Some challenges presented by global collaboration and how we overcame them
In March of 2021, I joined the Responsible Digital Leadership project as a research assistant intern. The ongoing pandemic and the global nature of the project meant that the teams would be collaborating remotely. Since I had gotten used to taking classes online (my university switched to remote instruction nearly a year before my joining Responsible Digital Leadership) I did not expect any challenges related to the remote aspect of the project. However, there was a lot that I was not prepared for.
What immediately stood out as a challenge was the wide range of time zones that the project covered. With researchers across the globe from the U.S. west coast to China, it was difficult to find meeting times that were convenient for everyone. Our solution was to share the burden of the time difference, rotating who would have to either wake up early or stay up late to attend meetings or inspiration sessions. I remember several 3-4am meetings or inspiration sessions, and I know that my colleagues had to do the same thing in their time zones!
Even with this policy, it was difficult (and sometimes impossible) to determine which times would accommodate the most people. Recording meetings and publishing notes for those who could not attend quickly became an essential part of our workflow.
Time zones also presented challenges outside of planning meetings. Communication was slowed by the fact that it may take up to a full day for people in other parts of the world to read something that was sent from a distant time zone. To alleviate this, communications were kept very concise and were sent early in advance, especially if there was something time-sensitive that needed to be communicated.
Another challenge associated with remote collaboration was organizing our workflow. Since our team is composed of researchers from many different institutions, it was not practical to use a platform like Microsoft Teams or Slack, which works best when everyone is working within the same ‘network’. Instead, we relied on more open solutions, like Google Drive, Miro, and WhatsApp for work-product storage, planning, and communication. While this approach works moderately well, it can still be a challenge to collaborate completely online and on so many different platforms. It creates opportunities for miscommunications or lost information and also makes it more difficult to get a holistic view of our team or project.
Remote collaboration definitely presented some challenges, but it also offered many benefits. The online nature of the project meant that it was possible to have collaborators all around the world, whose perspectives not only enrich our research, but also offer the opportunity to meet and befriend people from a wide range of geographic, cultural, and professional backgrounds. Getting to attend social hours on Zoom has been a really fun effect from remote collaboration that I was not expecting.