Collaboration is core to the mission of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (CAN-MNCH), which coordinates the efforts of non-governmental organizations, academics and health workers in promoting the health of women and children around the world. When CAN-MNCH needed to improve collaboration within its own organization, it turned to Glip.
“In the past, we used email, Dropbox, Google Docs, different cloud servers, video conferencing tools like Skype, teleconferences — and we’ve managed to amalgamate all of that using Glip,” says Executive Director Helen Scott. (By the way, if you like her story, you can vote until Oct. 2 as part of the people’s choice phase of judging for the Constellation Research SuperNova Awards, where CAN-MNCH is a finalist in the Future of Work category.)
The challenge Glip addressed for Scott was organizing a virtual team, including an extended team of working group representatives from more than 80 organizations operating in over 1,000 regions globally.
“Canada’s top experts were willing to join our secretariat, but were not willing or unable to move from their established communities in order to set up a traditional office,” she explains. So she needed to run an organization that would be virtual and distributed but still effective.
Her efforts are a continuation of a commitment to promoting maternal, infant and child health worldwide that Canada made in 2010, when it hosted the G8 Summit of world leaders and launched the Muskoka Initiative. CAN-MNCH was established three years ago to better coordinate the efforts of all the charities and public health organizations who get funding as part of the initiative. After an additional $3.5 billion in funding was announced by Canada last year for maternal, newborn and child health from 2015-2020, Scott recognized she was faced with a growing challenge.
Although she has a core team of just six people, she must also coordinate with three working groups, including about 48 people who are representatives of member organizations. Not only are those people scattered around Canada, but some spend all or part of their time overseas.
Keeping their activity organized over email, Skype, and a collection of other collaboration tools quickly proved unwieldy, Scott says. She found herself spending too much time searching her email, trying to recreate the workflow of messages and file attachments. At one point, the CAN-NMCH team was reconsidering whether they really needed to get at least the core team together in one office location, which would have required several people to relocate or be replaced.
“Then we found Glip, and we realized we didn’t have to,” she says.
Searching the web for communication and collaboration services to support a virtual team, she saw Glip as the best match for her requirements. Still, she admits she had her doubts at first, given that everything in Glip including file sharing was structured around team workstreams rather than the folders she was used to.
After another week or two of struggling to get work done with a fractured collaboration toolset, however, “we said we’ll just try it for a week, and then we’ll decide. And once we did, we said, this is a little miraculous.”
The “miracle” Scott discovered was continuous communication, which kept team members in touch throughout the day, plus the ability to gather all modes of interaction into team conversations. “All of our internal collaboration is through Glip – to the point where it’s very rare that we would send an email – and we certainly don’t share files any other way,” she says.
Email is still important for communication with the rest of the world, but even external collaborators can be brought into Glip as guests if they are playing an important role in a given project.
Scott’s core team holds a daily video-conference as a way of meeting face-to-face, with the option of also doing screen sharing to show a presentation or a draft of a document. “The quality of the video-conferencing is far superior to any other product we’d used,” Scott says. Because of the way video is integrated with Glip, she can also launch a spontaneous video chat with any team or individual team member just by clicking the camera icon at the top of the screen – something she also does on a regular basis.
The simplest way of communicating through Glip is by entering a message in the chat box, which Scott finds to be an excellent way to stay in touch. Some of it might read like idle chatter, but a message like, “I’m going out for a run – back in an hour,” is actually useful information to share with collaborators in a virtual team. “It connects people in a way you don’t get by email,” she says.
On the other hand, Glip task management lets her focus collaborators on the work that must be done in a timely manner. Those items show up in the same message workstream as chat messages, but with specific assignments and deadlines associated with them. Tasks then become part of the team’s and team member’s to-do lists.
“As a management tool, it’s fantastic,” Scott says. “If someone in a different time zone needs you to do something, they can send you a task and know it’s on your to-do list.”
More than any feature, she says, “what I like best is that all of the individual processes can be handled on one platform. When you’re trying to keep track of a project, it’s all there in the thread – all the files, the photos, the task list, the project management – all together in one place.”
While Glip is used most intensively by CAN-MNCH staff, members of its working groups or other advisors can be added to project teams as needed. “They tend to come in and out,” Scott says. “I err on the side of keeping teams small, so we’ll bring them in when they have something to contribute. If their work on the team is done, I’ll take them out so they don’t have to keep up with our chatter.”
Getting Work Done
How does Glip help CAN-MNCH get work done? Scott gives a couple of examples:
- Planning an annual conference. “Every morning we meet by video chat to plan what needs to happen – the invitations that need to be sent to speakers, security arrangements for dignitaries, the budget, and so on. We create tasks out of all of those as checkpoints for the next day, the next week, or whenever they need to be done.”
- Compiling a monthly newsletter. In the past, this was a chaotic process because news items would pour in by email from member agencies and staff members. “I would never know what someone else sent, and they would never know what I sent. Now, it’s all together in one spot.”
Although there are tips and tricks for using Glip she is still learning, Scott said she and her staff picked up the basics quickly. At first, she admits she found it so different from what she was used to that she almost walked away. “It took me about two weeks to come back – and I’m glad I did,” she says.