegation 2014.
So what was it that we were looking for at the time? The online collaboration tool needed to be easy to use, so we could prioritize bringing the project forward, and the newly recruited eMUN-fellows could focus on developing and refining their skills. Furthermore, we needed something both professional to function simply, as well as interactive enough to allow for people to get to know each other way before ever meeting in person and develop trust in their fellows. Giving an identity to the online conferences and calls would help us giving an identity to the group. Additionally, since everyone was going to travel a lot, we needed a cross-platform solution with flexible tools, apps, and ideally, phone dial in. Lastly, cost-efficiency was of course an issue as well, as we essentially started off with no funding whatsoever.
Sounds like a lot to ask? It probably is. Nevertheless, let me tell you a little bit about about how we manage to collaborate and coach online, mainly relying on zoom.us for video conferencing and Podio for project management. This is meant to be me giving tips and sharing our experiences rather than blatantly advertising products. Because after all, finding the ideal way of combining online and offline work, and the chances and special circumstances both environments come with, is a challenge yet to be completed.
When it comes to zoom.us, there actually isn't much to be said: it simply works. And in doing so, it's intuitive enough to allow for participants to focus on content as well as social interactions. I must admit that when starting out, one of our biggest concerns was that it might be impossible to form a team-spirit while almost exclusively working and meeting online. But as for what we experienced, and what we got as a feedback from our first class of eMUN-fellows, it indeed worked out great and we grew together quickly as well as closely - and seamless online meetings certainly helped a lot.
On the more technical side, stable connections, platform independence and conferences on the go increased the effectiveness of our calls and coaching sessions - and served as a warrant for only very few calls being missed by participants. Also worth mentioning: zoom.us itself is a team of dedicated professionals, putting in every effort to helping you meet online and making the software even better while maintaining the very affordable monthly rates.
Speaking about our organizing tool Podio, our journey was much longer and spanned over several other tools to organize ourselves at first, but at least for me I can say, I have arrived. Even though I have to admit (and also get that very statement as feedback a lot) that the way Podio works and wants its user to interact with it is far from intuitive, the flexibility and power make more than up for it - if you are willing to invest the time and effort to set it up and understand how it works. Having embraced our Podio workspaces within the core team by now (which admittedly took some time and convincing), it's so much easier to keep track of work-streams, appointments and tasks - and we finally have an easily accessible place to collect ideas and share thoughts in apps we created specifically for these purposes.
I personally love the transparency it creates - everybody has access to all the information needed, which otherwise tends to be hidden in some kind of potentially private email exchange - but both team leaders and team members have ways of controlling what they believe needs to be seen by whom, and what one is notified of. With all that, little features like link previews and chat rooms add a little bit of a social component, so you actually can spend time on the platform and feel like you are surrounded by people, not just tasks and projects.
What may also be interesting to some of you is that Podio actually sponsors Non-for-profits. So you could be enjoying the advantages of a premium version for free, which otherwise might have not fit into your budget (they certainly would've stretched ours by a lot).
Our next big endeavor with Podio is to use it's webform integration for the recruiting of our eMUN-fellows 2015. Being able to get all the applications uploaded into our work environment automatically and being able to process them without any excel lists or countless PDF resumes will help us work through those 500-ish applications we are aiming at - and in doing so not getting lost in technicalities, but being able to focus on what's important: the people behind the application documents.
Anything we'd wish for? Of course, no solution is perfect. And as I am a sucker for integration, it would of course be lovely to schedule our zoom meetings right from within Podio, and automatically store what has been discussed during the call (video and audio recording, screens shared, whiteboard strokes created) in the corresponding meeting minutes. Also, we are very much looking forward to a webinar version of zoom.us, and the possibility to just forward outlook Meeting invites from your email inbox to a certain Podio app. But hey, both companies are young and innovative. So for now, it does sound like these things could happen in foreseeable future.
Thus for us, “See you around!” usually gets transformed into “See you on Podio!” or “See you on zoom!” - and let’s use those tools to make this initiative even more awesome and leaving an even bigger footprint in the live of individuals as well as in our society, by Shaping Future Global Leaders. Everyday.
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