Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Case Study One: eMentoring
Jennifer Leigh is the director of J.Leigh & Associates based in Brisbane, Queensland. Jenny spends much of her time working with non-government and non-profit organisations, both as a consultant and volunteer. One aspect of her work is done with community organisations taking a development approach to community-based transport in Queensland.
Sarah Stewart talked to Jenny in June 2010 about how she used online communication tools in her business as consultant, mentor and facilitator.
What online communication technology do you use?
I mostly use Skype for one-to-one mentoring sessions and group business meetings. I have been using Skype for a year and have found it to be so successful that I now offer it as a standard service. In the past I have travelled to an organisation for a week and delivered information in one massive lump, which has been overload for staff. Now I use Skype to provide incremental learning on a weekly basis initially which is then distanced out as the person feels needed. This provides a far more flexible service that meets the needs of staff and prevents information overload. It allows me to use my time more effectively and reduces costs to the organisation because they do not have to pay my travel and accommodation expenses.
In the future I want to look at how I can use 'Google Documents' for collaborative work, and YouTube for disseminating information and education videos.
How do you use Skype for mentoring?
Skype allows me to provide an individualised mentoring service that I just would not be able to do in a face-to-face context because of the geographical distances in Queensland. The eMentoring I do tends to be weekly at first, then monthly, then whenever I am needed. We address transport issues and do activities like talk and work our way through documents or the Queensland Government Transport website.
What other things do you use Skype for?
I use Skype for business meetings, especially in my unpaid role as chairwoman of the Transport Development and Solutions Alliance. The TDSA is a non-profit, self-funding organisation so we have very limited funding. Using online communication has enabled us to reduce costs, and it has also given us a greater representation on the TDSA committee. This is because people can join committee meetings online, whereas before, geographical distances meant they could not go to face-to-face meetings.
How do you get buy-in from staff and organisations?
What I have done is invited managers and IT administrators to our initial meetings so they can see what Skype is and how it works. I have found that once organisations see the value of web conferencing with Skype in terms of finance and networking, they have quickly taken it on board for their business. Seeing how it works encourages managers and IT administrators to address issues such as firewalls, which have previously prevented them from using online technology. So I have found there is a trickling effect to technology uptake.
How have you built up relationships with people using Skype?
I haven't had any problems building online relationships with the people I mentor or work with. I use webcam so we can see each other, which is a great help. Having said that, some people prefer to be anonymous and not to be seen on webcam.
What difficulties have you had and how have you overcome them?
When I started eMentoring I had problems with organisational firewalls and IT policies that prevented me using Skype with staff. But as I said before, once managers saw how it worked these issues were resolved. The main problem with the technology has been variability of Internet performance. When we first started using Skype it was a big drama when the connection dropped. But now we have become confident with the technology we cope much better and take it in our stride.
What tips would you pass on to facilitators who are new to using online communication?
Begin with the assumption there will be some technology glitches and this is perfectly normal.
Image: Image: 'The Great Indian Traveller - Richksaw'